15 December 2009

Brief Thoughts About 2 TV Shows

I watched two episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show last night on Hulu. It's a good show--funny and sweet--that I think holds up over time.

I was struck by how similar it is to 30Rock:
  • TV show about a TV show.
  • Female lead is a funny brunette who works mostly with men and who would like to get married and have a family.
  • She has a very affectionate friendship with toughguy male boss.
  • She is also good pals with a funny, married, bald guy.
  • Stars of TV show (people who are on the air) are hopelessly dumb.
OK. These are my deep thoughts for the day...

20 November 2009

The Fear and Ethics of Selling

Bill Scheinman and I have a business, Stress Reduction at Work, offering workplace courses in stress reduction/mindfulness meditation. Meditation has been incredibly beneficial and helpful for me, is in fact pretty much the center of my life. So I'm finding a way to a wider array of people, and, especially while they're at work, helping them learn to lessen their own suffering by changing the relationship to their own minds. Since I've been working on this in earnest a few things have occurred to me. The first one wasn't exactly horrible but did have an edge. I thought: Oh dear, I'm selling meditation.

The next thing occurred to me when I was at a class, "How to Quickly Attract your Prospect's Attention," offered by the Small Business Administration. I was the only person in the room who hadn't brought a business card. It hadn't occurred to me to bring a business card to a class. But to the business-minded, a class - in fact, life - appears to be just a very large collection of networking opportunities! So when the woman sitting sitting behind me stood up and said, "Hello! My name is ---. I can help you...[blah blah blah]," I felt a wave of aversion in my gut. I thought: Wow. I really hate marketing people. Which is of course not entirely accurate. But there is a particular style - a style that seems completely disingenuous - that grates.

There are at least two ways of looking at marketing. The first is that one finds a way to ignite craving in someone for something that will eventually be bad for them, or that they don't really need. Then there is a style that amounts to badgering or verbal manipulation. Many people are afraid of this, especially afraid of the 'hard sell,' and even more nervous about personally appearing to sell anything or ask for money. Wage earners, artists, writers, meditators, actors, healers, most people it seems hate any kind of marketing. Everyone except salespeople (and fundraisers...and extroverts!)

But there is another kind of marketing. If you have a thing or a service that could be truly or even deeply useful and helpful to someone - you find a way to communicate that in the best way possible, a way that means something to them. For example, most Americans seem to think that you need to be calm in order to meditate, which of course means that those who could benefit the most are convinced they can't do it. How does one communicate the fact that (short of a few contraindicated mental disorders) it is possible for everyone to practice and benefit from meditation if they so desire? Enormous health benefits have been documented in clinical studies. What do people need to know? This is what I am continuing to work out.

A big part of the learning curve for me has involved a change of self view, and refining an informational style. My main motivation is to help people, and to widen the scope of people I can reach. Selling - with the purpose of helping people get to know themselves, calm down, and at the same time become more fully alive - is a way of communicating that I want to continue to develop. Something clear, responsive, ethical - something that connects.

More info

Stress Reduction at Work - Mindfulness Tools for Employee Wellness

(image still from opening sequence of t.v. series Mad Men, imaginaryforces.com)

11 November 2009

Protecting Dr. Death

This photo was taken yesterday at the SFBC during an event put on by a renter, a group based in Australia, Exit International. The rental was scheduled while I was on sabbatical this year.

A few days before the rental date, there was an article in the San Francisco Chronicle entitled "Australia's Dr. Death comes to San Francisco", stating that "On Sunday, Nitschke will bring his suicide seminar to the Buddhist Center in San Francisco, where he will teach attendees how to kill themselves."

Of course, first of all this sounds like the Center is sponsoring his visit. Second, the rental was scheduled for Tuesday, not Sunday. Thirdly, is the point of the meeting really just to teach people to kill themselves? We were inundated with calls that we had neither the information nor the resources to deal with.

Often, renters of the Center never even see me. This time, I thought I should be there to keep an eye on things, and I was also curious. So Tuesday morning two rather nervous Australians showed up, Philip and Fiona. One got the impression that this was their first visit to America and that they half expected everyone to to have a gun.

