Wednesday, May 24, 2017

watching desire



Watching desire, I see that while I'm watching my daughter, I want to read, and when she goes to bed, I quickly get tired of reading. Actually that's not true, I read till I get tired, but my attention does wander.

Children are the ultimate gurus. My daughter continually exposes my "working ground" and how far I am from my aspirations. I find myself extremely upset at a little girl in diapers who hardly weighs anything and comes up to my hips in height. The little tyrant. She very much wants her way all the times and everything is hers. And yet the love I feel for this imperfect being...

I don't try to get rid of desire and act at a spiritual level that I am not at yet. Very much a work in progress, like everyone.

#2


37 Practices of Bodhisattvas

The Thirty-Seven Practices of Boddhisattvas is from the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, the tradition that the Dali Lama is in. I have read this book before. I want to go through the 37 practices one at a time. The first one is here.


#2 Attached to your loved ones you are stirred up like water.
Hating your enemies you burn like fire.
In the darkness of confusion you forget what to adopt and discard.
Give up your homeland--
This is the practice of the Bodhisattvas. 


This one is about "going forth". The Buddha left his home, family, comforts, to seek an end of suffering.

Sangharakshita gave everything up and wandered into the homeless life. He regretted giving up his passport when he tried to go to Cylon, but maybe the order would not have been the same way if he had.

Comfortable middle class people look to go forth metaphorically, but we can not discount actually just leaving the home conditions. Children demand a lot of attention and financial support, you work and then come home to parent them. There is no time off. If you have discipline, like I did for many years, you can raise your mindfulness up--perhaps to suffer more. Then one day you just can't any more. You're not there. You realize the home life can't support individualistic spiritual development. So your family becomes sangha and you go on the Bodhisattva path, wishing to raise everyone up with you. In the face of worldly suffering we shatter apart like Avalokiteshvara, and then are put back together by the love of Amitabha. It's no surprise that love is the archetype that becomes popular, even though metta is not personal, and yet it's personal like a mother loves her only child--sprayed out onto the world. You know as a parent that you can't always control things, you just try to ride the waves, the various forces that threaten one. 

The secular world preaches a kind of individualism and materialism that can be twisted into a spiritual materialism. I used to yearn for a center for my order. I got excited when SF got a retreat center outside the city. I became obsessed with all the beautiful cathedrals the Catholic church has. Have you seen this teacher, that teacher? You flew in there and did a retreat there once?! You can treat Buddhism like the Rubins, and create an art museum, or a gallery, or a salon. You can develop a podcast, a blog, and on and on. Tweeting your way to enlightenment in 140 characters or less, you use all the aids to feel spiritual, and yet it doesn't take enough hold, you forget and have a good meal or you read a good book or you watch a great new series. Oh, sure work is a drag, but I like it that my books come within 2 days, and we need a new bullet blender, and wouldn't it be nice if baby had a new onesies? She's growing out of her current ones.

The passive personality person uses Buddhism to buttress the pathology of inaction, the edict to do nothing, and watch others suffer because of that decision. "Suffering is inevitable for those not far on the path, it can help one to wake up." But the crisis of parenting has woken you up to suffering and you figure out ways to abdicate the role and raise free range children.

The two above examples are just two examples of possible spiritual bypassism, coined by Wellwood. So even in the spiritual life there are dangers, why not dangers in the monastic life. You can learn to focus in precious circumstances and become a hot house flower? Spiritual individualism rears it's ugly head again.

The co-dependency of most relationships help us to not embrace the freedom we are afraid of. Freedom is truly scary if you take responsibility for where you are now. It's only you that has kept you from becoming enlightened. How did you put yourself into this situation you find yourself in?

I don't like the buddha nature doctrines because even if you are already enlightened, or it's funny how easy it is, you still need to figure out how to uncover it. This might be a Hindu doctrine, and Hinduism tries to absorb Buddhism the way Judaism tries to consume Christianity. Jesus was not trying to create a new religion. It's actually Paul who does that.

In all the contradictory doctrines of world religions, we get that it is beyond reasoning, more than a feeling, more than everything we can imagine, and therefore it's OK that we don't get it. It's OK to be ignorant as long as we chant a mantra or say a prayer. Spirituality for the masses becomes religion that ossifies flexible ideas, and sets up hierarchies, and abuse. Worldly teachers commit worldly mistakes, and there is a crisis of faith. We edge more into the archetypes than the saints, real history proves nobody is beyond reproach. So for Buddhism it's faith that Buddhadharma is really something worth going for, and not just saying that the end of suffering has been found by transcending desire by making your consciousness box a certain size such that venial cares recede and maybe even disappear. The goal of being creative instead of reactive is worth striving for and as millions set upon the path, many are quickly waylaid by the concrete needs of others. Or maybe they are on the Bodhisattva path. We can get ishkabibble or crazy like a fox. If you live on the side of a mountain and can meditate all day, you can hone that mindfulness and have some insights, but nothing is guaranteed and maybe you need worldly challenges to uproot complacency. Oh it's all so confusing just pick you path and experiment and see what happens. You can understand that at least. Your precious practice with the cutting edge where you're challenged to take the larger perspective goes on and on and on. Some great teacher comes in and does something selfish and you think, oh, I was being unrealistic all along, just be natural.

I've tied myself into a knot. 

The goal is freedom and not an unfeeling unthinking freedom. There is no easy path. Nobody can market a sect of Buddhism that has the right one and true path because at this time it's open source, and because everyone is unique, has different abilities and pasts.

So you go forth from what you know, you go forth from comfort, you go forth from dogma, heresy and you just study the dharma and try to practice the lofty ideals, push yourself to give up more, push yourself to be kinder, push yourself to be authentically evolved, not false self aping what it means to be spiritual. You don't stand on a chair and say you don't exist because someone will kick you in the shins and you'll see quite quickly that in fact you do exist. A humility is needed, bragging about achievement is the first sign of lack of achievement and therefore not to be believed. Sorry Ingram. You can parse the path but I haven't heard the thunderous silence.



Friday, April 28, 2017

Sobriety



My Buddhist friend is traveling to lead a retreat in India, and asked if I had any words about addiction. I ended up writing him 3 e-mails.

