Wednesday, April 23, 2008

No Time to Lose: Ch 5: The Three Disciplines, Part 2

The Three Disciplines
Vigilance, Part Two

The Three Disciplines here are the same as my tradition's Three Pure Precepts. I don't have to look, they are ingrained in me now after so many years. 1. Cease from evil. 2. Do only good. 3. Do good for others. Another way to put it: Stop. Look for good to do. Listen for the good that is needed. Chodron puts it this way: not causing harm, gathering virtue, and benefiting others.

1. Stop.

When the urge arises in the mind To feelings of desire or wrathful hate, Do not act! Be silent, do not speak! ...wild with mockery...filled with pride or arrogance...when you want to show the hidden faults of others....act for praise...criticize and spoil another's name...use harsh language...It's then that like a log you should remain.(Shantideva 5.48-50)

So often these are encouraged qualities in this very individualistic competitive society, even if they are recognized as unethical. Pride, arrogance, seeking praise, criticism, these almost seem demanded if you want to "get ahead."

At the moment, I'm not aware of an equivalent in my tradition, but Pema Chodron outlines 4 points of interruption when we get these urges to splash that egoistic self all about.
  1. At the pre-verbal level. "Emotional turmoil begins with an initial perception--a sight, sound, thought--which gives rise to a feeling of comfort or discomfort. This is the subtlest level of shenpa, the subtlest stage of getting hooked."
  2. When thoughts are just getting started. "By interrupting thoughts before we get worked up, we diffuse the intensity of emotions. Emotional intensity can't survive without our thoughts, so this is a pivotal instruction." Thoughts are the oxygen and the fuel for the fire. We can turn them, shift them, change them. Without a conscious effort such as outlined in Buddhism, or without fortunate circumstances, this is difficult. These thoughts are more likely to be in the unconscious mind then, or the subconscious mind. The spiritual work of Buddhism is all about making the subconscious conscious.
  3. When those thoughts have triggered emotions. "If we don't catch those subtle thoughts, our emotions escalate. ...we can let the story line go even after the emotional heat has started to rise. It's never too late to interrupt the escalation of the kleshas."
  4. Just before we act on those thoughts and emotions. "...we can hold our seats...just before we take the fatal step of speaking or acting out. ...The final instruction--to refrain from words or action--points to the easiest place to notice the urge, but the hardest time to refrain."

This is the beauty of this practice. Ordinarily it is as Pema Chodron says, easiest to notice, but hardest to stop ourselves just before we behave poorly. By practicing that awareness and vigilance, we observe the thoughts sooner, the shenpa sooner. Often when people begin this practice, they become super-sensitive to mild drugs like coffee, or food sensitivities. They are sinking into the karma of their own bodies. I did this too. I naturally felt little urge to drink alcohol. It is like we are sinking down into a lightness of being, and first we must pass through the grosser layers of the physical plane. Then we can sink through the subtler layers of the mind, and awareness makes those thoughts as tangible as the layers of the body were. Sinking deeper into awareness practice, it does become easier to catch those impulses before they've gained much identity.

Through it all, Shantideva says "It's then that like a log you should remain." That is to begin a practice of zazen. Whatever you feel, whatever you do, zazen doesn't care. Just keep stopping, remaining like a log. ("Zazen doesn't care" is my favorite and most-oft remembered phrase from Returning to Silence by Dainin Katagiri.)

2. Do only good.
With perfect and unyielding faith,
With steadfastness, respect, and courtesy,
With modesty and conscientiousness,
Work calmly for the happiness of others. (Shantideva 5.55)
This is a good opportunity to speak of Buddhist faith. Pema Chodron does. We did in class. These things arise naturally. She calls "eager faith" that first arising thought that this thing could help us in our lives. Back in college, I was attracted to the benefits my boss talked about. I was set loose in the world on my own for the first time, finally away from a dysfunctional childhood. All that karma didn't just disappear. I needed help, needed to learn how to navigate the world in a different way. Somehow in me there was a recognition that this practice could meet that need that I hadn't even been able to articulate yet.

She calls that trust in Buddha Nature "confident faith." Chodron says, "We have faith that basic goodness is within all of us. This jewel may be buried, but it is always present and available to all of us. We feel confident that we can find it, nurture it, and bring it out."

Some of us are so lucky as to get a beginning glimpse of that inner strength. The first time I meditated with others...a small group my boss began for students...I felt an openness and a lightness of being that made me feel I could walk for miles without tiring. For the first time, I was able to converse in class without painful self-conscious planning of every word. From that time on, I meditated daily. During times of, well, now I have a word for it, dunzi, all I had to do was remember that moment, and I could persist with my solitary practice.

Respect, modesty, courtesy, these are all reflections of a deepening access to our non-dual Buddha Nature. Chodron says, "When we see how reactive and unkind we can be, this humbles us considerably. Instead of causing despair, however, this painful realization can connect us with the tenderness of bodhichitta. Modesty, or humbleness, is the opposite of armoring ourselves: it allows us to be receptive and hear what others have to say."
When doing virtuous acts, beyond reproach,
To help ourselves, or for the sake of others,
Let us always bear in mind the thought
That we are self-less, like an apparition. (Shantideva 5.57)

This can be difficult for us Americans. We are rewarded in this competitive world with recognition of our good deeds. We wrap our identities around one good deed deserving another. The thing is, if we do good deeds for the recognition, we aren't really doing it for others, we're doing it for ourselves. And if we're really only doing it for ourselves, that ends up being cramped by ignorance, small and small-minded.

I understand this intimately after a childhood of mis-recognition, and my always seeking positive recognition. Instinctively I knew that while I eyed positions of leadership in my temple with the wistful wish that I was worthy to hold those positions, I would not be good in such positions before they ceased to matter to this little self. Now, I find myself in positions of leadership in the wider community, and it works because I am not doing it for myself. For myself, really I'd rather step back. For the community, I need to step forward, and that is stepping into the 3rd Pure Precept.
Regard your body as a vessel,
A simple boat for going here and there.
Make of it a wish-fulfilling gem
To bring about the benefit of beings. (Shantideva 5.70)

In class, K talked about this being instruction to take care of our bodies, that our bodies are a tool for doing good for others. To me though, the primary message is that the focus is not using my body to make my world better for myself, but using my body and my mind to make the world a better place for others. I do what I can with this simple boat. It's not the most streamlined boat, but it's tough enough to do the job. It tends to work better when I am working for the benefit of others. There's nothing like forgetting the self to make the self feel better, I have to tell ya, and that's because the self isn't limited to this small cramped cave, but to a spacious world connected to many beings. Does that sound mystical? I don't think so. It's very practical.

See? See here:
The goal of every act is happiness itself,
Though even with great wealth, it's rarely found.
So take your pleasure in the qualities of others.
Let them be a heartfelt joy to you.

By acting thus, in this life you'll lose nothing;
In future lives, great bliss will come to you.
The sin of envy brings not joy but pain,
And in the future, dreadful suffering. (Shantideva 5.77,78)

(Think "future moments" for "future lives.") Again, that's not mystical, that's what really happens, if you let it! This "heartfelt joy" is mudita.

3. Do good for others.
And it is others' good that is the highest goal. (Shantideva 5.83)
Meet people where they are. Understand what is needed. This progresses naturally from the deepening practice of doing only good via an expansion of the self to include all beings. And you know, it does come back to the details. After losing yourself in the expansiveness of mudita, you gotta come back to earth and do the laundry, or throw away your toothbrush properly. (5.91)

You still need your teacher. Shantideva says, "Never, at the cost of life or limb, Forsake your virtuous friend, your teacher." (5.102) A good teacher never loses their humbleness. This is partly due to the understanding that the point is the greater good, not self-aggrandizement.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

No Time to Lose: Ch 5: Taming the Mind, Part 1

Taming the Mind
Vigilance, Part One

When I came across Buddhism and meditation, this notion of taming the mind was central to its appeal. My boss in the library at college would speak wistfully of the power this practice brought to the mind. Mere attentive sitting can bring about the superpowers of tranquility and clarity. Pema Chodron says, "When the mind is settled, virtuous qualities come to us more naturally. We have fresh insights and more kindness, relaxation, and steadiness." If you think of the brain as a muscle, this is the yoga of the brain.

Chodron tells us the Vajrayana method is shamatha meditation. This sounds an awful lot like my Soto Zen's method of shikantaza. The first, "calm abiding." The second: "just sitting."

In verses 9-17, Shantideva brings this practice of taming the mind to the paramitas. Chodron says, "Until we work with the mind, the paramitas can't really liberate us. This is because the paramitas and letting go of self-clinging are the same." This gets at the core intention of shamatha and zazen: let go of self, and the clearness of insight will be revealed. In class, K reminded us of our center altar, Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, is always seated on a beast. This is the beast of the self, and this practice tames that beast.

