Saturday, June 6, 2015

Third Anniversary Issue: The Challenge


     Well, by golly, this is the first post of June, which I figure makes it the third anniversary of this blog. Also, by convenient coincidence, or karmic coincidence, or whatever, this is the first post to be posted since my return to the USA (alias Babylon, Technotopia, the Brave New World). That is convenient because this post is about The Challenge, or maybe two challenges: America's challenge for me, and my challenge to America. Maybe more than two challenges.
     So anyway, I'm writing this with several hours' worth of jet lag.
     As was the case in 2011, so today, I am in search of a suitable place for a person like me (well, me actually) to exist in the West, presumably America, and to live a primarily spiritually-oriented life. And as was the case in 2011, the absolute bottom line, materially speaking, would be a roof over my head, a bowl of food every day, or almost every day, access to a bathroom, and, preferably, Internet access at least once a week. But, strangely, even this much has been difficult to come by in America, except when I live among Asian immigrants. 
     It used to be common knowledge among Western monks, and maybe still is, that in order to exist in the USA (but not necessarily in the UK, or Canada, or Australia, or New Zealand, or Europe) it is a practical necessity to be supported mainly by Asians. Most Americans of European, non-Buddhist ancestry tend not to support monks very much, if at all, even if they consider themselves to be Theravada Buddhists. This is mainly for cultural reasons that I have discussed elsewhere on this blog, so I suppose there's no need to grind through it again here. Besides, I'd prefer that this "Challenge" be as upbeat and open as possible.
     I'm really not against being supported by Asian people. I like Asian people. In fact I owe my life to them many times over. But if I'm going to be supported by them, I might as well live in Asia, where there are lots more of them. Also, I have my own forest monastery in the blazing hot wastelands of upper Myanmar, where I am the "sayadaw." If I stay in the West it would be, ideally, in some kind of symbiosis with Westerners. So this is a challenge for me. I'm not against challenges, though; I like challenges, too. They seem to be pretty much necessary.
     Back in January of 2011, a few months before coming back to the US and plunging into the Unknown, I met an American man, who is now my friend, and who, at the time, warned me of what American Buddhism is like, what I should expect when I got here. He made many observations, and only one prediction of his was inaccurate, although I'll get back to that one. One of his observations which hit the bullseye was that Buddhism in America is generally very fluffy, with people living stressed-out lives looking for peace and comfort, and thereby avoiding such unpleasantnesses as "home truths" and other harsh realities. Some of them go to retreats for the healing of psychic wounds in their life stories, and dwell on this as a theme of their Dharma practice. Consequently, Dharma teachers in the West tend to be very soft, politically correct Dharma politicians, often chronically smiling in some semblance of benevolent bliss. They have to give people what they want, in order to be popular, in order to make a living. Plus maybe they agree with that orientation anyway. So, it has become expected, even insisted upon, that Dharma teachers in the West do not ruffle anybody's feathers. Everything is soft, comfortable (maybe even luxurious), and "nice." 
     But, as anyone who knows my style can appreciate, I do not consider this to be the best way of going about Dharma, either practicing it or teaching it. In order to Wake Up it is good to be shaken a bit. And even if most Western Buddhists aren't really aspiring to enlightenment, at least they shouldn't be against it. Sometimes facts are unpleasant—sometimes life in general is unpleasant, in accordance with the First Noble Truth—and aversion for such unpleasantness is essentially an aversion for truth and reality. I really don't have much use for this; unpleasantness is grist for the mill. Not that I want to be cruel, or cudgel people like an old-fashioned Zen master, or seek out discomfort and wallow in it, but pampering spoiled Westerners and pandering to their chosen weaknesses seems to me like selling out. It may be necessary for beginners, so they can settle down enough to go into deeper practice; but sooner or later we have to stop being beginners. (No worries, though—I'm pretty good at determining where a person is at, and mainly challenge only those who are ready for it, or else just think that they're ready for it, to show that they're really not ready.)
     To some degree I noticed how easy being a Dharma politician could be, theoretically, while in Bali recently. I met with a Western-style Vipassana group there, composed of Western expatriates, and I could feel a palpable, invisible temptation or urge to be a chronically smiling, politically correct diplomat. The good people there weren't forcing it upon me of course, or even suggesting it, but when facing other people there is an instinctual urge to be "nice." If I cause others to be uncomfortable, I feel uncomfortable. I can easily see how someone could easily be sucked into a role of being a popular teacher like Jack Kornfield, and I just don't want to be like Jack Kornfield. Some of the members of the aforementioned group seem to hold Jack Kornfield in high respect. Now, I have no doubt that Jack is one heck of a great guy—that is not at issue at all—and I assume he has some wisdom to him, but at the same time, there have been a number of occasions during the composition of blog posts when I have had to overcome the inclination to write, and I quote, "Fuck Spirit Rock." Once or twice I've even felt a twinge of temptation to exaggerate and dramatize a little and call Spirit Rock a festering boil on the buttocks of Western spirituality. I've been told that sometimes even Jack himself laments over how liberal political correctness and a kind of bureaucratic democracy has derailed the place. (For a mild caricature of Spirit Rockism, filmed right there even, see this brief video, as a sort of introduction.)
     Of the observations and prophesies made to me in January of 2011 only one, as far as I can remember, turned out to miss the mark; and that had something to do with "credentials." He pointed out, apparently in accordance with fact, that in America it is very difficult to succeed without some kind of credentials—a PhD. from a prestigious university, the authorship of a widely-read book, an endorsement from Oprah or Jack Kornfield, etc. His false prophesy was that the "mystique" of my monk's robes and the fact that I've lived in caves in Burma for many years would serve as my credentials. For some people in America it did, but for others it had the opposite effect, so that the effects cancelled each other out, as far as I can tell at present. My experience is that many American Buddhists just don't like monks all that much, or approve of what they represent, largely, I suppose, due to Protestant Christian and of course non-Buddhist cultural conditioning. But again, my purpose here is not to bash American Buddhism, despite the possible entertainment value of that.
     One very obvious morsel of advice that I have received in the past is that I should seriously consider living at a monastery in the West specializing in Western monks, like one of those in the Ajahn Chah tradition. On the other hand, a few relatively serious monks (well, two) have warned me in the past that I shouldn't even bother trying to live at an Ajahn Chah monastery. Thai tradition lays relatively heavy emphasis on mandatory group conformity, with much of the conformity not being with ancient Pali tradition but rather with modern Thai tradition; and, as is the case in Burma, the later tradition often trumps the ancient one. But I'm not into conformity for conformity's sake; it's just not my bag of tea. I reserve the right to follow what conscience I have, which has its advantages and disadvantages, but if I don't do that I feel like I'm living a dishonest life. There may be some monastery out there in America that I haven't heard of with a relatively tolerant, undogmatic Sangha that would let me behave like myself, in which case it might work out. I am capable of following Vinaya as strictly as necessary. At present I'm staying at a Burmese house-monastery in the suburbs of a California town, in a congregation hall (sima) that is used mainly as a storage room, since the monks rarely congregate for formal acts here, not even for uposatha observance; the monks around here are non-congregational, you might say. I can live in that sort of situation too, so long as I'm not compelled to conform to it. Once the monks start buying, storing, and cooking their own food, though, then the place becomes too unkosher for me, so long as I'm required to eat the food. Better to live in some layperson's garage (with their permission, of course).




