Sunday, April 21, 2013

Dark Night of the Soul

Ingram in his Mastering The Core Teachings of the Buddha, talks about the "dark night" of the soul.

This is an idea from Saint John of the Cross. He talks about a time when the sensuality of spirituality wears off, and there's nothing positive that pulls one to the routines of the spiritual life. I don't know what he means by meditation, but there is also prayer and good works. It's in the dark night of the soul when the seeker is really tested. God is notorious in the Bible for testing people.

Now in Buddhism there is no creator god, so there's nobody testing the seeker, but there could be a time when the joy of dhyana is no longer available for the next phase. According to Ingram that is.I've been around a lot of people with dhyanic smiles. I'm not sure I've wallowed in the joy of the dhyanas enough to enter into the dark night of Ingram, but like most people, I have experienced a loss of the sensual joys and lost my way at times. Ingram says the only way is through it, and that you need someone to help you through it, a spiritual community, friends.

I don't pretend to know enough about Saint John of the Cross, nor do I know enough about Ingram's use of the concept, but I am interested in it, and I wonder why he has to borrow something from Christianity when Buddhism does have a rich rich history. Well, he's just trying to articulate his experience, so he's free to choose from whatever tradition he pleases.

By the way, Saint John of the Cross is really good at articulating spiritual immaturity. I need to do some translation into a more universal spirituality for it all to be useful for me, but I find it very interesting. I find myself uncomfortably described in the traits of spiritual immaturity at times.


There's a lot of good quotes from Sex and the Spiritual Teacher by Scott Edelstein, but here is one where a teacher has committed a breach:

"If the spiritual community chooses to hire a lawyer, the lawyer may initially advise leaders to close ranks, withhold information, or further victimize the teacher's accuser(s) by challenging their claims and/or their motives. The lawyer may even urge community leaders to try to eject the accuser(s) from the community. Any of these actions will of course make matters worse. Yet the lawyer is simply doing their job, as they see it: protecting their client from liability. To prevent such a pernicious turn of events, community leaders need to tell their lawyer from the beginning, "Our goal is not to minimize the organization's liability. It's to heal the community's wounds, keep or make it healthy, resolve whatever legal issues arise, and keep people safe. We will not harm or disrespect any human being in order to protect this organization. The interest of community members comes before the interest of this nonprofit entity." Because attorneys are rarely asked to think this way, leaders may need to remind their lawyers this again and again. At times they may need to remind themselves as well."

This is an interesting book that I recommend to anyone in administration of a spiritual community.

Here is a video of an interview of the author.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


I saw an upsetting image of a marathon runner who'd had his legs blown off in the bombing yesterday. It's haunting me. (Here is the Wikipedia article.)

I've run 3 marathons, and I have about the ages of the child who died in Boston because of the bombing at the finish line of the marathon. Maybe that's why I was so deeply affected.

Meanwhile lots of people are dying in countries where there are more active wars. So multiply that horror times a hundred, a thousand, and that's what's going on in the world every day. That thought doesn't so much make me feel better, but it does give me a sense of reality.

I can categorize deaths, and some are more "natural" from old age and body failings. Man made deaths are harder to take, though I suppose it's "natural" for humans to be violent.

All life if precious to me, we don't need to kill anyone for anything, and we need to work to support and enrich life.

Somehow I was able to skate past the shooting in Connecticut several months ago without it getting to me too much. It seemed remote, I saw no images. I read and heard people talk about it affecting them, but somehow I wasn't too drawn into it.

Seeing the image triggered off the memory of other images. There's that "love story" of a wounded soldier who comes back missing most of his limbs and rehabbing and sitting in the sunset with his wife.

There's not much to understanding the angry rage that stikes out like that. It's like an impotent kid who knocks down the blocks someone is trying to set up. Surely we won't hear any message from the people who did this beyond the method of their communication, inarticulate anger.