The hostile multitudes are vast as space--
What chance is there that all should be subdued?
Let but this angry mind be overthrown
And every foe is then and there destroyed. (Shantideva 5.12)

The enemy is created in here, in my own mind. I can't change others, I can only change my own mind. In 5.13, the difference is envisioned with the options "to cover all the earth with sheets of hide" or to "simply wrap some leather round your feet."
All you who would protect your minds,
Maintain awareness and your mental vigilance.
Guard them both, at cost of life and limb--
Thus I join my hands, beseeching you. (Shantideva 5.23)

Awareness, or mindfulness, and mental vigilance, or alertness, are the qualities we would want to cultivate in calm abiding meditation. In Zen, we say "train as if your hair were on fire," as well as "nothing to gain." It is tricky. You want to just sit there, but you don't want to just sit back. You find that spot with practice.

"The mind, when...cramped by ignorance,/Is impotent and cannot do its work."(Shantideva 5.24) It is as though you're seeing the world through blinders, or by crawling through a cave. What you don't realize is that you've created your own blinders, or there is no cave. Chodron says, "The deepest ignorance is our misperception of reality, our dualistic perception." This is to think I am separate from you, and since I am separate from you, I must protect myself from you because you are surely only looking out for you and I must look out for me. This, she says, "clouds our natural mindfulness and alertness. Without a clear, stable mind, we live a fear-based life so controlled by our emotions that we don't really know what's going on."

No mental vigilance = "minds like water seeping from a leaking jug." I need to turn off the TV.

Perseverance does not equal mental vigilance.

Many have devotion, perseverance,
Are learned also and endowed with faith,
But through the fault of lacking mental vigilance,
Will not escape the stain of sin and downfall. (Shantideva 5.26)
Hmmm. Sound like a society you know?

Defilements are a band of robbers
Waiting for their chance to bring us injury. (Shantideva 5.28)
Assumed in that thought is the view that recognizes the kleshas as observable, separate selves. The watcher uses mindfulness.

This sounds like shutting out the world:
I shall never, vacantly,
Allow my gaze to wander all about,
But rather with a focused mind
Will always go with eyes cast down. (Shantideva 5.35)

This is what we cultivate during meditation retreats, and to a greater extent, monks cultivate it much of the time. I was surprised to read that, though, as the bodhisattva path smacks us down in the world among others. Where is the compassion? I just needed to turn the page, as Shantideva says next,
But that I might relax my gaze,
I'll sometimes raise my eyes and look around,
And if some person stands within my sight,
I'll greet him with a friendly word of welcome. (Shantideva 5.36)

It can take a while to get to this point, to turn the gaze inward and wholeheartedly shift actions and worldview, and also to be able to shift and act in the world and be there for others. If we try to do the second without the first, and I think most of the world does, we lack clarity and ability to give an appropriate 'friendly word of welcome.' If we try to do the first without the second, we really do set ourselves apart from the world in a selfish way. In the beginning, learning to do this awareness practice can be very self-involved.

This isn't just a practice of the mind, but one of the body. While the mind can turn inward, and can observe the body, where emotions tighten the muscles, how thoughts move us from side to side, the body can learn the habit of mindfulness, carrying the stillness of meditation out into the world of action. In verse 5.39, Shantideva takes us back and forth from actions of the body to scrutiny of the mind. Meditation retreats are designed to cultivate this scrutiny, alternating stillness and action, mindful work and rest. All the activities of the world...eating, speaking, walking, working, as well as meditating...are done with that inwardly focused gaze.

Chodron illustrates this balance well with this anecdote.
I'm reminded of a Native American man from the Taos Pueblo called Little Joe Gomez. In the early seventies, he met some people who were practicing complete silence. They were wearing chalkboards around their necks in case they needed to communicate. This got Little Joe laughing. When someone asked him what was so funny, he said, "Very easy to not talk; very difficult to talk mindfully."
Another useful Tibetan word: dunzi. Meaningless distraction. The chalkboards could be useful, or could be meaningless distraction. Shantideva cautions against "grubbing in the soil, Or pulling up the grass or tracing idle patterns on the ground." Doodling. I found myself thinking of all the knitters, even in my Buddhist classes.

Many are fond these days of invoking the mantra "different styles of learning." Some are kinesthetic learners. Trainers encourage toys in work trainings, for the kinesthetic learners. Sometimes it seems to me the toys are an excuse to tune out, not tune in. In some ways this seems to be an indulgence, an admittance that we're not going to even try to train the mind. It can be dunzi to feign helplessness in training the mind, and it can be dunzi to cultivate the mind that must keep the body moving in order to think clearly. Where is the challenge? I believe it's been shown that true bilingual people are generally smarter. Their minds have been sharpened through the practiced ease of using two languages. We can also choose to sharpen our minds by cultivating more than one method of learning. We can choose the easy mindfulness practice of non-speaking, or we can choose to practice to keep awareness of the non-speaking mind even while we speak.

Movies Seen

Golden Compass
I saw this at the Kennedy School Theater with my teenage friend. We both liked it. As I'd recently listened to the trilogy, I really liked that the actress portraying Lyra really sounded a lot like the reader who portrayed Lyra. It was faithful to the book as far as I could tell, and I loved seeing daemons come alive onscreen, so different than in my head. This was a case where the movie complements the book, and is neither better nor worse. Do both: read the book and see the movie.

The Departed
It's Scorsese, what can I say? Undercover cop working to bring down a crime boss, undercover gangster working as a cop. Who will win? Who will find out who is the other mole first? I liked it, even with all the Scorsesian violence.

Horton Hears a Who
I also saw this in the theater with my teenage friend, and her 10 year old sister. We all three loved it. I think the interchangeable gazillion daughters and one son that saves the day is a bit dated, but is faithful to Dr. Seuss. We talked about our favorite parts, but aahh, now I've waited too long to remember. There are many adorable parts. I love Horton.

Children of Men
It is a dystopian near-future in which all humans have become infertile. World borders have changed, xenophobia is rampant, and violence reigns. I couldn't quite understand why people were so irreverent of the lives of other human beings if they were quite sure there weren't going to be any more. The extras, which are a must-see, helped explain that some. Michael Caine plays an old dope-smoking coot who does still love other people. You can take notes on how to hide out from thugs and live peaceably. Theo, played by Clive Owen, is roped into helping rebels by his ex. His task: help an immigrant woman escape England who quite possibly could be the only pregnant woman on earth.

In the extras there is a half-hour documentary in which the philosophy of the film is explored. (It is just as visually interesting as the movie.) Slavoj Zizek, Philosopher and Cultural Critic says, "Hegel says a good portrait looks more like the person who is portrayed than the person itself, like a good portrait is more you than you are yourself. And I think this is what the film does with our reality. The changes that it introduces do not point towards alternate reality, it simply make reality the more what it already is. It make us perceive our own reality as alternate reality." They talk about globalization, the human impulse towards mobility, and equality. It's refreshing to watch a bunch of philosophers, scientists, and economists talk without dumbing it down. It doesn't seem as though any of them are American.

I immediately thought I could see the movie again, with these themes in mind. It's much more of a thinker's movie than something like Mad Max.

Books Read

Witch Hill by Marion Zimmer Bradley
MZB has several witch books. This one is particularly more darkly sexy than usual, but otherwise could be switched out with one of her other witchy books. It could be good fodder for bedroom fantasy, and that's why I liked it some. It seemed to begin with some good old New England satanic witch lore, but didn't go as deeply into that as the promising beginning. Established author calling it in, I suppose. Why not put in a few more sexy scenes and market it as erotica, I would ask.

Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr
If you know this is fantasy of the fairy type, you might guess from the title that it is fantasy of the sexy fairy type, and you would be right. Aislinn has always been able to see fairies, and has always known she must not let fairies know that she can see through their glamour. She seeks out places rife with iron to avoid them, but a particular fairy takes an interest in her who is powerful enough that iron doesn't bother him. Meanwhile her favorite home to be in is the converted train car of her good friend, who she obviously loves but avoids kissing because he's always been a player. Soon she is attracted to both. What will she do? How can she avoid dealing with ancient fairy politics?

I knew what I wanted to have happen, and the author does a good job of keeping that sexual tension going.

Witch Honour by Narelle M Harris
As I read this, I kept wondering if this was the second or third in the series, because the author kept referring to back-story in a way that just filled in the story, like a reminder to the reader, as sequels often do. Nope, it turns out the author had written a longer book, as outlined here, and I wonder if she cut too much. Or I wonder if something about the way she inserts those details isn't as seamless as others I've read, so they hooked my attention as not quite right.