     I have read that if one is seeking some ideal situation in life one should visualize it, that is, have a clear conception of what one actually is seeking. So, I'll publicize here what I visualize, and "put it out there" to help it manifest, so to speak. 
     When I was talking with the prophetic guy in 2011, I mentioned the fact that I was quite willing to turn away 90% of my potential supporters for the sake of finding some real "Dharma samurai," that is, at least a few people who are really sincere, or at least mostly sincere, about doing whatever it takes to Wake Up. That doesn't mean they'll succeed, but at least they're giving it a fairly sincere shot. I would like to interact with people like that, if possible—people who are making Dharma their top priority in life, regardless of whatever else they do. If I become a member of a group, it's hardly likely that most of them will be peaceful warriors, but at least a few should be. I know they're (you're) out there. I've been contacted by a few, and have personally met a few. They tend to be thinly scattered, and tend not to be loyal members of groups, since most Dharma groups in the West have a similar function to village temples in the East: They are the containers for what is essentially a social club with an ostensibly spiritual theme. This is not "bad" or "wrong," and is as much as most folks are ready for, which is OK, and I can happily teach basics to beginners, but it is not what I'm especially looking for. I don't care if I'm a teacher or just a member so long as someone is really giving it a shot. If one or more members is/are more advanced than me, then I'd gratefully become a student; although most teachers in the West seem to be still beginners (regardless of how many decades they've been practicing). So interacting with at least a few relatively like-minded people, like people who don't differentiate Dharma from "everyday life," and don't mind having their beliefs challenged, would be high on the list of ideal circumstances. They could be monastics or laypeople; that part is irrelevant.
     Also, I would prefer that some wise women be involved in this, partly because I appreciate the company of women, and partly because women in general have a more "heart centered" orientation that intrigues the heck out of me, and that I would like to cultivate more. This preference for female associates is somewhat ironic, though, since my luck— er, karma with women is rather tumultuous! Women tend to like me, and shortly after this happens I start bothering them half to death, because they bring up some variation on the theme "You're too much this way and not enough that way, and if you don't stop being too much this way and not enough that way I'll withdraw my friendship/respect/affection for you." So then my usual response is to say something like, "Well, do what you feel is right, but I reserve the right to continue being this way," which, instead of inspiring them with respect for my resolute firmness, infuriates them, because they would prefer not to carry out the threat. Anyway, that's how it looks at my end. But enough about my complications about women. I'd still like to interact with some though, as a kind of advanced Dharma practice.
     Also, because the group, organized as such or not, would have at least a few "samurai," we could try to cut through some of the attachments that we Americans tend to take for granted, as just part of the substrate of life, but which really is there because of cultural conditioning. We would look at difficult subjects, like fundamental beliefs and preferences for comfort and pleasure. We would experiment—as Paul Lowe says, the only thing you can know for sure doesn't work is what you're already doing, because you're already doing it and you're still not enlightened! We would speak frankly with each other, with the intention of helping each other of course, and would not indulge in the sort of politically correct superficial politeness, avoiding anything too sensitive, that appears to prevail in American Vipassana Buddhism. For an example of dealing with attachment issues that I've considered good for retreat situations, I read in a Western Ajahn Chah book that some monks in England experimented with mixing the monastery food all together in a plastic bucket every morning, and at meal time the bucket would be passed around with everyone scooping out as much as they wanted, but without being able to pick and choose what they especially liked. The practice was discontinued in England, but it sounds like an excellent way of reducing fussiness with food. Fussiness is a big one in the West. I've got unorthodox ideas about chairs, too.
     I've even considered being involved in the setting up of some kind of pseudosangha, not actually ordained, but living a more or less renunciant, Dharma-oriented lifestyle more in accordance with the modern West, in which men and women would be equal, or in some ways judged by individual merit, regardless of gender. Grey sweats instead of brown robes, plus maybe enough money to live in poverty, for example. But that isn't totally necessary. Just an idea to play with. If it does happen I wouldn't mind being involved in it, though. 
