Sunday, December 20, 2015

When the Shoe No Longer Fits

     What happens when the religious / spiritual group with which you closely identify keeps punching you in the nose with its simplistic immaturity?

    The original founders of most major religions - Taoism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam - were profound mystics who deeply inspired small numbers of followers, AND usually met with violent opposition from orthodox religions, and other established political organizations.
and even today, Judaism, Christianity & Islam continue the violence, even internally - one faction against the other, "orthodox" against "reformers," and the majority against their own, few mystics, who (like their founder) are serious reformers ie 'real shit-disturbers.'
surprisingly, religious orthodoxies are only comfortable with the first 3 of Fowler's 6 stages of faith, deeply troubled by 4&5 (equating these stages with 
psychology, and thus 'anti-religious'), and are dead-set against 6 (calling it 'madness' - which ironically sounds like pop-psychology). .
    For the past 18 years,
important international research is been carried out on well over a thousand "Finders" - people who have stabilized at stages that start at Fowler's level 6. Instead of 'madness,' Finders report experiencing deep, foundational inner peace & joy that far surpasses common experience.
Dr. Jeffery A. Martin. “The Finders.” Integration Press, 2019.

      How strongly one identifies with their particular take on religion / spirituality becomes clear when being questioned in a thoroughly intelligent, reasonable, & well-meaning manner.
     If the best they can do is an emotionally anguished, irrational counterattack, then they're actually defending their EGO (personal ± group). This may be a "shipwreck" moment - a "crisis in faith," when they might realize that the short catchy slogans of their sect are no longer enough.

     Their current worldview / self-concept may now need to be upgraded to a more mature model - one that better matches reality. They may need to go DEEPER in their own religion - membership alone is like being a fan of a sports team instead of engaging as a serious athlete. OR, maybe it's time to find a group that is capable of understanding & nurturing their current & higher levels of psychosocialspiritual development.
     Going deeper & moving on is a normal, recurrent event for normally maturing, healthy human beings, though sadly many of us neglect or even actively resist this process. One reason for remaining stuck is the fear of being shunned by your current group.  
     But perhaps the key aspect of maturation is having the courage to leave behind dogmas (that once seemed to provide certainty, but now feel claustrophobic), and move towards love, freedom & spaciousness.

     "The small man builds cages for everyone he knows. While the sage keeps dropping keys all night long for the beautiful, rowdy prisoners."                   Hafiz

Seaport Market, Halifax, NS


Friday, December 4, 2015

Desire, Noisy Ego, & Mental Torment - Merely Visitors Passing Through

      “ ‘The kilesā are not at home in our hearts; they’re merely visitors.’
         ( kilesa - defilement; a torment of mind )

     Somebody once asked a well-known Indian spiritual teacher, “What is renunciation?’ He replied, ‘Renunciation is the giving up of any sense of self’. ‘And for that do you have to give up all your possessions, give up all that you own?’ The teacher answered, ‘Above all, you have to give up the owner. 
     The act of renunciation is, of course, an important principle in Buddhism too. It is often associated with people who are in a very obvious way practicing a way of renunciation, such as monks and nuns and holy men walking the streets of India. But this is only the outward form: giving up worldly possessions as an act of renunciation. More important is the inner sense of renunciation, giving up any impulses, thoughts, feelings or emotions which are coming from a sense of ‘self’, from egoic identity.”                Ajahn Khemasiri 

        “Seeing The Way Volume 2, 2011” Aruna Publications, iBooks.

     "With the development of wisdom, you will understand that sensual desire is not pleasure; it is suffering; it is a force that inhibits the deep peace and rest you seek."

        Shaila Catherine. “Wisdom Wide and Deep. A Practical Handbook for Mastering Jhana and Vipassana.” Wisdom Publications, Boston, 2011.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

"As good as it gets"? - Really?

     Happiness consistently eludes us as long as our understanding of happiness is limited, by and to, a common level of consciousness ("ignorance").

