Monday, February 18, 2013

How The Swans Came To The Lake

I'm reading How the Swans Came to the Lake.

A narrative history at times plays a little fast and loose with things. I mean you can't expect Rich Fields to be an expert on Buddhism, history, archaeology, art history and all the subjects that contribute to this book. So far Fields seems to be skating along all these specialties well. I'm reading the 3rd edition to the book and since Fields passed away in 1999 from lung cancer, he's not going to have any further editions.

The first chapter is a summary of the Buddha's life, because after all, if there's no Buddha, then Buddhism doesn't spread to the Americas.

Chapter two is about the archaeological, historical and art history evidence that Buddhist discovered America! It's circumstantial, but I'm convinced because I like to think that.

Chapter three is about William Jones, a philologist who was eventually posted in India after people in power got over his stance to let the Americans go. He was held back for about 5 years because of that unpopular in Brittan belief. He really opened up the study of Sanskrit supposedly.

So far chapters 2 and 3 have been interesting to me.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Suzuki quote

"You may say, "My practice is not good enough to feel the goal or the full meaning right now." But even though you say your practice is not good enough, there is no other practice for you right now. Good or bad, it is your practice. To approach perfect practice, there is no way other than to accept yourself. To say your practice is bad does not help your practice. To say your practice is excellent does not help. Your practice is your practice. You talking abut it in various ways, good or bad, this is all. We should know this point first of all, so we say, "Even though your practice is not so good, that is perfect practice. Just sit.

From Shunryu Suzuki's Not Always So, P.134-5 (different edition than the one above)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Conciliation and Atonement

Conciliation and Atonement

If there is any way I have harmed myself, either knowingly or unknowingly, through action of body, speech, or mind,
I ask forgiveness.

If there is any way I have suffered harm by reason of anything I have thought, or said, or done,
I forgive myself.

If there is any way I have harmed another, either on purpose or by accident,by reason of anything I have thought, or said, or done,
I ask forgiveness.
If there is any way another has harmed me, either knowingly or unknowingly, through action of body, speech, or mind,
I forgive them.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Nostril Theory

My friend thought this idea was funny that I have.

Supposedly one of the benefits of meditation is it evens out the right and left brain use. Supposedly we're too left brain here in the west. We think too much, we haven't integrated ourselves enough.

Things switch in the body so. If you have a cold and you're breathing out of your right nostril you're thinking with the left side of your brain. It's only when you have a cold that you really notice a nostril dominance.

So if you ever notice that you're breathing out of your left nostril, that's a good sign that you're balancing out your hemispheres.

I think one thing that was funny to my friends was that I hold this nostril theory is almost obvious. I'm not sure why it's funny except "nostril theory" is a kind of funny name for it.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Debate to meditate

Doubt: You’re not going to get enlightened, you’re wasting your time.

Shradha: How do you know I’ll not get enlightened? How do you know it’s a waste of time even if I don’t?

Doubt: You’ve still made colossal mistakes and created countless problems.

Shradha: That’s not because I meditated, or studied dharma, or talked with a noble friend.

Doubt: Maybe you gained some concentration powers, but then they were not natural and you ‘flew to close to the sun’.

Shradha: Or maybe not.

Doubt: You are not 100%. Maybe you need to rest. Mindfulness takes energy.

Shradha: Maybe I want to be all I can be.

Doubt: So you’re in it for your personal gain?

Shradha: Before you interrupted me, I was going to say, for the benefit of others.

Doubt: You want to raise above the sheeple. You want to be an individual.

Shradha: For the benefit of all beings.

Doubt: What do they get out of it?

Shradha: When I’m more open, soft, aware, then I’m more likely not to hurt someone, and I’m more likely to act from more pure motives, for the benefit of everything.

Doubt: Purity, that’s a funny concept for human action. You can’t eat a meal without thousands of insects dying. And anyway, why benefit everything? Nothing does that.

Shradha: That’s better than cows and chickens dying. I’m trying to evolve in a positive direction. To grow up.