     With regard to a lot of things I'm very flexible, which is totally necessary, since the future is unknown, and it pays to be able to adapt to whatever turns up. I like the west coast, for example, but I'd be willing to go to Hoboken, New Jersey (for example) if the right people were there. Even a New Age commune might be preferable to a Buddhist social club. We'll see how it goes.
     It appears that I've gotten about as far as I'm able, at present, living alone in a cave in an Asian wilderness. During my first year in America, in Bellingham, WA to be more precise, I made more spiritual progress, methinks, than I did during the previous three to five years combined—and that despite, in fact partly because of, the fact that I fell in love with a woman there, and met with a wide variety of troubles. So human interaction, especially with people who speak my lingo, would be a good thing for me, and possibly for those interacting with me also—a mutualistic symbiosis. In the West, even receiving the cold shoulder has been to my advantage, spiritually at least.
     Part of the thing is, though, that I turned to Dharma and became a monk largely because I cannot take American culture very seriously. I left America-ism behind to look for something more suited to me, something with more depth; although some aspects of the American point of view are invaluable, other aspects are serious handicaps to anyone wanting to know Reality. So I was rather surprised when I returned to America and found that most other American Dharma practitioners are not like this—instead, most appear to keep to the American mainstream point of view, or something not far from it, and to transmogrify Dharma to make it compatible with a spiritually destitute system. Dharma has become a kind of "app" for tepid materialism, a kind of part-time hobby. And so, since I can't take American culture very seriously, I can't take most forms of American Buddhism or Dharma very seriously either. So it would be wonderful to meet some more people in the West who also can't take it seriously. You guys are the ones I'm searching for…especially if you haven't just replaced superficial America-ism with dogmatic Asia-ism.
     But all this may be little more than a pipe dream, considering that thus far, in America among born Americans, even the bottom line of shelter, food, and a bathroom has been problematic. My experience in Bellingham, from start to finish, was that the only Theravada Buddhist society in the city, consisting of at least a hundred members, had insufficient generosity to provide the only Theravadin monastic in the city with a daily bowl of food. American Buddhists, apparently, see little point in supporting Buddhist renunciants. It's mainly a cultural thing. In fact, I don't know of a single bhikkhu living in America who is not supported primarily by Asians. There may be a few out there that I don't know of, and there may be a few jokers who work for a living and provide for themselves somehow or other, but it may really be that not a single monk in America is supported mainly by Americans. And if that is the case, then that fact is a more scathing indictment of American Theravada than anything I have ever written on this blog. If you don't approve of me personally, then support a different monastic! But without renunciants, true Theravada is dead, or at best a pale shadow of a dismembered fragment.
     So, the plan is to look around for someplace suitable. I may check out a few places before the rains retreat begins this summer. If you know of any prospects, feel free to tell me about them; for example if you know of some Dharma group that is languishing for lack of an eccentric, openminded, heretical teacher or resident Buddhist philosopher….And if I don't find anything worthwhile over the next several months I'll go back to Asia, where many people love me and want me to stay. I won't be able to communicate with them very deeply, but I'm used to solitude. Next time I may not come back until I eventually receive some kind of substantial invitation from a group of people willing to support me with the four requisites (food, shelter, clothing, and medicine)—plus, ideally, some Internet access. Shuttling between multiple "support groups" could theoretically work, too, as I'm not afraid of couch surfing.
     So, in review, here are the challenges: 1) the challenge for me to find a suitable way of existing in the West; 2) the challenge to American Theravada Buddhists to get off their arses and support a monk or two, for crying out loud; and 3) the challenge, for me in particular, of ruffling feathers, and occasionally outraging a woman, while maintaining an open heart. We'll see how it goes.
     My blessings are upon all of you.
      

