Wednesday, July 28

Our Song: "Our Love"

By michael mcdonald & david pack

Lost and lonely lives
Floating like waves at sea
We make it day by day
Watching the world go by

In a moment where time stands still
From here we look out on forever

Darling, our love
One love that never fades away
Our love
This love will light the world on it’s way

Shattered, broken dreams
Sifting like grains of sand
We claim it and here we stay
Watching the world go by

With the strength that we spend in this life
In the hope that it goes on forever
We believe as we promise to try, that


In a moment when time stands still
From here we look out on forever
And we can see all that time will tell


Tuesday, July 27

Retreat Report

Where: Insight Meditation Society, Barre, Massachusetts, USA.
When: July 17-25, 2004.
Who: Christina Feldman and Rodney Smith.

What, Why, How: The retreat was billed as a vipassana retreat, and the standard instructions on mindfulness practice were given for sitting and walking. I had determined to do the retreat as a metta retreat, though. I used the phrases that have become customary for me: "May you be safe, may you be happy, may you be healthy, may you live with ease." Over the first few days, there was a great deal of rapture and happiness. Although these jhana factors were present, full jhanas did not coalesce, but strong khanika samadhi (moment-to-moment concentration) did arise quite often, which can be as powerful as jhana, and is similarly effective at temporarily freeing one from the hindrances.

On Tuesday, I had a group interview with Rodney Smith. I told him that I was doing the retreat as a metta retreat, all metta, all the time. I said that metta had been my main practice for nearly a year, and I knew that this was the right thing for me, but I was still nonetheless aware of wanting to get the teacher's permission, his approval. Rodney strongly encouraged me to trust in what I knew was correct for me, to never give my power away to a teacher, but to know for myself.

That evening, Christina's Dharma talk was on loving-kindness, and it was a real eye-opener. I had thought that metta was just something you sent to people, but in Christina's presentation, metta was pretty much indistinguishable from mindfulness. It's a matter of befriending whatever might arise in the present moment. Over and over, the question arose in my mind: "Can I befriend this?" Most encouraging of all, Christina confirmed what I suspected: that, if undertaken with Wise Intention, metta could lead all the way to liberation, as in the liberation of the heart through loving-kindness (ceto-vimutti). She affirmed that she no longer held this hierarchical view, with vipassana on top and metta as something supplementary...

Even when an unpleasant sense contact arose and a little feeling of anger would blossom, it was ok, because it was one flower of anger in the midst of a vast of field of thousands and thousands of flowers of loving-kindness. "Can I befriend this?"

In terms of technique, there was a significant development. They did guided loving-kindness meditations at the 2:15 sitting, and on Tuesday (just prior to my first interview), Rodney taught the expansion to the benefactor in a new way. First, he encouraged us to visualize the person sitting right directly in front of us, with our knees almost touching: really up close and intimate. I have always pictured the people I was sending to at some distance from me in my mind's eye. Then, instead of just sending metta to the benefactor, we were encouraged to send out metta on the exhalation, but on the inhalation, to imagine our benefactor sending metta to us. It was a powerful, profound experience. I'd never been able to feel like I could receive metta before: I was always a transmitter, even when I was sending it to myself... Later, when the expansion moved out to include more beings, Rodney said, "And because the world is round, all that metta you're sending out comes back to you..."

Metta now offers me a way of being much more intimate in being mindful of the present moment. As an aversive type, I tend to keep my distance from experience: to note something just long enough to make it go away. [laugh] But there has been a softening, a new willingness to befriend...

On Wednesday night, it reached an apotheosis of sorts: very still mind, breathing out love, breathing in love. It was so beautiful, so very very beautiful.

Thursday, there was a spontaneous shift from metta to karuna, and I started using the karuna phrase, "May you be free from suffering and its causes," sometimes truncating it to "May you be free from suffering" or just "May you be free." There's a depth to karuna, as though it were the same note as metta but played an octave (or 2 or 3) lower. In my Thursday afternoon interview with Christina, I said I was doing all metta (didn't ask permission and she didn't bat an eye) and described the beautiful consciousness, then reported how metta had shifted to karuna, and asked how to discern karuna and its near enemy. She said that karuna had this quality of steadfastness in the face of suffering, of willingness to be present for pain. Then she proceeded to offer me a teaching on how she does karuna: she starts with what she called "innocent suffering" and then expanded to karuna for people who are actually causing suffering, then to oneself, and outwards... She uses phrases like "May you find healing."