Here is the first one:

Addiction is trying to keep the party going, but it's meant to be an infrequent thing. It always hides difficult emotions and thoughts. As a Buddhist there is a specific precept out of 5 to forbid. Avoid the habit because the progression of the disease means you need more and more to not feel bad. It may even take a decade or more. Alcoholism is an equal opportunity obsession and allergy. Anyone can get it, rich or poor. If you aspire to follow the Buddha avoid drugs. Get support if you have a problem, isolation is an aspect of addiction. May you be happy, may you be well my brothers and sisters in India, from America.

Here is the second one:

You asked me to write about addiction for our brothers in the dharma for your next retreat. I dashed off a quick response, that might be short and the one you want to read to them.

I think I also left out another aspect of addiction--delusion that you are not harming anyone. You could also call that magical thinking. The idea that you can drink and that only hurts you is a fallacy. Supporting the industry harms others. Anyone you come in contact with will be adversely affected. Your family most definitely is affected. The fantasy that you work and provide for the family so you deserve a drink is an especially pernicious thought. The idea that others are doing it, so that it is OK is another pernicious thought. The road to recovery, and it's a lifelong journey, is to connect with others who value sobriety. Please reach out to others and commit to sobriety. May you be, happy may you be well.

Here is the third one:

Another thing to remember is that the default reaction is to denounce the alcoholic and suggest that they are morally weak. But the disease model means you treat it the way you would cancer. You bring kindness. What an addict needs is being hugged closer, not pushed away. So find a way to suspend your judgements, and protect yourself from exploitation and your own harm, and be there for your friend with addiction problems. It's only through a solid relationship that you can chip away ever so lightly at the delusion that it's not affecting a person. Consult friends and get support if you are in contact with someone with addiction because it will be hard, frustrating, annoying, challenging and off putting. It becomes a negative feedback loop that leads to more and more isolation. But the buddhist goes against the stream and seeks to cure the suffering of the world. Be like Ksitigarbha, go into the hell realm and help out your brothers and sisters. You are strong enough.

May you be happy, may you be well.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Sloth and torpor



As we know from a previous post the "sloth and torpor" hinderance can fully mean: Lethargy and drowsiness: Lacking driving power, lethargy, not having vigor or lacking energy, unwieldiness, laziness, sleepiness, drowsiness, dullness of the mind.

In chapter 146. Getting Rid of Drowsiness (VII 58A) of the Numerical Discourses of the Buddha, the text suggests 8 ways to cope with drowsiness. This isn't just for meditation, it's probably if you're also reflecting or even communing with sangha, perhaps anything you do.

1. Do not give attention to a thought that leads to drowsiness. For instance if I think about all the things I have to do, I get drowsy sometimes. Or perhaps a particularly hard issue. Now meditation is not thinking and not not thinking. You have an object of focus or even no object of focus, and when thoughts come up you usually just let them pass by. But still there are thoughts that will lead to drowsiness and you can just not pick up those thoughts. I suppose these countermeasures can also be for reflection, you could be reflecting and this hinderance can come up.

2. You can think about the Dharma, what you have learned and mastered. Perhaps if you're drowsy you've lost the flow of where you are heading, your vector, your aspirations. If you think about the Dharma and why you're even doing this. Motivation is important to get you though the tough times, the dark night of the soul, and through drowsiness. This should be personal and I'm just going to riff now about what I could think about.

I go straight to condition co-production, Pratītyasamutpāda, 12 nidanas, the three marks of existence, the shortness of life. I try to think and feel my way into those insights. I think about peak experiences where I really felt it with my whole body. I think about how healthy I feel after the effort of a retreat or a concerted effort practice time. I think about the life of the Buddha, his 4 sights that got him to go forth. I think about Mara's challenges to the Buddha. I can think of great books I have read about the Dharma. I can see the TBC refuge tree, or modern teachers who are inspirational that are not on that tree, I can do an alternative female refuge tree, I can visualize Avalokiteshvara with a thousand arms helping others,  Amithabha and love, Manjushri with his sword, Padmasambhava with his little mustache, Milarepa with all the funny images of him that I have, him green from eating nettle soup so much, singing his songs. I've been reading a lot about the 6 element practice, so I could see the 6 elements flowing through my body, my body as a temporary collection of those 6 things, a river if you will. I can visualize real people I have met and gotten to know a little bit who represent aspects of the Dharma, and Shakyamuni. I can say in my head mantras that energize me, remember sitting in the shrine room with my dharma brothers chanting. That always gives me energy. I can even visualize beautiful mental snap shots I have taken in nature. I can visualize Aryaloka, Jikoji, Garrison or camping spots where I meditated. I'm getting energized just writing this. 

3. You can recite the dharma. We don't memorize as much these days, but I have the heart sutra memorized in English. I have the refuges and precepts memorized from Pali. I know the Vajrasattva mantra.

I want to memorize the Ti Ratna Vandana. I have much of the 7 fold puja memorized. I have read the Diamond Sutra many times as a ritual. There are other pujas as well. Some of the puja links I have in past blog posts are dead, unfortunately. I have a folder of printed out pujas, because I had that fear that they would disappear. I've worked on a few pujas myself, but have not completed them. I could energize myself to complete them! There are so many possibilities here.

4. Pull your ear lobes. Rub your limbs. 

5. Wash your face. Look around, look at the stars.

6. Visualize a bright light (presuming it's night).

7. Walking meditation.

Alternating sitting and walking meditation is a way to get a lot out of a practice time. I have to go outside to walk most of the time, and people often come up to me and ask if I have lost something because I'm walking slowly, looking down. But early in the morning or late at night nobody does that. I can walk up and down my hallway sometimes without feeling too claustrophobic. Sometimes a faster mindful walk can be good too, if I have a lot of energy.

8*. Take a nap. 

On my first retreat, I was so tired, when the meditation bell was rung, I launched myself onto a couch and was instantly out in a lovely nap. Meditation takes energy, until you get to a certain point, and when I meditate, the first few days of a retreat, I often catch up on sleep. Then I tend to be more awake, and sleep less, but that is another problem. Calming oneself down from a late night puja or whatnot isn't easy for me, so sometimes I would skip the puja to get a good night sleep.