So, this is sort of standard witch fantasy as found on some far away planet. Witches aren't very trusted even when they're good witches, and they draw upon some kind of energy through the earth for their powers. The jester and king's guard need the help of witches to restore their king, and the witches need to battle that enemy anyway, as their mutual nemesis is a witch gone bad. That reminded me a bit of the story of The Tin Man, this past year's scifi channel retelling of The Wizard of Oz. Battle scenes reminded me a bit of The Lord of the Rings, not really my flavor of fantasy.

Catalyst: A Novel of Alien Contact by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Nina Kiriki Hoffman is one of my favorite authors. If you like Octavia Butler or Ursula LeGuin, Hoffman will be an author for you.

This book was categorized as SF, rather than Young Adult at my library, most likely because of the erotic scenes that are a part of the book. This would be one of those secret word-of-mouth books that I'm sure that scifi/fantasy teen readers will hope to stumble across for that very reason.
You get a hint of the sexy stuff to come within the second page: "She looked like his ideal woman, but he never imagined she'd notice him. ...Kaslin figured he could study Histly enough to get her into his dreams without her even seeing him, but he was wrong. ...Kaslin saw Histly and thought, yum. Histly saw Kaslin and thought, prey."

While I liked the book, such promising foreshadows were touched upon later, but didn't get the complete treatment. I kept wondering about the significance of him getting her in his dreams, but never really got an answer. There are some other threads that could have been handled with more depth, and I can only hope that's because this is the "pilot" and there will be more depth later in a sequel or sequels. That is perfectly acceptable to me, so if that happens, I will probably give it 4 stars instead of 3.

So, running from Histly, Kaslin comes upon some aliens that gently hold him captive while to know him better. By the end of the book, I am still wondering, are they good or bad aliens. Will there be differing opinions on that depending on the character?

Hoffman plays with boundaries of the body and the self in a very sensual way in all her books. It could be she is playing with genre itself with this one. While her past books have been in the fantasy genre, and this leans over into scifi, this one has a whole lot of that other kind of fantasy. Just imagine being held down while someone feeds you a magical food that tastes like all the best stuff, and having naughty things done to you...

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
I vacillate on how much I like this book. On the one hand it contains a lot of the poetic metaphor that I do tend to like in a book. On the other hand it contains just too much of it, and way too many adjectives and adverbs. In my book group, some loved it, and some couldn't stand it for these very reasons, so it is a book that makes for a good conversation. My description of "too overwrought" got some enthusiastic nods. It was a good story, definitely.

With so much metaphor, there is plenty to talk about if you can get past the loved it/hated it conversation. The book begins with the birth of twins, and a few lies. One of the twins has Downs Syndrome, and the father who is a doctor sees that as a death knell, a crippling factor in his family's future. He sends the baby girl away with his nurse...who keeps her. He tells his drug-addled wife that the baby died. This lie becomes a wall that affects the rest of their lives together.

The nurse also lies, but somehow her lies create a good life for herself and the child. There's a difference there, something to think about. The author leaves it up to us, the readers, to hash that out.

Just a few metaphors: snakes; photography keeping at a distance; roots and growth.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Cool New Haunt

I've known this woman for several years, and worked with her mom for more years. Most of what I know of her has come from her mom. This young woman has finished many things earlier than most of us: teenage rebellion; rebellion recovery; high school; college; library school. It didn't take her long after she got her MLS (Masters in Library Science) to get a job as a librarian at a University here in Portland. She is one smart cookie. Her mom used to joke she would be our Library Director one day. Now I'm thinking she's going to be an international mover-and-shaker.

Recently she moved to Dubai, yes that Dubai that most of us here know nothing about except that a company in Dubai would have run ports in the United States and George Bush would have let them. She works at the Dubai Women's College as a librarian. Right now they are understaffed and she is likely doing the work of three people. Her blog promises to be an interesting mix of anecdotes and photos of her life as an expatriate in Dubai. Until now, her posts have been sparse, but she promises she'll be posting more regularly now that she has the internet at home.

Learn about such things as the alcoholic card, sandstorms, how Dubai girls view her, and Dubai shoppings centers. I introduce you to SalazMeyer.
(photo from her blog, by her, I presume.)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Karen Armstrong on Compassion

It seems I keep coming across A few weeks back I watched this talk given by Karen Armstrong. You know, the woman who was a nun and got tired of religion, but was still curious so she wrote all these incredible books about the religions of the world? (None of which I have had the time to read.)

I like what she has to say about compassion. A few quotes:

It is compassion that will bring you in touch with the divine; once you get rid of ego, you can experience the divine.

A lot of religious people prefer to be right rather than compassionate.

It's time we moved beyond the idea of toleration and moved toward appreciation of the other.

I like that last one. Toleration is passive. Tolerance is important, but if it is too quiet, it is implied consent of intolerance. Appreciation is active, and thoughtful. If it doesn't come naturally, a practice of appreciation forces one to really examine the other, to look for something to appreciate. The other can no longer be so separate. When it does come more naturally, appreciation creates harmonious bonds.

Karen Armstrong wants the thoughtful spiritual people of the world to "help with the creation, launch, and propagation of a charter of compassion...." Follow the link to find out how.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Finally, Etsy

I finally have my two zines offered at Etsy. Took me long enough, eh?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Unnatural Causes: Not Just a Paycheck

Here in Oregon, this and the final episode are showing this Sunday, 11 am. (We've complained in the discussions about what a poor time choice this was by OPB. Shameful.)

What happens when a company pulls out of a town and whole swaths of people become unemployed? More people than would be usual will die. And what can we trace it back to? Everybody now.....toxic stress, and that means....everybody now....too much cortisol. Hmmm...following that link I find that constant noise will cause toxic stress too. That would explain why when I experience PMS that loud noises now get to me. They haven't in the past, but lately sometimes my brain just seems to fizz out, and I need to find the space to breathe. That would also be an additional factor in how place matters...all the noisier things are in the poor sections of a town...airports, train yards, manufacturing plants, etc.

When people lose their jobs, many never recover financially. They don't just lose a paycheck. Their health also spirals downward. People will self-medicate by eating more or turning to alcohol. In Greenville, Michigan, the town featured in this show, the caseload in the local hospital nearly tripled after the big employer, Electrolux, pulled out and moved to Mexico. Electrolux is based in Sweden, a place where it likely could not pull out without compensating the displaced workers, and where workers have scads better social safety nets than we do for unemployment.

Here, there is a still-growing chasm between the "haves" and the "have-nots". Workers have not shared in the wealth from greater productivity. While these are things I agree with, there was quite of bit of this stuff said without supporting statistics. I'm sure they're there, but perhaps they didn't use them because it's not as dramatically straight-forward as all the health stuff has been.

One person said (perhaps the mayor?) that "we live in an individualistic society. We believe that people are responsible for their own fate." We do live in an individualistic society, something that I believe has come up in the community conversations as working against us, but it is a myth that we can be completely responsible for our own fate. It's a myth also that this society is set up to support the individual in creating their own fate. Much of it works against the majority, and supports the few.

In Sweden, the unemployed worker featured gets 80% of his former wage as long as he's going to school or looking for work. He did not have any anxiety or stress over his unemployment. In Sweden, new parents get 16 months paid leave. There, "health is not dependent on personal income, wealth, or job security."

Highlights from the discussion
  • woman has never had a living wage job since she moved to Oregon (she is now unemployed and has been a valuable voice in the when someone suggested barter alternatives, she talked about the tax and unemployment rules and how if she works for her mother for room and board she has to claim the cash equivalent on taxes, and I presume loses some of her unemployment compensation)
  • somebody said that we in the US cannot move to Mexico and get one of those jobs that were outsourced, according to NAFTA. I don't know if that's true. Apparently it is possible to get a job in Mexico, according to this.
  • Unions could exert pressure in Sweden, not here.
  • someone followed that: even strong unions cannot work alone; we need a good government that supports unions; government doesn't support the people, work for the people any more
  • same company wasn't able to be as ruthless in Sweden as it could in the US

Looking for solutions

  • how about we make companies pay for it when they harm workers?
  • if we can't get it on the state level, a Multnomah county tax for job loss support
  • support for the stress of job loss: education, support, medication (one of the first medications people stopped buying was anti-depressants)
  • get grants from corporations to support people with job loss, for health, education; make it as cache to help with health needs as it is to help the library
  • sponsor debates, raise awareness
  • tie relief to farmer's markets; support barter, sharing

Monday, April 14, 2008

aphotus: Chapter 1 continued

Bartolome de Las Casas thought to lessen the impact on Indians by urging blacks be made slaves. The Spaniards were insatiable, making Indians act as their horses. Zinn says, "Total control led to total cruelty." Why is that? Once you pass a certain boundary it becomes the norm, so a supposedly kind-hearted spiritual man will at first keep slavery as an option? Did the use of humans as horses begin as a cruel game?