I continued with karuna for a while, using her phrase, but before long, I had returned to metta, and remained with that for the duration of the retreat.

This was probably the "easiest" retreat I've ever attended: may I live with ease, indeed. Usually there is a storm of emotional turmoil sometime in the middle of a retreat, but this one was notable by its absence. Also, I'm usually tortured by lust on retreat and have difficulty refraining from masturbating, but this time lust caused no suffering. "Can I befriend this?" There was also an insight into the nature of bodies: how, when all is said and done, they're all just bodies. Those bodies we call attractive still have to urinate and defecate and make gross noises and smells: that's just the nature of bodies. Disillusioning, in a good way.

I noticed that I have a very hard time remaining present in the bathroom: that I would fundamentally rather be elsewhere during those bodily functions. So I made a conscious intention to remain more present at those times, and there was some greater continuity of awareness after that.

At the end of the retreat, an unusually high number of people came up to me and just started talking. I was walking around, still beaming & doing metta, and people would come up and tell me how much I had inspired them, how much they had liked being around me, how tranquil the vibe around me was. "Must be all the metta," I said.

Friday, July 16

I'm Off!

This afternoon we came home to find a message on the answering machine from John at IMS confirming me for the retreat. Talk about last minute! So tomorrow I'll be on my way to the Christina Feldman retreat.


Wednesday, July 14

Another Item For the "Right Speech" List

equivocation \E*quiv`o*ca"tion\, n. a statement that is not literally false but that cleverly avoids an unpleasant truth [syn: evasion]

No more of that. In the past, I have kept silent or hidden behind this very sort of re-purposing of language (usually for the sake of tact, to avoid hurting feelings, or because I was afraid of starting an argument). There has to be a better way, one that avoids equivocation while at the same time avoiding hurt feelings or needless argumentation.

"Monks, a statement endowed with five factors is well-spoken, not ill-spoken. It is blameless & unfaulted by knowledgeable people. Which five?

"It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will.

"A statement endowed with these five factors is well-spoken, not ill-spoken. It is blameless & unfaulted by knowledgeable people."
--AN V.198, Vaca Sutta

The last item in that list of five, "spoken with a mind of good will," indicates the need for sustaining metta practice beyond the sitting period and keeping it in mind during social interactions as well.

Tuesday, July 13

#2 on the Waiting List

Yesterday afternoon, I got a call from John at IMS: I've moved up to #2 on their waiting list (up from #5), and he was calling to confirm that I was still wanting to attend. I enthusiastically confirmed that I was, and that I was flexible enough to wait right up until the very last possible minute and be ready to go at the proverbial hat-drop. So I'm still on the waiting list, but it's hopeful. I said, "This is a really great lesson in non-attachment," and he laughed & agreed.

Monday, July 12

Not Funnies

The New York Times asks rhetorically,"Are Graphic Novels The New Novel?"

I say, yupper.

The Horror, The Horror

Found this at a site called "The Forbidden Library," which contains a list of books that have been banned or challenged.
Zen Buddhism: Selected Writings. D.T. Suzuki. Doubleday. Challenged at the Plymouth-Canton school system in Canton, Mich. (1987) because "this book details the teachings of the religion of Buddhism in such a way that the reader could very likely embrace its teachings and choose this as his religion." The last thing we need are a bunch of peaceful Buddhists running around. The horror.

Saturday, July 10


Over the past 10 years, I've looked sporadically for a film I'd heard about, called "WAX, or The Discovery of Televsion Among the Bees". Last week it finally occurred to me to look via Amazon, and lo...

Dude, what a trippy movie! Despite the somewhat dated CG animation and occasionally cheesy video effects, watching this film produces a delightfully weird effect; the sheer oddness of it has left me feeling a little more awake. Toward the end, you could tell Blair was running out of ideas and was starting to repeat himself, but still...


There is no spoon.

There's also a site called "WAXWEB" where Blair has created a web version of the narrative.

Friday, July 9



VGM = Very Good Meditation.