Things started out calmly enough (the main snag was having to ask a lot of old people, some with crutches, to take off their shoes!) A guy from Associated Press arrived with a big camera and tripod. There were two or three people outside who were handing out literature opposed to what Dr. Nitschke does - they didn't seem too obnoxious.

After the meeting started, Fiona was at the front door telling two people she didn't want them to come in. She was distraught. Elaine and I went over to try to help. A woman in a wheelchair was trying to push her way through the door. Fiona was trying to shut it. The woman was saying, I'm not doing anything, I am not a security risk, you have to let me in, why won't you let me in? Etc. I made a few fairly inarticulate statements - while being filmed by her friend - which at any rate caused her to withdraw, and we were able to shut the door.

But more people were arriving and couldn't get in because she was blocking the door with her wheelchair. We started letting people in a side door, which happened to have a stair so the woman couldn't block it. She started talking about us not letting her in because she is handicapped. It was all very upsetting so I put on my shoes and went out there to talk to her and her friend. One big issue for her was being called a security risk. I told her that they were Australian and for some reason think everyone in this country has a gun, to which her friend replied, Well this is the Mission so they probably do.

Her friend's angle was that I had made a big legal mistake not letting them in, that I was legally obliged to do so. I am pretty certain this isn't true. He had an intimidating way of speaking that sounded legally authoritative. Anyway at the end they thanked me for talking to them, and were late for something else anyway. Then the API guy walked out and assured them their point of view would be represented and seemed interested in their video of the head of Zen Center (sic) (AKA me) refusing them entry. (It's the only time in my life I haven't corrected someone who referred to us as Zen Center!) The man told the API reporter he'd send the video...if only he could figure out how to get it off his phone...(Looking good, from my point of view!) Then they left. I wasn't sure how to say goodbye. Have a good day? Nice meeting you? Thanks? I said nothing. (I don't know why I didn't just say goodbye.)

When not functioning as the de facto bouncer at the meeting, I listened to some of Dr. Nitschke's presentation. He has rather a more 'liberal' policy of suicide assistance than I expected. For example, an 80 year old woman who was not sick or depressed. An old couple who also are not ill commit double suicide. And the second half of the meeting actually was a workshop restricted to people over 50, in which he did in fact give instructions for committing suicide.

At least some - okay, all - of what Dr. Nitschke does, from a traditional Buddhist point of view, is unethical, although I would guess that his motivation is to relieve suffering. Other than being disturbed by his presentation, I'm not sure how I feel about what he does. I do think it's absurd that committing or attempting suicide is illegal. I was also reflecting that modern medicine has been so fantastically successful that we now live longer than we want to. So modern medicine steps in again and allows people to decide when they're going to die, without pain.

The Buddha - and he was of course not alone in this - taught that the resolve not to take life or cause harm is of primary importance. In what way is this still relevant considering the conditions of modern life? How do we apply it? Our societies have become so incredibly organized about, and skilled at, both preserving life, and crushing it. Abortion? Vegetarianism? Euthanasia? Death penalty? I just know that I don't want to fight about it, and I don't think that the State has proved itself to be compassionate and sane enough to decide for someone whether they will live or die.

At any rate, during the event at the Center, I felt that I had to somehow make sure the two nervous Australians could carry on with their event. Thinking about it now I am kind of surprised at how protective of them I felt, and also of the woman in the wheelchair outside.

At the same time, it was incredibly stressful, and I hope I never see any of them again!


Here is the video on youtube done by Associated Press. (Post-postscript: This video was on youtube for about one day - it's gone now "Removed by user.")

I found out that the woman who was outside is called Marilyn Golden, and she is a well known local activist from various organizations, including one called Not Dead Yet. The man with the legal jargon was Walter Park. Here is Marilyn's blog post about the event.

I am happy with both the video and Marilyn's blog post in terms of the way the Center was represented.

29 October 2009

Miss Manners Talks About California Weather

April or October?Growing up in California - a land of mostly immigrants tacked onto the left edge of an even more enormous land of mostly immigrants - you notice that certain migrants from the east coast are sometimes opinionated. It's hard to get affirmation from an east coast person, especially when it comes to evaluating the weather.