The native men died in the mines. They stopped having babies, as the men and the women were too exhausted and depressed. Las Casas calculated that over 3 million people died within 15 years.

Zinn's philosophy of history
A respected Harvard historian, Samuel Eliot Morrison, did say "The cruel policy initiated by Columbus and pursued by his successors resulted in complete genocide." But that was it. That was all he said. Zinn examines the implications:

To state the facts...and then to bury them in a mass of other information is to say to the reader with a certain infectious calm: yes, mass murder took place, but it's not that important--it should weigh very little in our final judgments; it should affect very little what we do in the world.
Zinn laments the easy re-occurrence of atrocities, saying it is because of this easy burial. "We have learned to give them the same proportion of attention that teacher and writers often give them in the most respectable of classrooms and textbooks."

Further, the conventional view of history accepts that
"peace" "restored" by the diplomacy of a few national leaders. But for factory people in Asia and Africa, women and children was a world of conquest, violence, hunger, exploitation--a world not restored but disintegrated.

Kissinger's view: "History is the memory of states."
Zinn's view: "we must not accept the memory of states as our own. Nations are not communities and never have been."

This quote was featured in the documentary on Zinn, quite worth repeating:
If history is to be creative, to anticipate a future without denying the past, it should, I believe, emphasize new possibilities by disclosing those hidden episodes of the past when, even if in brief flashes, people showed their ability to resist, to join together, occasionally to win. I am supposing, or
perhaps only hoping, that our future may be found in the past's fugitive moments of compassion rather than in its solid centuries of warfare.
Setting the course of oppression
Cortes in Mexico, Pizarro in Peru, continued and established the pattern of genocide begun by Columbus. In the North American colonies, the pattern of oppression was also established early. In Jamestown, when they were starving in 1610, some of the English sought refuge with the Indians. When the English asked for the return of the "runaways," and chief Powhatan didn't answer as obsequiously as they liked, "Some soldiers were therefore sent 'to take Revendge.' ....Not able to enslave the Indians, and not able to live with them, the English decided to exterminate them."

The Puritans escalated war with the Pequots in the Connecticut and Rhode Island area. "The English developed a tactic of warfare used earlier by Cortes and later, in the twentieth century, even more systematically: deliberate attacks on noncombatants for the purpose of terrorizing the enemy." They proceeded to use massacre unsparingly.

Historian Francis Jennings summed it up:
[The Indians] drew three lessons from the Pequot War: 1. that the Englishmen's most solemn pledge would be broken whenever obligation conflicted with advantage; 2. that the English way of war had no limit of scruple or mercy; and 3. that weapons of Indian making were almost useless against weapons of European manufacture.

It has been calculated that the population of natives north of Mexico was 10 million, and that population was reduced to less than a million. "Behind the English invasion of North America, behind their massacre of Indians, their deception, their brutality, was that special powerful drive born in civilization based on private property."

Before the whites came, development in the Americas paralleled the other side of the world in agriculture, irrigation, pyramid-building, cloth, and ceramics. I remember a vague awareness of the Moundbuilders that Zinn mentions. I knew of them by their mounds in the Great Lakes region where I grew up. I did not know they were "part of a complex trading system of ornaments and weapons from as far off as the Great Lakes, the Far West, and the Gulf of Mexico."

The Iroquois shared everything in common...their homes, work, and food. A French Jesuit priest wrote of their "their kindness, humanity, and courtesy." I remember learning we got our representative democracy from the Iroquois. I wasn't taught that our "great nation" left out the best parts. Men represented their clans at the regional meetings, but it was the women who chose them. The women attended the clan meetings, and kept the men on task. Children were "taught to be independent, not to submit to overbearing authority. They were taught equality in status and the sharing of possessions. The Iroquois did not use harsh punishments on children."

Our usual histories speak of conquering the wilderness, as though people already here were not here, or as though conquering them was only the same as conquering wild animals, not the genocide of millions. This was

a world which in some places was as densely populated as Europe itself, where the culture was so complex, where human relations were more egalitarian than in Europe, and where the relations among men, women, children, and nature were more beautifully worked out than perhaps any place in the world.

They were people without a written language, but with their own laws, their poetry, their history kept in memory.... They paid careful attention to the development of personality, intensity of will, independence and flexibility, passion and potency, to their partnership with one another and with nature."

Zinn says that this natural nobility is not a myth.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Printz Challenge: How I Live Now

When I checked this book by Meg Rosoff out from the library, one of my co-workers saw the cover and exclaimed, "I love that one!" (She really did say "love" in bold and italics. This co-worker often uses enthusiastic words like "Fantastic," or "Awesome," or "Excellent," and it is very cute.) I find myself not wanting to say too much about the book, because I can't do it justice. You'll just have to read it.

A girl is sent to London because her family doesn't know what to do with her. No doubt from her dad's point of view she is anorexic and irrational, but we're not reading his POV, we're reading Daisy's. From her view, her soon-to-be stepmother was trying to poison her, and at first that was why she stopped eating. Later, it became a means of power. So, she goes to the country outside London to live with her mother's sister and her cousins that she'd never met before.

Almost immediately her aunt travels to Oslo for peace talks, but the war breaks out while she is gone. The war is never defined clearly. We don't find out who attacked cities in England and the US. Even Daisy is unsure. This is a story that could happen a few moments in the future, or in the world just parallel to this one. All that doesn't matter: the war is backdrop for her life as it unfolds with her cousins, and the fierce loving larger-than-life bond they find for each other.

Not until I reflect on the whole story do I realize that this is a re-telling of a certain fairy tale. I'll leave that for the reader to discover. For a much better review, see Dewey's.

Here's the link to this review on the Printz award blog.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Unnatural Causes: Bad Sugar

The funny thing about watching these may think beforehand you know what it's going to be about, but you don't. Bad Sugar isn't simply about diabetes, and it isn't simply about how the loss of a native's diet brought about higher incidence of diabetes. How is it that the world over, natives that have had their lands taken, who have lost their histories, whether in the Americas, in Australia, or elsewhere, these natives have experienced a higher than usual rate of diabetes?

The Tohono O'odham nation in Arizona "has the highest rate of type 2 diabetes in the world." Terrell Dew Johnson, activist and artist, says his elders never said they have diabetes, "they've always said 'I just have bad sugar.'"

The ancestors of the Pima in Arizona were master water engineers. The Coolidge Dam on the Gila River took away their water. At first, the people died from starvation. Within two generations, they began dying from type 2 diabetes.

Not only were the foods supplied by the US government to Native Americans to replace their lost livelihoods loaded with fat, sugar, and carbs (remember this is how we got fry bread), stress and poverty also contributes to the higher rates of bad sugar. Remember, chronic stress = too much cortisol = impaired glucose production. Fresh food was not provided until 1996.

When Coolidge had that dam built, the Pima were promised there would be water for all. Heh, yeah right. The Pima went nearly 100 years without water. The prosperity of Phoenix and the rest of Arizona is built on the backs of the natives. Prosperous Scottsdale has a 5% rate of diabetes; working-class Bullhead City has a 11% rate; the reservation has a 50% rate.

The documentary refrained from mentioning green lawns and golf courses while the Gila River ran dry. There was mention that among whites, there has been a culture of believing "that the tribes did not deserve the water."

This is the sort of thing that Rev. Wright referred to when he said he hates America, and I cannot blame him. While Barack Obama had to say his former minister was "stuck in the past," to appease the bristling Nationalists, I think he was wrong. This is not the past! Until white America reaches a tipping point in acknowledging this, racism will not be something of the past. I hate this about white America too. Now, after the Water Rights Act of 2004 (2004!!) the Pima have water flowing in the Gila River again.