      
     




7 comments:

  1. The father of a woman who I dearly loved once met with an accident and lapsed into coma. She was a very weak minded heart oriented person as women usually are...When she was back in her home country (Islamic)..(We both live in Germany) I called her up..She was in despair...I told her three options: either fast for 3 days or 3.5 days or indefinitely..She chose 3.5 days as fasting indefinitely was not possible for her.
    Then I called up my mother and said I am going into a special sort of meditation and I may not come back alive..The way of the yogi and the way of the warrior are not very much different..Self-Sacrifice..She was howling and crying like anything..I broke her holiday quiet in the mountains ..Holiday she didnot take for the last 20 years....I looked at the Sun (our clan's Original Father just like Buddha's..wasn't he a Suryavanshi?) knowing this is the last time I may be looking at Him...I went down to meditation...I knew If I conquered sexuality, everybody will survive and win...Let's just say intermittently for the next 36 hours my mental and breathing energy was sucked out of me to the point that it was at 15-20% for long periods within that duration..I felt yogic bodily movements..anyways to cut long story short: Her father eventually made out the hospital without brain damage or physical disabilities inspite of being treated in a sanction heavy Islamic country where chalk powder passes for medicine ..Should be better as its now opening up...but this happened a few weeks later...I managed to become completely SEXLESS for 14 days..yes I have been celibate for much longer periods much more often...but never I felt sexless like that time