For example, if you say, It's cold today. They will reply, No it's not. They say these three words as if they were one syllable. So say it as fast as you can: Noitsnot. That's how they say it. Similarly, if you say, Gee, it's hot today, guess what they say? Noitsnot.

So it seems that because we lack humidity in the form of snow, and in the form of ...steam, we are not entitled to make any claims of extreme weather. Things are just too dry here, except when they're foggy, but fog, for some reason, doesn't count as snow. Mark Twain did say that the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco, but he was prone to hyperbole, and from the midwest.

I learned recently that when referring to trees on the east coast, you can't say trees, you have to say foliage. Which is just flashy. Sure, I remember years ago coming in for landing in Charlotte, North Carolina, looking down at the landscape and seeing that it looked really bizarre down there and asking what those things were. (I'm not making this up.) My husband took a quick peek out the airplane window, replied, "trees" and went back to sleep. He should have said foliage but perhaps thought I might not understand.

If someone put a blindfold on you for say several months, then gave you a California tree to look at, you would have no idea what the date was. California perennials are just too subtle, they're all bark, they can't say anything about the calendar. So even though you're in California, and you feel autumn in your bones, in your skin (dry), you see it in the bright thin light, you feel the crisp, cool air, just remember that it doesn't count for jack unless there's a lot of leafy east coast bling.

Miss Manners hopes you will keep all this in mind when you talk about the weather and the...plant life, in mixed company, in California.

(photo of redwood trees from Brooklyn Token's photostream on flickr)

08 October 2009

A Very Special Pill

From ‘The Happiness Hypothesis’ by Jonathan Haidt:

Suppose you read about a pill that you could take once a day to reduce anxiety and increase your contentment. Would you take it? Suppose further that the pill has a great variety of side-effects, all of them good: increased self-esteem, empathy, and trust; it even improves memory. Suppose, finally, that the pill is all natural and costs nothing. Now would you take it?

The pill exists. It is meditation.
This excerpt from Haidt's interesting book is fascinating. I love it because everything it says is true - medically documented even - and yet, practically speaking, it gives an entirely wrong impression. Why? Because the actual experience of taking a pill - which is how most Americans want to deal with life's problems - takes no effort at all, and no time. No time and no effort: this is almost a secret motto for Americans. This is our approach to vacations, to preparing and eating food, and to dealing with challenges, physical and mental - we like it fast and easy, as in, swallowing a hopefully not too large or bad-tasting pill. Don't get me wrong, pills can of course solve some problems! But Haidt seems to be suggesting here, if you want all these benefits, all you need to do is meditate, which takes no effort at all, and no time, just like taking a pill! Which is just bonkers, as the English say.

Of course this isn't what he is actually saying. He is saying that the benefits of the mythical pill match the benefits of meditation. He's saying, if you want these benefits, meditate and you will have them, that simple. But it's not that simple, at all, or not for most of us. There is a major difference practically speaking between taking a pill and meditating, that is, meditating generally involves a lot of time, and more than anything, persistent effort. Meditation means engaging our energy and interest, it means working with our own mind and body through direct experience, cultivating patience...it means taking time - to be corny for a moment - for peace. Meditation is a slow (and often very enjoyable) manual reorientation of oneself.

Whereas when we take a pill, in a way, we aren't doing anything at all.

01 October 2009


"Ever find yourself sitting down at the computer just for a second to find out what other movie you saw that actress in, only to look up and realize the search has led to an hour of Googling?"

"...our brains are designed to more easily be stimulated than satisfied."

The articles below are fascinating. They attempt to show the effects of technology - basically the internet - on our ability to read books and generally sustain attention; on our brains, especially pleasure centers; and on quality of life from a Buddhist perspective.

I got completely 'unwired' on a three month retreat this year, and life was just unbelievably long during that time. Each day seemed endlessly spacious - even though we had a full program. But what we were doing was simple, and slow. We meditated, did rituals, cooked food, looked at the sky, talked about the Dhamma, handwashed our clothes, and all nestled in the beautiful rocky mountains near PeƱarroya.

It didn't seem like we were on a retreat. It seemed like we had moved in together to a situation where we lived communally and did a lot of practice. We were 22 women doing almost everything together.

