Browsing Category "Books"
15 May
Posted in: Books
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Raining Inexhaustible Quantities

At the beginning the Dedicated Practitioner Program (DPP) in November of 2012, I started a practice of reading one sutta from the Pali canon each day. I began with the Majjhima Nikaya (Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha), then went on to the Samyutta Nikaya (Connected Discourses), then to the Anguttara Nikaya (Numerical Discourses), then finally to the Digha Nikaya (Long Discourses). This practice took me way past the end of the DPP program, and even way past the whole of the Community Dharma Leader (CDL) program — six years in all. (I finished in December of 2018. There are a LOT of suttas!)

After that, I took a break.

But now that the Advanced Practitioner Program (APP) has begun, once again I feel the desire to take something like that on.

During one of his talks at the first APP retreat on the Nature of Awareness (which is the retreat I just attended), Guy Armstrong mentioned the Avatamsaka Sutra (Flower Ornament Scripture), which he said is the foundational text for later schools of Buddhism (Hua-yen, Chan, Dzogen, and Mahamudra) and which has greatly influenced many others’ way of thinking about the nature of awareness and of consciousness.

When he said that, I immediately recalled listening to Jack Kornfield read from that very text at one of the early DPP retreats and being totally blown away it — by the imagery and the scope and the sheer wow-ness of it.

So I’ve decided that THAT’s what I’m going to read next. This is no small undertaking. The book is actually a series of 39 books, with introduction and summary, plus an amplification of and commentary on Book 39. And: It’s 1,643 pages long. (So this may take me another six years!)

But I’m up for it.

Because…well, here’s how it starts:

“Thus have I heard. At one time the Buddha was in the land of Magadha, in a state of purity, at the site of enlightenment, having just realized true awareness. The ground was solid and firm, made of diamond, adorned with exquisite jewel discs and myriad precious flowers, with pure clear crystals. The ocean of characteristics of the various colors appeared over an infinite extent.

“There were banners of precious stones, constantly emitting shining light and producing beautiful sounds. Nets of myriad gems and garlands of exquisitely scented flowers hung all around. The finest jewels appeared spontaneously, raining inexhaustible quantities of gems and beautiful flowers all over the earth. There were rows of jewel trees, their branches and foliage lustrous and luxuriant. By the Buddha’s spiritual power, he caused all the adornments of this enlightenment site to be reflected therein.

“The tree of enlightenment was tall and outstanding. Its trunk was diamond, its main boughs were lapis lazuli, its branches and twigs were of various precious elements. The leaves, spreading in all directions, provided shade, like clouds. The precious blossoms were of various colors, the branching twigs spread out their shadows.

“Also the fruits were jewels containing blazing radiance. They were together with the flowers in great arrays. The entire circumference of the tree emanated light; within the light there rained precious stones, and within each gem were enlightening beings, in great hosts like clouds, simultaneously appearing.

“Also, by virtue of the awesome spiritual power of the Buddha, the tree of enlightenment constantly gave forth sublime sounds speaking various truths without end.”


Let me just say: the Pali canon reads nothing like that! Stay tuned.

10 Apr
Posted in: Books, Practice
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I am Delighted

Last night a friend gave me The Book of Delights, by poet Ross Gay, which (so far) seems to be one of the most Buddhist non-Buddhist books I’ve ever come across, beginning with the concept for the book — which is a PRACTICE — that I think I’m going to try to take on (with some adjustment).

Gay writes: “One day last July, feeling delighted and compelled to both wonder about and share that delight, I decided that it might feel nice, even useful, to write a daily essay about something delightful. I remember laughing to myself for how obvious it was. I could call it something like The Book of Delights.

“I came up with a handful of rules: write a delight every day for a year; begin and end on my birthday, August 1; draft them quickly; and write them by hand. The rules made it a discipline for me. A practice. Spend time thinking and writing about delight every day.”

