Monthly Archives: May 2015

Good looking out and Buddhism…

Encountering one of those delightful periods when I seem to be in a perfect storm of the kind of books that inform, move, inspire, and settle me, into areas of an ancient comfort.

I’ve been restricted in my movement for a few weeks and expect to be for another few, due to an old flare-up of an achilles/foot problem. So, no deliberate long walks and restricted general movement. Lots of time down. Reading time. I was a bit surprised at how stingy I had gotten with time to just sit and read for an hour or two. My habit has been to read while snacking/eating, mindfully of course (Ahhem!); or whilst ensconced; and what with legs falling asleep during ensconcement, and all, I got a fair amount of reading done but I hadn’t allowed myself the deliberate luxury of sitting and just reading.

Treasure, pleasure, regained.

I just finished up the two Hillary Mantel books about Thomas Cromwell and Anne Boleyn’s rise and fall, and bumped into a terrific book called Poets on the Peaks  Gary Snyder, Phillip Whalen and Jack Kerouac in the North Cascades by John Suiter. An account of the formative years and connection between three important figures in modern American poetry (and the “Beat” era, precursor to the counter-culture and progressive movements of the 60’s). The connections that they made through working at Fire Lookout stations in the Cascade Mountains of the Northwest in the early fifties, and their individual formative experiences. A beautiful recounting via personal writings, their published writing, and the reminiscences of the hardy folks they encountered and worked with.

Like trees, their creative roots are widespread and varied in the soils they burrowed through for nourishment; often intertwined for mutual growth and individual benefit. They are trees of a certain type that are similar for the climate conditions, but vary somewhat in their habit. Fir. Ponderosa. Cedar.

The photographs of the then, the now, the areas, the lookouts, and the poets, intertwined with Suiter’s keen observations and suitable (almost a good pun there), writing style; offers a comfortable feast for those acquainted with their work, and of nourishment to anyone interested in modern western history, ecology, the culture of post WWII America, plus a  beautiful scatter-shot view of how life and art intertwine when seen with just a bit of distance. It’s all about outlook and the varieties of doing.

The other book I’m reading is A Concise History of Buddhism by Andrew Skilton. I’m not sure if it is for the casual inquiry into Buddhism, a bit “full” for that, but certainly for anyone who wants to take a serious look at Buddhism and very informative for the practitioner, irrespective of which of the “paths” one follows. Skilton is skillful (into pun potential again), in presenting the tapestry, willing to explain some of the details and history, but does not engage in any bias that I could detect. Straightforward and informative, a slight slog (many Sanskrit and Pali terms), for the student and casual reader, but a nice laying out of the course of events and views that made Buddhism into a world religion. That may be this books strongest point for me, there is no confusion about what Buddhism is. Skelton does a nice succinct job of showing what differentiates Buddhism from Hinduism (a general term for thousands of variations of spiritual practice in India), in fact makes short work of it, and then moves on. He nicely shows that Buddhism was just one of many spiritual paths, and the Buddha one of many teachers roaming India at that time. How it gained traction and then moved into almost all the various cultures and societies of the world (without fire and sword, but sometimes because of them), is what the book is about. It also takes on the difficulty of how good honest practitioners can have differing views on aspects of training yet not differ on the core teaching. The Buddha in his lifetime tailored his teaching to the ability and propensity of each individual, yet never compromised on the core teaching, knowing that we are all capable of training because we are all alike.

Of course that is the basic problem; we are all different and cultivate those differences, and since that is part of how we are all alike, the problem is hard to see. But, I digress.

So, today; laundry, kitchen cleaning (all 70 sq. feet), an AA meeting in Napa, and hopefully a good playoff basketball game tonight.

Oh, another aspect of being engaged in personal mind and heart nourishing reading, is a bit of a vacation from the constant flow of “ME”…I suspect others feel that at times too; and that can be taken both ways.

With a grain of salt or not.

I go in and out of the Door.

Do I want to be here, or


Like a cat.

Spoiler alert…Heads up!

Had a full few days.

Last Sunday a big Wesak celebration and ceremony at our temple followed by a delicious pot-luck lunch. It is basically the biggest day in the Buddhist year because it celebrates the month within which the Buddha was born, experienced his enlightenment, and within which he died.

Monday a day of morning rush hour, coming and going through S.F. to pick someone up at airport. Yikes! Then going to the Monterey Market and then The Berkeley Bowl, two of the greatest food marts in America. At the Monterey Market it’s not unusual to see not only an array of fruits and vegetables available in California, but also a choice of sometimes five, six or seven of, say, apples, or oranges or raspberries or potatoes or name something. At the Berkeley Bowl, at least twenty types of granola,@ $3.39 per lb. and that’s just one example. A pound of healthy organic granola for less than a sugar drenched and additive-infused 12 ounce box of air. I know. I know. Judgmental.

There’s a lot to like about the Bay area.  I’m watching Western Conference NBA finals. Go warriors!.

