Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Non-Fiction Books Read

The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder The Prosecution of George W Bush for Murder by Vincent Bugliosi
rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read about 1/3 of the book and still did not get to the prosecution part. Bugliosi is long-winded and full of anger at Bush. He has good reason, but he didn't say anything new to this peace activist. I wasn't necessarily looking for something new, but I was looking for a rational case. No doubt it's there, but he lost me in the opening argument. I agree with him, George W Bush doesn't really care about his country, but Bugliosi wasn't proving anything by making the case for that. If you want to feel good about your anger towards GWB, then you'll like this book. That wasn't something I wanted to spend my time with.

I'm glad the author is, indeed he's making the case to congress. I'm not sure when this happened, but here's the scrappy guy urging them to refer GWB to the justice department for murder.

The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream
The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama (audio)
rating: 3 of 5 stars

Obama reads this himself. He sounds very much like a minister: kind, sincere, and with that declamatory cadence I recall from my childhood churches.

While I don't, I can't, appreciate his every even-handed anecdote, such as his meeting George W Bush for the first time and liking him, or his admiration for Reagan, I do admire and respect his political acumen. The title is "Audacity of Hope" but this is not about pipe dreams...I tentatively believe that if anyone can repair the damage done to the American political landscape, it could be this man.

His every word has respect for others, for the process, and for this country. Each chapter is a treatise on his views, and these are rational, methodical, respectful, and smart. Some worry me, like his admiration for Reagan policies, if I remember correctly. What gives me hope is his ability to work with those he disagrees with, if this book is any indication.

View all my reviews.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Buddhists are not theists

There's a talk to that effect at the oldest Buddhist temple in Oregon this Saturday.

Buddhist, Theist, Non-Believer Panel Discussion
August 23, 2 pm
Oregon Buddhist Temple
3720 SE 34th Ave, Portland

From the description:
The most interesting part of the program will almost surely be the interchange between the presenters, Rev.Marcoux and Rev. Gibbs, and the attendees. Please remember however that we are not here to answer questions like “Does the Buddha's Pure Land really exist?” and certainly not to argue about the existence or non-exsitence of some deity.

Spiritual maturity leads one away from questions about what is or is not in existence. The important questions to those who are emotionally or spiritually mature are always about how our experience changes with the taking of different perspectives.

Margaret Cho is hot

and she's got a new show on VH-1.

The Cho Show (:30 Image) from Vinny Lopez on Vimeo.

I don't know why I didn't know she has a blog, but she does, and you can see the first episode on her blog here.

I don't get it, the first episode airs tomorrow, Thursday the 21st, but you get a sneak preview online. Has the web surpassed TV as the spot to be entertained? I'm recording it just in case this is the abridged version.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

2 seconds 2 bees

I've shared spring, fall and winter colors before, but summer kind of got left behind. More to come on flickr soon.

Tiger lilies in front of my house. Our former renters planted them...she liked to garden.

The Need for a Reason

Last month The Friendly Atheist started a great conversation on his blog about the saying It happened for a reason. I feel a bit as he does when I hear that. Usually I see a bit a lazy thinking when someone says that. If they looked really hard, they could find the true cause-effect reason, and the supernatural spiritual reason ends up looking a bit shallow. Buddhists are not immune to this, and this kind of thinking could be responsible for the degradation of the meaning of karma.

(completely random photo from my flickr pages, no wait it happened for a reason...)

Recently, after reading the book Taking Up Space, I had one of those inner conversations I talk about in my comment. In some parallel world (explained below), some Heidi didn't take up meditation, and she went through years of yo-yo dieting. Maybe she even underwent the awful gastric bypass surgery. In actuality, when I started meditating, I eventually could no longer diet because I could no longer ignore the signals from my body and my inner voice.

Here's what I said in the comments at The Friendly Atheist Blog:

great post.

I like wondering why people need this kind of belief. It fills a psychological need, what exactly I'm not sure. I think Darryl pointed toward it with the scene from Blade Runner. (I haven't seen it.) It responds to a fear of death, and a fear of inconsequence, I suppose.

When those special moments happen, I often think of parallel worlds, and that in some other parallel world some other Heidi did not start a meditation practice but instead became a sick drunk. Or some other Heidi really did swerve off the road into a deep ravine when Driving While too Emotional. Those close calls remind us of our mortality, and our victory over death seems to be a gift.

When those moments happen like a great parking spot happens, I like to say, "the cosmos is smiling on me." with a smile at myself for needing a little something more poetic than gratitude for mere coincidence.