*** Not sure how contemplating “delight” fits into Buddhist practice? Stay tuned for my next series of Study & Practice classes! (Details coming soon.) ***

Gay’s first entry begins: “It’s my forty-second birthday. And it would make perfect (if self-involved) sense to declare the day of my birth a delight, despite the many years I’ve almost puritanically paid no attention to it. A sad performance of a certain masculine nonchalance, nonflamboyance? Might’ve been, poor thing. Now it’s all I can do not to bedeck myself in every floral thing imaginable–today both earrings and socks.

“Oh! And my drawers, hibiscus patterned, with the coddling pocket in front to boot. And if there’s some chance to wear some bright and clanging colors, believe me. Some bit of healing for my old man, surely, who would warn us against wearing red, lest we succumb to some stereotype I barely even know. (A delight that can heal our loved ones, even the dead ones.) Oh broken. Oh beautiful.

“So let me first say, yes, mostly, the day of my birth is an utter and unmitigated delight, and not only for the very sweet notes I sometimes get that day–already five by 8:15am, from Taiwan, the Basque Country, Palo Alto, Bloomington, and Frenchtown, New Jersey–but also for the actual miracle of a birth, not just the beautifully zany and alien and wet and odorous procedure that is called procreation, but for the many thousand–million!–accidents–no, impossibilities!–leading to our births.

“For god’s sake, my white mother had never even met a black guy! My father failed out of Central State (too busy looking good and having fun, so they say), got drafted, and was counseled by his old man to enlist in the navy that day so as not to go where the black and brown and poor kids go in the wars of America. And they both ended up, I kid you not, in Guam. Black man, white woman, the year of Loving v. Virginia, on a stolen island in the Pacific, a staging ground for American expansion and domination. Comes some babies, one of them me. Anyway, you get it; the older I get–in all likelihood closer to my death than to my birth, despite all the arugula and quinoa–the more I think of this day as a delight.”


It goes on — delightfully — from there. Go get the book! And while you’re at it, get two (or more) and give them to friends. They will love you for it.

(Thank you, Brian!)

8 Apr
Posted in: Books, Groups
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Speaking as an Uninstructed Worldling…

It looks like tonight will be the final time our KM (Kalyana Mitta) group will meet to discuss Bhikkhu Bodhi’s In the Buddha’s Words, which we’ve been doing twice a month now for several years!

In honor of the occasion I offer this quote from the final chapter (The Planes of Realization), which includes Bhikkhu Bodhi’s oddly science-fiction-invoking term: “uninstructed worldling” — more prosaically translated as “run-of-the-mill person”:

“The purpose of the Buddha’s path is to lead uninstructed worldlings to the attainment of the Deathless, and the stages of realization are the steps toward the completion of this process…

“To reach the attainment of stream-enterer [first level of realization], the aspiring disciple should cultivate the ‘four factors leading to stream-entry’, which are:

Associating with wise and virtuous spiritual guides; listening to the true Dhamma; attending carefully to things; and practicing in accordance with the Dhamma.”


So in other words, all that is required to attain liberation is: to learn the teachings from wise and virtuous teachers and to practice carefully.

Sounds do-able to this uninstructed worldling!

4 Apr
Posted in: Books, Teachers
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Unique to You, but Not You

In celebration of getting to meet with my teacher and mentor Phillip Moffitt very soon, I offer this excerpt from his book on self development, Emotional Chaos to Clarity, a longer section of which was just posted on the Spirit Rock website (here).   

“When I teach meditation students about the ways identity is created, I encourage them to think about false identity in terms of what I call the myth of fingerprints. On the surface it may seem that we are separate and isolated from one another, but this is only a partial truth that obscures the larger truth that we are all interconnected. Yes, your fingerprints are different from mine and from everyone else’s, but we all have fingers, which we use in similar ways. Thus, in knowing what it means to have fingers, we discover that what we have in common is more important than our differences. The dissimilarity of our fingerprints isn’t what’s important but how we use our fingers. Do we use them for building and creating beauty or do we use them to cause harm?