I returned to San Francisco in mid-August, and during that time I've been slowly building up and reinforcing my addiction to stimulation. The last few days I've been watching several episodes of 30Rock on my laptop at night before I go to bed. I can feel my experience of life becoming more and more superficial, a bit number, a bit more of a kind of electric buzz with no content always humming on the surface. As the first quote above notes, I look up actors on imdb. I interact with people a lot through email. It is a completely different life, often unpleasantly composed only of streams of bits and bytes, but somehow very hard to resist...

Is Google Making Us Stupid?
[the atlantic]

How the brain hard-wires us to love Google, Twitter, and texting. And why that's dangerous.

Awareness in our Technological World
...a look at the double-edged sword of our hyper-connected world.

[NY Times]

[Psychology Today]

See also my other post:

Addiction to Computers and Other Screens
(image by andy goldsworthy)

02 September 2009

Craving According to David Sedaris

This quote from Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim neatly summarizes the Buddha's Four Noble Truths:
...That's the problem with wishes, they ensnare you. In Fairy Tales they're nothing but trouble, magnifying the greed and vanity of the person for whom they are granted. One's best bet - and the moral to all those stories - is to be unselfish and make your wish for the benefit of others, trusting that their happiness will make you happy as well. It's a nice idea but would definitely take some getting used to.

[photo by me, hollywood, 2008]

30 August 2009

Time Really Long

I've been trying to find a way to write about being on retreat for four months. It's not easy, or not possible, to explain, because the conditions there are such as I have never experienced before, and may not experience agan. I remember thinking, every day feels like a year. Part of the reason was how low-tech we lived.

I had no computer, no phone, no washing machine, no shower (at least in the sense that we usually mean that word.) I had to write talks with my hand holding a pen, which was probably a lot harder (for me) than it sounds. When it was cold, some heat came from a wood burning stoves or the furnace; we used composting toilets outside; daily burning of toilet paper. We made (well I didn't make them, but anyway we did not buy) yogurt and bread and sprouts. I was not able to go into a store or even see a store or things for sale for the three long months. I forgot about money, and keys, which I am usually carrying every day of my life.

Another aspect of the greatly simplified surroundings were the people. We were the same people, the same faces, the same clothes, day in and day out. I got to where I could just see half a forearm in my periperal vision and be able to tell who it was. Often I didn't have to see people at all. I would think of someone, then a moment later they would come into the room.

These conditions make one's mental processes simpler, more raw, and at the same time, kinder; they make time really long. They eliminate the friction that lives on a surface we are so accustomed to we really don't have the slightest idea that it is there. Much if not most of the time on the retreat I would not have described my mental state as 'calm'. The difference between there and here is more like the difference between a primary color and a secondary color. The secondary color isn't wrong, it's just not as basic, not as elemental.

I felt so much love, so much completely natural and spontaneous love. I felt that I was with my family in the most positive sense of that word. Of course, you don't really know what's going to go down once you're somewhere else. For example, from almost the moment the retreat was over, I was assailed by craving.

More later.

[photo by and of me, taken at akashavana, june 2009]

23 July 2009

My Spanish Donkey Friend

Here I am outside La Torre, a 1,000 year old building in Valderrobres, Spain, where a few of us stayed after a 3-month retreat. The top floor of La Torre is a modern apartment.

I became terribly fond of this donkey in the two or three days we stayed there. We would walk by in the scorching heat and give him some grass or a few chunks of bread. On the last day we gave him two apples, about which he was very enthusiastic. I was very sad to leave him. He seemed lonely in his little pen.

More about the retreat later - perhaps.

More info
Photo by Dhivajri, taken in Valderrobres, Spain, July 2009
What is an Order Member?
Donkey: wikipedia

05 April 2009

Going on Retreat, Procrastination...and a Massage website

Last night instead of doing needful things, I created a "Thai Massage by Suvanna" website, which will hopefully be useful when I return:


I'll be on retreat until mid-July, and back in town mid-August.