Warmed up with metta, then anapanasati. The focus was not on absorption but rather on the arising and vanishing phenomena, the quality of anicca. Everything came and went. When discursive thinking stilled, a lot of images arose and passed away. Delightful physical sensations arose in the chest & face, and they also passed.

A Sense of Place

Funny how certain usually-unquestioned biases remain deeply embedded within everyday language. Take a word like "urbane," which defines as "polite, refined, often elegant in manner." See how close "urbane" is to "urban"? One silent E and you're there. City dwellers are assumed to be somehow more sophisticated, cosmopolitan (there's another one). What's associated with "country"? Bumpkin. Hick. Rube. Stupid.

I grew up out in the country, somewhere between the village of Broadalbin and the town of Johnstown. Not actually on a farm, but right next door to one. And even I bought into the whole "city = good, country = bad" prejudice. During a certain phase of late adolescence, I did harbor escape fantasies of moving to the City.

Where I lived wasn't the Ass End of Nowhere, but if you climbed a hill and squinted, you could probably see it from there.

When I grew up in the 70s, living out there in the boonies did mean cultural deprivation, it's true. But now, I would imagine that access to cable TV and the Internet would make the place feel slightly less benighted than it was then.

Growing up with a high IQ in a place like this did twist my conditioning, leaving me with a lifelong tendency to feel freakish and alienated. And really, who wouldn't want to feel like an outsider when a lot of your peers look like inbred piglets and the everyday level of discourse involves ignorance, racism, sexism, homophobia and who knows what all else because I coudn't stand listening to them for very long?

I may be from there, but I'm not of there. At least, I hope not.

Thursday, July 8

Outline of Maha-Satipatthana Sutta

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness (taken from Digha Nikaya 22)

I. Body
II. Sense Impressions
III. Mind States
IV. Dhamma

Each individual contemplation is followed by the stock "insight" description: that it is to be done internally, externally, both internally and externally, in its arising factors, in its vanishing factors, in both its arising and vanishing factors, or the mindfulness, "There is xxxxx" is maintained to the extent necessary for knowledge and remembrance. "And he remains independent, unsustained by (not clinging to) anything in the world."

I. Body (Kaya)
1. Breathing
2. Bodily postures (walking, standing, sitting, lying down)
3. Fully alert in all activities (going forward & returning, he makes himself fully alert; when looking toward & looking away... when bending & extending his limbs... when carrying his outer cloak, his upper robe & his bowl... when eating, drinking, chewing, & savoring... when urinating & defecating... when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking, & remaining silent, he makes himself fully alert. )
4. 32 (actually 31) parts of the body (simile: a bag, open at both ends, filled with various kinds of grain). Head hairs, body hairs, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, tendons, bones, bone marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, pleura, spleen, lungs, large intestines, small intestines, gorge, feces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, skin-oil, saliva, mucus, fluid in the joints, urine. The commentaries add, after feces, brains.
5. The four elements (simile: a butcher cutting up a cow). Earth, water, fire, wind.
6. Corpse (this body too, such is its nature, such is its future, such its unavoidable fate) (9 different states)

II. Sense Impressions (Vedana, often misleadingly translated as feelings)
1. Pleasant, painful, neutral (listed in sutta as painful, pleasant, neither-painful-nor-pleasant)
2. Of the flesh and not of the flesh

III. Mind States (Citta) (8 paired categories)
1. With and without passion, with and without aversion, with and without delusion.
2. Restricted or scattered. Enlarged or not enlarged. Surpassed or unsurpassed. Concentrated or not concentrated. Released or not released.

