Tag Archives: book reviews

august 2009 buddhist carnival

here’s the buddhist carnival again! last month my blog was still sick and the carnival didn’t happen. glad to be back for august. the buddhist carnival is a romp / surf / drive / ride through the buddhist blogosphere (blugghasphere?) and today’s menu brings you posts on music, fashion, family, war, wishy-washy buddhism, persisting through the agony of sesshin, homelessness and creativity.

buddhist rap
we always start with a poem. this is from a paper entitled buddhism in music – a bit longer than your typical blog post but well worth the read. he includes the lyrics by british rapper maxi jazz, a follower of the nichiren (SGI) path.

my story stops here. let’s be clear,
this scenario is happening everywhere.
and you ain’t going to nirvana or “far-vana”,
you’re coming right back here to live out your karma
with even more drama
than previously. seriously.

buddhists on the catwalk
from chaplain danny:

the associated press has a story today about buddhist monks in japan “[hitting] the catwalk in tokyo…in a bid to spread buddhism among younger people in this rapidly aging society.”

reaching out to family
the ex-bipolar buddhist, a fellow canadian, reprints a moving letter to his family. it’s such an old story: more often than not, we tend to take our families for granted, or even shy away from them. when that family is truly toxic, that may be a good idea. but many families are just – well, normal. garden-variety dysfunctional. busy. a bit indifferent. not quite who we’d have for close friends. in that case, reaching out to them, reminding ourselves of our bonds, is a beautiful and in a way heroic thing. here’s a bit from the letter:

the only way to feel loved is in the present moment, and we are only able to act with mindfulness in the present moment.

i won’t be able to tell you i love you after i’m gone. and i won’t be able to give you the answers or the love you need and deserve. i can only do that now.

emasculated by buddhism?
the new heretic vents on what some might call wishy-washy buddhism. there is an interesting conversation in the comment section where, among others, c4chaos takes me to task on my use of the concept of the middle road.

truth does set us free, but noted that all of their examples were warm and fuzzy, flowery, and that the truth is not always that way. truth is truth. sometimes it is not flowers and sunshine. the truth is that person who you are afraid of hurting you, may, in fact, hurt you. or, to take the opposite position, you may be deluding yourself into thinking that someone is good for you when the truth is that they are bad for you. the truth is that you may be overweight, maybe that other person is more attractive than you, and maybe your sister is going to always score just a little bit higher than you on that test in school. so what? really, so what? that truth is also liberating, and can set you free. isn’t the point to embrace reality? being trapped by irrational fears that are holding you back from enjoying real life is delusion. however, fooling yourself into thinking that life is a bed of roses all the time a delusion that holds you back as well. embrace the reality of the situation, and then you can effectively deal with your shit.

seriously, i think there has to be more “suck-it-up-ness” and “deal-with-it-ness” in the practice.

read here for the rest.

sarah palin and a vow
no need for comment here, i’d say:

i, lazybuddhist, vow to avoid any and all coverage of sarah palin. i shall refrain from participating in discussions about her, and in particular giving into my urge to rant about her. my hatred of her only diminishes me. the energy that would be expended in palin bashing can be much better channeled into something positive and worthwhile.

want to read more? here it is.

the agony of sesshin
genkaku’s blog is one of my favourite spots in the blogosphere. today he speaks of something that has been a huge challenge for me ever since i started meditating back in 1969: the discomfort of sitting in meditation. he compares it to the pain of childbirth:

without trying to compare levels of agony, anyone who has been to a sesshin or extended zen buddhist retreat has probably felt some of the same writhing wrath as the crossed legs burn like fire or the sorrow seems unbearable. who the fuck dreamed this up?!

and yet …

women have more than one child.
zen students go to another sesshin.

analysis (selective amnesia, virtue, greed, etc.) doesn’t interest me much in this realm. what interests me is what actually-factually happens. in the face of what happens now, ‘meaning’ and ‘explanation’ can piss up a rope. analysis can take a hike. whether agonizing or glorious … this is it.

and we do it again.

buddhism – maybe not as peaceful as we always thought
buddhism is all about awakening to reality, isn’t it? ok, so here’s a piece of reality:

buddhism has always been portrayed as the religion of peace. “there has never been a buddhist war,” i’ve heard many times over the years. when the sakya kingdom was threatened with invasion, the buddha sat in meditation in the path of the soldiers, stopping the attack. when the indian king asoka converted to buddhism, he curtailed his military escapades and erected peace pillars. when the dharma came to tibet, it is said that the barbaric tribes were pacified. during the vietnam war, buddhist monks set themselves on fire to protest the fighting.