See also:
Cultivating the Inner Retreat

Be well my friends. xo Suvarnaprabha

03 April 2009

Some Quotations

The point of Buddhist meditation is not to stop thinking, for cultivation of insight clearly requires intelligent use of thought and discrimination. What needs to be stopped is conceptualization that is compulsive, mechanical and unintelligent, that is, activity that is always fatiguing, usually pointless, and at times seriously harmful
Allan Wallace

As soon as you get any success you disappear up your own arse.
Thom Yorke (Radiohead)

...human emotions are the sparks that fly when 'truth' and 'fiction' collide.
Hirokazu Korieda (film maker)

For the truth is, however admirable mindfulness may be, however much peace, grounding, stability and self-acceptance it can bring, as an experience to be shared, it’s stultifyingly boring.
Judith Warner, New York Times opinion

Leisure is a form of stillness that is the necessary preparation for accepting reality. Only the person who is still can hear, and whoever is not still cannot hear. Leisure is the disposition of receptive understanding, of contemplative beholding, and immersion in the real.
Josef Pieper, "Leisure, the Basis of Culture" (1947)

...Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason. John Keats, 1817

Thus to identify with a self is to be susceptible to the arising of hatred. If we think in terms of karma and rebirth, we have been prone to hatred for as long as we have been embodied human beings...Since our first human birth we have reacted with hatred to all those situations that threatened our continued existence. When a human being experiences this sense of being threatened, there is more at stake than territory or physical safety. We are afraid for our personal identity, our very sense of self, the sense of "I" that enables a human being to interact the form relationships...
Sangharakshita, Living with Kindness

The enlightenment experience is therefore not only one of illumination and freedom but also one of infinite and inexhaustible love, a love which has for object all sentient beings, and which manifests as uninterrupted activity in pursuit of their temporal and spiritual welfare.
Sangharakshita, The Three Jewels

Patience is bitter but the fruit is sweet.
Arabic saying

If you wind up with a boring, miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your teacher, your priest or some guy on TV telling you what to do, then YOU DESERVE IT.
Frank Zappa

19 March 2009

Some Visuals

A black and white acrylic painting I did in a design class during my "Crow Period." It is derived from a photograph taken at City College.

I hope you recognize this structure. It is black, white and yellow acrylic; view is from Marin toward San Francisco.

18 March 2009

Separated (poem)

Separated from love,
I access only
Other people’s words.
Mine are locked up

Perhaps in imagined agency
As if to open, and to say
The word “opening”
Were the same.

Deepest longing
Cannot be uttered, but
Only painted
As a window shutting
Out rain.

Like others divided
I stare mutely skyward,
The wish sticks to my tongue.
Water slides over my eyes.

I would like to say
But won’t, that
It’s unbearable,
This centrifuge,
This disease.

Yet I remain.
Seeking what is essentially
Painting it.

Rising and falling
From this canopy
Of fictions,

Safe and unsound
On the ground.

song 2 (my animals) (poem)

we are each a zoo
perimeter of cages
full of moving,

these days my animals,
realize where they are

against the absence
of bars
they resound

still looks
like the same
zoo charging
the same prices,
the same morning,
still looks like
visitors, are staying
on the pathways mostly
trying to reach through,
leaving behind more or less

the morning
looks the same

but here
surrounded by
blue night

without audience
my animals

09 March 2009

The Kind of Shenanigans We Get Up To

Yesterday we had our send-off for our two friends Rachel and Sharon who are heading to Spain soon for their 3 month ordination retreat. (I will be on the retreat also.)

We sang some silly songs which have now been immortalized on youtube:

Hallelujah for Rachel

16 February 2009

ode to jacques cousteau (poem)

it's hard to imagine
how we survived the dark days
before the internet.
but we had jacques cousteau

who brought us, just children,
with him on his adventures

who spoke english to us
though it clearly tortured his throat.

jacques cousteau was my pied piper.

i am sinking with him
down & down & down
into a dark world
where we will shine our lights.

10 February 2009

Song (poem)

I marked the moments of being lost
and being lost was a longing
a song

left on my lips traces of rind
as one hears train sounds
but no train

I marked the moments of the song
by being lost
my compass

as if, before entering a lake
I took the clothes off my clothes
marked the moments on trees

I followed until I couldn’t see
not even rabbits,

not even loss,

there was no trail,
only longing and a song

I marked the moments

being lost was my

04 February 2009

Me and other people: Love

There is a path from me to you that I am constantly looking for, so I try to keep clear & still as water does with the moon. -Rumi.

