Friday, September 23, 2011

Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha

I just finished a book about Buddhism that's been much more accessible and useful than any other book about Buddhism that I've read. It's called "Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha" and it is by a guy named Daniel Ingram. He starts off by saying he is an arahat. Then he talks about the fundamentals of Buddhism a bit. Then he bashes pop-Buddhism pretty hard, saying it's often fluff and everyone is just there to "talk about feelings or whatever, dude" instead of actually get enlightened. Then (and this is the good part) he lays out maps of the path from here to enlightenment. I have learned so much. For example:

- there are 3 main things you should practice: morality (being good at the real world), concentration, and insight (aka mindfulness, aka non-duality, emptiness, or seeing things as they really are). These are all distinct practices. So if you want to get better at concentration, practice concentration. etc.

- there are about 8 levels you can achieve in concentration, called the jhanas. they are temporary states, and mostly blissful, although they all have their own distinct characteristics.

- there are about 16 levels you can be in in insight, called the nanas. they are not temporary; they are basically things you learn. the first 3 are somewhat ordinary but still useful realizations, the 4th ("arising and passing away") is super intense, 5-10 are the "dark night" (depressing/difficult), 11 is peaceful again, 12-15 involve actually getting a taste of nirvana. (16 is a bit of a review) When you hit 15 ("fruition"), you are a "stream enterer." Then you repeat this path a bunch of times, eventually becoming enlightened. (aka an arahat)

This is all probably more detail than you care to know, but it is super super interesting to me, because it means that:
- you or I can actually get enlightened, probably in a matter of years, not decades or lifetimes
- there is a map. it's not just sit, sit, sit, sit, bang enlightened. there are intermediate steps, and you'll know when you hit them.

It's encouraging to actually think "I could go for enlightenment." I may do just that. If I do, I'll try to blog my progress whenever I think I make concrete progress, as much as possible. If at any point it seems like I've gone off the deep end, please let me know, but I'll try to keep reading, talking, cross-referencing, and making sure not to get caught up in any nonsense.

Monday, September 19, 2011

I guess I just made a "best albums" list again.

Here in India, everyone's car has a stereo, and they all have a little USB stick full of Indian mp3's plugged in. As I have a USB stick with me, I thought it wouldn't be a bad idea to create my own little stick in case I'm ever in a situation to show off some American music.

How to do so? I could ponder the perfect 200-song playlist forever, but to make life easier, I decided to just pick 10 albums that I like a lot and that would be good representatives for y'know American slightly-off-mainstream pop music, or whatever it is that I like. So it's not a "best of all time" list, but it's the closest I've come to doing that in a while. Here's what I came up with:

- Fiery Furnaces, Blueberry Boat
- Daft Punk, Discovery
- Cut Copy, In Ghost Colours
- Jens Lekman, Night Falls Over Kortedala
- Bloc Party, Silent Alarm
- The Knife, Silent Shout
- Talking Heads, Stop Making Sense
- Janelle Monae, The ArchAndroid
- LCD Soundsystem, The Sound of Silver
- Of Montreal, The Sunlandic Twins

- Hissing Fauna is maybe better but I'd like to not scare anyone
- (that doesn't explain why Blueberry Boat and Silent Shout are on there, but those are two that would be there for sure if I WERE making a best-ever list)
- Stop Making Sense is not even close to the best Talking Heads album, but it might be the best Talking Heads album if you've never heard Talking Heads and were unlikely to again
- Janelle Monae's the only one to make the list since college. Maybe Talking Heads, I wasn't such a fanboy then. Still, it's a little past-heavy. (but not distant-past-heavy; no Weezer or Modest Mouse. I might have heard them too much.)