“The same is true of your emotional history. It is uniquely yours, but others also experience the joy, anger, excitement, fear, and love that you feel. Your emotional history doesn’t make you a separate species; it is simply one of the endless ways that human beings manifest the emotions they share.

“To give another example, if a raindrop falls to earth, seeps into the ground, and then slowly travels through the soil to a creek, and from there flows over many rocks and branches into the sea, it has had an incredible history. But that history doesn’t capture the essence of rain. Likewise, your emotional history doesn’t capture your essence. Nonetheless, many people live their whole lives without realizing that they are mistaken about who they are.

“You too may struggle to understand your authentic self. For instance, you may unconsciously assume that you are the collection of old habits of mind that you’ve accrued over your lifetime in reaction to difficulty, disappointment, and uncertainty. You may believe you are someone who is anxious because as a child you had to endure a constant stream of criticism from your parents. Or you may see yourself as a failure because you haven’t achieved your career goals. But these conditioned mind states are not you—they are merely thoughts and feelings. These thoughts and feelings, as you can observe for yourself, are temporary and ever-changing, and arise episodically. So while they may characterize your experience sometimes, they don’t define you. Your authentic self is defined by the values from which you respond to these mind states.” (continue reading here)

3 Apr
Posted in: Books, Racism
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Consoling but Costly

The next book my CDL White Awake group will be discussing is How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States, by Daniel Immerwahr.

I’ve just started reading it and I can already see how little I know about the whole of my country!

Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

“This country perceives itself to be a republic, not an empire. It was born in an anti-imperialist revolt and has fought empires ever since, from Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich and the Japanese Empire to the ‘evil empire’ of the Soviet Union. It even fights empires in its dreams. Star Wars, the saga that started with a rebellion against the Galactic Empire, is one of the highest-grossing film franchises of all time.

“This self-image of the United States as a republic is consoling, but it’s also costly. Most of the cost has been paid by those living in the colonies, in the occupation zones, and around the military bases. The ‘logo map’ has relegated them to the shadows, which are a dangerous place to live. At various times, inhabitants of the U.S. Empire have been shot, shelled, starved, interned, dispossessed, tortured, and experimented on. What they haven’t been, by and large, is seen.

“The ‘logo map’ carries a cost for mainlanders, too. It gives them a truncated view of their own history, one that excludes part of their country. It is an important part. As I seek to reveal, a lot has happened in the territories, occurrences highly relevant to mainlanders.

“The overseas parts of the United States have triggered wars, brought forth inventions, raised up presidents, and helped define what it means to be ‘American.’ Only by including them in the picture do we see a full portrait of the country — not as it appears in its fantasies, but as it actually is.”

21 Mar
Posted in: APP, Books
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The Fundamental Quality of Knowing

Part of our homework for the first session of Spirit Rock’s Advanced Practitioner Program, which begins April 15, is to read and reflect on a selection of teachings from the Thai Forest tradition on the Nature of Consciousness — which I find quite provocative and totally fascinating.

I especially love this excerpt from Straight from the Heart, by Ajahn Maha Boowa:

Citta is the mind’s essential knowing nature — the fundamental quality of knowing that underlies all sentient existence. The true nature of the citta is that it simply knows. There is no subject, no object, no duality; it simply knows. The citta does not arise or pass away; it is never born and never dies.

When dukkha completely stops, nothing remains. All that remains is an entirely pure awareness; it is the purity of citta. If you want, you can call it: Nibbana.

11 Mar
Posted in: Books, Racism
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The Beginning of Something

I have just started reading Lost Children Archive, by Valeria Luiselli, for my White Awake book discussion group and I am completely blown away. It’s nothing like anything I’ve ever read before, and yet it’s not difficult or weird or in-your-face innovative. It’s just fascinating. And surprising. And beautiful.

