I had some trepidation about Darren Littlejohn’s book “The 12 Step Buddhist”. In a market that is dominated by “feel good”, “inspirational” books withI had some trepidation about Darren Littlejohn’s book “The 12 Step Buddhist”. In a market that is dominated by “feel good”, “inspirational” books with wide puppy-dog eyes and flower gardens, this book stands out like flame-thrower at a hayride. Needless to say this book provides a more realistic portrayal of addiction and Buddhist practice.
Most recovery books that touch on Buddhism either water-down the Dharma to a base level (like learning yoga just to touch your toes – useful but dull) or scramble it up to such an extent that it is no longer recognizable as Dharma (just some self-help dribble with an Eastern flare).
Darrin did none of these things. On the contrary he represented the Dharma and Buddhist practice as a “spiritual edge” to an otherwise stale 12 Step process. The 12 steps taken by themselves were not enough for complete recovery. Instead integration was stressed above all else. Integration of Buddhist practice, philosophy and religion into the 12 Steps Philosophy; Integration of both meditative and esoteric practices (in this case Zen and Tibetan Buddhism); Integration of the 12 Steps and Buddhist practice beyond the doors of a Zendo or a AA meeting; Integration of a home-practice with a sangha practice; Integration of you with your own addictions and attachments.
While an addict with a Buddhist or contemplative leaning would benefit the most from this book, its presentation leaves plenty to gain from just a superficial understanding of addiction, the 12 Steps or Buddhism and will leave the neophyte with more than cud to chew on – from the first few chapters that explore Darren Littlejohn’s addiction, his practice of Buddhism and several of his successes and failures to the later chapters that outline an actual integrated practice.
Far from a motivational speech, the 12 Step Buddhist shows where each aspect of recovery is lacking and how each piece, when working together, can make a much clearer (but not necessarily easier) road to recovery. Whether your addition is as serious and destructive as some of those described in the book or simply an attachment to those things around us, the meditations detailed throughout are a useful tool in the realization and the releasing of those things tying us down.
A personal favorite passage from the book was this explanation of karma and a higher power…
Karma, to me is a spiritual law. I can’t change it. I can choose to ignore it, but that doesn’t change the outcome. In that sense, karma is a power greater than I am. Karma means “action”. Action is cause. A cause has an effect. The law or principle of karma says there is a cause for everything that exists. If there is no cause, there is no effect. In fact, the logic of karma can be seen to rule our the possibility of a Creator God, which is the cause but has no cause… [from The 12 Step Buddhist: Enhance Recovery from Any Addiction]
Take home message from this book: We have several facets to our practice. Whether we are addicts in the strictest sense of the word or attached to living; we need an integrated practice. A practice that can include the absolute as well as the relative; the esoteric as well as the practical. When we disregard these aspects of practice because they don’t fit into a preconceived framework we let many facets grow dull that otherwise would shine....more
The basics of the religion and philosophy of Buddhism are constantly ebbing and flowing like a tide between “self-help” gurus and uber-strict traditioThe basics of the religion and philosophy of Buddhism are constantly ebbing and flowing like a tide between “self-help” gurus and uber-strict traditionalists. This tide is not only beautiful to watch but exceedingly dangerous due to the undercurrent of “authenticity” that weaves through it.
It is this undercurrent that sweeps us up and deposits us far from our original practice and intent.
In “Light Comes Through: Buddhist Teachings on Awakening to Our Natural Intelligence” Dzigar Kongtrul successfully straddles this undercurrent and guides readers through a brief (approx 150 pages) description of the Buddhist’s outlook on emotions and Natural Intelligence. By “natural intelligence” the author is basically talking about our “Self”, “Pure-Mind”, “Buddha Nature” or whatever the hell you want to call it that gets obscured by our emotional reactions and perceptions.
The book is split into 3 parts: (1) The Five Self-Centered Emotions (2) Working With Others and (3) Teachings on Emptiness. Each chapter basically reads like a quick dharma talk with very little continuity from chapter to chapter, which makes this deceivingly short book a bear to get through in a few sittings. This one sat on my bed-side stand for close to a month while I read through one chapter a night; digested its contents and applied its lessons through the day. It was nice and informative without being too pop-Buddhist in presentation.