     The Shorter Discourse on the Mass of Suffering indicates that repeated bouts of greed, hatred & delusion cause anguish, and that at the very root of this spiritual anguish is sensual desire (kama). 
     Sadly, most of us already “understand that sensual desire provides little gratification and often leads to much suffering” but because we’ve never experienced anything better, we "remain in thrall to the joys of sensual desire.” 
     And how can we experience the transcendent bliss we're really after? Deep states of meditation.

       Stephen Batchelor. “After Buddhism. Rethinking the Dharma for a Secular Age.” Yale University Press, New Haven, 2015.


Monday, November 30, 2015

Spirituality - Healthy or Unhealthy?

     “The pursuit of spiritual goals can be a useful excuse to avoid dealing with painful feelings, unresolved trauma, and limited professional development. But prioritizing transcendence over relationships becomes a way to be self-centered while appearing to be concerned for the benefit of other people. 
     So psychologists … apply a simple test to spiritual statements: Do the beliefs and practices take the person closer to a functional and helpful existence, or away from one?”
        Scott Carney. "A Death on Diamond Mountain. A True Story of Obsession, Madness, and the Path to Enlightenment." Gotham Books, 2015.
       The message: don't join cults, especially if you have undiagnosed & untreated psychiatric conditions - perfectly reasonable!
       But then the author warns against serious spiritual pursuits in general, travel to foreign countries with different cultures, and the power of evil spells, - all of these endangering sanity & life - ????

     Futile attempts to escape psychosocial dysfunction through religion / spirituality is called spiritual bypassing. See: 
     When unfortunate, marginalized individuals get trapped in spiritual bypassing, usually after intensive brainwashing by sociopathic handlers, instead of finding heaven, they "unleash hell on earth", primarily for their own families. Such psychosocial illness has nothing to do with legitimate humanistic / religious / spiritual aspirations. 
     Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is an increasingly common humanistic pathway towards greater depth of meaning:!Meditations-Potential/c17jj/565b14520cf221f2a7a5e228

     Examples of legitimate Buddhist aspirations are expressed by Dogen:
     "Just practice good, do good for others, without thinking of making yourself known so that you may gain reward. Really bring benefit to others, gaining nothing for yourself. This is the primary requisite for breaking free of attachments to the self."
     and the Bodhisattva vow: 

Buddha statue

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Depth of Interest & Quality of Transformation

     “The Son tradition originated in seventh-century Tang China as a reaction against the overly metaphysical concerns of the established Buddhist schools. It sought to recover the simplicity of early Buddhism by following Gotama’s example of sitting still beneath a tree in an uncompromising engagement with the primordial questions of what it means to be born, get sick, grow old, and die. The Son masters realized that the very way in which you posed these questions would determine the kind of ‘enlightenment’ you might gain. A famous aphorism encapsulates this realization:

Great doubt – great awakening;

Little doubt – little awakening;

No doubt – no awakening.

     The quality of your ‘doubt’ – of the questions you ask – is directly correlated to the quality of your insight. To ask such questions viscerally will engender a correspondingly visceral awakening. To pose them intellectually, with ‘little doubt,’ will lead only to intellectual understanding. For those who are not stirred by existential questions at all, awakening is not even conceivable.”

     Stephen Batchelor. “After Buddhism. Rethinking the Dharma for a Secular Age." Yale University Press, New Haven, 2015.

Tree with superficial roots blown down by wind.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Spirituality & Social Activism

     “In this era, to become a spiritual inquirer without social consciousness is a luxury that we can ill afford, and to be a social activist without a scientific understanding of the inner workings of the mind is the worst folly. Neither approach in isolation has had any significant success. There is no question now that an inquirer will have to make an effort to be socially conscious or that an activist will have to be persuaded of the moral crisis in the human psyche, the significance of being attentive to the inner life. The challenge awaiting us is to go much deeper as human beings, to abandon superficial prejudices and preferences, to expand understanding to a global scale, integrating the totality of living, and to become aware of the wholeness of which we are a manifestation.”