Here’s an excerpt (which doesn’t even begin to do it justice):
“I’m not sure what deeper reasons prompted us to record the children that night. Maybe it was just the summer heat, plus the wine, minus the joint, times the excitement of the move, divided by all the cardboard recycling ahead of us. Or maybe we were following an impulse to allow the moment, which felt like the beginning of something, to leave a trace.

“After all, we’d trained our minds to seize recording opportunities, trained our ears to listen to our daily lives as if they were raw tape. All of it, us and them, here and there, inside and outside, was registered, collected, and archived.

“New families, like young nations after violent wars of independence or social revolutions, perhaps need to anchor their beginnings in a symbolic moment and nail that instant in time. That night was our foundation, it was the night where our chaos became a cosmos.”

27 Feb
Posted in: Books, Classes, Practice
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Alongside Whatever Other Responsibilities…

Interested in joining my Study and Practice Class on the Satipatthana Sutta, but don’t live in St. Louis, or don’t have time on Tuesdays, or just can’t make it for some other reason?

Here’s another option:

Get the book — Satipatthana Meditation: A Practice Guide, by Bhikkhu Analayo — then use this link to Analayo’s guided instructions (freely available from the publisher) to do your own study-and-practice course, either by yourself or with a couple of friends!

This is not exactly what we’ll be doing in the class I’ll be teaching, but it’s what Analayo himself suggests in the introduction to his text:

“I would recommend using the book and recordings to develop the practice step by step. This could be done, for example, over a period of seven weeks. In the early discourses the number seven functions as a symbol of a complete cycle of time.

“In preparation for this cycle of self-training, I recommend reading the first two chapters. Following such preparation, perhaps each week it would be possible to find time to study one of the chapters on the seven main contemplations, and during the ensuing days of the week cultivate its actual practice. In this way, alongside whatever other responsibilities we might have, it would be possible to complete a course of self-training within a period of seven weeks.

“Following such a course of training, we might then continue letting the practice of all four satipatthanas become more and more an integral part of our life. The basic pattern of mindfulness practice remains throughout: being in the present, knowing what is happening, and proceeding accordingly.”


(That’s Bhikkhu Analayo in the photo above. While you’re listening to him give the guided instructions, you could imagine yourself sitting right there with him!)

26 Feb
Posted in: Books, Classes
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Come On In!

I’m busily getting ready for the new Study and Practice class I’ll be teaching on the Satipatthana Sutta — which will meet in this very sweet room, by the way!

To introduce these teachings, I’ll use this quote from Bhikkhu Bodhi:

“The discourse generally considered to offer the most comprehensive instructions on the meditation practice is the Satipatthana Sutta….

“The Pali texts treat meditation as a discipline of mental training aimed at a two-fold task: training the mind and generating insight.

The still mind, calm and collected, is the foundation for insight. The still mind observes phenomena as they arise and pass away, and from sustained observation and probing exploration arises ‘the higher wisdom of insight into phenomena.’

“As wisdom gathers momentum, it penetrates more and more deeply into the nature of things, culminating in the full and comprehensive understanding called enlightenment.”


Here’s how the class will go:

  • We begin each evening with a short “arriving-in-the-room” silent meditation. (approx. 5 min)
  • After we sit, I give an introductory talk on the meditation topic of the evening. (approx. 25 min)
  • After the talk, I lead a guided meditation on that practice. (approx. 30 min)
  • After the practice, I open for a discussion/Q&A on the topic. (approx. 30 min)


First class meets Tuesday, March 5, 7:00 to 8:30 pm. Then every Tuesday for the next 6 weeks. Want to join in? It’s not too late. Send me an email.

21 Feb
Posted in: Books, Teachers
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Mamma Knows the Way

For today, I’m taking a page (literally) from my Sweet-Metta Dhamma-Mamma:

 (from Walking Each Other Homeby Ram Dass & Mirabai Bush)