I think psychologically there's a need to respond to something that feels bigger than this puny human existence. The simple way is to ascribe something happening for a reason so this existence can feel equal to the grand chaotic universe. Perhaps a more sophisticated way is to recognize the puniness and the grandness as equally important and that yes, my experience is the whole world, for me, and I am just a small part in the whole world.

I guess I am trying to flush out the psychological need for a spiritual existence. If I can understand, I can understand why people believe the things they do.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Eats near Hollywood Library

My sweetie took me to Laurelwood Pub, 5115 NE Sandy Blvd, Portland, on my lunch hour. Vegan house made burger...mmmm. Usually I prefer the fake meat style veggie burgers, but this was goooood. Just enough time to order, eat, and get back to work. (phone blog)

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

No Time to Lose: Chapters 8-10

Chapter 8
Heartbreak with Samsara
Meditation, Part One

Chapter 5 involved meditation, but with the addition of perseverance and diligence of the chapters in-between, we can tackle the more deeply embedded constructions of the self, those worldly habits that keep us "nauseated with samsara."

Worldly life is fraught with traps leading to the "fangs of affliction," or kleshas. In addition to the calm abiding meditation, penetrative insight meditation (vipassana) helps dissolve the grip of kleshas. Attachment to worldly stuff, relationships, wealth, health, anything whether 'good' or 'bad' can be a set-up for suffering. The solitude and absence of distractions of a monastic life make it easier to focus, though I think attachment to that solitude can be detrimental too.

Shantideva says, "But with a millionth part of such vexation/ Enlightenment itself could be attained." Too often that can be interpreted that it is not possible to experience liberation completely within a lay life. It is simply more complicated, but is made easier if at least we take the time to do those meditation practices. All of life is marked by that vexation, whether lay or monkly.

Dissolving the Barriers
Meditation, Part Two

Over and over again, my pain, another's pain...why should mine be more important than the other's? More than that, if we shut out another's pain so we don't have to feel it ourselves, that is selfish, self-absorbed, and doesn't help to decrease the amount of pain in the world.

And if through such a single pain
A multitude of sorrows can be remedied,
Such pain as this a loving being
Strives to foster in himself and others. ~Shantideva 8.105
The opposite of self-absorption is finding satisfaction in the happiness of others. If the barriers are dissolved, this is easy. Feeling another's pain as my own, so thoroughly putting myself in their shoes, the compassionate response will naturally and easily arise.

Chapter 9
Prajna, or Wisdom

Pema Chodron left this out of the book, as she considers it so packed that it requires a book on its own. However it was covered in class. From verse 77 (a different translation than that linked), "the source of sorrow is the pride of saying I." When we touch this wisdom, prajna, we know the truth of the Buddhist teaching that a solid enduring self is a delusion, and this delusion is the root of all suffering. To perceive emptiness is to awaken.
Without emptiness the mind is constrained and arises again, as in non-cognitive meditative equipoise. Therefore, one should meditate on emptiness. ~Shantideva 9.48
After calm abiding, after penetrative insight, what is left but to let the emptiness be meditated?

Let the emptiness be meditated.

Chapter 10

In all my work with various Buddhist groups, I have not found a sect that does not dedicate the merit. We all make the wish that those who suffer will experience relief, and may find this noble path, and so does Shantideva. He tries to think of everyone: those languishing in hell, the blind, those living in dread, captives in chains, etc. Sadly, I cannot agree with the sentiment of this one:
May all the women in this world
Attain the strength of masculinity

Or, from the more literal translation:
May the women in the world become men. ~Shantideva 10.30
If there were anything I would take issue with this, it is the rhetoric Pema Chodron must sometimes use (and the translator) to make this ancient writer with ancient prejudices be more palatable to the modern reader. I would rather find an acceptance that this wise text is flavored by the conditions of its time, and some of it is just not going to be applicable to this time and this society. When we push the words around, translate them into modern concepts as though they are dollars from a different time, we make it too easy for prejudices to persist, and these too I have experienced working with so many different Buddhist groups.

If I may be so bold, may my own efforts relieve the suffering of others, and may we find joy, happiness, love, compassion, peace, and emptiness.

No Time to Lose: Chapters 6-7

Chapter 6
Working with Anger: Patience

Good deeds can be negated by a "single flash of anger." Such deeds lacked depth to begin with...think of the Sopranos giving money to the church. Giving to gain merit increases self-importance, and does nothing to prevent anger.