My relationship of the last 7 years ended in October, and my life has changed drastically since then. Not how it looks or operates on the outside so much, but how it feels, how it looks, how it tastes. The main area that has changed is my experience of myself in relation to other people.

Of course I felt sad at the ending of the relationship. But I think in general, I feel more loving & open. More vulnerable even. It feels really good. I feel a lot of love for people. I wish it were more; I wish it were all the time. (Being loving all the time toward everyone including myself is the essence of my interest in Buddhist practice.)

Recently when my friend Mike left for a long trip we said "I love you" to each other many times. It was very sweet. I've become very attached to Padmatara (who I live with) as my advisor and person to hash things out with and emerge with greater clarity. Also very recently I resolved to let go of resentment from the distant past with a few different people in the sangha. I would experience a disharmony with someone, ask myself where it was coming from, realize it was coming from me, and resolve to stop creating it (around things that are presently irrelevent). Letting go in this way also feels great.

But with men, it's different now...I experience them as men. Before they were people first, and they were men somewhere in the second or third degree of observation. Now through the emergence of some dark and dusky neediness, they're men and in an entirely non-willed kind of way, I somehow want their love. The only requirement is that the man is single. I do not even have to be attracted to him, though the dynamic will be very subtle if I'm not. So this is the new and most salient expression of thirst, in the Buddhist sense, in my life.

A further irony is that along with this thirst is the conviction - yes I think I can call it a conviction - that the nature of sexual relationships (in fact probably any relationship, but much more for the romantic ones), at least for me, is dukkha, suffering. This means that even if I feel very happy, this way of relating to men, to whatever degree it is happening gives a corresponding sense that I am embarking upon a path of pain. So there's this slight movement inside me toward the thing I harbor the deepest suspicion of. I can do nothing about all the ironies really but watch and be amused.

For years I've sometimes thought about taking the anagarika precept (more info about what that is in the notes below.) But then there's the question, if I did, would it be simply because I have such ultimately incompetent taste in men and figure, what is the point of carrying on? (Not that all my partners haven’t been lovely, just that I could not be happy with them for long.) Obviously I will need to resolve this question to some degree, regardless of whether or not I decide to become an anagarika.

I am determined not to keep doing the same thing, falling into a situation not knowing what it is, really, or who it is with, guided by unknown samskaric trash. A book I read recently (The Brain that Changes Itself) said research has revealed that 'falling in love' and cocaine effect the brain in very similar ways. Also in certain ways the ending of love is neurally indistinguishable from drug withdrawal. So I know all this, and I think I'm going to be sensible about it all but then the hormones or whatever they are (endorphins?) kick in, and I wake up at some point having dug another hole for myself that I'm trying to claw my way out of. The conviction not to do this again seems stronger now than it has in the past. But one never knows. In the face of some things I am quite helpless.

All of which might sound bleak. I am enjoying these realizations. I know that pain cannot be avoided, and that much of the time our attempts to avoid pain simply cause more of it. I am just noticing what's going on, which is to a large degree about my own tangled-upness in regards to sexual relationships, and noticing my subtle (I hope) neediness around some men.

I am noticing how much notions of self-view and self-worth are tied up with sexual relationships. I am noticing that these aren't things I'm deciding to do. Seems more like they are being done on me. They are just happening, and I am trying to be aware and loving as they twirl around and inside me.

More info
What is an anagarika? (another post on this blog)
Breaking Up - 3 Acts (also on this blog, from October 2008)
Image is Hockney's "A Bigger Splash" from Mark Harden's Artchive.

02 February 2009

What is an anagarika? (in the FWBO)

From Wikipedia:

Unlike some Buddhist sangha, the FWBO does not propagate a monastic lineage. Sangharakshita devised a non-monastic ordination system, whilst also allowing the undertaking of the "anagarika" precept which enjoins celibacy.