I do have one major disappointment in this book though. Much of what was presented was somewhat basic to me and will be so to anyone with any experience in Buddhist practice. That is not to say it isn’t restructured in a way that was engaging to an experienced practitioner but I was hoping for a more in-depth delving into Tibetan esoteric practice and philosophy but alas it was not to be. Some of the content was about as original as a punch to the groin – you see it coming and are prepared for it but it still knocks you on your ass....more
I have been a fan of Jon Muth from his earlier comics days with his work on “Meltdown: Wolverine and Havoc” and the epic “Moonshadow” series. FantasyI have been a fan of Jon Muth from his earlier comics days with his work on “Meltdown: Wolverine and Havoc” and the epic “Moonshadow” series. Fantasy writer Micheal Moorcock said of Moonshadow
”This is an outstanding graphic tale, told at a level of literary and visual sophistication which introduced new standards and aspirations to the genre”
Recently his storybook fiction has been equally stirring and eminently life-changing for me as both a former after-school librarian and a massive fan of zen tales and watercolors. Rarely does the poignancy of a koan combine with an emotional exploration as well as it does in Muth’s books.
His newest book, “Zen Ghosts” follows the haiku speaking panda Stillwater and his young friends through an American Halloween. In a fashion similar to his earlier books “Zen Shorts” and “Zen Ties”, Muth ties together Asian and Buddhist thought in a framework that is easily identifiable by children while engaging to adults with little or no interest in Asian philosophy or culture ( or like me, has a massive interest in both). A wicker basket to be enjoyed for its utility or for the surprises held inside.
In “Zen Ghosts”, Halloween serves as the backdrop to the Wu-men koan “Senjo and her soul are separated. Which is the true soul?” which was based upon the T’ang period ghost tale where the young girl Senjo appears as sick and lifeless to her parents after they refuse her wedding to the man she loves. The spirit of Senjo manifests into another form and runs off with her lover while her former self remains sick and listless in the house of her parents. Eventually, Senjo is reunited with her other self as her familial ties draw her back to her father’s household....more
The first foray into an unknown field of research is a challenge. Much of the time is spent searching out false leads and running into dead-ends. Up oThe first foray into an unknown field of research is a challenge. Much of the time is spent searching out false leads and running into dead-ends. Up one hill only to notice several hills that follow in the distance. Promising lands up close are disappointing and barren. You are running half blind-folded and grasping at whatever possible trail you pick up. This was the feeling gathered from Bill Porter’s “Road to Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits”. Anxious to find his quarry of modern mountain hermits in China; Porter’s book reads like a survey report pitched together with scraps of info from field notes and recorded conversations.
Is this sounding negative? It shouldn’t since this raw, indigestible writing agreed with me for a topic that tends towards idealization in the Western Buddhist community. “Oh! If only I could find silence and peace I could practice so much easier.” “If only I lived on some mountain, some river-side, some beach, some fucking other place.” If only I read more sutras, started younger, had the correct type of cushion, the right teacher …
In this book Chinese hermits, enigmatic as they may be, largely existed solely from the donations and support of larger monasteries or families. What was disappointing in this book was the lack of detail really spent on the lives and interviews but what information was gleamed from the wisdom of the hermits was a stark reminder that practice was practice. Taoist, Zen and Pure Land were simply labels that, when practice became organic and fluid, began to blur and blend into each other.
Q: Is Pure Land practice more appropriate for the present age?
Hsu-tung: All practices are appropriate. There’s no right or wrong dharma. It’s a matter of aptitude, your connection from past lives. Once people start practicing, they think other kinds of practice are wrong. But all practices are right. It depends on the individual as to which is appropriate. And all practices are related. They involve each other. They lead to the same end….The goal is the same. Practice is like candy. People like different kinds. But its just candy. The Dharma is empty.
Q: What sort of practice do you follow? Do you chant the name of the Buddha or meditate?
Chi-ch’eng: I just pass the time.
Te-ch’eng: I teach all sorts of odds and ends. You name it. Whatever seems to fit. A little of this, a little of that. This is what practice is all about. You can’t practice just one kind of dharma. That’s a mistake. The Dharma isn’t one-sided. You have to practice Zen. If you don’t you’ll never break through delusions. And you’ve got to practice the precepts. If you don’t, your life will be a mess. You’ve got to practice Pure Land. If you don’t, you’ll never get any help from the Buddha. You have to practice all dharmas….Its a system. All practices are related.
The wisdom of hermits isn’t austere. It is practical and rooted deeply in practice. A practice that is embedded in the Dharma but expressed in the daily working of a hard, cold and sometimes lonely life. In that way the practice of the hermits is not so far from our own practice at times. Maybe we need a tang of loneliness to view ourselves in meditation or the bite of wind to help us gasp the name of the Buddha.