I tend to follow the program exactly at a retreat, and nap when I can if I'm tired. I probably follow the schedule too exactly, I missed an important meeting once because I wanted to follow the retreat schedule and wanted to meditate. I do make a point of skipping one meditation if someone wants to go on a walk with me. Walking with a dharma brother is important too. I listen to my body and if I feel overwhelmed, and I feel a physical resistance to going to meditate, I take a walk in nature instead and try to figure out what is going on while on the walk. Otherwise I just push past it, sometimes just following the schedule is a comfort and not thinking about it you can slide into deep practice. Sometimes I add in meditation, waking up early, or sitting on after a meditation.

I was excited to see a Pali Cannon chapter on sloth, and wanted to share it with the world. May all being be happy, may all being be well.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

31 bodily fluids

I'm reading Sangharakshita's meditation anthology, and he's on the subject of the contimplation of the repulsiveness of the body. The practice is not objective truth, it's just a counter to sexual attraction. Supposedly there are 31 bodily fluids. I thought, "you know you're a buddhist when you know what synovial fluid is, and why you need to know." I looked up a modern list of fluids. Aqueous humor is the fluid in your eyes.

My old saw about this practice is that I can dismantle a gorgeous woman into disgusting parts, but the problem is that I put it all back together. But today I was thinking, that my line, but does it have to be true. And thus I was freed of that thought.

Start Where you are.

I continue my readings of the Pali Cannon. One such incomplete translation is Numerical Discourse of the Buddha. This came out before the Complete Translation, which costs $52, and $60 for the kindle version. Anywho, there is some fascinating stuff in here. One was a concise section that called itself a Dharma Explosion (VI, 65). One where thinking about looking at women is lack of chastity (VII, 47)

So the question for the modern reader who is neither monastic nor lay, is how do I negotiate these standards. The standards of Buddhism can be quite strict if you really follow them, even if you look at them not as literal but principles. Start where you are is Pema's mantra, so you look at where you are. The idea is that when you are enlightened, coitus will no longer present itself as something one moves towards. As an ordinary human who is not enlightened you will feel the pull of sexuality. Even if they are celibate, they will have memories, enjoy the sexually attractive form, see a beautiful woman and your jaw will drop. The phrase "cutting edge of your practice" fell out of favor at Aryaloka when I was there, but it is a useful idea. Where are you in renouncing reactively going for pleasure and pushing away pain. The goal is to be creative and not reactive. The Buddha got to a place where he did not even come close to a sexual though adjacent.

Many people see these lofty goals and see it as unrealistic, non human or part of what the man wants, for you to be an abnegation type so you suffer the indignities of twenty first century capitalism, but also wants you to spend spend spend for compensatory indulgences. It is revolutionary to defy that expectation.

Healing the body with the mind

Meditation Saved My Life is an example of healing the body with the mind. Phakyab Rinpoche claims to have healed his leg of gangrene, among other things. Then he begins to tell his life story. He once got lost and slept outside, and when he was found he was dry even though it was raining.

There is scientific evidence that positive thinking can improve one's recovery. Can it go this far? Miracles are often exaggerations to draw one's attention to potential. Are this man's claims exaggerations or real. It is for you to tell.

As a modern reader, I feel the split. Hoping to believe, but not seeing this as something as part of my worldview. Now I know there is more on heaven and earth than is contained in my philosophies.  I don't want to miss the potential by not believing.

My own personal body ailments are the result of aging. Touchy back, dodgy ankle, soft shins, a head that does not like being hit. All past injuries and wear and tear. Can these things be transcended by the mind? I'm sure they can to a certain degree, and the more positive and focused I am, the less they really matter in a way. I'm on page 44, but I intend to work to read this book with an open mind.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Words at the Threshold

Started reading WORDS AT THE THRESHOLD by Lisa Smartt. This is a book about what people say at the end of their life. It spawned the database www.finalwordsproject.org.

I see this type of reading as facing death. What the charnel grounds meditation did for people with that option, the literature on death does that for the cerebral readers of the west. The Denial of Death has been a seminal text for me, and I wish not to defensively avert my gaze, but to see it as the larger tapestry of impermanence, conditioned coproduction. Our world is sanitized. It's hard to get close to death. There are no charnel grounds to go meditate at.

When Smartt used the phrase "word salad", it was to disparage the concept as someone who doesn't understand. She reports the metaphors of dying can elude us, but can make sense often.

Reading this book I wrote relatives and asked about last words in the family. I thought about what I'd like my ending to be like. Taking a look at it, I decided some CDs I want to listen to: Bud Powell,  Grant Green, Lester Young, Billie Holliday, La Traviata, La Bohem, Hydrogen Jukebox and Satyagraha. The books I want read to me. I'd like the satipatthana sutta read to me, the diamond sutra and other perfection of wisdom texts, the precious garland, the bodhicaryavatara, songs of Milarepa, the Lotus Sutra, the sutra of the golden light, the lankavatara sutra and the pure land sutras, a survey of Buddhism.

Sangharakshita wrote about the 6 element practice, which he learned from Yogi Chen, and how it's another way to look at dismantling, seeing that there is no essential self. Sangharakshita suggests you only really do that one on retreat, in an environment where deep practice is supported. I kept doing it after one retreat because I had a white light experience, and I started to feel like I was dying. That's the whole point, a spiritual death, to be reborn, but it calls for supportive conditions and the workaday life is not supportive. I do it a few times when I build up my practice, but I also let it fall down to rebuild again. Or rather it falls down despite my best efforts at vigilance. You can listen to a version of the meditation on the Insight Timer, lead by Bodhipoksa. Here is the free buddhist audio search. Do this practice within the community, don't do it without connecting to a tradition of your own choosing.

Then there is volunteering at a Hospice, like Norman Fisher discusses in one of his essays. I'm considering that.

May you be happy, may you be well.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

chapter 5

Alan Watts' book Psychotherapy East and West, treats Buddhist liberation as another boondoggle by civilization to tame humans. So you can imagine his last chapter is going to be a bit of a letdown. His suggestion is to dance with life, a full eroticism with all of life and not just the genitals.