       Vimala Thakar (1921-2009) Indian social activist and spiritual teacher

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ajaan Chah's Practical Advice

     “Ajaan Chah’s … main approach to dharma was not to ask about people’s formal meditation practice, but to ask, ‘Are you suffering? And what kind of suffering do you bring?’
     It might have been that your house burned down, or that you were in the middle of a divorce, or that you were feeling great guilt from something you’ve done in your past. Or it might have been that you felt trapped in a meaningless life.
     Ajaan Chah would listen to it all. He would work with that person to uncover the attachments that were causing that suffering. Through teaching meditation and awareness, he’d show them how to release that suffering.
     He made no distinction between whether it was a problem of an obsessive thought about enlightenment or a problem in a divorce or a problem that had happened with one’s parents or a problem that was happening because you were sitting and energy and concentration weren’t in balance. He saw them all as different forms of clinging.”  

       Jack Kornfield, Tricycle, Winter 2004

The Biscuit Eater, Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Buddhist Path Summarized

     The entire Buddhist path fundamentally entails: 
          • abandoning the 5 hindrances, 
          • developing the 4 foundations of mindfulness, &
          • realizing the 7 factors of enlightenment 
     so as to gain true knowledge & release from the bondage of suffering & rebirth.

       Shankman R. The Experience of Samadhi. An In-depth Exploration of Buddhist Meditation. Shambhala, Boston, 2009.

      "5 hindrances are negative mental states that impede success with meditation:
          1. Sensual desire: Craving for pleasure to the senses.
          2. Anger or ill-will: Feelings of malice directed toward others.
          3. Sloth-torpor or boredom: Half-hearted action with little or no concentration.
          4. Restlessness-worry: The inability to calm the mind.
          5. Doubt: Lack of conviction or trust.

     4 foundations of mindfulness, bases for maintaining moment-by-moment mindfulness and for developing mindfulness through
          1. mindfulness of the body
          2. mindfulness of feelings (or sensations)
          3. establishing mindfulness of mind (or consciousness) 
          4. mindfulness of mental objects (or qualities)

      7 factors of enlightenment:

          1. Mindfulness - to be aware & mindful in all activities & movements both physical & mental
          2. Investigation into the nature of dhamma
          3. Energy
          4. Joy or rapture
          5. Relaxation or tranquility of both body and mind
          6. Concentration - a calm, one-pointed state of concentration of mind
          7. Equanimity - to be able to face life in all its vicissitudes with calm of mind and tranquility, without disturbance."
       above from Wikipedia

near the Forest Refuge, Barre, MA

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Indigenous People's Day (regarded by some as "Columbus Day")

     "In Columbus' logs from his first voyage, he is continually astounded by the kind and thoughtful ways of the people he meets. Here are a few excerpts during the weeks after October 12, 1492:
     'And the people are all so gentle...These are the friendliest people...there cannot be better or more gentle people than these anywhere in the world... The chiefs are men of few words and fine manners, it is a marvel...The houses of the Indians are the most beautiful I have ever seen...They are well swept and quite clean inside, and the furnishings are arranged in good order.' 

     On Columbus' second voyage, a compatriot of Columbus noted that the native people came out 'to greet the ships with gifts of fish and fruit, as if we had been brothers.'
     Columbus thought that these people were a living expression of God, and the word Indian actually comes from the Spanish 'in Deos,' or in God. What an oddity it was, then, that they were wiped out in the name of Christianity... Pope Alexander VI issued the Bull Inter Caetera (May 3, 1493) granting the right to the monarchs of Spain to own, possess, and exploit any part of the Earth not already under control of a Christian nation. The real destruction began after his second voyage, which left for the Americas in 1493. This time there were 17 ships, and about 1,200 men. The arriving Spaniards were shown the same kindness and humanity as on the previous voyage, but this decency was not reciprocated, and in a generation's time, millions of native people were dead, and nearly every Caribbean island thoroughly devoid of its original inhabitants. As Columbus traveled through the Caribbean islands, in each place he would read the following fearsome document giving the Church and the monarchy of Spain the right to seize the lands, and if necessary, kill the occupants:
     'I certify to you that, with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter into your country and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and Their Highnesses. We shall take you and your wives and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as Their Highnesses may command. And we shall do you all the mischief and damage that we can, as to vassals who do not obey and refuse to receive their lord and resist and contradict him.'