I spent the morning volunteering at a food pantry, processing and organizing food to be given away. I've volunteered 8 times, at various things over the past several months. I want to put positive energy into the world.

There is a real issue of maintaining equanimity at such times, for me. I was perhaps too remote with the elementary school shootings, and I'm too engulfed with the Marathon bombings. I read about focusing the other day, and one technique was to put all your problems in a room, and push them aside so you can have some room to think, and stack them up in order of intensity, order them. I'm got lots of fish to fry in my life, so to speak, and the disturbing images and the horrors and violence going on in the world is something I have limited control of. I only want to be a little in touch with it so that I'm not burying my head in the sand, but not so much so that I'm engulfed. I like the image of a circle touching a line. Put the line through the circle and you're engulfed. Put the circle away from the line and you're too remote, not connected.

I like positive beautiful images to help me maintain my equilibrium. There is no one strategy and everyone is different.

The astronomy picture of the day is one awesome resource.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


"Tomorrow - April 14th - sees the 122nd anniversary of the birth of Dr. Ambedkar, inspiration to many millions of India’s ‘Dalits’ and leader of their mass conversion to Buddhism in 1956." This was from Triratna News. There's a movie there about Ambedkar.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Couples as spiritual friends who challenge

There is an article about Colleen Saidman Yee, a yoga teacher.

In the quote, Rodney Yee, a retired yoga teacher, is speaking first.

Regarding the disenchantment some of their students felt after their affair went public, he said serenely: “It’s good to get the pedestal kicked out from under you constantly. And not only is it good for you, but also for the practice we’re involved in. You get this glorified view of yourself.”
  “I don’t think that happens to me,” Ms. Saidman Yee said quietly.
  “Oh, honey, give me a break.”

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Seven Wonders of the Buddhist World

I watched Seven Wonders of the Buddhist World on YouTube. It's by Bettany Hughes and BBC.

It's quite amazing to see these sacred sites. All sorts of amazing footage.

It starts out exploring some of the ideas, and she goes to Bodhgaya (1).

It goes to Nepal where there are many Tibetans, and she goes to the Boudhanath Stupa (2). There is the signing female monk who also takes in girls from negative families. There's a bit about Ashoka.

She goes to the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy Sri Lanka (3). You can't see the tooth, but you can get some holy water from ritual bathing of it. She trots out the superficial idea of karma, as a kind of metaphysical retribution, instead of the ideas of conditionality that are not necessarily punishing or rewarding. Not that there isn't some sort of wisdom in there, but I just worry people have some kind of weird metaphysical add on. Buddhism for me has parsimony. It doesn't add on a bunch of stuff. Sri Lanka has been in a civil war for many years.

Then she goes to Thailand and Wat Poh and the golden reclining Buddha (4). She points out it's opulence.

Cambodia's wonder of the Buddhist world is Ankor Wat (5). This is where she tries meditation. She's a beginner at meditation and seems positive about it, but doesn't want to take it on. It feels too much for her. She has respect for it. Again Cambodia has been plagued by war, genocide and terror in modern times. There were times when Buddhist were persecuted, so there are small sort of hidden temples. She tries to understand samara.

Next she goes to Hong Kong, to see Giant Buddha overlooking the city. It's also called Tian Tan Buddha (6). She decodes the iconography. She visit a monastery right next to the giant buddha. People meditate in cute little insect nets just the size of a meditator. I never saw water bowl meditation. You walk and try not to spill a bowl of water. She tries to understand Zen.

(7) Finally she goes to California, to Hsi Lai Temple in a suburb of L.A. There are over 10K Buddha statues, and families sponsor them and get to put their names on them (good money making idea). She tries to understand Nirvana. She talks to a California guy who doesn't want Buddhism to be mixed with anything goes new age spirituality, but sees it as a discipline. She sits and watches a yoga class.

She's strong at giving background to the context of these seven wonders in the countries she's in.

I liked seeing Richard Gombrich, I've never seen footage of him. Wish there was more footage of him.