From the community discussion:

  • news that day: local tribes accepted not-quite-billion dollar settlement. The tribes agreed to drop lawsuits regarding ecological management of the Columbia River. (The money is expected to come from electricity rate. Again it is a win for the corporations.)
  • there was no mention of corn sugar: corn syrup is "bad sugar" and is in everything
  • Q: what is it that created problems for these communities. A: They were forced into decisions that go against their values. A: They were forced to eat cheese and carbs, not their native diet. [it seemed to me people shied away from saying they were robbed of their land, their culture, and their history]
  • There are 9 reservations in Oregon: we need to broaden this conversation to the state level
  • School lunches, emergency programs: success is based on measurement of calories, should be on nutrients
  • Q: what are the next steps, some solutions? A: my community and family affected by diabetes: need education on how to cook
  • Community solutions: African American Coalition taught barbers and beauticians about diabetes. This teaches a culture of taking care of each other. Need to find "unexpected alliances." How about health brochures in freebies in libraries, on Trimet, in various languages...not just at the doctor.
  • Share in the bounty: community gardens. I need to remember to share about Growing Gardens--that is what I'd like to see in our community gardens.
  • Let's have health fairs all the time: community activity board, billboards, signs.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Peace Corps Volunteers on Sierre Leone

I never did follow up on my Everybody Reads experience in February. I did finish A Long Way Gone in time for my book group. Things are different for different people. I had a hard time reading about the violence, while others in the group thought it pulled back, and that they'd read worse. One person was a student who needed to write a paper on themes found in the book. As a group we then tended to notice a theme when it cropped up, and that helped me like the book more, because it drew my attention to elements that were not about the violence. Themes we mentioned besides war and anger: storytelling; love; family; finding family; trust; surviving with the help of Shakespeare and rap music.

I managed to attend one other Everybody Reads event, a panel of Peace Corps volunteers that had served in Sierra Leone. A college student sitting next to me (this last event was saturated with students fulfilling assignments) had studied African storytelling. He said the book was steeped in that tradition.

Three volunteers showed us slides and spoke about their experience in Sierra Leone. The Peace Corps pulled out due to the violence in 1994; these three had all served before that. There are 3 main objectives for the Peace Corps volunteer: to provide development work; to provide info about the US; to learn about another country. The presenters were doing just what is asked of them...telling us about their experience. They said coming back to the US is much harder than first going to another country. The busy-ness and the materialism here is overwhelming.

Here's what I learned:

  • Sierra Leone is about the size of South Carolina.
  • It has the 3rd largest harbor in the world.
  • It was a big slavery port.
  • Men have a life expectancy of 38, women of 42
  • High infant mortality rate
  • Krio is the lingua franca; English is a primary language
  • There are 12 tribes, and multiple dialects
  • There are few paved roads, most "roads" little more than footpaths
  • Every village has a chief; a group of villages has a section chief
  • "The parcel post was a rat-infested hell-hole"
  • Gara fabric: famed tie-dye fabric
  • "Why do chickens cross the street?" is not a joke: The protocol when you kill a chicken by running over it is to go to the owner and ask, "How much do I owe you?"
  • Careful, they will eat your cat

One speaker said the hardest thing about living there was the lack of soft chairs. Any chairs were wooden. The kitchen is outside, a little shelter made of sticks and palm fronds. They got good at cooking with the efficient campfire cooking: 3 stones arranged with a pot on top, and you push in or pull out a log to regulate the heat.

They've grown rice for hundreds of years: slash, burn, and rotate. Groundnuts (peanuts) are the important source of protein. For green stuff, they eat leaf sauce, which is made from the leaves of cassavas, potatoes, and such. Everybody helps each other harvest the rice. They get their alcohol from the top of certain palm trees. Palm wine is naturally fermented, and they tap it like we do a maple tree.

They make and mend houses with palm fronds in the dry season. They use chaff to make mattresses. They have second little houses out in the fields. They wash their clothes in the river, and then iron them. They have to iron the clothes to kill the larvae of the tumba fly. The tumba fly will lay eggs in the clothes, and the maggots will crawl into human skin. The flies can cause something called river blindness.

One of the speakers was a teacher there. There were 4 teachers in a room, one in each corner. They had no paper, and the kids learned through memorization. One shared a photo of Junior, who made a little car with a sardine tin and unripened oranges for wheels.

One speaker was first a math teacher, then was transferred to the capital city where he worked on an AIDS/HIV project. People ask him what he learned. He said, "Connection with other people, community, and resourcefulness."

Sayings or proverbs:
  • Take time when you kill ants so you will see their guts
  • Q: What can you do? A: Well, you endure it.
  • Only God will save me, or It's up to God
  • Q: How are you? A: I fall down and I get back up
  • Insult: Your mother is ugly as a baboon
  • Nothing is permanent

About the conflict:

Drawing from anthropologist Joe Opala, they said it is not appropriate to call the conflict in Sierra Leone a civil war. There was no functioning government, there were incursions from Liberia, diamonds fueled conflict, and there was nothing to keep rebels from marauding. A Charles Manson-like man instigated conflict. It wasn't coming out of inequalities or racism. Also, this speaker sees fatalism as an after-effect of colonialism. The British filled bureaucratic roles, and didn't train anyone to fill them when they left.

Monday, April 07, 2008

A People's History of the United States (APHOTUS)

As promised, I've begun reading A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present by Howard Zinn. I hope there are others out there who will join me. For brevity of post titles, I will hereafter refer to it as aphotus. Now that I've looked closer, I see there are 25 chapters, each about 20 to 40 pages long. If I take a week per chapter, I will finish in about half a year. I will use that as a rough guide, but depending on the week, may read more or less. My edition is the Perennial Classics, copyright 2003, in case you're wondering about the page numbers I use. Just for fun, how would one pronounce aphotus? AH-poe-tus? AH-foe-tus? A-fu-tis? AY-fi-tis? What about ah-FOE-tus? I"m just getting started. What do you think?

How time does fly. Over a year ago, I watched the documentary Howard Zinn: You Can't be Neutral on a Moving Train and wrote of wanting to do this very thing, read a little at a time. What an inspiring man he is. He walks his talk.

Chapter 1: Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress
Columbus pp 1-5

The Arawak natives of what is now Haiti meet Columbus with gifts, food, and drink. Columbus? His first thought is that they could be easily subjugated and could make good servants. The natives of America "were remarkable (European observers were to say again and again) for their hospitality, their belief in sharing. These traits did not stand out in the Europe of the Renaissance." Already in the first page, Zinn has us thinking about the historical assumptions we've been taught in average schools. The Renaissance? This is always taught as a Good Thing. Europe became civilized after a dark time. Civilization is taught as a good thing.

Columbus was a bad man, quite Machiavellian. The first man to spot land was to get a reward, a pension for life. Columbus stole it from Rodrigo, claiming he'd seen a light the night before. Yeah, that's it. Sounds like a good little scene for The Kids in the Hall.

Another thing we all learned were the names of the three ships: the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. (pausing while I check myself...Zinn has no need to name them for us) I don't recall learning in grade school about Columbus's second voyage, the one with 17 ships, 1200 men, and the goal to procure gold and slaves. Columbus was quite the venture capitalist, exaggerating the riches to be found, getting showered with such an expense account, then ruthlessly forcing the raw materials to meet his goals. For his first batch of slaves, he rounded up 1500 natives, selected 500 of the finest quality, and shipped them back to Spain. 200 of those died on the way. These slaves weren't very cost-effective; they died too easily.

So maybe the value of the slaves wasn't going to work out, how about gold? Columbus forced natives to bring back a certain amount of gold, or they would have their hand cut off. There wasn't that kind of gold to be found. The Arawaks tried to fight back and failed. Many started committing mass suicide. Within two years half of the natives of Haiti were dead, leaving around 125,000. A half century later, there were 500 Arawaks left. By 1650, they were gone.

Zinn's chief source of information was Bartolome de las Casas, "who, as a young priest, participated in the conquest of Cuba. For a time he owned a plantation on which Indian slaves worked, but he gave that up and became a vehement critic of Spanish cruelty."

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Scrap Reuse Score

I went to lunch today at My Canh restaurant because I was thirsty for one of those avocado smoothies.

When I left, I found some scrap from matboards. Some were rejects, most were the inside bits that are useless to the framers. The frame shop next door had left this stuff outside their recycle bin, which says to me they hoped someone would come along and take it away. Take it away I did. I packed my messenger bag full of pieces as small as 2X2 inches, quite a few dozen ranging from 4X5 to 6X9, and even a few larger.

This stuff will be AH-maaazing for crafty projects with the kids. We could make tiny board books with duct tape. We could could glue piece on piece for 3D sculpture. We could paint. We could float laser prints on top of the pieces. We could make our own books with covers. Also there were giant frame scraps: they were at least 5X6 feet, from which a grid of matboards had been cut out. This gave me an idea for a simple frame grid for the 9 or 12 laser prints that would fit of close-up photos to make an oversized art piece, no glass. Like Hollywood Squares. I'll have to ask K if she gets any of those for scrap. They were too big for me to take on the bus.

I came back to work just a couple minutes late. I had to hustle because when I dug the bits out of their plastic garbage bag, I kept seeing more and more, and I wanted to get all I could. I was telling everyone about my find. One co-worker said she'd rather eat dirt than do crafts. hehe. She said it hadn't occurred to her that reusing is also recycling. Oh my! I said it's better than recycling! With recycling, companies still expend resources trucking the stuff around, breaking it down, and creating something else. Recycling is better than using virgin material, but reusing skips all those processing expenses and goes straight back to the consumer.