     In a generations time, millions of native peoples were dead, and nearly every Caribbean island thoroughly devoid of its original inhabitants. In time more than 95% of the first peoples of the Americas (an estimated 15 million) would perish and their way of life would be lost for ever."

       Excerpted and adapted from American Indian Prophecies by Kurt Kaltreider  (Hay House, 1998)

     May we all, individually and collectively, have the courage to look for and listen to the stories that bring the wisdom and compassion we need to heal the wounds of our past --- and present, and learn to live together and with the Earth in ways that honor the sacredness and potentials of life.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Self-reflection, Distraction & Quality of Life

     “Awareness reflects how things are, how you’re acting in the world, how you’re living in the world. So not only do I have the capacity to engage with life, I also have the capacity to reflect and notice how I’m engaging with life. Just as the mirror reflects my physical posture, awareness reflects the mental-emotional attitude I am coming from in any kind of encounter in life. 
     That’s really the secret of Buddhism – it’s this capacity to reflect. Because without that, without using that reflective capacity, you tend to be very much just involved with life. You try to do it well, keep the precepts and so on, but we don’t really understand life. We come from a kind of attitude of ‘I should be this’ and ‘I shouldn’t be that’, ‘I should do this’ and ‘I shouldn’t do that’, and we have our responsibilities. But we don’t really understand life.
     Where we begin to understand life is where we have this kind of mirroring going on called reflection. And Buddhism is about understanding life. It’s not about just being moral. But morality and generosity are a basis for a reflective capacity actually being stronger. When I live in a way that’s morally impeccable, when I live in a way that has a generous heart in it, it’s much more easy to be reflective, to be aware. If someone is living in a way that’s exploitative of other beings, the environment or hurtful to others, it’s very hard to be reflective, because one doesn’t want to look at the results of that. I don’t want to look at my mind if I’ve been hurting people. I just want to keep it distracted. 
     We see that in people who are dying. If they’ve lived wholesome, meaningful lives, and then as death comes … the person who has lived a good life, they have no problem with awareness. ‘Oh yah, I remember that, I did that well.’ Whereas a person who has lived a poor life, a divisive life, it’s very hard to be aware - and they need distractions. That’s quite a strong lesson. 
     So we all have the capacity to reflect. We all can do that whether our karmic formations are very depressed or difficult, or very bright and lucid, we all have this capacity to reflect. And the Buddha’s teachings on awareness are really encouraging. Just begin by awakening to what’s going on in your life. Begin by really just noticing how you live your life, how you speak with people, how you do what you do.”

Ajahn Viradhammo 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Desire, Craving, Clinging & Suffering

     "Our minds are governed by a cycle of craving what we don't have, finding it, using it up or losing it, and then being driven by loss, need, desire, or insecurity to crave it all the more. This cycle is at the root of all addictions: addictions to drugs, drink, cigarettes, sex, love, soap operas, wealth, and wisdom itself. But why should this be so? Why are we so driven, often at great cost to ourselves?"
       Marc Lewis. "Memoirs of an Addicted Brain: A Neuroscientist Examines his Former Life on Drugs." Anchor Canada, 2012.

     In 500BCE, the Buddha, through meditative contemplation, learned and taught what neuroscientists are starting to discover: the basic cause of human suffering is the "self" that "clings", craves, desires, etc. See:

     "If you get something that is quite nice, you simply want to keep it, or repeat it, or get something similar to it. Like being in debt, we must continually work to satisfy our desire for sensual pleasures, our wanting. There is no fulfillment to be found by obtaining what you want. Okay, you get some fulfillment for a bit, but no ultimate fulfillment. We usually assume that when we want something and we get it and that feels great, that feeling is due to the fact that we got what we wanted. But have you ever stopped to consider that it might be due to the fact that you stopped wanting? The relief from the wanting produces quite a bit of pleasure. So perhaps a more effective strategy would be to let go of the wanting."
       Leigh Brasington

     "Many people are not aware of this, but strictly speaking, the statues we see of the Buddha, as well as other Buddhist art objects, serve as representations of states of mind rather than of a divinity." 
       Jon Kabat-Zinn. "Mindfulness for Beginners. Reclaiming the Present Moment - and Your Life." Sounds True, 2012.

