Monday, June 24, 2019

ONLY A DREAM...

Sometimes a dream is worth recording. I have been dreaming a great deal recently, but recalling little of what I dreamt. Last night was an exception, I woke from a deeply distressing dream at two in the morning, and remember it in vivid detail.

I was in London, the London that I thought I knew well, with tall buildings on either side of intersecting streets. It could have been Soho. But it was not. It was some other place I thought I was familiar with--though it turned out otherwise.

I had arranged to meet with Susan, an old girlfriend from my Cambridge days with whom I h'd had a series of never-quite-successful, not always sexual affairs. I was clearly trying to impress her now, years later, with my familiarity with the city streets, with my confidence and awareness. We were joined, to my surprise, by a young man who had once been my part-time assistant, Daniel--a smart, informed, and as it later turned out when I sought other help with my work, irreplaceable. He knew as well as myself what it was I needed, and sometimes better.

Susan remained for most of our reunion unimpressed, even unemotional. She responded without great interest or enthusiasm as we walked the streets, and offered no opinion when I asked her if she'd like to stay in this part of town or take the trip to South Kensington, where I had made a dinner reservation. She was non-commital when I chose to keep the reservation and asked her if she'd like to take the rather long walk or take the Underground. I decided on the Tube.

Again, I thought I was familiar with the Underground lines, and we boarded a train that I thought would take us to South Ken. But the stops became less and less familiar, and I became concerned that we might have taken the wrong train. Eventually I decided to inquire, and got out, with Daniel, at the next stop and approached an offical-looking man to ask if this was the right train for South Ken. He told me, no, but shrugged off a further request for directions.

Meantime, the train doors began to close, the train began to move. I signaled Susan through the window with a single finger, to get off and wait for us at the next stop. She seemed to understand and acknowledge my gesture.

Daniel and I waited and took the next train, getting off at the next station. We began to look for Susan, but were unable to find her. While Daneil went on ahead in search of her, I engaged another station official who proved equally unhelpful.

Daniel had been wearing a white duffel coat so I assumed he would be easy to spot, but no. I could not see him anywhere. People were sitting around at tables outside the station, all of them strange and vaguely hostile. I had an iPad and an iPhone and was soon busy trying to access information as to where we were, and to reconnect with either Daniel or Susan. In vain. They were both gone. I wondered if he had found her and they had gone off together.

I was getting more and more uncomfortable, desperate to find them, feeling more and more lost and isolated. And soon I realized that my iPhone was no longer in my pocket. To my increasing dismay I discovered that my iPad was also gone, as was my wallet. I was lost, alone, without either cash or credit card to get home...

... and was relieved, on waking, to realize that it was "only a dream." Though I realized this immediately on waking, it took me a while to escape the grip of one of those dreams that has you fully engaged in its hyper reality. I lay there in my own bed for some time, overwhelmed by the feeling of being lost, without resources, and with no way to get home.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

THE BAMIYAN BUDDHAS


The second time I wrote about the 1,500 year-old Bamiyan Buddhas was in 2007, here in The Buddha Dairies. The first time I wrote about them was in March, 2001, when the statues were wantonly destroyed by repeated attacks from the Taliban. I have no idea where to find that first piece, but the second refers to it. I noted that the destruction of these "twin towers" foreshadowed the 9/11 destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York--and that it was surely provoked by the same fundamentalist Muslim fanaticism.



I was reminded of this monumental act of vandalism by an article in today's New York Times about more recent, apparently rather futile discussions on the subject of restoration. A Japanese couple apparently funded a ghostly, 3-D holographic "reconstruction" of the larger Buddha in the space he once occupied, but it seemed to me more an act of nostalgia than restoration--or even reverence. Those magnificent acts of devotion--remote in both time and geographical location--are now lost to the history of prodigious human achievements. There is no way to restore them, or replace them. The giant niches in the cliff face where they once stood remain as monuments to the destructive fervor of religious intolerance.

Their absence is a monument, too, to one of the great teachings of the Buddha--that everything is in constant flux; that nothing, not even the seemingly solid presence of a giant figure carved in rock, can survive the changes wrought by time. Better, perhaps, to leave them standing there, unoccupied, until the time comes when they, too, will have surrendered to that one ineluctable law, that everything must change.

Monday, June 17, 2019

FROM SUFFERING TO PEACE: A Book Review

I have been reading a review copy of From Suffering to Peace: The True Promise of Mindfulness by Michael Coleman, a long-time teacher of Buddhist meditation practice who himself spent many years
in training with teachers in a variety of traditions and a host of different countries. That he writes with fluency, conviction and ease about his subject is a tribute to the breadth of his knowledge and experience.

There is by now an immense field of literature about mindfulness, some of it popular, some scholarly, some laic, some specific to the practice of religion. And mindfulness has become something of a cultural phenomenon, the in thing, practiced in one form or another everywhere from kindergarten to college campus, from prison to corporate boardroom. There's good reason to be happy that the 2,500 year-old teachings of the Buddha are reaching the ears of so many in a world that needs them more than ever before--a world in which suffering seems so widespread, so endemic to a contemporary environment in which despair abounds.

There is also reason for concern, a risk that the profundity and subtleties of Buddhist thought can easily drift off into a kind of bland New-Ageism that offers superficial comfort but no real path to the true happiness that the Buddha promises as the outcome of a rigorous practice of his principles. I think it is in part this danger that Coleman seeks to address, because his book is studious in avoiding the clich├ęs and is, instead, a truly thorough and comprehensive introduction to the practice. It offers not only a practical and reliable manual for newcomers; it also serves as a useful refresher course for one who has been at it for a good number of years. I'll confess I started out thinking I knew it all, and was gradually reminded, gently, page by page, that we are all beginners.