He is as usual eminently quotable: "The type of human being who submits to this culture is, almost literally, a zombie." He is talking about the human who submits to technology. At times like these he doesn't nail down his insight cleanly, he is more like a continental philosopher who uses philosophy more like an art, than a logic inquiry. His statements are suggestively artistic.

In another place he quotes a 6000 year old Egyptian he quote from a Fromm book: "Our earth is degenerate...Children no longer obey their parents." Boy, wish everyone heard this. I hear this kind of statement all the time. It comes from nostalgia for a past that didn't exist, like the mother who tells her children she would never do this or that as a child, but really she did.

In the end this book is impressionistic. I can't help but think how Watts ended his life divorced from his wife, fired from his job, living like a total genital hedonist. What he actually did with his ideas does not seem to be where I want to end. His rhetoric can have a liberative feel to it, but it's target is vague and unclear, and does disentangle the bewilderment and confusion, the fog we all walk through in the world we find ourselves in. It does encourage one to believe in themselves and be bold, which might be useful to the insecure. In the end it is an interesting meditation on psychotherapy and the guru relationship, even if it fizzles out, after it gains some momentum.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Chapter 4 Psychotherapy East and West

This book seems to get better going forward. The Countergame chapter is an intense critique of psychotherapy, and presents it as similar to the guru relationship. That psychotherapy comes crashing down, implies also that Vajrayana Buddhism comes crashing down. I felt it was a strong critique of both.

On the psychotherapy front, he wonders if we can truly free associate, and if we could, why would we do that with a stranger? In the end we have conflict between society and our impulses. The therapist can be anti-society, or he can buy into "symptoms" and "mental illness". The way to get over mental illness is to accept your feelings, and when you screw up, you are not accepting them. It's hard not to get past a game of one-up-manship.

The discussion of games, made me think about Games People Play, a book that is 60+ years old, and that I read as a teenager, and found it quite bewildering. I hadn't really been that aware of social activity, but on some level the games seemed authoritative the way the writer wrote about them. I think today we would perhaps not put women into such a negative light, for some of the games, it feels dated in my memory, me reading the book 30+ years ago.

I also think of Knots by RD Laing, a very different kind of book, and kind of poetic book about his therapeutic experiences, and the knots people tie them selves up in.

The Countergame chapter is bigger, more of a critique of the knots and games people play in psychotherapy. He bases the chapter on a paper by J. Hailey. When you google that name you can come up with Jay Hailey, a family therapist. A little more looking and indeed his is the author of the essay that Watts quotes in the book, and is collected in a book of collected essays.

Not sure if he is the same one because they don't list publications, only books. He seems family therapy royalty sitting next to Minnuchin. Strategic family therapy sounds like the way child welfare is done today:

A therapist employing strategic therapy must:
Identify solvable problems.
Set goals.
Design interventions to achieve those goals.
Examine the responses.
Examine the outcome of the therapy.

This also seems like a forerunner to the short techniques of cognitive behavioralism. Insurance companies love brief therapy and there's something to be said for a non-endless therapy.

Anyway, I found this chapter interesting, might have to reread this chapter again in the future.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

37 Practices of Bodhisattvas

The Thirty-Seven Practices of Boddhisattvas is from the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, the tradition that the Dali Lama is in. I have read this book before. I want to go through the 37 practices one at a time.

The first one goes as follows:

Having gained this rare ship of freedom and fortune
Hear, think and meditate unwavering night and day
In order to free yourself and others
From the ocean of cyclic existence--
      This is the practice of the Boddhisattva

There is a traditional teaching that doesn't touch me much. I don't really know much about reincarnation, and because there is no soul, or essential self, it is all contingent, then of course what ever conditions and whatnot of someone's being is passed on. A friend said to me that he found it hard to imagine all that energy would not going into anything. They also reference the 6 realms. Now The 6 realms are an interesting idea. I've imagined prison to be a hell realm, and with the greed in America I imagine it a hungry ghosts realm. I have a friend in academia and it's not a too much of a stretch of the imagination to imagine it as a god realm. Of course animals live in the animal realm. I'm not sure if humans are much more than animals and the separation makes it easier to eat and exploit animals. But it's rare to be a human when there are so many other possibilities. There's a bit in the Buddhavacana. that suggests being human is as rare as a turtle surfacing after 100 years under water into a fixed yoke, where the turtle could be harnessed. That is rare.

But I don't think we need all these metaphors. I don't take a meditation class if my friend doesn't sign me up. It just happened that one order member from the TCB happened to be in NYC. In the USA the TBC has really taken off in Newmarket New Hampshire, Missoula Montana and San Francisco California. Not really in NYC. It just so happened that I was at a place in my life that I was receptive to the teachings, and being unemployed I spent half a year reading all about it. I went on a retreat at Aryaloka over Christmas and New Years on the Brahma Viharas. It just so happened that an order member taught that retreat. Since then he has gone off to live on the left coast and hasn't really been seen much since then. The retreat blew my mind, I felt the healthiest I've ever felt. I learned to love the puja. I don't think I've ever really been the same since. I was sustained in the TBC for many years. I feel that this is my root tradition and even if I meditate in a Zen tradition, or Tibetan tradition or the Theravadan tradition, I will always at base have a TBC orientation. I happened to find the one tradition of Buddhism that helped make sense of the whole tradition, and indeed all traditions of spirituality for me. All these confluences of events could easily have been otherwise. That I am healthy enough, that I am receptive enough, and that I have exerted myself is also quite lucky. So without the 6 realms and reincarnation it's a pretty amazing even. I'm lucky enough to have this translation and exposition of the teachings, the book came out in 1987. I happen to live in a time when many good English translations have come out. Fifty years ago, that would not have been true. In the history of the world, "America" is a new phenomenon. The USA is a new phenomenon. The spread of Buddhism around the world is a new phenomenon. When you read the early English language Buddhists, it seems kind of fast and loose. The quality of English translations and English Buddhism is vast now, and only seems to be getting bigger. I can read the Middle Length Discourses, the 100,000 Songs of Milarepa. The access to Buddhism is a very new phenomenon, not presented as Zen as the one true path or the other fledgling types of Buddhism replete with ethnic Buddhism. The west has actually culled out an essential Buddhism--even if it's just one Buddhism.