and now a new study emerges that will radically shake up this view of buddhism. zen at war is a courageous and exhaustively researched book by brian victoria, a western soto zen priest and instructor at the university of auckland. victoria reveals the inside story of the japanese zen establishment’s dedicated support of the imperial war machine from the late 1800’s through world war ii. he chronicles in detail how prominent zen leaders perverted the buddhist teaching to encourage blind obedience, mindless killing, and total devotion to the emperor. the consequences were catastrophic and the impact can still be felt today.

here is the rest of this book review.

bearing witness to homelessness
over the weekend of july 17, 18, & 19 a poet, a zen priest, an industrial designer, a mental health professional and a manager of a soup kitchen took to the streets of boston to bear witness to its homeless.

we only took the clothes on our back, no money, no bedding, no tooth brush, no jewelry, no credit cards, & no desire to do anything but aimlessly meander for three days throughout the city of boston. what did we find there? parts of ourselves that we did not know existed.

buddhism, creativity and the arts
and we come back to the beginning. this event sounds very exciting; i hope we’ll have something like that here in vancouver one day. i signed up with the ning group right away.

the focus of this event was an exploration of the relationship between buddhist thought/practice and creativity with specific reference to the arts. does buddhist thought and practice help or hinder the creative process? the theme was explored through a series of academic lectures, discussion, exhibition of artworks and workshops. the event brought together around 80 people from a broad spectrum of backgrounds buddhist and non-buddhist, artist and non-artists all who share an interest in the theme. the exhibition of visual arts included sculpture, painting and film and represented 40 artists who each share some association with buddhism.

if you would like to make contact with other people interested in this field, go to www.dharmaarts.ning.com/ – the site of the dharma arts network (dan) which was launched at the conference, or the london buddhist arts centre’s website where you can sign up to their database.

what are we going to have for the september buddhist carnival? i don’t know. but if all goes as planned, it’ll be on the 15th.

reaching out with a poem

a while ago, my lovely online friend and fellow therapist sarah luczaj sent me a copy of her little book of poetry, an urgent request.

such a small and unassuming book.

so much yummy poetry in there.


if your silence should fall
from balance, from form,
from branches to water
with a sliding sound
from the green leaves
left behind,
I would catch it
with my mouth
and ask you to touch
with your tongue the snow inside.

yes, yummy is the right word – her poems are sensoria. look here: we have sound (“silence”), proprioception (“balance”), touch and vision (“form”) and taste (“mouth”).

and then there is the sense of knowing that wafts through all good poetry. the poem makes such eminent sense – a word-picture of thawing silence – because sarah, full of wisdom, connects her inner feeling of the experience to the reader’s inner feeling. yes, yes, feelings are always “inner” but the feeling that comes with the cold hurt of silence, does it not often seem to be deeper inside – not just “in” but deeper “in”: “inner” – than milder experiences, say, the slight annoyance of a missed bus?

sarah reaches deep inside, and through that act of stoutheartedness and exploration, she reaches across, into the heart of the reader.

an urgent request is published by fortunate daughter, an imprint of tebot bach.

PS. come to think of it, sarah’s reaching into and across relates nicely to two of last week’s posts, this one, and reminds me particularly of philosopher claudia card, here. sarah herself has a thing or two to say about voice, in her guest post the lyric self, for example.

carried through the year by the we’moon calendar

we'moon calendar imagei am a huge fan of the we’moon daytimer. to this day, i see as one of the perks of quitting my job as chief cook and bottlewasher at the skills connection the fact that i didn’t need a huge appointment calendar anymore and could go back to using the we’moon daytimer.

we’moon is a work of love, put together by the we’moon collective, who have created this bestselling daybook for 28 years now. it brings poetry, art and magic into my day, every day. each page is graced with poems, colourful images, information on activism, and interesting names for the days of the week.

i haven’t quite figured out the system yet but what i do know is that every year, they cycle through four languages. for example, this week is spanish, the next swahili, then quechua and hawaiian. there is also detailed astrological information – right now, the moon is in gemini, if i’m not mistaken. astrology is not something i’m very interested in but this book brings me closer to it.

we’moon also puts the year in the context of the pagan calendar. each festival gets a page. the next one, of course, is beltane or may day, one of the two major pagan holidays.

beltane is a feast of flowers, affirming with erotic scents of honeysuckle and rose that summertime is near … in ancient times, humanity made offerings and expressed appreciation for this natural beauty in rituals of sexual ecstacy and joyful abandon.

if you have to go to work, at least take flowers to your co-workers and tell them ahout the real meanings of may day!

aaah, after this harsh winter, i can’t wait for the scent of honeysuckle … and i’m looking forward to bringing flowers to my friends!