Today, a morning of  having coffee with a person and talking about Buddhism and Zen. I’ve stopped being surprised at how little people know about Buddhism and its practice; and that’s people who tell me they’ve been practicing for a number of years. I know. I know…Oh, well…

We can only train with what we know and the reality is that if one is a better person and does good for others, it doesn’t really matter what information that is based on. Although, at some point various delusions do take a toll. I know that from personal experience.

The afternoon spent with someone I’m sponsoring through the 12 Steps of AA. I’m so fortunate in how I’m able to spend my time. I keep learning. Well, at least being taught.

I’ve just come out of a period of more than several weeks that my views were very clouded by delusion and all I could do was just train through it. Not get overwhelmed by the karma (feelings), and that’s ultimately the heart of the practice. When things get uncomfortable, it’s just that. Uncomfortable. That I don’t like being uncomfortable is not news, or that I’d rather that things were pleasant is not a revelation. That’s just information. Like a weather report. Within my climate there is a lot of weather and seasonal change. Sometimes I don’t prepare sufficiently for the conditions and then I suffer and am at dis-ease. It’s just conditions moving through me (the climate). Today I feel mostly comfortable with that understanding, but when I wasn’t understanding that; well that was a different story. Distance. Time. Abiding. Allowing.

So, Warriors are ahead at this point in the game and life is good. Should they lose, no problem; it’s a good game, fun to watch. Relaxation.

Life is good, always nourishing, sometimes bland; even bitter.

When I told someone that

Thomas Cromwell gets his

Head chopped off a few years

After Boleyn, I was accused of

Spoiling the PBS series. I forgot

That a lot of history is always new.

Old coot noodles’ thinking on things that there’s no answer too, nor an

Explanation for. Remembering things that are mostly true but may not be, or

Matter at all, and probably never have, or will. The struggle to make sense

Of anything is the beginning of endless description and uncountable

Enumeration, plus disorganized ranking of things; we learn and know.

And, kowtow too. (Some things are impossible to resist, we find at times).

Only to forget, and wonder, where that last thought got off to. Maybe it’s in the fridge.

Even if it’s not there, something else at least as interesting as the lost (last) thought

Will be. Maybe the makings of a good-snack-sandwich. Need some nutrition to

Fuel this habit of inquiry into the more banal aspects of existence and perhaps find

Joy in thinking perhaps this is all there is. And, that’s just fine. Plenty even.

The sun has set and tomorrow may appear, can’t be sure, but that’s OK. I assume.

This old coot may be grumpy and worried, but there’s love and a wish for the best.

Quotation marks; Italics “and” books in the street…

Have recently had lots of fear doubt and worry arise over a variety of situations. All of them very mundane and of garden variety ordinariness.

Yet, that is where the heart of it all is.

The ordinary, the mundane.

That’s my life.

The tendency to put away recurring trivialities or small discomforts of mind and feeling is engendered by the same instinct to want to change the big discomforts and the dramatic feelings. Those things that have long tails (tales), attached and keep me in dis-ease, dis-comfort and dis-com-bob-u-lated.

We each have our own list of recurring “dis” likes.

When I can just leave things be for a bit, they usually go away on their own, often rather quickly. This past bunch, however, seemed to hang around for a longish time and really brought forward the practice of “putting up with” and “leaving alone” and “refraining from” and not “reacting”  etc: Then discovering that after all that effort all I had really done was be patient.

Hmmmm. You live and you learn. Usually not right away; for me anyway.

A couple of stray thoughts, as opposed to those organized, well trained and obedient thoughts.

I heard a Zen teacher recently reference a Buddhist teacher’s emphasis on the power of Vows in helping one get past one’s addictions, especially alcoholism. The teaching was apparently offered in contrast to the AA method of members identifying as alcoholics when they introduce themselves at meetings. Apparently that was seen as living in the problem by constantly stating/re-inforcing what the problem is,  in contrast to having made a vow to never drink again and then just never drinking again.

From an AA view point, and for me from a Buddhist view point, the problems(s) of addiction have a spiritual basis, are a spiritual problem (spiritus), and have a spiritual solution. What the Buddhist teacher that was being referred to did not understand, apparently, is that in AA one makes the Vow to not drink, every day. For that day. Because, as the old saying goes, the sunrise does not guarantee the sunset.

The Alleyways of the World are littered with people who have made the vow to never drink again. The whole point of AA is to stop and stay stopped long enough to go through a 12 step process resulting in a spiritual awakening sufficient to be able to understand the deeper meaning of what a “Vow”may be, and that takes time. Sometimes years.

For me, the true commonality of all spiritual endeavor is the process, not the event. The process is what keeps us all going. The great teachers in most paths I’m familiar with, will often point out that when you “get’ enlightened or “find” God (or It’s representative),that’s when the real “work” starts.

It don’t get a whole lot easier. It’s still hard to “read” and “understand”, but thankfully the print is bigger!

Also, today walking towards the library with a couple of books to return I was momentarily intrigued with the thought that if I got hit by a cement truck, squished; and the books were thrown to the street; if in the aftermath, someone cleaning up the “scene” would sweep up those books and perhaps wonder about, or have an opinion, on my choice of reading material.

We always seem to be making connections with others, even in unforeseen ways.