When you think about all these conditions coming together, it truly is a precious life, a rare life. Then you add on the brevity of human life, well, that's enough to put pressure on you. The average life span of white men in the USA is going down, but it's still into the 70's.

The use of the word "unwavering" points to a kind of vigilance, that I have not fully sustained. I do think infusing your entire life with a Dharmic viewpoint is beneficial.

May all beings be happy, may all beings be well.

Friday, February 24, 2017

doubt hinderance

Sangharakshita is said that the spiritual life is caught not taught. How one develops spiritual interest and momentum is an interesting thing. For me I almost couldn't say why, except it felt so healthy to be on the path of the Buddhadharma, to open up to a spiritual life that wasn't hypocrisy and positioning for a place in society. Spirituality is a very private thing--something that is not lost on me writing a public blog.

There are times when the Dharma has faded. There have been times when my bewilderment was not disentangled enough, and I hurt people. There were times when I didn't have the energy and could not transcend the hinderance of remorse. There are dark nights of the soul when there seems to be no real benefit to the path. In the end working through those things, again and again because my hubris doesn't disappear when I see through it once or twice. It is a question on how to develop the opposite of doubt.

I once said to a friend, "how do we know there's not some unconditioned event in Alaska right now, that we don't know about, and will never really know about?" My friend asked what is really going on. I discuss some doubt I had and the question went away. In some ways doubt can be wrong view. The many different ways we can doubt are limned in the chapter on doubt.

Another is self doubt. That's all good for the Buddha, but I can't be enlightened. We live in a society that challenges our sense of self constantly, and it's hard to have real integrity, to tell the truth, to be transparent in a good way, to walk the talk. To do what you are committed to. This is no easy project, and I can't blame others for not wanting to engage, it's quite a real task. You need energy, and insight. and tough skin, and clarity and so many others qualities I'm still learning about.

Reading the chapter on doubt hinderance in Working with the Five Hinderances. I thought about how one theme in my psychotherapy was tolerance of ambivalence. The more toleration of ambivalence we have, accepting that we don't really know, the more you can be in the moment without spinning off into mental proliferation and planning. I've had many discussions with people who were offended that I took a position of not knowing. People need the security of knowing. "Knowing" is necessary for action, though you can act with the ambivalence, though there is realistically a greater delay. In a way, that's why types like House and Rita are attractive. They vigorously pursue what they know and don't know.

This is where I give my usual plug for the negative capability.

The chapter on doubt was surprisingly rich. This whole book was very rich in interesting thoughts for me. He set a good tone and warned us of modern interpretations that are off. I thought this book was well worth the time, and the only book I know in the hinderances. Thank you Ajahn Theradhamma for the gift of the Dharma.

May all being be happy, may all being be well.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Listening to myself

It's a hinderance of mine that I get excited about ideas. It's sense pleasure once again leading me away from the focus on my breath. I heard myself saying, "Even if I don't get enlightened, I have gained a lot from being on the path, and working to reduce the distance between myself and the Buddha." That doesn't take into account the dark night of the soul, The Silence, and the hope of seeing the transcendental pleasures of the path. Enlightenment is experience far experience to me, but at a certain point in my meditation today, I felt a little of the craziness churning in my mind, settle down just a little. I guess I feel that is worth it, though I think meditation needs to be beyond good feelings, because that's just chasing sense pleasures again. You just do it, in some ways, regardless of the reward, ignoring spiritual materialism, relinquish, a little, for a second, the endless project of chasing positive sense pleasures and pushing away negative experiences.

Chapter 4 Psychotherapy East and West

Psychotherapy East and West by Watts Chapter IV: Through A Glass Darkly:

The chapter starts out comparing scientific views that are experience far for humans, and that it's not going to be the road to liberation except that it does give insight into some hooey. Then he runs through the confusion between western "ego" and eastern "ego".

Watts discusses difference between Freud and Jung, and is frustrated that even though the Jungians learned a lot of eastern religion, they didn't seem to grasp it beyond psychology. Through that section, I was thinking about how Stephen Mitchell has his grand unification theory of relational psychotherapy, and that drive theory was overturned. I bet Watts would have loved Relational Concepts of Psychoanalysis. I think more about The Denial of Death, Donald Winnicott, Melanie Klein, Fromm, existential psychotherapy, Kohut and self psychology, systems theory, interpersonal psychotherapy, and attachment theory. Freud is a reference point, but his grand theory has been debunked of late, in favor of relational psychoanalysis.

Watts seems to see how the denial of death is in play, says you can't live unless you face death. Kafka is often quoted that the meaning of life is death. Watts is also into field theory which is a close cousin to systems theory.

Much intellectual discourse is tilting at windmills. Nowadays in NYC most of the psychotherapy is done by social workers, who have a kind of curious and supportive approach, and few have further training. Maybe they have read The Drama of the Gifted Child.

Positive psychology is just starting out, not just about the deficit model. We have a long way to go. The conflict between the pleasure principle and the reality principle is something I think a lot about. Watts sees the double binds of cultural institutions is at the heart of the ishkabibble. The teachings of the Buddha are a way to enlightenment and liberation!

Then he shifts to existential psychotherapy. That is not going to understand the Buddhist project either. Watts is very quotable: "The stereotypical attitudes of a culture are, of course, always a parody of the insights of the more gifted members." Creating a meaningful life is a better project than a happy life, to me, but liberation is something different all together.

He explores the idea that we in the west must be anxious, guilty and insecure. Protestantism infects our thinking whether we're protestant or not. Everything in modern society conspires against liberation. He has a dim view of history, almost likens it to a hoarder of strings and rubber bands and whatnot. Every moment is a rebirth of possibility to be creative and not reactive.

Watts describes one of the fetters: that life is nothing and life is eternal are two ends of the spectrum that are to be avoided.

He seems to know about Sullivan and Frida Fromm-Reichmann, a contemporary psychiatrist of Freud from Germany, who emigrated to the USA during WW2. When you think of it, Watts is pretty well read for someone who is not a psychotherapist. I'm warming to this book as I read it, and get used to his style of writing. Next blog on the book will be about the rest of the book.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Alan Watts reprint of 1961 book

The First Half of Psychotherapy East and West:

In the first chapter of Psychotherapy East and West he skates along big ideas, and typically in academia you're supposed to get into smaller chunks to make sure you've got it right. In some ways Watts is kind of refreshing and there are interesting insights, like that you're going to have to get into social commentary in psychotherapy.