I didn't say anything about reducing. There's good reason for the particular order of the saying, "Reduce, reuse, recycle."

Friday, April 04, 2008

No Time to Lose: Chapter 4 (part 2)

As if in response to my reading of The Way of the Bodhisattva, a new episode of My Name is Earl aired last night. The previous episode (pre-writer's strike) ended with a cliffhanger. Earl, and his possible new lady love, have both been hit by cars, in just the same way that Earl was at the beginning of the show, the hitting-by-car that leads him to the law of karma. Earl had thrown away his list of amends, because once he got out of jail for something he hadn't committed (but accomplished a bundle of list-amends), and used up all his lottery winnings to complete amends, he had some kind of post-jail PTSD and life sucked. He turned his back on karma, and what Earl means by karma is sorta what we mean by bodhichitta. And from what we just learned in The Way, it's like the baddest thing to turn back once you've made that bodhisattva commitment.

Earl, in a coma, creates a dream that is a wishful, old-style perfect Rob and Laura sitcom in which he can forget all the messy more complicated things of his list and bad choices and karma turning her back on him. All the people around his bed think he's dying due to the accident, but as the viewer you can tell he's dying because he's thrown away his list. It's only when his brother Randy, one of those lifted up by Earl's spiritual quest, finds the battered yellow list and finds some things that he can cross off, that Earl takes a turn for the better. Seriously, my buddha-friends, this is one of the best shows on TV.

Earl, how could you? Shantideva says

Thus, having found reprieve from all these things,
If I now fail to train myself in virtue,
What greater folly could there ever be?
How more could I betray myself?

In Part 1 on Chapter 4, I reviewed the first part about the ways to Pay Attention. This second part is all about how the kleshas get their grip on us and we can turn down that path to self-betrayal.

5 ways we succumb to kleshas

1. We are enslaved by them.
Anger, lust--these enemies of mine--
Are limbless and devoid of faculties.
They have no bravery, no cleverness;
How then have they reduced me to such slavery? (Shantideva 4.28)
How many times have you heard people say they couldn't help it, they just got angry? They couldn't help it, they were overwhelmed by desire? It just happened? They think they can't back up and look at where they started letting their emotions get amped up on steroids until they became kleshas. I brought up in class that our own body can produce these chemicals that put us in these states. The habit of amped-up or defiled emotions has been so reinforced that the body can drive us to them before the mind does. Earl's coma was an interesting case of enslavement by the klesha of delusion. He narrates as he leads the viewer into his internal sitcom, telling us how he escaped his own parents' raging arguments by escaping in front of the TV, and that's just what he was doing in his mind.

Simple awareness of this enslavement can give you the chance to turn the direction, loosen the shackles. It takes dedication to keep them from tightening again.

2. We welcome them. They give us identity.
They're familiar. They give us something to hold on to, and they set off a predictable chain reaction that we find irresistible. ...When we realize that we like our kleshas, we begin to understand why they have such power over us. ...Rage makes us feel ...powerful and invulnerable. Craving and wanting can feel soothing, romantic and nostalgic.... Therefore, we don't even consider interrupting the flow. Ignorance is oddly comforting: we don't have to do anything; we just lay back and don't relate to what's happening around us. (Pema Chodron)

I find this can be tricky. Who's to judge whether an action is ruled by klesha, or an action is true to the person's being, an action that flows with bodhichitta? It can be so bound up with societal mores that judge what is "naturally moral" and what is a distortion. Some would judge GLBTQs as indulging in distortions of natural drives. I know in my bodhichitta-inflamed heart that my own non-monogamy is not an embrace of klesha, but an embrace of love in whatever form it takes.

Polyamory certainly has given me more opportunities to test my vulnerability to the klesha of greed, and I have made my share of mistakes. I know, though, my impulse toward polyamory is itself not an indulgence of klesha. Just where that line of understanding is may be different for my teacher, or any teacher. I mean, just look at this is "lust" that is used. Why not "greed"? That is a more all-encompassing term that would include that desire that wishes to consume.

Chodron gives a good question as crucible: "If I strengthen this habit, will it bring suffering or relief?"

3. Kleshas, and their effect of suffering, stick around for a long, long time.
No other enemy indeed
Has lived so long as my defiled emotions--
O my enemy, afflictive passion,
Endless and beginningless companion! (Shantideva, 4.32)

They are entrenched. Ignoring them allows them to thrive, and keeps us asleep when given glimpses of our own buddha nature.

4. If you let them, they will magnify.
But should I serve my dark defiled emotions,
They will only harm me, draw me down to grief. (Shantideva 4.33)

Here in the Pacific Northwest, if you ignore blackberries volunteering to grow in your yard, they become a thicket worthy of enclosing Sleeping Beauty's castle. Hmmm, not a bad metaphor I think. Chodron says it doesn't help to ignore them, to feel guilty or ashamed, or to struggle. So true. She says, "The only way to dissolve their power is with our wholehearted, intelligent attention." That sounds a lot like the practice we do in Soto Zen.

We speak of this ever-deepening spiral into entrenched kleshas as habit-patterns. Like an animal path that becomes a human path that becomes a road, kleshas encourage the same well-worn routes, until you put forethought into turning in another direction. There are certain thoughts that turn us down those well-worn paths.

5. There will be no peace until each one of us can be peace.
Therefore, if these long-lived, ancient enemies of mine,
The wellspring only of increasing woe,
Can find their lodging safe within my heart,
What joy or peace in this world can be found? (Shantideva 4.34)

This is the way of looking at the bodhisattva path that no one can be enlightened until all are enlightened. Until each heart contains the understanding and skill to dissolve kleshas and nurture love, none of us can experience a world free from violent aggression and greed.

On the flip side, as long as society collectively endorses greed, ignorance, and violence, as I see happening right now, it is supremely difficult for individuals to find and stick to this Way. Pacifism is a long slow bodhisattva road.

How to break the grip of kleshas
The essence of this is Attention! Attention! Attention! In another word, zazen.

And if the jail guards of the prisons of samsara,
The butchers and tormentors of infernal realms,
All lurk within me in the web of craving... (Shantideva 4.35)

First recognize that whatever the conditions of the external world, the suffering we experience comes from our own internal attitudes and habits. Somebody in class said, "Don't argue with the storyline--understand it." Because there is an internal dialog, and most of us do argue with it.

When I asked if this practice we do could be considered creating new habit patterns, the opposite of the klesha habit patterns, G said, "Bodhichitta is what is left when the kleshas are dissolved." The practice is the ever-attentive work of untangling the karma, dissolving the kleshas, turning away from the seductive paths of greed, hatred, and delusion.

I don't really like the overarching metaphor of the remaining verses of this chapter, entrenched as they are in the warrior and war culture that Shantideva knew intimately. He says, " the high endeavor for so great a prize,/ Why should hurt and injury dismay me?" Be strong and steady. Just keep going. It's possible. We talked in class about how people under stress have less options, they are weakened by this. (As are their bodies.) It is important to do this practice of Paying Attention, and Noticing the triggering thoughts, when we are not under stress. Then when we are under stress, we're already good at it. That's why we call this spiritual path a "practice." We have to make the conscious choice to make these new bodhichitta-fed mindful habits.
When I pledged myself to free from their affliction
Beings who abide in every region,
Stretching to the limits of the sky,
I myself was subject to the same afflictions.

Thus I did not have the measure of my strength--
To speak like this was clear insanity.
More reason, then, for never drawing back,
Abandoning the fight against defiled confusion. (Shantideva 4.41-42)

That sounds like what I said! Like me, perhaps Shantideva didn't fully comprehend the vows when he pledged, didn't know his own measure, but now he couldn't possibly choose another way.

See through the mirage:
They are simple mirages, and so--take heart!
Banish all your fear and strive to know their nature.
Why suffer needlessly the pains of hell? (Shantideva 4.47)

This is the funny thing. We defend this self, these identities wrapped around the entities born of kleshas, and all the while it is the stuff of smoke and mirrors. This becomes clear with steady intention, attention, and time. In the clear bright space that is bodhichitta that is left when the kleshas dissolve, here there is no self left to defend. There is no war because there is no Other.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

No Time to Lose: Chapter 4 (part 1)

Chapter 4: Using Our Intelligence

"The bodhisattva path is not about being a "good" person or accepting the status quo. It requires courage and a willingness to keep growing." ~Chodron

This chapter is about paying attention, or attentiveness, and about meeting emotional entanglements with skill. These things reverberate with me very much, as for so many years my focus and vow was to Pay Attention, and to work through karmic knots.