IV. Mental Objects or Teachings (Dhamma) [5,5,6,7,4(8)]
1. Five hindrances (know not just if they are present or absent, but discern how they arise, how they are abandoned, and how they don't reappear in the future when they've been abandoned)
a. Sensual desire
b. Ill Will
c. Sloth and torpor
d. Restlessness and anxiety
e. Uncertainty
2. Five clinging aggrregates (such is the aggregate, such its origination, such its disappearance)
a. Form
b. Feeling
c. Perception
d. Volitional formations (fabrications)
e. Consciousness
3. Sixfold internal and external sense media
a. he discerns the eye, he discerns forms, he discerns the fetter that arises dependent on both. He discerns how there is the arising of an unarisen fetter. And he discerns how there is the abandoning of a fetter once it has arisen. And he discerns how there is no further appearance in the future of a fetter that has been abandoned.
b. ear and sounds, etc
c. nose and smells, etc.
d. tongue and tastes, etc.
e. body and tactile sensations, etc.
f. intellect and thoughts, etc.
4. Seven factors of awakening (present or not present)
a. mindfulness
b. analysis of qualities (investigation)
c. persistence
d. rapture
e. serenity
f. concentration
g. equanimity
5. Four noble truths (he discerns as it actually is present:)
a. This is dukkha
b. This is the origination of dukkha
c. This is the cessation of dukkha
d. This is the way leading to the cessation of dukkha -- Noble Eightfold Path
i. Right View
ii. Right Intention
iii. Right Speech
iv. Right Action
v. Right Livelihood
vi. Right Effort
vii. Right Mindfulness
viii. Right Concentration

Wednesday, July 7

Big Brother 5

The Internet feeds for "Big Brother 5" went live at 12:30am last night.

There goes my productivity for the summer.

Tuesday, July 6

Invisible Ink

According to the Electronic Press Kit for "Lost In Space," (available in the "Movies" section of the song "Invisible Ink" sat around on the back burner for a dozen years because it lacked a bridge.

There comes a time when you swim or sink,
So I jumped in the drink
Cuz I couldn't make myself clear.
Maybe I wrote in invisible ink:
Oh, I've tried to think
How I could've made it appear.
But another illustration is wasted
Cuz the results are the same.
I feel like a ghost who's trying to move your hands over some Ouija board
In the hopes I can spell out my name.
What some take for magic at first glance
Is just sleight of hand depending on what you believe.
Something gets lost when you translate;
It's hard to keep straight.
Perspective is everything.
And I know now which is which and what angle I oughta look at it from.
I suppose I should be happy to be misread --
Better be that than some of the other things I have become.
But nobody wants to hear this tale.
The plot is cliche, the jokes are stale
And baby we've all heard it all before.
Oh, I could get specific but
Nobody needs a catalog
With details of love I can't sell anymore...
And aside from that, this chain of reaction,
Baby, is losing a link.
Though I'd hope you'd know what I tried to tell you
And if you don't, I could draw you a picture in invisible ink
But nobody wants to hear this tale
The plot is cliche, the jokes are stale
And baby we've all heard it all before
Oh I could get specific but
Nobody needs a catalog
With details of love I can't sell anymore...

The line that really twangs me is, "I feel like a ghost who's trying to move your hands over some Ouija board in the hopes I can spell out my name." !Twang!

Sunday, July 4

Because How Can I Resist?

Today's the Fourth of July
Another June has gone by
And when they light up our town
I just think:
'What a waste of gunpowder and sky...'"
--Aimee Mann, "Fourth of July" (quoted from memory)

Saturday, July 3

Random Access Sutta: Assumptions

After emerging from meditation & mindfully checking the instant messenger & email, a visit to ATI's selections from the Samyutta Nikaya led to scrolling down the page and "randomly" picking a sutta. This aleatoric method yields:

Samyutta Nikaya XXII.47
Samanupassana Sutta
Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
For free distribution only.
At Savatthi. There the Blessed One said, "Monks, whatever contemplatives or priests who assume in various ways when assuming a self, all assume the five clinging-aggregates, or a certain one of them. Which five? There is the case where an uninstructed, run-of-the-mill person -- who has no regard for noble ones, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma; who has no regard for men of integrity, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma -- assumes form (the body) to be the self, or the self as possessing form, or form as in the self, or the self as in form.

"He assumes feeling to be the self, or the self as possessing feeling, or feeling as in the self, or the self as in feeling.

"He assumes perception to be the self, or the self as possessing perception, or perception as in the self, or the self as in perception.

"He assumes (mental) fabrications to be the self, or the self as possessing fabrications, or fabrications as in the self, or the self as in fabrications.

"He assumes consciousness to be the self, or the self as possessing consciousness, or consciousness as in the self, or the self as in consciousness.

"Thus, both this assumption & the understanding, 'I am,' occur to him. And so it is with reference to the understanding 'I am' that there is the appearance of the five faculties -- eye, ear, nose, tongue, & body (the senses of vision, hearing, smell, taste, & touch).