this is one of the things that this calendar does for me. it not only helps me organize my time, it also focuses me a bit on the deeper meanings of the wheel of the year.

every little detail in this book is lovingly put together. another thing i like is that the year is divided into the thirteen weeks that make up the 365 days, and each one of these sections has a theme. each one of these cycles is in tune with the topic for the whole year (“at the crossroads” for 2009). right now, we are in cycle 4, entitled “women taking power”. on the page for april 4 and 5, we read

women carry the ancient knowledge of the divine feminine deep within the cells of their being, the grandmothers say … we must be strong and walk in our innate knowledge and power under the protection of the four directions. with the world on the brink of destruction, women must wake up this great force they possess and bring the world back to peace and harmony. when women and men set in motion this enormously transformative feminine force of unconditional love they carry within, great healing and change will come about.

blogathon: the temple of my familiar by alice walker (a book review)

copyrighted in 1989, alice walker’s the temple of my familiar is anything but new, at least to our way of thinking. to miss lissie, one of the book’s main protagonists, the 19 years that have intervened since then would be but a barely noticeable blip, seeing that she can remember lives back to the times when we were still living in trees.

this book is definitely not about paganism [note: this article was originally written for and published in the page of pentacles]. it is about how infinitely complicated, painful and inspiring human relationships are, human relationships of all stripes: mother/daughter, man/woman, woman/woman, black/white, black/black. it is about the possibilities we have for forgiveness and renewal.

for those of us to whom relationships are at the core of our human experience, what topic could be more important? many people start their walk on a spiritual path because they are confounded and hurt by what happens between people.

and while this book is not about paganism, most of the characters are pagan, in one way or another. their pagan ways are a natural part of their lives. this is one of the reasons why the temple of my familiar has been so important to me all these years.

it shows real people suffering, loving, laughing, cooking, eating, doing normal and strange things, and doing all of this in the presence of spirit, a presence that is just as normal as cooking gumbo, getting massages and sewing dresses. this is a spirit who does not make it all better. it does not promise a better life in the afterworld like the christian god that tried to comfort the slaves whose lives leave their traces all over this book. it’s also no fluffy-bunny new age spirit who promises all the sparkly riches of the world if we just say the right affirmations. it’s just there. and it’s that there-ness that keeps on speaking to me, the presence of spirit that shows that there is no other choice but to keep going, that we have to fight for justice, that we need to look for the ways in which we can understand each other.

it’s a spirit of which mama shug, a self-proclaimed priestess, who some of you may know from the color purple, said “that there was only one thing anyone could say about … and that was – it had no name.”

and what about familiars? in her casual explanation of the origin of that word, miss lissie first points out that there might be a reason why fairy-tale witches are always dressed in black – maybe they actually were black, those dark-skinned goddess lovers of africa who used to live somewhat peacefully in europe before the witch hunt. then she tells us that they never really forgot from their previous lives that people and animals used to be friends.

so there we were, the dark women, muttering familiarly to every mouse or cow or goat about the place … the animals and our children were our world. foolishly we thought the animals and our children, at least, would not be taken from us. but the inquisitors, set in place to control us, declared ‘consorting’ with animals a crime … there was something about the relationship she had with animals and her children that deeply satisfied woman. it was of this that man was jealous. the animals can remember; for, like sight, memory is renewed at every birth. but our language they will never be able to speak; not from lack of intelligence but from the different construction of their speaking apparatus. in the world of man, someone must speak for them. and that is why, in a nutshell, goddesses and witches exist.

and mama shug, who never invites anyone into her house again if they step on an ant without apologizing, takes her witchy mutterings further and writes down twenty-seven beatitudes, each starting with “helped are those …”:

helped are those too busy living to respond when they are wrongfully attacked; on their walks they shall find mysteries so intriguing as to distract them from every blow.

helped are those who love the entire cosmos rather than their own tiny country, city or farm, for to them will be shown the unbroken web of life and the meaning of infinity.

helped are those who create anything at all, for they shall relive the thrill of their own conception, and realize a partnership in the creation of the universe that keeps them responsible and cheerful.

helped are those who love all the colors of all the human beings, as they love all the colors of animals and plants; none of their children, nor any of their ancestors, nor any parts of themselves, shall be hidden from them.

yes, that-which-has-no-name helps.

this is an entry for my participation in the 2008 blogathon, a 24-hour marathon of blogging. please support the cause and donate – however much, however little – to the canadian mental health association (vancouver/burnaby branch). to donate, use this URL: www.canadahelps.org/CharityProfilePage.aspx?CharityID=d2252. you should be able to get there by clicking the link;if not, just copy and paste the link into your browser. it will take you to the appropriate location at canada helps. thank you!