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  2. This woman was special to me because once we were scared that she might have got pregnant...Being conservative Muslim, she neither wanted to disclose the shame nor wanted to abort..I was in no position to support the any baby then..She was hellbent on suicide..I would have had to also commit suicide then as I would not have been able to live with myself..and I knew my widowed mother would have also committed suicide when hearing this..anyways those 4 days till the tests were the most scary, magical, painful, fantastic, surreal, supernatural in my life..I went into fasting till the day of the tests..each and everynight I got a vision..I felt the cold hand of my deceased father calming my forehead one night..anyways it was found out that she was not pregnant in the first place...

    But exactly one week later I found out My Great Guru had love childs and sexual escapades 60 yrs back..I INSTINCTIVELY knew that my Guru took up this stain, this bad karma, this opprobrium upon himself to save me, eventhough he was in the past...He changed Past and Future for me...that night just after hearing the news, when I went to sleep I had another Final Vision regarding my Guru's work on Earth and my Life...So this woman is intimately connected with one of the most spiritually profound period of my life..


    Anyways these days I am playing a hide and seek game with fear..everynight I gear up to meditate,,and then fear grips me regarding "what if I donot make it back? What if I incur brain damage from this session?"

    Funny thing is a few nights back I was preparing to meditate but fell asleep because of lethargy and fear...But the Visions came anyway...I saw horrifiying Gladiator Battle between two Herculean men..both of them cut off a leg of eachother simultaneously in battle...it was terrifying..the gave out shrieking screams..i was afraid..I think I was the next one ..I started bolting in the other direction..Men chased me..Somebody strong saved me because I was part of some "brotherhood"...but I was thoroughly ashamed of me


    BOTTOMLINE: I am a Coward..I have to overcome that..through more horryifying visions in meditation..perhaps...I have taken to bare knuckle boxing with some amateur former heavyweight boxer, to attune my body to physical pain and fear of being knocked out


    Regarding sexuality: Let's just say my mind hunger for female succour more than ever..I have started seeing them as Nurturers, Comfort Cushions, Manifestations of Mother Nature, Fertility Goddeses what nots..My mind just cannot cope with lifelong celibacy now..But I also abhor porn and masturbation , and I donot want to be their victims anymore..what is the solution..I am going for targeted celibacy..seven days of no internet, only work/studies, meditation and then going out to meet women with all that pent up masculine energy..If I am successful once out of every four times..I will have sex once a month..something I can live with


    I plan to make a lot of money in the next two years..a part of which I am intending to build a monastery for you here in North Germany..Big City--Bremen..I have no underlying wishthat you have to remain a Thervada monk...If you feel adopting some sort of "New Age" lifestyle might help to get the message across , then I will be more than happy to support your project whatever way possible..Germans have excellent English communication skills, especially the ones who are into spirituality other than Christianity....Anyways Christian Desert monks always talked about attack from demons in their cells


    So that was my incoherent haphazard writing...My Battle with Fear continues..Sexuality that's something I have to pick apart a bit later


    May you find whatever you are looking for in America

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  3. ohh and regarding women..It's good that women like you and it's good that GOOD that women like you...It shows you have enough meditative/yogic/seminal power that you can attract women without trying..It's one of my barometer test of testing out true yogis, whther women are attracted to him..the others being his tolerance for asceticism, fasting, pain and fear...but this one is the easiest..The Buddhist Scriptures of Theravada are really dry regarding how women are enamoured of celibate mons/yogis...Take a look at Dhammapala and Vievekananda, both had the richest and prettiest women of US High Society as their patrons and followers..Yoga Sutra commentaries also mention regarding increased attention from women

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    1. Well, YOU are not a coward, as it is only the false self that fears for its life. What you really are doesn't die.