"Now, there is the intellect, there are ideas (mental qualities), there is the property of ignorance. To an uninstructed run-of-the-mill person, touched by experience born of the contact of ignorance, there occur (the thoughts): 'I am,' 'I am thus,' 'I shall be,' 'I shall not be,' 'I shall be possessed of form,' 'I shall be formless,' 'I shall be percipient (conscious),' 'I shall be non-percipient,' or 'I shall be neither percipient nor non-percipient.'

"The five faculties, monks, continue as they were. And with regard to them the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones abandons ignorance and gives rise to clear knowing. Owing to the fading of ignorance and the arising of clear knowing, (the thoughts) -- 'I am,' 'I am this,' 'I shall be,' 'I shall not be,' 'I shall be possessed of form,' 'I shall be formless,' 'I shall be percipient (conscious),' 'I shall be non-percipient,' and 'I shall be neither percipient nor non-percipient' -- do not occur to him."

Sounds like Bahiya practice to me. The senses continue as they were, and by knowing them as they are (without delusion), the conceit "I am" stops arising.

Continuity of practice, that's the key.

Caro Diario

Friday afternoon, after the shopping trip, Laura picked me up and I spent a little time getting her daughter's new iBook up and running on their home network. Then, bringing back take-out Thai food, we rendezvoused (with Rusty) back here at the apartment, and the four of us had a rollicking evening. To honor the passing of the great Marlon Brando, we viewed our DVD of "Don Juan DeMarco." (1995) Unfortunately, Gini's exhaustion from Thursday, and Laura's need to pick up one of the other triplets forced an early end to the evening.

But as I'm fond of saying, enjoyment of a thing does not necessarily require finishing it. Por ejemplo, I harbor a deep and abiding passion for Thomas Pynchon's work, but I've only actually finished "The Crying of Lot 49" and "Vineland." I derived great enjoyment from reading"V." and "Gravity's Rainbow," and still feel warmly toward them, but I did bog down somewhere in the middle of both. In the case of the former, the bogging down occurred during an uncomfortable fever dream of colonial Africa. I could trudge no further. In the latter, some S/M coprophiliac German officer starred the last interlude I can recall before the abandoning. (About "Mason & Dixon": don't ask, don't tell. Sorry, Tom. It's not you, it's me.)

"I'm just not hung up on this whole completion thing."
--Nick, the William Hurt character in "The Big Chill" (1983) (if memory serves)

Friday, July 2

How 'bout Them Transparent Dangling Carrots?

From Ven. Nyanaponika's "Going for Refuge":
Owing to ignorance we see beauty in things that are really repulsive, permanence in the impermanent, pleasure in the unpleasurable, and selfhood in selfless, transient, unsubstantial phenomena. These delusions sustain the forward drive of craving. Like a donkey chasing a carrot suspended from a cart, dangling before its face, we rush headlong after the appearances of beauty, permanence, pleasure and selfhood, only to find ourselves still empty-handed, more tightly entangled in the samsaric round.


In the UpasikaTalk chat last night, our friend Antony spoke about have recently read Ven. Nyanaponika Thera's essay on taking refuge, which I believe is identical with the tract, "Going For Refuge," available through ATI.

I've learned from experience that whenever Antony mentions someting like this, it's good for me to check it out and attend closely.

Thursday, July 1


On yesterday's front page at, Laura Miller's review of David Foster Wallace's new story collection, "Oblivion", sent me scrambling greedily off to, where I found that the book is available as an Adobe Reader eBook. While remaining mindful of my past difficulties with downloading eBooks from Amazon (one can't use Safari, one must use Internet Explorer), I proceeded. Last night, I read the first story, "Mr Squishy". Though the story's plot aims at producing a horrific effect, this effect commingles with the buzz from DFW's language-besotted prose.

One of the customer reviewers opined that DFW should knock off the fancy-schmancy stuff and try to write in simple sentences like Hemingway, instead of continuing to cultivate the maximalist Pynchonian row DFW currently hoes.

Keep it simple, like Hemingway, not going for the unattainable, grandiose ten pound volumes like Pynchon.

Well, some of us love Pynchon, some don't. Some love Hemingway, some don't. De gustibus non disputandum est.

Into The Woods

Originally uploaded by upasakabrian.

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