5 examples of when to apply attentiveness

  1. when bodhichitta arises
  2. before we make a commitment [to the bodhisattva vow]
  3. after we've made a commitment
  4. when dealing with our karma, or consequences of our actions
  5. when we are seduced by our kleshas

1. This is the initial spark. That moment of clarity when bodhichitta reveals itself. Do we take note and seek it out? The paramitas are the disciplines Shantideva tells us to use.

2. Make sure we know what we're signing up for before making a commitment. I think I signed up for the bodhisattva vow before I knew what that meant fully. I'm not sure I could have done it any other way, and I imagine my teacher recognized that. This practice and my teacher and my sangha were my lifeline, there was no turning away from that. The thing is, my nature is such that I can't imagine receiving a glimpse of the freedom from dis-ease that comes from bodhichitta and then choosing not to pursue it. I guess I can understand the idea behind this example...know what you're signing up for...but I can't imagine not signing up. It's like water. Heh... that's my temple. Dharma Rain.

3. I know it happens, but again, I can't imagine turning away. But then, some people tell me I'm rather unusual. I've found this Way so much more nourishing than other ways. Chodron:

"Reneging on the bodhisattva vow doesn't mean sometimes not feeling up to the task; it means opting for our own comfort and security on a permanent basis. ...These temporary lapses should be expected. But if we decide to let the bodhichitta spark go out, if we repress our appetite for challenge and growth, the consequences will be very sad indeed."

I guess one could sink so far into a lapse that the benefit of the bodhichitta can no longer be felt and one turns away.

4. Karma. When we speak of the Six Realms, we say we have the most opportunity to change in the Human Realm. We are best able to pay attention, understand the routes of cause and effect, and change accordingly. I didn't know this, K in class said they say the Human Realm is the most painful. I would have thought the Hell Realm. But, in the Hell Realm a suffering being is so stuck in that insular blaming world, they see no other possibility perhaps. In the Human Realm, we can see the other possibilities, and that makes the suffering more painful. Given this opportunity, be aware, be very aware of karma. It's possible not to be bound by a fated outcome.

5. Kleshas. I'm still trying to figure out the difference between a klesha and a shenpa. Shenpa is a new term, not one we use in Zen. Pema Chodron seems to be the only teacher using it widely in the West. I found this article by her, and this does seem to be talking about what we call rebirth. In every moment a new self is born. Now, is this new self attached to something? A thought? An emotion? A mind-state? Do we follow that something down a trail until we are no longer present in this moment? This sounds like that hook that Pema Chodron calls a shenpa.

I had a particular stage in my practice when I was very aware of this moment. They were like bubbles, these moments, and I could just let them float on. A bright emptiness surrounded them. I am still aware of these moments, but not with that pinpointed luminous accuracy. The awareness is now more ingrained, but fluid. I didn't have a word for this, but I was aware especially that when it came to emotion this hook could so easily solidify into a klesha. I thought of these as kleshas wanting to form. Kleshas had become identities wishing to form, almost seeming with a will of their own, to be. It is possible to slide easily into that attachment, that solid wall of ME-ness that feels wants GRASPS or feels dislikes ABHORS. But in the beginning it is not so solid, it wants to be born, and it is possible simply to let it go. In the beginning it is the awareness that lets you catch it sooner, and lets you watch it dissolve, because you know if you pull it in close it will just get big and be painful.

Chodron says, "Attentiveness functions like a guardian who protects us from repeating the same mistakes and strengthening the same patterns. We can catch ourselves getting hooked and avoid being swept away by 'shenpa'." Exactly. What I just said. So why doesn't she explain to us the relation of shenpa to klesha?

The bodhichitta teachings explain how pain can make us kinder instead of more neurotic; how it can link us with others and awaken bodhichitta instead of causing greater harm. Without these teachings, however, suffering doesn't free us; it increases our tendency to stay stuck. (Chodron)

I can't say I agree fully. I think it is possible to experience this naturally and not have the same words for it. It is helpful to have the teachings, and it is helpful to have at least one teacher and sangha, but it is possible that someone could be so fortunate as to have the skills to pay attention and get here on their own.

I have more on this chapter, on skillful managing of kleshas, but it's time for me to quit, so I hope to get to part 2 tomorrow.

Unnatural Causes: When the Bough Breaks

Becoming American and When the Bough Breaks will be airing on OPB on this Sunday at 11 am (tomorrow at 7 pm if you have HDTV). I'm sad that it's at such a bad time. Who watches tv at that time? If you're outside Oregon, check your local listings.

An acquaintance friend of mine from way back who works for the County was the facilitator for this showing and discussion. I just love her voice. It's kind of like Fran Drescher's really is, without the exaggerated whine that she does for The Nanny. There's this harmonious alto warble that is so enticingly interesting. I digress... Ms. D is a fabulous facilitator, which made up for Dr. A not being there. Dr. A is so cool too.

Many of us were returning viewers, but for those new to this, D reminded us that these documentaries show us that "health isn't' just about health coverage or even personal choices, but there are social causes to ill health too." Again, I would warn my readers that this review contains spoilers.

Unlike new immigrants, African Americans experience socially caused ill health at the other end of the scale. Their babies are born premature or too small at twice the rate of other groups. Twice the rate! This gap is not corrected by education or socio-economic status. In fact, the gap actually widens the more educated or higher status a black person has.

A couple of doctors saw this gap, and developed the hypothesis that it is due to their unequal treatment in American society. Ya think? But being good scientists, unlike me, your average geeky lay person, they tested. They asked "could the problem be genetic?" They compared the low-weight birth rates between African Americans, African immigrants, and American white women. The immigrants and the white women had similar outcomes. But if you're paying attention and remember the lesson of Becoming're right, immigrants lose this relative equality of health within a generation.

The chronic stress of living with discrimination, and the cumulative experience over a lifetime not only affects the health of a woman, it affects her birth outcomes. The thing is, the sociologist asks, "How do we measure the subtle racism that follows African American women throughout their lives?" Women internalize this. They think about how race affects their lives constantly. How do you measure it? A sociologist, anthropologist, and an epidemiologist got together to do this. They started with a focus group that went on for 15 years.

I thought to myself, I wish they'd do this for fat people. We too are subject to thinking about this constantly. Unlike people of color, we are almost always told to blame ourselves for the fatness of our bodies. We think about this every time we eat, every time we attempt to move about or sit in a space designed for smaller people. This too puts chronic stress on our lives. This too must have an effect on all those health factors that this show is talking about. Yet when studies are done, chances are much more likely they're looking for a way to blame the weight, not the stress.

Some highlights from the discussion

  • premature/small babies: same biological response as during war
  • we can't change the way our species reacts to strangers (tribal response) (I disagree)
  • story about experience as only non-white woman in a group: joined an artist group, at a party nobody sat with her at her table; "I've learned to cope by ignoring it."
  • OHSU graduate student, white: we've learned people with dark skin need more Vitamin D; their bodies cannot manufacture it at all in our Pacific Northwest winters; this also causes low birth weight (I didn't get the sense she was trying to discount the racial gap, but looking for ways to mitigate first...then it seemed she would rather believe a more graspable reason for the gap than racism) She would like to see a test for Vit. D deficiencies as part of a woman's annual exam. Good idea.
  • pregnancy program worker: studies show this gap still exists in the southern states, where they do get more sun
  • policy can't change people's perceptions
  • (me) but it can! this is changing the public dialog. on a national level, the sound bites are separative; appropriate policy can change the sound bites to be connective
  • money follows the policy
  • (me) a question: is it possible that awareness of this, the influence of chronic stress, can change how it influences our health? (I knew my own answer to that question, I know from years of meditation and awareness practice that it does.)

My question prompted a flurry of dialog, prompted by the second facilitator, who asked: Those of you who've seen these shows, have you done anything differently?

  • she herself has told herself "life is too short. let go let god."
  • it's about self-love
  • gonna buy vitamin D!
  • if someone has a problem with who I am, it's their problem
  • find ways to support those in less advantaged places
  • it there's a policy, it's like having a road we can follow
  • important to have good relationships, love
  • good relationships between community members and policy makers
  • this is from Malcolm X: when the people with the problems come up with the solutions, you have better solutions (so true)

Just a side note: I've eaten more Baja Fresh in the last 4 weeks than I had in the whole past year. That is the free food they've had for us. I like it, I just don't get around to going there that often.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

No Time to Lose: Chapters 2,3

A long time ago, I began taking seminary classes at my zen center. I just got too busy bringing my practice out into the world to actually study bringing my practice out into the world. heh. I thought I'd just take this Wednesday class on No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva because I'm interested in the book. After I spoke to the teachers, who assured me that many others have done the same thing...taken classes but not turned in papers...I decided why not? I'll do this as a seminary class. Because of that whole not-turning-in-papers thing, they said they'd be open to suggestions we had for our final project. I asked if my blogging about it would work, and they liked the idea.