The second chapter is a mash up of physical theories, Wittgenstein and anthropology. The question whether good creates evil was raised, that was my favorite part because it reminds me of the movies MegaMind and Watchmen, who have that theme as well.

Parts of the chapter, I was scratching my head as he switched from topic to topic without transition sentences. It's a kind of riff, and you could see why he was popular in the counter culture when that type of writing was more acceptable. He had some interesting theological views, that in the book of Job, the devil is an adjudicating angel. And he notes he could never get angry at Judas because he just followed Jesus' orders. He thinks schizophrenia is caused by double binds, strong pulls in opposite directions. When the mother tells the little boy, "you don't want to play in that muddy puddle," when the kid really does.

The third chapter on liberation is a kind of history of eastern religions. Watts takes Madhyamaka as the form of Buddhism he is taking about when he generalizes about Buddhism, Vedanta and Taoism. It's an odd choice, when he's speaking in a kind of perfection of wisdom way of Chan.

Watts talks about the caste system of Hinduism, but forgets to mention the "untouchables", the Dalits who have used Buddhism as part of their liberation theology in present times, since Ambedkar converted to Buddhism. Ambedkar died in 56, so the movement had been going for 5 years at least. And yet I don't think right or wrongness in his generalizations and characterizations touches his arguments much, such as they are. Watts' style of writing is a kind of challenge in every statement, a kind of interpretation of a philosophy that is at once hard to evaluate, and bold sounding.

The liberation chapter could almost break the chapter up, because he goes on a long riff about reincarnation which is fairly interesting. Watts suggests that all the magic and miracles are for the weak minded. He points out that westerners see reincarnation as a good thing, where as in the east it is meant to be liberated from.

He compares Taoism and Confucianism, then compares Taoism to Rogerian psychotherapy. He looks at the influence of Ch'an Buddhism from Taoism. Then he throws in a dash of neuropsychology. It's a heady brew to gulp down, but occasionally there's an interesting sentence, and a new way of looking at things.

Many times I find myself asking about a statement about Jung or the other topics, "Is that really true?" I have no way of verifying many of the wide claims Watts makes.

I like the concept of distance of excessive reverence: The further away the prophet, the more reverential there must be, and thus a vibrant tradition "dies of respectability."

The question of sexuality is discussed, but he quotes Vedanta, which I'm not as interested in. The Mahayana is supposed to enter the world and therefore one is more likely to be married as a Mahayana Buddhist.

A tour de force is what they call these kinds of books, because it assumes a lot of background and interpretations on that background which are hard to know how true they are. There's a large grand comparison of liberation east and west, which is what the title is, so there you have it.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Alan Watts Psychotherapy East and West

Alan Watts Psychotherapy East and West has been reissued now that it's 56 years old. In the preface he talks about all the places where he's compared the two (psychotherapy and Buddhism), lots of academic setting and with lots of people in the field--the only name I recognized was Karen Horney--and he does not wish to summarize other's work and whatnot.

Before I read the book I have many thoughts. I reflect back on all the various books I have read synthesizing the two, seeing what both can shed light on the other. I have No Boundaries on my book shelf to read, which seems to be yet another synthesis. I also want to read Mixing Minds. Watts mentions the Fromm and DT Suzuki discussions.

I recently read a excerpt of Mary Pipher's Seeking Peace, where it seemed that meditation was the crucial event that got her to be mindful of how her past was present. I think of Marsha Linehan's integration of mindfulness into her DBT.

Undoubtedly Buddhism has impacted western psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. Now the other way around is more complicated. Freud's project was to turn people into ordinary unhappy people, which seems to stop rather abruptly. Recently I've been taking a positive psychology course on line. But of the ten positive emotions, metta, karuna, mudita and upekka are not mentioned. Instead we have: Joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiriation, awe and love. In a way they very much overlap with universal lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity.

The usual cliche is that you have to love yourself before you can love others, but Mary Pipher seems to be a pretty good therapist with unexamined self loathing. The other cliche is "you have to be somebody before you can become nobody". I always think of the story of the guy who says I'm nobody, and then you walk up to them and kick them in the shins and they double over in pain. There you are.

Faith and confidence in the path for me, means that regardless of the goal, the movement towards the goal is beneficial. Being more mindful and aware--how can you argue against that? In the Triratna Buddhist Community, at ordination, you accept "For the attainment of enlightenment I accept this ordination." My feeling is that if you're not going for enlightenment, now matter how far away, and no matter how vaguely understood, then you're missing a key ingredient. It's like drinking decaf coffee or non-alcoholic beer. What's the point? Now lots of people drink these things, so there must be a point, and some people will admit that they don't really know what enlightenment is, and therefore they can't really aim for a goal they don't understand. But the tradition has come down to us, is that it's important. I think the point is there are flashes, and then there are more frequent flashes, and then you might even feel like you've crossed a barrier, but in the tradition you don't brag about crossing the lines because you no longer exist, you feel the connection to everything, and therefore to say that you have attained something almost patently proves you haven't. And yet people do claim some attainments. I cannot judge however far David Smith (not the sculptor) or Daniel M. Ingram (not the composer) have gotten on the path, because I'm not even close to them. I've meditated with David Smith, and he seemed ahead of me on the journey, and I read his first book, which was interesting. Anywho, enlightenment is an orientation and intention for Buddhist so I keep it around and I'm curious about it. 

I do not know how advanced Alan Watts was as a practitioner, but a biography of him details his divorce due to infidelity, and his drinking problem. Like many people in early Buddhism, the fact that not much was know about it, left people eager to read anything about it. I wouldn't discount automatically his books because of infidelity and alcoholism. I feel like I got pretty far and saw a glimpse before I cracked up. So I'm going to read this book with an open mind and see what I can get out of it.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Ill Will



Read the part of Working With The Five Hinderances the is about ill will. Our current president is firing off ill will in me a lot. Now without going into the criticism of the president, I want to focus on what it triggers in me, my ill will, not his.

