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Posts Tagged ‘Buddhism’

Letter from a Retreat

September 29, 2014 | by

How not to meditate.

Himalaya_sud_avion

Photo: Michel Royon

Martin had a long pair of navy-blue socks that he wore when it was cold. He wore them in the morning before sunrise, and usually took them off before noon.

We were doing a silent, shamatha meditation retreat in the foothills of the Himalayas. The retreat was led by a stern Zen monk from Japan. We referred to him by his honorific, Venerable. Venerable was tall. It was hard to determine his age. He might have been fifty years old, at most. He wore aviator-style glasses. He had square front teeth. His eyes tilted a bit down at the outer corners, down toward his ears, giving him a sad, warm, sexual look. He was handsome and he was stern. He told us that if we learned to sit shamatha, we would no longer have nightmares, and all our anxieties would reveal themselves as mental disturbances and nothing more. He asked us to consider, when we were feeling anxiety, if that was really bliss. Really look at it, he said, really ask yourself. Actually, I don’t think he understood our practice, but I think he’d gotten some instruction, and I was a little offended and a little uneasy that he’d come and sit here and insult us—suggest vaguely that his style of Buddhism was superior. But maybe I was imagining it.

On the first night of the retreat, Venerable told us that ego is like a vampire. Martin, whom I was secretly dating, raised his hand and asked how, if he was to think of his ego as a sneaky vampire, he was expected to relax. The phrase “sneaky vampire” got stuck in my head. The question seemed like a comeback. It made Venerable seem, all at once, ridiculous. I was afraid, while Venerable answered, that I would start laughing, so I didn’t hear his answer. The next person asked a question. I was still thinking “sneaky vampire.” Then I broke. I started laughing. Each time I got my laughing under control, it would explode again, worse, when I thought, “sneaky vampire” while looking at Venerable’s handsome face, noticing his elegant comportment. Venerable was answering an Australian paraglider’s question about light. “Ah, light,” he said, “that is a big subject. For that, come and talk to me in private.” Read More »

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Letter from India: When the Cat’s Away

August 7, 2012 | by

The Pin Valley is near the Tibetan border. In fact it was a part of Tibet. It was given to India in the fifties, to protect it. In winter it is snowbound. In summer, at three miles elevation—above the tree line—it is a stone bowl of dust.

Two years ago, I was following a seventeen-year-old around the world, trying to get permission to write about him. I followed him from Kathmandu to India, and that was when I heard of the Pin Valley for the first time. Westerners living in India were going up for the last ten days of a month-long program for the monks in Pin Valley. There were no guest houses there. People who wanted to attend the program would stay in Kaza, the nearest town. They would ride in and out by car daily, an hour and a half each way.

This year, 2012, was different. An enterprising Westerner had partnered with a Tibetan tour operator—a trekker by trade—to build a camp a kilometer and a half from the monastery, on a piece of unused farmland with a well.

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Get It Together: On Mourning Adam Yauch

May 16, 2012 | by

The Beasties at Grand Royal’s G-Son Studios in Atwater Village, California, ca. 1995. Photograph by Brian Cross.

I’m not sure who had the ball when George Clinton passed by in a golf cart. It could’ve been Mike D. It could’ve been Yauch. I just remember standing there astonished, watching George quietly scoot by in his Mothership mini, while my defensive assignment broke to the basket and scored. The Beastie Boys were playing some intrasquad hoops in a parking lot behind the Atlanta Amphitheater, a Lollapalooza stop during the summer of 1994. A portable basketball goal had been traveling with them, providing a transitional arc and some adrenaline for the stage. I don’t even remember who was on my team. I just know that I was playing with a bunch of guys once falsely accused of throwing pies at kids in wheelchairs.

Yauch evidently hadn’t given up his outside shot for Buddhism. Adam Horovitz dribbled with an Archibaldian low center of gravity, while Mike D crashed about with his Kurt Rambis hustle. Keyboard player/carpenter Money Mark spent much of the game in midair. I spent much of the game looking for my fadeaway. In my defense, I was firing into the sun on a freshly reconstructed knee, ligament grafted, no brace. If I had reinjured it that day, I would’ve told anyone with a working set of ears that I’d blown out my knee playing basketball with the Beastie Boys—that I was treeing out of my mind until George Clinton put a golf cart on me.

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“An Egoless Practice”: Tantric Art

April 3, 2012 | by

Bikaner, 2002, 14

It could be a cult classic: the debut edition of Siglio Press’s Tantra Song—one of the only books to survey the elusive tradition of abstract Tantric painting from Rajasthan, India—sold out in a swift six weeks. Rendered by hand on found pieces of paper and used primarily for meditation, the works depict deities as geometric, vividly hued shapes and mark a clear departure from Tantric art’s better-known figurative styles. They also resonate uncannily with lineages of twentieth-century art—from the Bauhaus and Russian Constructivism to Minimalism—as well as with much painting today. Rarely have the ancient and the modern come together so fluidly.