Doubt: Purity is a metaphysic, I thought you were against that. Growing up sucks, too.

Shradha: I mean purity as a move towards acting more from metta, karuna, mudita and equanimity.

Doubt: So you’re going to reduce motivation to those 4 things?

Shradha: No, but moving towards the heart’s release, which is nothing special, is a move towards purity and you seemed to want me to define it.

Doubt: OK, forget the bollocks of purity. You are puny, a flickering speck in the universe, why would improving yourself a little matter. A marginally better flicker.

Shradha: It probably doesn’t matter that much in the scheme of things, but it matters to me, and that’s important. What matters to you doubt?

Doubt: Being the same, not potentially wasting energy, or having false hope. What about all the bad things you’ve done in your life? Think about the movie reel that plays in your head, all the lowlights of your life.

Shradha: So? I seek to avoid unskillfulness, and wish to more towards being more skillful. Doesn’t mean I’m perfect or actually arrive there. It’s human nature to want to improve things.

Doubt: Isn’t that just spiritual materialism, you want want want.

Shradha: If you’ve got to be greedy before you’re enlightened, then greed for deepening real spirituality is a good place to put it. I’m not enlightened yet. I just want to move towards point B.

Doubt: You don’t even really understand why you don’t want that.

Shradha: But to the extent that I do understand that, as I try to gain control over myself, that is what I want.

Doubt: Your past actions don’t say that.

Shradha: But I’m developing the intention.

Doubt: We’ll see.

Shradha: Yes we will.

Friday, February 08, 2013


Timely Rain by Chogyam Thrungpa

In the jungles of flaming ego.
May there be cool iceberg of bodhicitta.

On the racetrack of bureaucracy,
May there be the walk of the elephant.

May the sumptuous castle of arrogance
Be destroyed by vajra confidence.

In the garden of gentle sanity,
May you be bombarded by coconuts of wakefulness.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

rebirth novels Buddhist?

I'm reading Cloud Atlas, and if it's rebirth that makes it Buddhist, then I don't think it's necessarily Buddhist. Also there's a book, Years of Rice and Salt, that has that story device, too. 

Hinduism has rebirth, so there has to be something that distinguishes between Buddhism and Hinduism to make it Buddhist if the novel is framed around rebirth. And not all Buddhist believe in rebirth as a kind of soul transfer, that's a wrong headed notion. Conditionality notes that all the elements will unform and then possibly reform. 

A friend of mine says that consciousness has such momentum that it's hard to imagine it doesn't continue, and canonical references liken it to candle flame doing from one candle to another. 

And other friends suggest that if you don't believe in reincarnation, then you have to get enlightened in this life. I'm not sure that's true either. For me moving towards enlightenment is worth it. Anyway, there are some Buddhist that see rebirth as part of the litmus test about who is a Buddhist, but I disagree with them.

The review on Wildmind agrees. Here is a quote from Drops in the ocean: Buddhist reflections on David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas” by Danamaya:

"...most of the characters realized something more about themselves and their world, prompting me to examine myself, my values, and the world around me. Putting myself in their shoes, I wondered: how can I better use awareness and kindness to respond to the confusion and unsatisfactoriness in and around me? A book that makes you question, maybe makes you squirm — that’s an excellent use of one’s reading time, no?"

Deep internal questioning isn't particularly Buddhist, seems all spiritual traditions do this. Is there a kind of Buddhist questioning that is unique? Sure, but it would take too long to articulate it now. And thus Danamaya says it's not a Buddhist book, though as a Buddhist she was deeply stirred by it's artistry, and has lots of thoughts that have a dharma aspect to them.

As an artistic device, I think it's excellent. Is it necessarily Buddhist? No. Could a Buddhist love the artistry of Cloud Atlas? I think many do, in fact that's why I'm reading it.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

changing conciousness

Looking on my computer I can gaze into distant galaxies, explore cosmic phenomenon I can dimly comprehend, I can't even understand why so much of it is puzzling because I don't have the knowledge base of an astrophysicist. I can zoom into particles, see things to such a small level that years ago we could only dimly comprehend.

