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Thread: Book Recommendation: Lotus in the Fire

  1. #1

    Book Recommendation: Lotus in the Fire

    Dear All,

    I would like to recommend a book, but one that is a very hard read for all its power and inspiration. It is the diary of Jim Bedard, a Zen Practitioner, during his "to hell and back" journey through several rounds of chemo-therapy and a bone marrow transplant for leukemia. I can only describe parts of the book as heart rending and physically painful to read, beautiful and hopeful and inspiring all at once.

    Lotus In The Fire: The Healing Power of Zen
    http://www.amazon.com/Lotus-Fire-Jim.../dp/1570624305

    Jim was a practitioner for many years in Canada with Sunyana Graef Sensei in Phiip Kapleau's Lineage. His treatment pushed him to the edge in so many ways, personal, spiritual, financial, not just physical. He found endless strength through this time by a sense of boundless Gratitude ... Gratitude even for the disease, not to mention for all the Zen folks, family and friends who were constantly chanting for him or at his bedside.

    He found meaning for these events as the playing out of Karma, perhaps from previous lives, that he had to work through. He felt the close proximity of Bodhisattvas coming to aid him, some of whom he saw in dreams and visions during the hardest days of his treatment.

    However one takes these visions and interpretations, such simply expresses the strength, the Wisdom and Compassion, he was able to experience in his heart and what he felt in such moments of unbearable need and extreme suffering.

    This is a story of a survivor, a man tempered like steel through fires. Not a light or easy read, but worth it.

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 10-23-2013 at 04:35 PM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  2. #2
    I totally second Jundo's recommendation. This was a very powerful read for me. Especially interesting was his opening up to the notion of not having to walk the path alone.

    When we are strong, we can hold a lot of things at arm's length. When life begins to unravel, having to call on support is a humbling experience.

    Gassho
    Andy

  3. #3
    Senior Member Myosha's Avatar
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    Thank you.


    Gassho,
    Edward
    Practice with humility, respect all beings, avoid attachments, give rise to praj˝a from your own awareness, put an end to delusions - Hui-neng

  4. #4
    I think I might find this difficult to read because of my resistance to the idea that illness and suffering is due to past karmic misdeeds.

    I've recently lost a friend to Leukemia (just a couple of weeks ago) and have another friend who is in remission after coming through a year of extremely difficult treatment. I see these situations as the luck of the draw, genetics, the inevitable vulnerability of the human organism.

    Looking for a reason (i.e. must have done something to bring this on in my present/past lives) is a very natural response to serious illness. I understand that Karma may prove a satisfactory - and helpful answer for some - but for others I can see that the notion might be upsetting and interpreted as a form of denial of the often arbitrary nature of illness.

    I guess as long as one interprets the book as a personal response and not a suggestion of universal law it's Ok?

    Gassho


    Willow
    Last edited by willow; 10-23-2013 at 09:59 AM.

  5. #5
    Willow,

    I do not like the interpretation of illness as the playing out of past lives karma either but found great merit in this book. To be honest, I did not even remember the book having that aspect to it.

    Gassho
    Andy

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Karasu View Post
    Willow,

    I do not like the interpretation of illness as the playing out of past lives karma either but found great merit in this book. To be honest, I did not even remember the book having that aspect to it.

    Gassho
    Andy
    Hello Andy,

    I took that from Jundo writing 'perhaps from previous lives'.

    I've been feeling a bit confused because my understanding is that Zen buddhism doesn't hold with that notion of Karma?

    I'm sure the book does have great merit - many appreciative reviews on Amazon.

    My response is no doubt a little reactive - Karma is one of those notions that New Age therapy loves to run with - and I've had my fair share of it thrown my way while going through the A-Z of complementary medicine trying to find relief from my condition

    Gassho

    Willow

  7. #7
    Senior Member Nengyo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by willow View Post
    I think I might find this difficult to read because of my resistance to the idea that illness and suffering is due to past karmic misdeeds.

    I've recently lost a friend to Leukemia (just a couple of weeks ago) and have another friend who is in remission after coming through a year of extremely difficult treatment. I see these situations as the luck of the draw, genetics, the inevitable vulnerability of the human organism.

    Looking for a reason (i.e. must have done something to bring this on in my present/past lives) is a very natural response to serious illness. I understand that Karma may prove a satisfactory - and helpful answer for some - but for others I can see that the notion might be upsetting and interpreted as a form of denial of the often arbitrary nature of illness.