Dale Johnson

Friday, August 21, 2015

Stress Reduction & Complete Liberation

     Jon Kabat-Zinn's Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR), when taught by well-trained facilitators who maintain a regular sincere meditation practice, is an excellent entry point for many who seek relief from a wide range of suffering for which Western health-care has little to offer. MBSR is a very approachable, secular, abbreviated adaptation of profound Buddhist psychology (Dharma). See:
     Somewhat like Freud's psychoanalysis, MBSR can help people improve their life experience from frank suffering to being able to function better. Freud called this humble therapeutic goal "ordinary unhappiness" - less than ideal, but far better than incapacitating neurosis. 
     Some Dharma teachers, like Titmuss below, criticize MBSR for being "watered-down" (eviscerated?) Dharma. From my perspective, MBSR is an excellent entry point, even for the very few who may wish to go much deeper after their immediate suffering has abated. MBSR training can serve as an entry point, not necessarily only into a deeper engagement with Buddhism, but any religious or philosophical tradition. Suffering is what tends to bring people to not just to MBSR, but to Zen, other major religions, psychiatry & psychology as well. And after one of these has provided some relief from acute suffering, very few commit to the entire journey. Their particular life stage is filled with other priorities. Most people are not ready to undergo a radical transformation of heart-mind-body. "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle ..."

     “It is not unusual for profound teachings to get watered down to popularize them. There are a few sins in teaching the Dharma and one of them must surely be reducing the teachings to the overcoming of stress. A life dedicated to the Dharma embraces more than meditation and mindful exercises for coping calmly with daily life. … calmness and clarity of mind … can never serve as a substitute for liberation.
     In essence, liberation is the realization of the end of suffering, the full emancipation of the human spirit and the joyful understanding of the nature of things. Cessation of suffering removes the struggle born of greed, hate and self-delusion. It eradicates that compelling need to pursue or gain things as an ultimately satisfying way of life. The emptiness of the ego, of any substance to I and my, is obvious.”

        Christopher Titmuss. "Light on Enlightenment. Revolutionary Teachings on the Inner Life." Shambhala, Boston, 1999. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

My Identity? Really?

"Melancholy is the happiness of being sad."         Victor Hugo

     What? How could sadness possibly bring about happiness? Why would an abused person remain with their abuser? Why do people continue self-destructive behaviours over long periods of time, or for life?
     Lack of imagination? Lack of initiative? Yes, probably both. But the key reason might be that they IDENTIFY with their role - "the sad one" or "the abused one" or "the self-destructive one"? They fear change, so they pretend that at least one thing in the world doesn't change - their "self"! So they cling to this pretense like a drowning person clings to a piece of flimsy driftwood.
     Yet, even here they appear to have missed the boat. Identity, from certainly a Buddhist, but also increasingly from Western secular perspectives, is ephemeral, shifting, constantly changing, like all phenomena. And clinging to any phenomena, particularly to "the self", is considered the chief cause of suffering. To the extent that our identity is fused with self-concept ie "I am my self-concept", we suffer.
       Leary MR, Guadagno J. "The role of hypo-egoic self-processes in optimal functioning and subjective well-being." (Chapter 9) in: Sheldon KM, Kashdan TB, Steger MF. eds. "Designing positive psychology: Taking stock and moving forward." Oxford University Press, NY, 2011.  

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

"Life is Suffering" ???