While Coleman does not make light of the challenges of a meditation practice, his explains it all in readable, lucid prose, with ample illustrations from his own life experience and that of others he has learned from or taught along the way. Each chapter is followed with an easy-to-follow set of instructions for a practice specific to its theme, making it possible for the reader to realize a complex teaching in actual, lived experience--a teaching, say, about the ways in which we fabricate an illusory sense of "self"--that might otherwise seem merely theoretical and distant. Following the guidance along this path, the reader is led ever deeper into the compassionate heart of Buddhist practice, the exercise of generosity and kindness toward oneself and every other being.

A country boy at heart who has too long been a city-dweller, I found myself responding with particular resonance to Coleman's constant return to nature as a source of both inspiration and awe, reminding us of the infinitesimal place we humans occupy in the greater universe. As one who offers frequent silent wilderness retreats, the author shares his passion for the natural world and the sense of humility we inevitably experience in its context. In its grandeur as well as in its loveliest detail, it invites us to open ourselves to that heightened, undistracted, fully present sense of awareness in the moment--the only place in which we humans are able to find true happiness in the release from suffering of which he writes.

As the Buddha taught, there is a path from suffering to peace. Coleman invites us skillfully to join him on it.

Friday, June 14, 2019

ALMGHTY GOD?

One of our skylights has been leaking for years. Since the rains have been infrequent here in Southern California, we have been avoiding the expense of replacing it by patching and grouting on the roof (it hasn't worked) and putting out towels and buckets to catch the water when it rains. This year, we finally decided to bite the (expensive!) bullet and have the thing replaced. Once that was done, we were so pleased with the result that we've been considering replacing the second skylight, and our guy came to visit yesterday to give us a new estimate.

He's an ex-Marine. Served on active duty in Vietnam. Has seen war at first hand, on the battlefield. So we got to talking about war. Like many of the military people I have met, Patrick strikes me as man who has learned an inner sense of discipline and respect for those around him, along with a quiet focus on the mission at hand. I suspect that military training can teach these qualities, which are rare in today's slapdash, me-first, anything-goes world. I imagine--and this is something I do not know first hand--that a person comes to value life much more when threatened with its loss, or when seeing others lose it. Patrick reminded me of a study I once read, that many soldiers in battle cannot bring themselves to shoot to kill, but instead aim purposely away from the targets they are ordered to shoot. He himself feels blessed that he was never required to aim specifically at another human being, but only at shadows moving in the jungle. He thinks, and hopes, he never killed anyone.

We agreed, then, on the horrors of war--I as one who was never of an age to be called upon for combat, he who was a combatant. We agreed on our disgust at having been led into wars that were dubious at best, and on the current fear of being led into another conflict in the Mideast by a president who knows nothing of war and whose dishonesty is known not only in this country but throughout the world. Patrick said there's only one more devastating power than war, and that's God Almighty! Not a believer in that God myself, I recognize that power in the universe, whose explosive, infinite expanse and grandeur make our little human wars look puny.


Thursday, June 13, 2019

BACK AGAIN!

I have been thinking a lot about The Buddha Diaries. Which is obviously not the same as doing. I have been thinking that I need to get back to more regular entries; and first I need to set the intention and make the commitment.

Was a time when this blog was the first thing that came to mind when I woke up in the morning. Was a time when I rarely missed a day. The blog seemed to satisfy my writing jones as well as the commitment I made long ago to waking up and living in awareness, rather than allowing the precious time to slip by without my noticing. And, through awareness, to become the better person that I had chosen to become.

I have been distracted, clearly. I have been distracted, particularly, by events in my adoptive country that have been profoundly upsetting to my equanimity. The (good!) socialist instincts with which I was raised in my native country, England, have suffered a severe shock in the face of the rise of extreme right-wing power throughout the world, and particularly by its dominance of our national priorities.

In recent months I have been personally distracted from The Buddha Diaries by my commitment to a book about my boyhood. I saw the book, "What a Good Boy Am I", as an expression of my dedication to awareness; it was, has been, a way to learn more about who I am today and how I got to be that way. Some say that your entire life speeds through your consciousness at the moment of death and this has been a close-up review of my first years here on earth.

I am now done with it. The book went through four stages of revision, and a last minute full-length review. After that review, this past Tuesday, I took the book on a thumb drive to a print shop, all 286 pages, and had a couple of copies printed out. I packed up one of the copies and shipped it off to an agent who expressed interest, first, in seeing an outline and, now, the entire manuscript. I'm grateful for the interest and keeping my fingers crossed. It would be great to find a good agent and eventually a commercial publisher.

So it's out of my hands, at least for the time being, while the agent puts it through the review process at that end. Which leaves me thinking about The Buddha Diaries again.

The description line for the blog, sitting below the title for lo! these many years (the first entry dates from January 29, 2007) is this: "getting to the heart of the matter." I meant any matter, from what was going on in my life at the time to international politics. I wanted to use the blog as a diary in which I could reflect on my reactions to both interior and exterior events, to become aware of what was going on in the deepest part of my own being.

This was perhaps too lofty a goal for me to live up to, day-in, day-out! But it remains, for me, a worthy goal, and one that I'd like to continue to pursue. I hope to rebuild my base of readers who enjoyed reading what I wrote, and sometimes responding to it. I feel I have somehow let them down...