I guess I'd like to see the 8 great places: Lumbini,Bodh Gaya, Sarnath,Kusinara,Sravasti, Rajgir, Sankassa, Vaishali.

It is narrated by Bettany Hughes, a non-buddhist, a popular historian, and therefore has a certain level of superficiality and tries to understand ideas in Buddhism without much depth. Lots of expert talking heads, and local experts give a hodgepodge of ideas. She starts out calling it a philosophy, but expands it later. It was weird her talking while a group of Tibetan monks were chanting in the same room. I could see her trying to "get the shot".

One talking head in this film says that Buddhism is all about personal responsibility. I would agree, but I would also add that there are sects of Buddhism that focus more on other power, mostly the pure land traditions. You need self power, community power and other power.

Thurman says there is no creator god, but there are many gods. I would also say it's possible to believe in them as archetypes, or even mental creations that might be useful.

One commenter wondered why Borobudur wasn't included. I'd leave out the one in California and put that one in. One person noted that the 4 noble truths were not explicitly mentioned.

In the end, it synthesizes a lot of information about Buddhism, the various cultures and sects that spring out of enlightenment experience in 7 different countries, and shows a lot of footage of sacred places, and talks to a bunch of people to get the various takes on Buddhism. What it lacks in depth it makes up for in breadth. At times I was offended by the simplicity, and others I was interested in the footage of practicing Buddhist. I don't know if it would be spiritual tourism to visit these 7 sites. I think you don't need to go anywhere to practice. Many people have been profoundly effected by traveling to the holy sites in India. My impression of people who got interested in Buddhism because they were in one of these countries and they just went to some temple because it's a tourist site, is that they don't really follow it up. But some do, and it works for them. It's a funny old world.

(I couldn't help but notice on the same page was a documentary called Jesus Was A Buddhist Monk. It was done by the BBC.)

Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics

Many years ago I heard a talk while on an ordination retreat, and I heard about Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics. I wanted to read the book, but the speaker didn't want to lend out the book. I was on retreat about going for refuge, and like these retreats, there's lots of meditation, and dharma talk. I still think I'm trying to grasp the depths of going for refuge to the three jewels.

I check on line when I got home, and it's almost $200 used on Amazon. That number hasn't changed over the years.

I was on retreat, again on an ordination retreat, in California. We borrowed another order's retreat center. They had a copy. But because I was on retreat, I wasn't really into plowing through a book. At the end of the retreat, I asked if I could borrow it, promising to send it back, but they wouldn't lend it.

I've stalled reading When The Swans Came To The Lake, because it's hit times I feel I know about and it's not as interesting, but there is a bit in there about the book by R.H. Blyth.

So I googled it today. Looks like it's going to be reprinted soon, looks like Welcome Rain Publishers is going to reprint it. On their website they say it comes out in February for $15. On Barnes and Noble it says it's coming out June 16th for $9.99. No mention of this new edition on Amazon.

I thought it was on Kindle, but it's Blyth's book Zen and Zen Classics (vol 1), which looks interesting, but not the same book.

Then I figured out how to read it on Open Library. I couldn't do it on my iPad, I had to do it on my laptop and download Adobe Digital Editions, which isn't simple, but I have a copy on my laptop to read. Now I don't really like to read on my laptop much, but it is free! And you join Open Library for free. So beggars can't be choosers. And there is a way to read it till it comes out.

Now I don't want to give you the impression I'm like some rare book collector, who makes a fetish out of a book, regardless of it's contents. It's the contents I'm interested in. When I go by specialty book stores that sell expensive collector books, I have no interest. And while I enjoyed the first quarter of the book, it's not the most amazing book in the world. But it's part of the history of Buddhism coming to America, and it's a classic book about Buddhism and English literature, so I'm glad to, after many years, get my eyes on it.

Hunting for a book for years is kind of fun. I guess I'll start at the beginning, because I can't remember what page or chapter I was on, and it's been so long.