I can glimpse rare animal species, from all the environments of the world, from the deepest oceans, to rare fragile rain-forests. I can glimpse birds that are hard to capture, I can glimpse at all kinds of lions, tigers, pumas, panthers, majestic creatures. Strange new species are discovered, and you can look endlessly at pictures of amazing jellyfish.

I can see beautiful nature shots that calm my soul, rare phenomena that years ago only a few people would see. I can see lightning frozen, strange cloud formations, sunsets.

I can see artists which you'd have to travel all over the world to see. I have access to all sorts of art criticism to help me comprehend why a certain artist is brilliant within the artworld.

I can see intimate photography of the human body, or even just frozen expressions or postures that show us so much. They watch babies to the microseconds, we now study facial expressions that could have predicted Clinton's downfall, his expression of "I'm a naughty boy with my hand caught in the cookie jar, and you're going to like me anyway". There are exhibits of sliced up bodies that have rubberized, we can see into the human form.

There are blogs of every kind, all the mental disorders, spiritual, artistic, and thus we can enter subjectively into all kinds of experience that was hitherto remote.

Because of the flow of information, we can watch people eat all kinds of bizarre things, and in New York City anyway, you can sample much of the world's cuisine. You can get recipes for all the world's cuisine, spices not associated with certain continents, are now available there.

I can break down game film of any major sport. I can get all kinds of analysis of politics, history, literary history. I can read all kinds of generas of writing. I can watch a million movies, listen to 95% of the available music in the history of music. I can trace current memes. I can look at the most popular photo of the day on the internet. I can read all kinds of evolving questions.

It's not everything. There is stuff that's not there, questions that are not answers. I still have to live my life, makes sense of it all, determine my own vectors, make my own values and goals, though society suggests and influences many. I have years of conditioning by teachers, parents, relatives, authors and friends. It helps me to make sense of this expanding consciousness.

There's a kind of excess of information and knowledge. There are too many choices, too many ideas, too much to learn, process and assimilate. We develop filters, and attention has become the prime commodity. The big question is how are we going to direct our consciousness?

Buddhism has finally spread to the west recently. When you don't try to conquer people with ideas, the ideas spread slower. That is why Buddhism has taken it's time to come to the new world, to the west, even to the old world. In the old days you probably had only one sect to choose from, but now we have rather extensive knowledge about all the sects of all the religions. Now there is open source Buddhism, an Occupy Buddhism movement. I'm a Buddhist, but the same can be said for every religion.

In this wilderness of preferences, taste, personality, this is also no authority beyond what somehow influences us. This can be studied, and there are many manipulators, twisters, tail waggers, influence peddlers, taste makers.

All the basic plots to stories have been mapped out. As we see this bombardment of information, media and games, we develop the savvy of critics. You can be a food critic on Yelp. You can review movies and books, you can review anything. There are farms where people write sponsored reviews for products, in the hopes that people's opinions can be swayed, manipulated.

It is all leading to a new kind of consciousness, one we've never seen before. This will inevitably lead to growing pains, mistakes, and drifting into the dark side, or the arena of the unwell. As with the yin and yang of good and bad, there will also be greatness.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

It's a jungle out there

(Source Derek Poff)

I've been watching Monk, and the theme song has kind of gotten under my skin:

It's a jungle out there
Disorder and confusion everywhere
No one seems to care
Well I do
Hey, who's in charge here?
It's a jungle out there
Poison in the very air we breathe
Do you know what's in the water that you drink?
Well I do, and it's amazing
People think I'm crazy, 'cause I worry all the time
If you paid attention, you'd be worried too
You better pay attention
Or this world we love so much might just kill you
I could be wrong now, but I don't think so
It's a jungle out there

The phrase "Hey, who's in charge here," is pregnant with meaning. Is it failure of leadership? Is it a reference to the death of theism? Is it an object relation statement--what's the internalized authority figure doing?