I can only control myself. It clashes with my values, including integrity, empathy for others, truth telling, social justice. So lots of things clash with my values. Even a federal government can do that, and an individual executive can do that.

Also I'm not perfect, I've violated my own values many times. Am I mad at myself for going against my own values, not understanding my shadow well enough. Yes I am.

There are plenty of people who don't feel represented by every president, but this one seems special. I'm talking with people a lot, like I did after 9/11, trying to figure out what the heck is going on.

One positive thing to do is engaged Buddhism, to fight what you see as not so good, and work towards a better world. Another is to send metta to all the people who are hurt by certain policies that are attempted to be enacted.

Finally, as always, you try to befriend your ill will, get to know it in the deepest possible way. No point in pretending it's not there.

I'm taking a class on positive psychology, and one suggestion is to make a portfolio of what evokes the 8 positive emotions, the professor says are positive emotions.

I think if I met the president and was allowed to talk with him, I'd want to hear more about his past.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Musings


I'm not looking down on the Buddha, but it is an interesting viewpoint in the photo. You see his hand and knees quite clearly.

Reading The Purpose and Practice of Meditation, Sangharakshita's experience of sort of rigid insight meditation practices are in the 70's in England. I guess I wouldn't have kept that in the collection, it's out of date. I'm reading The Best Buddhist Writing 2010, Vajrayana teachers are teaching calming meditation. Listening on Insight Timer, Theravadan Buddhist are doing visualization meditations. They are all getting us in touch with our bodies and the breath. When I was visiting Zen Mountain Monastery the lovely woman giving us a tour talked about doing metta. I think with the internet we've gotten to a place where all the forms of meditation are available. I listened to a Taoist meditation that seemed rather Buddhist except for the music in the background. Reading Working With The Five Hinderances, there's a kind of Start Where You Are kind of ethic, no dharma and denial. There are no easy work arounds, and you need to avoid spiritual bypassing (coined by John Welwood). It's as though people really are doing a Survey of Buddhism, looking at the breadth and depth of Buddhism.

Looks like there's a copy of the survey for $4.04 in the USA, which is the lowest price for a used book on Amazon. The Best of Buddhism books are 1 cent, but then there's $3.99 in shipping and handling. So after all the free books out there--and there are quite a lot of them--the $4 used book is quite thrifty.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Hinderances and circumstances


Another aspect of the hinderances is that they are very ego driven, and therefore they are an opportunity to observe the self. It's almost crushing to admit you have hinderances, or greed, hatred and desire. The hope is to turn desire into Dhammachanda, which is desire for the Dharma life. I like that concept.

Ajahn Theradhamma also talks about circumstances. He talks about the importance of generosity to help break the hold on self but excoriates the lay who leave after giving stuff, and miss the meditation. Theravadan tradition is plagued by the lay/monastic split.

Latest





Thinking more about Ajahn Theradhammo's book The Five Hinderances, it's almost a Padmasambhava point--that you don't get rid of the hinderances, you work with them. He also says something I've never heard, that working with the hinderances is in the 4th of the 4 items of mindfulness in the Satipatthana Sutta, which would make my waiting 14 years less of a mistake. I had a feeling that that might be a unique Theravadan tradition take on the Sutta because I don't remember that from other books. Some of my books are on Kindle, and I guess I didn't think to search them when I was looking up the Hinderances in my books: Living With Awareness and Satipatthana. I'll have to look into those books, along with the others I mention in the last post. The other thing I feel coming in the book is discussion of circumstances. Theradhammo sort of dismisses them because if you're a monk they're all taken care of supposedly--though Ajahn Chah, seems to think it's a problem with the Thais.

Been thinking lately I'm a Theravadan in the morning, Mahayana in the daytime, Zen in the evening and Pure Land at bedtime. I read a Theravadan book or the pali cannon in the morning before I meditate. During the day I try to add positivity to the world, the Bodhisattva ideal. In the evening I usually do a Pure Awareness meditation. And I fall asleep listening to a pure land sutra.

It's interesting that in the Shorter Sukhavativyuha Sutra that the Bodhisattva who's pure land it is, covers the pure land with his tongue, and then he can describe it. Wow, that's a big tongue, a very descriptive tongue to be able to taste a buddhafield.

The other interesting thing I've noticed listening to Shorter Sukhavativyuha Sutra, is that it says, "He feels the Buddha with his body, he feels the Dharma with his body, he feels the Sangha with his body." That goes along with all the somatic emphasis in our alienating world, including most spectacularly Touching Enlightenment, by Reginald Ray the founder of Dharma Ocean. That's a splinter off Shambhala, though perhaps splinter minimizes the greatness of the movement. If I wasn't in an independent phase and lacking in funds to fly to Crestone Colorado, which oddly has many many Buddhist outfits (8), and also has Richard Baker's outfit, famous to me from the book Shoes Outside The Door.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Five Hinderances


I started reading Working With The Five Hinderances by Ajahn Theradhammo (I think his name means strong with the Dharma, but it could also mean the Dharma is strong, I'm no Pali scholar). He is part of the Thai Forest Tradition. I think I was taught the five hinderances in my 2nd or 3rd meditation class, but I've pretty much neglected them until somehow I decided that was something to focus on 14 years later. It's been a real revelation. Like you notice a plank you have always walked on was riddled with termites and really you've been floating on air, mis-walking over it for years. To me the Dharma isn't chasing sticks like a dog, but turning to face the stick thrower.

Here is Theradhammo's alternate translation of the 5 Hinderances:
1. Reaching out for sense stimulation: wanting, longing for, desiring sense pleasure. (Sense Desire)
2. Any kind of pushing away of experience: resistance, irritation, aversion. (Ill Will)
3. Lethargy and drowsiness: Lacking driving power, lethargy, not having vigor or lacking energy, unwieldiness, laziness, sleepiness, drowsiness, dullness of the mind. (Sloth and Torpor)
4. Worry or scruples: Remorse, worrying about one's unskillful actions. (Restlessness and Anxiety)
5. Sceptical doubt, uncertainty, perplexity specifically with regard to the teachnigs or the training, or even self doubt about one's ability to do the practice. Confusion, worry, which causes indecision, wavering and vacillation and paralysis. (Doubt and Indecision)

The things in parenthesis are the categories was taught that can be found in Change Your Mind by Paramanada and Meditation by Kamalashila. I honestly don't know if Kamalashila's new book called Meditation is the same book, with a different subtitle, or whether it's a fresh new book, or whether it's like a second edition after he edited and re-wrote the new one. 