Patience is the antidote to anger. Patience allows us to understand the complexity of any situation, and gives an opportunity to lessen the gap between self and other. Suffering can help bolster our capacity for patience with the right attitude. It can "drive out pride," foster empathy, and make good deeds more appealing. In my experience pride leads to anger because of that sense of entitlement.

When we encounter others who cause us or others harm, they are opportunities for patience. The worldly way is to feel they deserve retaliation. The bodhisattva way is to recognize that they too are suffering, and they too are the stuff of Buddhas.

The great compassionat lords consider as their own
All wanderers--of this there is no doubt.
Beings, then, are Buddha's very self.
Thus how can I not treat them with respect? ~Shantideva 6.126
Chapter 7
Enthusiasm: Heroic Perseverance

The opposite of enthusiasm is laziness. There's the laziness of using comfort to avoid pain or uneasiness, the laziness of despondency, or indulging in discouragement, and the laziness of a despondency of self-contempt. Pema says this is "much more stubborn and bitter than merely losing heart."
Do not be downcast, but marshal all your strength,
Take heart and be the master of yourself!
Practice the equality of self and other;
Practice the exchange of self and other. ~Shantideva 7.16
Putting attention toward others and their connection to one's self helps pull a person back from the self-involved nature of complacency and despondency. This attention helps muster that needed perseverance. In my experience too, it helps to focus on the equality of self, to seek out why that little self doesn't big enough to find that strength.

Monday, August 04, 2008

No Time to Lose: Recap Chapters 1-5

Back in May I just had to stop my intensive reflection on No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva by Pema Chodron. I did finish the readings and listened to the final class online, and am ready to wind this up. I'll be busy with several other papers for my Zen Center's Seminary Program for classes I took several years ago. I'm not the only one who didn't get those papers done, but we've now been given a deadline and I hope I can meet it.

To Recap:
To be a bodhisattva, one needs to cultivate bodhichitta. Here's what I said about that:

I have been aware of this term for a long time, and personally I feel it has a strong quality of unconditional love to it, but to attach a quality to it is to dissect it, and I'm not sure it is dissectable. H.H. the Dalai Lama said, "The wish for perfect enlightenment for others is bodhichitta." I think in real-life, everyday you-and-me-are-bodhisattvas terms, it means we wish others could awaken to the suffering they create for themselves and just let it go, let it dissolve. The same goes for our own selves.

If one must translate it, I kind of prefer the "awakened heart" translation. It is an open, spacious, uncramped heart awareness that comes before thought, in spite of thought, in between the thought that clouds up the mind. It is a clarity that can grok the effects of karma, in one's self or others, and in the same instant know the boundlessness that can change that karma.
To cultivate bodhichitta, we must take notice, and develop clear intention. It is like a flash of lightning, and illuminates the black clouds of karma. With practice that flash can become more sustained. It doesn't happen instantaneously. In Chapters 2 and 3, we learn how to prepare. In making offerings, bowing, and confession, we open inner doorways to seeing our own self-absorption with clarity and humility. To be locked into the pain of suffering, to judge others and our own selves negatively, is to be self-absorbed and ruled by karma. These acts help focus attention on the beginningless nature of our own and others' karma. With this openness, we can also be more open to understanding impermanence, our own karmic wake, and how to stop its negative effects. Then comes commitment, and this would include the bodhisattva vow.

Chapter 4 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. The second part of Chapter 4 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. 2. We welcome them. They give us identity. 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. 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.

5. There will be no peace until each one of us can be peace.

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, it is supremely difficult for individuals to find and stick to this Way. Pacifism is a long slow bodhisattva road.

To break the grip of the kleshas: Pay Attention. I said:
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.
The work of Chapters 1-4 can be giddy and eye-opening, but the vigilance as found in Chapter 5 is where we find depth and staying power. Chodron tells us the Vajrayana method is shamatha meditation. This sounds an awful lot like my Soto Zen's method of shikantaza. We turn the gaze inward, but then we also act in the world. 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.

The Three Disciplines here are the same as my tradition's Three Pure Precepts. 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.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Breakfast conversation

We went to breakfast at The Original Pancake House. Exit 296a (i think) on I-5 S. We talked about the possibility of buying a house together with K in a little town on the other side of Portland. I would want a hybrid/electric car, as the buses are few and far between over there. Otherwise I am excited at the thought of the 3 of us living together, and it is close enough to Portland. (phone again)

Influencing readers

We've ramped up the 'staff pick' selection at my library branch. I don't like the question, "What are you reading?" Readers advisory rarely works well that way. OTOH library users insist. Our increased display meets that wish without making it personal. Here are a few of my picks from yesterday. There's no rule against being subversive. (blogged from phone)