    I guess as long as one interprets the book as a personal response and not a suggestion of universal law it's Ok?

    Gassho


    Willow
    The way I understand Karma is that it is a sort of cause and effect (this becomes, that arises.) It's not necessarily some magical punishment for past life misdeeds, but the price we pay for being alive and needing resources to survive. For instance, every cell in your body plays a balancing act between being able to repair/kill itself or grow like haywire. If you take away the chance of getting cancer then you also take away our ability to heal. There is no way out of the game. Very literally our present is the playing out of evolutionary actions that were decided tens or hundreds of thousands of years ago. So to me, disease can be random, arbitrary, and the result of karma all at the same time.

    I'm not sure if this fits with the standard idea of karma, but it is what I'm running with now until I get rid of all these damn delusions.
    Try not to be a jerk-- one of the Buddhas

  8. #8
    Hello,

    without wanting to open a whole can of worms here, most people who talk about Karma talk past one another most of the time. There are different interpretations depending on different teachers and lineages, but most people don't bother to look up the sources (either Suttas or Sutras) properly and instead fill the vague pop-cultural term with their own projections.

    It has always been a hairy and thus also very rewarding issue to wrestle with (not academically, but in seeing how these concepts relate to one's own experience).

    One famous discussion in the Zen context is HYAKUJO'S FOX (google at your own peril ).


    And for those of you with too much time on their hands and an interest in the oldest sources:

    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/a...aro/karma.html

    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/d...thi/kamma.html

    LONG QUOTE WARNING REGARDING THE ORTHODOX PALI VIEW ON KARMA (from the above sources):

    "Karma is one of those words we don't translate. Its basic meaning is simple enough — action — but because of the weight the Buddha's teachings give to the role of action, the Sanskrit word karma packs in so many implications that the English word action can't carry all its luggage. This is why we've simply airlifted the original word into our vocabulary.

    But when we try unpacking the connotations the word carries now that it has arrived in everyday usage, we find that most of its luggage has gotten mixed up in transit. In the eyes of most Americans, karma functions like fate — bad fate, at that: an inexplicable, unchangeable force coming out of our past, for which we are somehow vaguely responsible and powerless to fight. "I guess it's just my karma," I've heard people sigh when bad fortune strikes with such force that they see no alternative to resigned acceptance. The fatalism implicit in this statement is one reason why so many of us are repelled by the concept of karma, for it sounds like the kind of callous myth-making that can justify almost any kind of suffering or injustice in the status quo: "If he's poor, it's because of his karma." "If she's been raped, it's because of her karma." From this it seems a short step to saying that he or she deserves to suffer, and so doesn't deserve our help.

    This misperception comes from the fact that the Buddhist concept of karma came to the West at the same time as non-Buddhist concepts, and so ended up with some of their luggage. Although many Asian concepts of karma are fatalistic, the early Buddhist concept was not fatalistic at all. In fact, if we look closely at early Buddhist ideas of karma, we'll find that they give even less importance to myths about the past than most modern Americans do.

    For the early Buddhists, karma was non-linear and complex. Other Indian schools believed that karma operated in a simple straight line, with actions from the past influencing the present, and present actions influencing the future. As a result, they saw little room for free will. Buddhists, however, saw that karma acts in multiple feedback loops, with the present moment being shaped both by past and by present actions; present actions shape not only the future but also the present. Furthermore, present actions need not be determined by past actions. In other words, there is free will, although its range is somewhat dictated by the past. The nature of this freedom is symbolized in an image used by the early Buddhists: flowing water. Sometimes the flow from the past is so strong that little can be done except to stand fast, but there are also times when the flow is gentle enough to be diverted in almost any direction."

    - End of quote


    Almost all Buddhist sources agree, that Karma (which really literally just means "action" or "deed" as a word) as a force relies on one's intention. There are a lot of things happening around us, which even according to the Suttas are just cases of "shit happens" or simple causal relationships with no Karma involved.


    Gassho,


    Hans Chudo Mongen
    Last edited by Hans; 10-23-2013 at 11:47 AM.
    Chudo Mongen, Ordained Novice Priest-in-Training

  9. #9
    Treeleaf Unsui Shokai's Avatar
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    Hans, Thanks for sharing that interpretation an clarification. It certainly clears up a lot of gobbledy gook in myths and wishfull thinking.
    gassho

    Sent from my Note 2 using Tapatalk4
    Last edited by Shokai; 10-23-2013 at 12:05 PM.
    gassho, Shokai, still learning the way and knowing nothing
    仁道 生開 - Jindo Shokai "Open to life in a benevolent way"
    Just another itinerant monk; go somewhere else to listen to someone who really knows.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Nengyo's Avatar
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    Excellent Hans,

    Thank you!
    Try not to be a jerk-- one of the Buddhas

  11. #11
    Yes, thank you, Hans. Some Buddhist traditions have certainly strayed from the view of karma/kamma set out in the Pali canon.