For nearly three decades, the renowned French poet Franck André Jamme has collected these visual communiqués, and it hasn’t been easy: in 1985 he survived a fatal bus accident while traveling to visit Hindu tantrikas in Jaipur. In Tantra Song, Jamme assembles some of the most pulsating works he’s acquired, while unpacking his experiential knowledge of Tantra’s cosmology.

Western views of Tantra tend toward hyperbole. (The New York Times recently published an article, “Yoga and Sex Scandals: No Surprise Here,” noting, “Early in the twentieth century, the founders of modern yoga worked hard to remove the Tantric stain.”) Jamme’s book serves as a corrective to this slant and sheds significant light on the deep historical roots—and fruits—of the practice. Siglio will release a second edition of the book on April 19. Jamme and I recently discussed these anonymously made paintings, the altered states they induce, and their timeless aesthetics.

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Happy Hour with Gian

February 7, 2012 | by

John Haskell. Photo by Ryan Field.

John Haskell, Dec. 13, 2011. Sparks Steak House, East Forty-sixth Street.

John and I met for dinner at Sparks Steak House on East Forty-sixth Street. He was writing a piece on city restaurants where mobsters have been gunned down. Sparks has fine steaks but an even finer history of murder under its front awning. (Mob boss Paul Castellano and his guard were shot out front by mobsters wearing white trench coats and black Russian ushanka hats.) I live on West Forty-sixth, so I walked through Times cytotec mexico Square and crossed a few more avenues to the restaurant. I passed through the thirty-year-old murder scene out front, came inside, and a rambunctious party filled the reception area. John was already there, in the middle of the party. He waved me his way and we were shown to our table.

John Haskell: I was walking down the street, singing some Christmas carol, like a Nat King Cole thing ...

Gian: Out loud?

JH: Yeah, kind of singing, people walking around. The weather’s nice, it’s Christmas time, and I was feeling happy. Happiness is appreciation. I think appreciation has something to do with the fact that you’re going to die. It’s like, “This is life, and it’s going to be over, but this is the moment now.”

Talking around the idea of happiness is holy stuff. Its definition and how to attain it is what Aristotle would ask of Plato in a dusty Athenian salon thousands of years ago. But today, happiness is rarely a topic of discussion outside of a therapist’s office or a sorority dorm room. To be happy, we have learned, we must also be naive. Read More »

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An Evening with J. D. Salinger

February 7, 2011 | by

Why did his elegance surprise me?

In the winter of 1952, I received a telephone call from my mother, Jane Canfield. There was to be an evening party at my parents’ house on Thirty-eighth Street, she told me. “A Harper’s party,” she added, Harper’s being the publishing house of which Cass, my step-father, was chairman. My mother said that I would be a welcome guest and that my younger sister, Jill, and her husband, Joe Fox, were expected.

I had graduated in June the previous year, delayed by two years in the Navy, at the end of World War II, and another year as a student in France. I wanted to be a writer. The Harvard Advocate had published a short story of mine. In Archibald MacLeish’s writing workshop I had started to write a hopeless novel, and had continued to its uninteresting conclusion months after graduating. Now I was a marketing trainee with the Texas company Texaco and would be posted to West Africa in the summer. These were my last months in New York.

My mother continued, “Someone that I know you admire has accepted—J. D. Salinger.”

I told her I would most certainly come.

The Catcher in the Rye had come out the year before. I had read it with enthusiasm but not with the extreme admiration I felt for his short stories in The New Yorker. They seemed to me matchless in their vividness, especially in conveying his characters’ subtle and complex emotions.

When I arrived that evening, Mary, the maid, was waiting at the door to take the guests’ overcoats, and I could see that the house was as finely turned out as it could be: flowers in the vases and the antique furniture shining. “The bar is on the porch,” Mary told me.

I got a drink and joined Jane and Cass in the living room with “Mac” MacGregor, Harper’s editor-in-chief. Soon Jill and Joe arrived, and for a short time it was a mostly family party. Then, nearly all at once, the thirtysome others crowded in, Salinger among them.

A headshot of him had appeared on the Catcher book jacket—dark hair slicked back above a longish, handsome face. This night he was well dressed in a suit with a faint glen plaid pattern, a white shirt whose collar was secured behind the knot of his necktie by a gold collar pin. His cufflinks caught the light. Why did his elegance surprise me?

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