From Marriage in the Western Buddhist Order by Subhuti:

We...have a ceremony for those who wish to undertake life-long celibacy as Anagarikas, in recognition of the prime importance of celibacy for spiritual life. Anyone who is seriously pursuing the path will be working to overcome craving and attachment, and perhaps our strongest and most abiding longing is the sexual. Indeed, the Buddha says:
I know of no other single form, sound, scent, savour, and touch by which a man’s heart is so enslaved as it is by the form, voice, scent, savour, and touch of a woman. A man’s heart is obsessed by these things. And so is a woman’s heart enslaved and obsessed by those of a man. (Condensed from Anguttara Nikaya, 1, i.) [Please replace "men" and "woman" with "object of your desire."]
Sangharakshita teaches that brahmacharya or chastity is an aspect of going for Refuge, and all who are committed to the Three Jewels should be developing brahmacharya to some extent, whether or not they are sexually active, by diligently deepening their sources of fulfillment and cultivating contentment. Anagarikas have reached the point of being able to maintain physical chastity quite happily, and are working to further diminish their reliance on the senses as means of emotional satisfaction. Whilst Anagarikas have no superior status in the Order and movement, we have marked out the importance of celibacy by instituting a ceremony for those who are able to take on the precept of brahmacharya, and aspire to do so for the remainder of their lives.

From Sexual Evolution by Dhammadinna:

...He [Sangharakshita] also expressed pleasure that more people were taking the Anagarika precept, which enjoins chastity. He never urges anyone to take this precept and Order members need not be celibate. 'One is only asked to keep one’s sex life at the periphery, or towards the periphery. But if one can be celibate in a positive and healthy way, I’m sure that will enable one - other factors being equal - to develop spiritually more rapidly.'

During the late 1980s and early ′90s more men and women Order members took the Anagarika precept. Becoming an Anagarika does not constitute a higher ordination but it involves the precept of abstention from sexual activity (abrahmacarya). Some Anagarikas have maintained this precept while others have ceased to be chaste and reverted to their previous status. It seems that being celibate is not easy in the West, as the culture that surrounds us is so concerned with sex.

Sangharakshita maintains, however, that the extent to which we are caught up in sexual activity and craving is a matter of degree. In this sense we are all celibate or non-celibate to some extent..."

Image is Thiebaud's "Girl with Ice Cream Cone" from Mark Harden's Artchive.

FWBO stands for Fickle World Boxing Organization. Also, Friends of the Western Buddhist Order at fwbo.org.

10 January 2009

Does Facebook Help?


More and more invitations to join political causes (Groups) appear in my Facebook inbox. I wonder: Does joining a political cause on Facebook do anything? And if not, why do we join them?

I decided to look into three of the Groups friends have joined and invited me to join, and see if any change might happen because of them.

Three Groups

Let's collect 500,000 signatures to support the Palestinians in Gaza currently has under 500,000 members. This site promises "In the upcoming days, we will provide more information about how YOU can make a real difference."So I don't have a lot to go on here but it seems a valid site with officers from all over the (mostly Arab) world, for example, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Indonesia.

I read the most recently posted 3 bulletin board posts: The first one was a guy called John pointing out what pussies the people are who care about this war, and then people calling him names. One response began, "Actually you worthless little piece of shit..."

The second one was a very long post by an Israeli claiming many things including that the Palestinians joining Hamas is what caused the war.

The third one is called I AM WILLING TO GO AND FIGHT FOR MY MUSLIM BROTHER IN GAZA....ARE YOU READY// and is an interesting conversation between Muslims all over the world for and against violence.

Support the Monks' protest in Burma currently has around 400,000 members. They have a "Five Things you can do to help free Burma" list, a way to donate, sign up, get the latest articles, post links and photos, look at a BBC video, and get more information.

On the discussion board, the usual cocktail of intelligent questions, answers, discussion, obnoxious name-calling, and random unrelated or tangentially related posts.

Wow, My Middle Name is Hussein, also! currently has under 200 members. I imagine memberships in this group has dropped off considerably since Obama won. On the other hand you could change your Facebook middle name without joining the group. I don't know of a way to tell whether this group was useful...perhaps it is the reason Obama got elected...