      If you can't be successfully celibate, it may be best to find yourself a Radha, a spiritual woman to love.

      I appreciate the intention to manifest a place for me in Germany. "Everything happens the way it's supposed to happen." We'll see how it goes.

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  4. Well we are out here. In America. We "dharma samurai". I guess "we". I'm the only one I know personally. I wish I had room for you. But alas this my house is full at the moment(4 kids wife). I will gladly held support you in anyway I can though. There is a Burmese group about 30 miles from me in Springfield il, but it is mostly like the one you are staying at now. They are building a nice sima hall though. If u crashed there I could support definetly help support you. But I don't know any other warriors around here.

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    1. I used to think that if some eccentric rich person offered to put me up in a cabin in his back woods, with me not having to be a teacher or any such thing, that could work too. But I have found that it is best not to rely upon just one person, or just one family, because then I have to do what they want me to do! I would likely have less freedom that way. So a group would probably be best, although finding an acceptable group that would accept me in return is the challengy part.

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  5. Once the veil of samsara is pierced it's hard to be permanently absorbed in it chasing a career and material pleasures even if that's what friends and family want from one, or merely because such pleasures are easy to come by (bird in hand vs bush).

    I have had quite a few insight + psychic + no mind "experiences" in my life, to the point that there was no point denying them, and trying to be normal. Having realised a few of the same truths as the Buddha (several vipassana nanas, dependant origination, magga or satori style awakenings) on my own, I had no doubt in my mind whatsoever about the teachings when I finally encountered Buddhism. It was quite a relief actually to find the Buddha had done the heavy lifting and I didn't have to figure out all of them on my own. Holding a very different view of the world from the people around one without a religion to back it up takes some getting used to.

    I don't think I am enlightened or awakened, nor do I feel the need for labels - all I know is nothing makes me truly unhappy, and I've had a few trial by fires to prove that, and I can reach a state of peace at will, and see through my mental formations. I just call it a continuous process of self improvement, or being a carefree bum.

    I made the decision to quit my job that was neither too difficult nor paying too little, in fact quite the opposite, and I have been a dharma bum, living off my savings for the past 3 years. I haven't become a monk (yet?) because of two reasons. One, I was diagnosed with cancer right after I quit my job, and the chemo + surgery was actually more spiritually useful than any teaching, however it does make living in a forest without amenities harder, and two, I find the monastic system largely has more to do with fitting in, and learning a new lifestyle than about the pursuit of truth.

    I don't want to spend a lot of time learning Thai, or learning how to tie my robes, and read Pali, when the truth isn't found in them. Especially when my life has been revealing truths to me at a rather steady clip on its own, I see no reason to plunge into the life of shaven heads. Of course explaining to society what I am doing with my life is much easier when I can point to religion, the still allowed form of madness. Perhaps I won't get the "but what if you're wrong" question so often from people who care. But then, I don't care much for the opinion of others when it opposes the truth visible to me, so I've accepted that the worry of friends is the cost of doing business.

    There is an innate appeal to losing oneself to daily religious chanting, and free floating in ecstacy from meditating along with the vibrations of a very mindful community, but there is the reality of this earth with all its miseries beyond the gates of monastic heaven, that I don't want to escape from. I want to also make sure my knowledge can stand on its own without the authority of a monastic position.

    I will have to be way more tactful with my teachings that can't look like teachings. Ideally people would come up to me on their own, impressed with my overall state of being, and ask me how to get there. If that happens, then I will teach, else I am happy to be a bum under the bridge, maybe because that is all I am.

    I do wonder if I am missing a faster route to the truth by avoiding teachers and monasticism, or if I am taking a route with fewer challenges, but if my karma is ripe the teacher or teaching will find me as it has in the past.

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