Anyway, they are both from the TBC, which is the tradition I learned my meditation, have gone on many retreats and was in the ordination process for many years. I learned in NYC with Vajramati in 2002.

Looking into my other books, there's no index listing for hinderances or five hinderances in A Survey of Buddhism the 1947 classic by Sangharakshita. Bhante Gunarantana has 2 chapters on distractions, which are pretty useful in Mindfulness in Plain English. One of my friends who left the TBC went to Bante G's outfit. I thought Mindfulness for Dummies would have something on it, but not in the index, nor with some cursory glancing through the book.

Needless to say, my desire for sense experience is both physical and mental. All the struggling, even if I'm not pushing but just noting the hinderance gives me doubt. Remorse, which is a part of restlessness and anxiety, kept me from meditating for years. I even did a few flow charts in my mind, then realized they were mental sense pleasure perhaps. It's funny certain things seem irresistible to think about in meditation and yet after I don't give a second thought. Anywho, I'm trying to think about them outside the meditation.

I hope I can complete the 365 day challenge on the Insight Timer. I have 26 consecutive days beyond the year challenge. But quantity is not quality and I was very struck by the idea of mis-meditating.

I'll update you on further revelations as they come.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Vegan 2017

I don't really believe in new years resolutions, because I'm always taking steps forward (sometimes backwards temporarily) and the end of the calendar year isn't the only time for reflection and aspirations to move towards the Buddha, to close the distance between us. Winter is a good time for reflection.

Anywho, one aspiration for me is to be more and more vegan. I know farmers kill insects and other things when they harvest plants. If you really care about plant suffering, you would only eat plants because meat needs more plants for a little meat. But the people who bring up the plants have feeling arguments aren't really sincere about plant feelings. The goal is to reduce suffering in the world, and going vegan clearly, unequivocally does that.

Going vegan isn't an easy things. There will be things you miss. I will admit in 2016 I made few slips, when my vegan sponsor (Anandi) wasn't around and when there were leftovers from my sons, who are not vegan in the fridge. My daughter will be vegan.

Anandi got an instant pot for the holidays. I'm hoping she will write something about it on her wonderful blog: Under the Influence of Food. I try to fill in some spaces when she's not into blogging with my complementary blog: Under the Influence of Cori. Cori is Anandi by the way, that's her buddhist name.

I'm still struggling to get through Eating Animals because it's so horrific. I'm still struggling to watch Earthlings or Cowspiracy. I did watch Gary Yourofsky. I did watch the year in vegan review.

The preponderance of evidence helps me to make the leap, I at first thought impossible. Cittapala took down the Complete Vegetarian, and a bunch of other excellent essays, but that was also part of it. And it always helps to have friends who go the "whole hog". One of my friends and his girlfriend are very passionate about veganism, and that really helped me see the light.

I was reading The Complete Works of Ajahn Cahn and he was saying just eating rich from the begging rounds once a day is a Dhutanga. In Eat Sleep Sit people dropped out because of nutritional deficiencies that Anandi said could be solved by going from white to brown rice.

I read to get a feeling of sangha, to be with someone. I know reading a lot is often seen as not the way to be a Buddhist. Luckily, I don't have a great memory, so I'm not a know it all.

So we're off to find vegan food at a restaurant now.

My favorite places include Veggie Castle, Panorama of the silence-heart,  and Smile of the Beyond. The latter two are Sri Chinmoy joints. I read Cartwheels in a Sari, and the subtitle is "growing up in a cult". Tamm sees it as a cult. The workers are very nice, and the place doesn't bother me. The first place is a Guyanese place. 

Best book of 2016

The runners up are Radical Dharma, Time To Stand Up and The Buddha's Wife.

In an age when legitimate concerns are ghettoized in "identity politics" I relish the black and women's voice. It is a time for political activism, time to stand up. It is a time to work together in connection. These three books begin to shore up the lack of black and women's voices, and suggest a path of activism, or literally discuss engaged buddhism, needed now more than ever since we have a president elect who seems to steam past anything but his limited selfish concerns. I hope I'm not put on an FBI watch list for saying this, but I think he's already done enough to be impeached. I hope he doesn't send some goons out here to punish my dissension against his views. Many say give him a chance, but he's already shown who he is. His New Year's Tweet contained more warning than love. But I digress.

The winner of the 2016 Going For Refuge Blog Book Award (GFRBBA) is Great Faith, Great Wisdom. Also available is the author reading the sutras the book is about. This book follows up on the excellent The Art of  Reflection, which won the 2011 GFRBBA. Ratnaguna has a great talk on Free Buddhist Audio.

I liked Great Faith, Great Wisdom because it discussed the pure land sutras in a way the modern Buddhist who is an ecumenical Buddhist can appreciate. An ecumenical Buddhist is one who takes the whole of the Buddhist corpus as their inspiration, every school, throughout history. Is there one Buddhism, or many Buddhisms? I'll table that debate for another post.

Past Winners Include: 2012, 2015. Turns out I haven't been as consistent about the GFRBBA as I wanted to be, since 2004. Since I don't always use labels, it's hard to search it up.

Other notable mentions for 2016 include Subhuti's Mind In Harmony. Just go look at a video of Subhuti on YouTube, and you'll see his passion. He really writes from experience, he teaches all over the world, going to places like India and Turkey. But looking into it, I think it came out in 2015.

Eight Step Recovery is also a quite notable addition to the corpus of recovery Buddhism. Kevin Griffith is the standard with One Breath At A Time, but Eight Step Recovery presents a purely Buddhist approach without any other recovery philosophies like AA.

Tibetan Pop Star: Ani Choying Drolma



Ani Choying Drolma is supposedly the Tibetan pop star, according to Lion's Roar. Check her out on Spotify.


She has an awesome charity for nuns.

You can follow her on Facebook.