Conclusion (not really)

An obvious benefit of inviting friends to Groups and joining them, even if there is no other, is educational. Assuming that knowing about things, even if you're doing nothing about them, is better than not knowing.

But my main conclusion is that Facebook Groups are helpful as long as you do more than just click "Join." You have to go back to the Group and see what's what, and do something. They hopefully send out calls to action to their members, at least some of whom act on them. Otherwise, being a member of a Group is a hollow gesture (unless just a Group's size somehow affects things, which is unlikely.)

Is clicking "Join" the new "I care, but not so much"?

If you have any thoughts on this, please comment on this post.

More on This Subject

2008 Facebook Statistics on American Politics (InsideFacebook.com, January 2009)

Party Crashing: How the Facebook Generation Does Politics(Alternet.org, June 2008)

Will Facebook Change Politics? (PickledPolitics.com, July 2007)

'Open-Source Politics' Taps Facebook for Myanmar Protests (Wired Magazine, June 2007)

05 January 2009

Mushrooms and Meditation

Not an obvious connection you might say. But being on a nine day meditation retreat in a rainy redwood and madrone forest with some sunny weather for venturing outside, these became a few of my favorite things.

I think I paid more attention and saw more things--on the ground anyway--because I was looking for mushrooms. It was really fun. There weren't many animals about but saw a couple of salamanders and a banana slug.

I really wanted to cook and eat some of the mushrooms--some of which look like baked bread, waffles, or just the kind of mushroom you buy in the grocery store--but of course I refrained. Because like most Americans the first thing I think of when I think of wild mushrooms is dead people. The story we hear is of Sam or Sally from Mexico or Vietnam who ate something that seemed identical to an edible mushroom where they came from - and died.

So I'm not going to go around popping every attractive mushroom into my mouth, even I think it may be a chanterelle. I did order a guide, listed below, and want to go out with people who know. My friend Trebor said Germans go out in droves looking for mushrooms, it's practically a national past time.

My mushroom slideshow

I just ordered: All That the Rain Promises, and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms

Edible California Mushrooms from mykoweb.com

Mycological Society of San Francisco

01 January 2009

Addiction to Computers and Other Screens

A quotation from The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge:
"To say that a cultural medium, such as television, radio, or the internet, alters the balance of senses does not prove it is harmful. Much of the harm from television and other electronic media, such as music videos and computer games, comes from their effect on attention. Children and teenagers who sit in front of fighting games are engaged in massed practice and are incrementally rewarded. Video games, like Internet porm, meet all the conditions for plastic brain map changes. A team at the Hammersmith Hospital in London designed a typical video game in which a tank commander shoots the enemy and dodges enemy fire. The experiment showed that dopamine--the reward neurotransmitter, also triggered by addictive drugs--is released in the brain during these games. People who are addicted to computer games show all the signs of other addictions: cravings when they stop, neglect of other activities, euphoria when on the computer, and a tendency to deny or minimize their actual involvement.

"Television, music videos, and video games, all of which use television techniques, unfold at a much faster pace than real life, and they are getting faster, which causes people to develop an increased appetite for high-speed transitions in those media. It is the form of the television medium--cuts, edits, zoons, pans, and sudden noises--that alters the brain, by activating what Pavlov called the "orienting response," which occurs whenever we sense a sudden change in the world around us, especially a sudden movement. We instinctively interrupt whatever we are doing to turn, pay attention, and get our bearings. The orientation response evolved, no doubt, because our forebears were both predators and prey and needed to react to situations that could be dangerous or could provide sudden opportunities for such things as food or sex, or simply to novel situations. The response is physiological: the heart rate decreases for four to six seconds. Television triggers this response at a far more rapid rate than we experience it in life, which is why we can't keep our eyes off the TV screen, even in the middle of an intimate conversation, and why people watch TV a lot longer than they intend. Because typical music videos, action sequences, and commercials trigger orientation responses at a rate of one per second, watching them puts us into continuous orienting response with no recovery. No wonder people report feeling drained from watching TV. Yet we acquire a taste for it and find slower changes boring. The cost is that such activities as reading, complex conversation, and listening to lectures become more difficult."

See Also
Crackberry [on this blog]
How the City Hurts Your Brain [Boston.com]
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