So I'm on the 15-year plan for finishing Seminary classes. I need to talk to my advisor (who is my Zen teacher) about other stuff. Like maybe I've written enough about other denominations in Buddhism that I might, I don't know, test out of some requirement or another?

The Way of the Bodhisattva is divided into 3 main sections. The first 3 chapters make bodhichitta clear to us. Chapters 4-6 teach us how to keep bodhichitta live, to nurture bodhichitta. Chapters 7-9 tell us how to make it a way of life.

Chapter 2: Preparing the Ground

1. Making offerings. Pema Chodron takes care to explain this tradition. "This practice consists of three parts: the special object of offering, the special intention, and the special offerings themselves. The special object is the Three Jewels... The special intention of making offerings is to gain the precious attitude of bodhichitta."

Shantideva offers every fruit and flower, every mountain, the fragrance of the realms of the gods, wishing trees...

Lakes and meres adorned with lotuses,
All plaintive with the sweet-voiced cries of water birds,
And lovely to the eyes, and all things wild and free,
Stretching to the boundless limits of the sky;

I hold them all before my mind, to the supreme buddhas...

We talked some in class about his offerings of things he did not own. I thought the key phrase was "I hold them all before my mind." Holding such things in my mind, and offering them to others, I create a certain attitude of mind that is beneficial to others, my own spirit can lift the spirit of others. I was thinking of a day I spent last week with two girls. We went to the movies, and while on the bus ride I was entranced by all the white flowers on the trees. Against the looming grey sky, the white was especially glowing in the pre-storm light. I pointed it out to the girls. They weren't as entranced as I was, but it was there, it was something I could share with them.

Another person in the class said, "We can also look at it that the river is offering itself through you."

Shantideva: "I'll go beyond the evils of my past/ And ever after turn my face from them." Pema Chodron: "Making offerings frees us from the pain of self-absorption. Are we willing to offer something as precious as our time, energy, and anything else we're hanging onto? Are we willing to loosen up habits of selfishness, fear, and small-mindedness?"

I have seen this pain that is clustered around a fixed view from self outward. It can be very difficult to suggest another view. It can be very difficult to explore solutions that move beyond that self-absorbed focus. Before we can do as Pema Chodron asks, first we must acknowledge the pain that exists. If someone thinks they are being objective, that too can be difficult to do. It helps first to acknowledge and accept the pain that is there. I see this so clearly among activists for peace.

And Shantideva says this, in the two lines previous: "For if you will accept me, I will be/ A benefit to all, and freed from fear." I think of my own doorway into my own pain many years ago, my own self-absorbed judgment of a sangha member, and the truthful but accepting response from my teacher and her. Together they helped me crumble the walls of fear, opening this doorway to be of benefit.

Non-acceptance creates a wall that buttresses the fear that is a wall. I see this so often with the "spiritual" view of peace activism, the one that "wishes they weren't so angry." Holding apart, this is not the acceptance of a bodhisattva. Now I see it. Do you see it? It is through acceptance that a bodhisattva allows for enlightenment for all, because it is through acceptance that self-absorption and fear can be dissolved.

According to P. Chodron, offering of...
  • flowers: increases our ability to feel love and compassion
  • incense: increases the capacity for self-discipline
  • beautiful palaces resonant with song: symbolizes creating harmonious, uplifted communities
  • ceremonial parasols: associated with the ability to benefit beings
  • music: increases our capacity to communicate the dharma
  • rains of every precious thing on the Triple Gem: aspiration for anything that supports our practice
  • following the example of our teachers and practicing what we've been taught: the most sublime of offerings

I like that list. I am comforted that my own Zen tradition resonates so well with Pema Chodron's Vajrayana tradition. We offer flowers to remind us of the fleeting nature of life. We offer incense to remind us of the effort of practice. Smell serves as a powerful mnemonic. We too use chant to communicate the dharma, and we practice with it, trusting the words to resonate with our personal spiritual needs.

2. Bowing.

  • Prostrations overcome arrogance.
  • Prostrations connect us with our own sanity.
  • Prostrations serve as a way to overcome resistance and surrender our deeply entrenched neuroses and habits. Each time we bow, we offer ourselves: our confusion, our inability to love, our hardness and selfish ways.

The physical act of bowing opens up the body and the heart. That has been my experience.

3. Confession

In the class, G. brings into focus the roots of the word "sin." She said, "Sin actually means 'to step off the path." This completely fits with our notion of wrong actions.

It is liberating to confess. To keep it to yourself is to be bound by it, and subject to self-deception. Confessing, and thus releasing, our mistakes and our participation in harmful karma, allows us to move forward, letting go of that. It allows us to look forward to a fresh self capable of refraining from those mistakes and participating in beneficial karma. Pema Chodron says, "We can transform the regret that we're basically bad and wish we weren't into the understanding that we're basically good and don't want to keep covering that over."

Verse 2.31 is quite similar to our own confession verse.

All the evil I, a sinner, have committed,
The sin that clings to me through many evil deeds;
All frightful things that I have caused to be,
I openly declare to you, the teachers of the world.
Four powers of confession:
  1. recognition of misdeeds with "positive sadness"
  2. reliance on basic wisdom
  3. remedial action
  4. the resolve to do our best to not keep making the same mistakes

The TV show My Name is Earl is all about a man's direct intuitive experience of understanding karma. He creates a list of all the bad things he's done, and goes about remedying them. Through his quirky, not quite getting it remedial action, he flushes out the truth of the dharma of confession, and karmic cleansing. Through his pure intentions, even if not always skillful, the people around him are changed and lifted up. Not only his own sins are cleared away, but the habits of others.

4. Impermanence

Life is short. We leave our habitual karmic footprints behind us. Best to start cleaning them up now. I like Pema Chodron's quote from the Sixteenth Karmapa to her teenage kids: "You are going to die; and when you do, you will take nothing with you but your state of mind."

5. We leave a wake

I also like her quote from Trungpa: "Karma is not punishment; it's the consequences that we're temporarily stuck with. We can undo it by following the path." Somehow, that always works out quite well for Earl to learn his lesson.

6. Understanding cause and effect, we can stop the negative effects

Pema Chodron: It's extremely difficult to resist the seduction of habits, even knowing how unsatisfying the end results will be. We persist in the same old patterns, which illogically hold out the promise of comfort. To rid ourselves of inevitable suffering, it's crucial to acknowledge on the spot how we repeatedly get hooked.

That's the practice. Practice is enlightenment in our school.

Chapter 3: Transcending Hesitation

Shantideva celebrates with joy "the virtue that relieves all beings." Pema Chodron says, "Rejoicing generates good will."

The intention, ocean of great good,
That seeks to place all beings in the state of bliss,
And every action for the benefit of all
Such is my delight and all my joy. (Shantideva 3.4)

When bodhichitta is strong, this is easy. It is a delight. When self-absorption is strong, the delight is hard to find.

Chodron says, "People who are clear about their commitment become like mountains, remaining steady even when the weather gets wild. It is important to keep this in mind, and not to think we can't go forward until the storms completely subside."

In my experience, the practice itself pulls the commitment forward. It's not that I could be a mountain in spite of the weather, but that I am a mountain thanks to my practice, whatever the weather.

Chodron introduces shenpa, a Tibetan dharma word for "attachment." She says, "Dzigar Kongtrul describes it as the 'charge' behind emotions: the charge behind "I like and I don't like," the charge behind self-importance itself. is the feeling of getting 'hooked'." I wonder if this is the same as klesha. [in the next chapter, I find out it isn't.] Looking at the link above, it seems more to be like the way we talk about 'rebirth' in our lineage. Something triggers a conditioning, a habitual pattern of emotion, and we follow it down that 'hook.'

The final verses 3.21 through 3.34 are the bodhisattva vow. Parts are very similar to ours. Yep, I took the bodhisattva vows when I became a lay disciple. I'm not sure I fully knew what I was getting into then. Now I cannot turn away.

One thing she gives us that I haven't come across in my lineage are the 3 approaches to working with the bodhisattva vow.

  1. King/queen: we work on ourselves first
  2. Ferryman: we are in the same boat as all beings, crossing the water together "like me, they're enslaved by attachments and aversions, hopes and fears. ...We all want to feel safe and free from fear."
  3. Shepherds: we aspire to put others before ourselves. K said in class, "I am not separate from you, so I am doing this for me."