Ebert's Religion

"In his 2011 memoir Life Itself, he comes clean: "No, I am not a Buddhist. I am not a believer, not an atheist, not an agnostic. I am more content with questions than answers." In so doing, he inadvertently expressed just how much of a religious person he was. As the astute Catholic monk Thomas Merton once declared, "A man is known better by his questions than his answers," and indeed religious traditions themselves unfold in the oscillation between questions and answers, answers and questions. There is no great person of faith, be it Abraham or Moses, St Augustine or St John of the Cross, Jesus or Muhammad, who did not express doubt, did not ask a lot of questions."

That was from S Brent Plate on Hufpo.

I think his approach is compatible with Buddhism.

There are various definitions of Buddhism. Tibetans sometimes think it's karma and rebirth. Sangharakshita thinks it's going to refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Elaborating in my own words, I think it's the belief that the Buddha actually got enlightened, that enlightenment is a significant thing, and that moving on the path towards enlightenment is worthwhile. While Buddhists might not be the only ones to elucidate the path towards enlightenment, the tradition of text and living people is very supportive on the journey, the living tradition. So when Ebert says he's not a Buddhist, he probably doesn't invest in the tradition.

I've often written my religion on Facebook to be "utmost wondrousness", and I love Keats' negative capability. In the Kalama Sutta, there's a kind of permission to think for yourself, not to just blindly follow what others say. The Buddha supposedly often said essentially, "don't do it just because I said that, test it in your own experience."

That's what appeals to me about Buddhism, that you don't have to over ride your experience, and you don't have to swallow someone else's revelations. There are practical teachings on the path towards enlightenment that the tradition has handed down, and it would seem foolish to ignore those. But you can't really blaspheme that, and you don't have to believe it if it goes against your experience. It really has a modern sensibility that is about freedom.

To be sure some religions offer answers. People want answers. It's natural to poll others when trying to figure things out. Sometimes in a kind of ferver people start to do other things, mistaken strategies, that lead to negativity towards spirituality. I can't convince my atheist friend to watch Atheism 2.0, which encourages an appreciation of what spirituality can give. I think it's a mistake to dismiss what is good in the spiritual traditions, true spirituality. Rejecting labels might be one path, and embracing a tradition and community that works for you might also be a start.

By the way, I laughed a lot at this collection of Ebert Quotes form movies he didn't like.

Happy Birthday

Today is Stephen Batchelor's Birthday.

I appreciated his Buddhism Without Belief and read it a few times. It's a manifesto for people who don't feel like adding in weird entities to their belief system and still be a Buddhist. I reread Alone With Others recently enough; It is a synthesis of modern thought, including Hegel, with Buddhism.  I was eying Living With The Devil yesterday, I'm going to reread that soon. And his latest book is another good read, Confessions of an Atheist Buddhist. He's written also an interesting book about Buddhist movements, called Awakening Of The WestFaith in Doubt is an early memoir, probably encompassed in his last memoir, but maybe more detail about his break with the Tibetans because he's not feeling reincarnation. He also has a translation of the Bodhicaryavatara, and Song of the Profound View by Rabten, Geshé. There are other books, but I haven't read them.

Thank you for the amazing unique voice in Buddhist writing!

Saturday, April 06, 2013


Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu has this to say about samvega: “Samvega was what the young Prince Siddhartha felt on his first exposure to aging, illness, and death. It's a hard word to translate because it covers such a complex range — at least three clusters of feelings at once: the oppressive sense of shock, dismay, and alienation that come with realizing the futility and meaninglessness of life as it's normally lived; a chastening sense of our own complacency and foolishness in having let ourselves live so blindly; and an anxious sense of urgency in trying to find a way out of the meaningless cycle. This is a cluster of feelings we've all experienced at one time or another in the process of growing up, but I don't know of a single English term that adequately covers all three. It would be useful to have such a term, and maybe that's reason enough for simply adopting the word samvega into our language.”