     "'Life is suffering' ... never appears in the volumes of teachings attributed to the Buddha. ... 
     The Buddha states that the Second Noble Truth (which is the cause of suffering) arises when the conditions are there for it to arise. Suffering cannot arise when the conditions are not there for its dependent arising. He urges us to give attention to this, to meditate and reflect on it for direct insight into the way things are. His view is neither pessimistic nor optimistic, but realistic. He would consider it crude to proclaim such a grossly generalized statement as 'Life is suffering.'"

       Christopher Titmuss. "Light on Enlightenment. Revolutionary Teachings on the Inner Life." Shambhala, Boston, 1999.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Impeccability OR Half-heartedness?

     “A man or woman of knowledge is impeccable. There are some people who are very careful about the nature of their acts. Their happiness is to act with the full knowledge that they don’t have time. Therefore their acts have a peculiar power. Acts have power, especially when the person acting knows that those acts are their last battle. There’s a strange, consuming happiness in acting with the full knowledge that whatever one is doing, may very well be one’s last act on earth. What matters to a warrior is that they become impeccable - that every act counts.
     This is also the quality of mindfulness or awareness. It’s the quality of learning to live completely in each day, in each hour, in each action, in each communion or touching of another person.
     For Don Juan it means taking Death as an advisor – ‘Death over your left shoulder’. Realizing that [this year] may be it! That may be it for this particular dance for you - or even for the whole world. We don’t really know. And somehow to realize the shortness and the preciousness of it. And with that say – ‘How do I want to live?’

     The opposite of impeccability is half-heartedness. Think about it. Think of how many things in our lives we’ve done half-heartedly. We went to school half-heartedly some of us; or do our work, or some relationships which we ‘kind-of do’, or various other things. Those are the big ones. And then the little ones: of going for a walk in the woods and being so caught-up in a thought or worry or memory, we don’t smell the pine trees or see the ice as it glistens on the branches. It’s like it goes by and we’re on automatic pilot. Think again, for yourself, of the times you’ve lived most fully in your life.
     Those times when you’re really whole-hearted and you did something with all your energy, all your attention, all your body and spirit – all together. It doesn’t even matter how it comes out, when you live in that fashion. Just the quality of living and doing it completely itself is fulfilling. Think about the things you really put yourself into, and how they taste to you – they have a certain taste of sweetness from that fullness.
     This is the central quality of a spiritual warrior, of a man or woman of knowledge, is awakening this capacity to be full or impeccable or careful in relationship to the body, to breath, to movement, to all the physical elements, in relation to our emotions, to be aware and present with our desires, our actions. 
     And we can practice it in all kinds of ways. You can come to a retreat and be silent, and sit and walk, and sit and walk, and sit and walk, and sit and walk, and gradually, you know, very slowly, in it’s way, it gets nourished. And you find that on the fifth day of the retreat you’re reaching to take a cup of tea, and for a moment it becomes like the Japanese Tea Ceremony. And you’re just there taking a cup of tea. And it’s the only thing in the world, and you’re really there. It makes all those five miserable days worth it just even to have a moment like that. At least I think so. But it can be trained in all kinds of other ways – it’s not just through sitting."

Jack Kornfield. “Awakening is Real. A Guide to the Deeper Dimensions of the Inner Journey.” Sounds True (Podcast #2 The Way of the Warrior), 2012. 


Sunday, August 16, 2015

THIS, this IS, this is IT!

     “This – the immediate, everyday, and present experience – is IT, 
     the entire and ultimate point for the existence of a universe.”                Alan Watts

       David Chadwick. "Alan Watts at 100." Shambhala Sun, September 2015.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Meditation - Jack Kornfield's Beautiful Summary

      “ ‘Taking the one seat in the center of the world’ Ajahn Chah said, ‘and not getting up.’ Letting the joys, and sorrows, and praise, and blame, and fear, and love, and all of the stuff of life show itself. And you sit with your eyes open and your heart open, and say ‘I will sit like the Buddha on this seat, and find the space of freedom, or love, or understanding in the midst of it all.

        Jack Kornfield. “Awakening is Real. A Guide to the Deeper Dimensions of the Inner Journey.” Sounds True (Podcast #1 The Sacred Journey), 2012.