I was reading an essay (The Best Buddhist Writing 2012) by Bhikkhu Bodhi, in which he says we're destroying things, and that the solution is to take a larger view of things. I get that same feeling from the song by Randy Newman.

Paying attention is a kind of way of saying mindfulness. Monk has a kind of attention to detail. This stands out because one assistant is played in a not so smart way.

There are often Buddha statues in the background and his therapist gets Buddhist pillows, so there are oblique visual references to Buddhism. It is after all, set on the west coast where Buddhism has a greater influence.

The best way I know how to improve your capacity to pay attention is through meditation. That and developing the intention to be mindful, which is easily forgotten when you're flooded with emotion.

Friday, February 01, 2013


In the story "Teachers" by Francesca Hampton, from her book Buddha on a Midnight Sea - Short Stories we get the story of Sherab, who is a cook in a monastery. One day a crazy westerner shows up, he's probably got Schizophrenia, paranoid type, and the cook tries to befriend him. At one point the cook does the Chenzerig sadhana for the fellow, while he's sleeping.

I take interest in that sadhana because it was one I was considering. If I get ordained, I don't know if I want to take that sadhana or not. It was the first connection I felt towards the archetypal Buddhas. My darling partner bought me a tanka of it, the detail is above in the photo.

Sometimes I stair at it, as a kind of short practice, and I've tried to memorize the color patterns to the heads above, looking in the ten directions so they see all suffering.

I prefer the name Avalokita, which is an abbreviation.

Now this is Buddhist fiction, it goes to the very heart of it. I liked this story a lot.

Buddha on Midnight Sea

"Buddha on Midnight Sea" is the first story in Francesca Hampton's collection of the same name. It's about a man who suffers romantic disappointment, and thinking about vikings who go out to sea to die, he paddled out to sea.

My first thought was Old Man and the Sea, the Hemingway story. What I remember of that story was how revolted I was when fish ate up the big catch he got.

Men are so fragile in a way, I think its the yang of all the bravery stuff. He was disconnected, he went back to work and someone treated him like he didn't work there, and the nephew he sold the business to, brushed him off. It makes me cry to think how unconnected we can get at times. It's really our responsibility to connect with others, to nurture and tend to relationships.

After long ordeals, the main character of the story has a kind of spiritual awakening. It doesn't feel programatic, and in a way it's kind of played down. There are not quotes or headlines to it.

I read a story where someone had the wrong religious experience, like a Protestant who had a Catholic vision. I've always thought it would be interesting to get the wrong spiritual awakening, not the one you expected yourself to have.

When he's stuck in the ocean, I thought about that movie where the scuba divers were left, and nobody came to pick them up and they died. I yearn to be out in that desolate wilderness, but am also very afraid of it.

I won't spoil the end for people who haven't read it.

Meditation today

I haven't meditated in a while. I sat today with my partner in front of our shrine, with incense lit. It was a pretty dreamy meditation, my mind launches projects. I am better now at not berating myself for where my mind is, and comforted myself with the thought that I was doing something now to work in a positive way. What should I expect, I've not been meditating. It's great to tune in and begin the work again, whatever comes up. I don't want to be a stranger to myself. I noted the doubt, that this was to small an effort, didn't try to counteract it, except to not buy into that thought. I tried to not get fascinated with my thoughts, even though the newfound mindfulness in meditation made life more interesting. I am not meditating to interest myself, but for the benefit of everyone. When I came back to myself and the task at hand, I just gently and kindly returned to the breath. I accepted the leg discomfort, told myself the meditation would be over soon anyway, just sit still. The leg discomfort is just a weird kind of resistance, and I know what pains to listen to and what pains to ignore. At one point, I realized that I hadn't really committed to doing mindfulness of breathing and I asked myself gently to commit to the task at hand. I reminded myself that I'm doing this for everyone, everything. At the end, I felt and observed the fruits of my effort.