    The Buddha is also reported as saying that the results of karma are one of the four things that should not be speculated upon:

    "These four imponderables are not to be speculated about. Whoever speculates about them would go mad & experience vexation. Which four? The Buddha-range of the Buddhas [i.e., the range of powers a Buddha develops as a result of becoming a Buddha]... The jhana-range of one absorbed in jhana [i.e., the range of powers that one may obtain while absorbed in jhana]... The results of kamma... Speculation about [the first moment, purpose, etc., of] the cosmos is an imponderable that is not to be speculated about. Whoever speculates about these things would go mad & experience vexation." — Anguttara Nikhaya 4.77


    Gassho
    Andy

  12. #12
    Thank you both Jundo and Hans, I think I am going to have a look at this recommendation. I walked the path with my mother who went through breast cancer and I found a lot of clarity about life during the time.

    Gassho
    Shingen
    真 眼

    As a trainee priest, please take any commentary by me on matters of the Dharma with a pinch of salt.

  13. #13
    Hi Willow,

    First, about the book: The fellow's feeling that he is "working off" Karma from harmful acts he committed in past lives, and his visions of an "out of body" experience and being visited by a Bodhisattva are just one small part of the book. The visions occur when he is at deaths door, completely weakened after months of treatment. I must say that, were I in such a state, I might reach out for whatever interpretation or vision provided me strength.

    Furthermore, although I remain skeptical about overly literal views of "past life Karma", "out of body experiences" and the like ... I remain an "open minded doubter". Certainly, in a few hundred years, people will look back at us for our quaint views. (Husband to Wife in 2350: "Martha, do you know that folks back in the 21st Century still believed in GRAVITY! ). I very much doubt overly literal and mechanical views of "past lives", and such views are not vital to my Practice (which focuses primarily on this life at hand) ... but "Who knows?"

    And what is more, I would say that the view that "bad things in this life may be due to my bad actions in a prior life" was ... and remains today ... the mainstream Buddhist belief most places in Asia. The interpretation that "I do not need such for my Practice" is the modern, primarily Western view and would be very strange to most Buddhists today from Thailand to Tibet to Taiwan to Tokyo (actually, the Japanese tend not to think about Karma as much as other Asians, but that is another story).

    In any case, such beliefs helped this man through a very very hard time in his life ... and that is enough to give them worth. I really don't care if he had prayed to Jesus and saw visions of Mary too. Whatever get's one through the long nights.

    But I am going to disagree somewhat with what Hans presents. Feel free, Hans, to correct me if I say wrong. Yes, you are correct that "Karma" is not like binding fate in that it is only one of many factors Buddha and Traditional Buddhists recognized to determine present events (others would include, for example, social and environmental factors, and just plain chance). If a cigarette smoker gets lung cancer, one can point to "Karma" in this life, a pay-off for intentional acts of the recent past. What is more, we can often "change our past Karma" by our actions now. However, the majority of Buddhists would recognize "past life volitional acts" as a strong force that can be the cause and explanation for why "bad things" happen to someone in this life. Yes, it is usually escapable ... but not always. Most mainstream Buddhists, even today, would say that his cancer MIGHT be largely due to some actions by him lifetimes ago (e.g., even if we say the immediate cause was genetic factors, he may have had those bad genes because of killing a bunny rabbit lifetimes ago).

    So, I will not say that he misinterpreted traditional beliefs on Karma in the book. Karma from past lives might be the cause, or a cause, of his cancer.

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 10-23-2013 at 03:25 PM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  14. #14
    Hello Jundo,

    I like what Brad wrote a few years ago, along the lines that applying Karma as an analytical tool for your present state should only be done by yourself for yourself, if at all. Andy's quote underlines the fact that we can never truly know the vast cross connections in the universal matrix of appearances, which is why we should never ever judge another's situation along those lines.

    It is all about IMHO how and if you apply the Karma concept in your own life. There are people who can really really benefit from finally facing ultimate self-responsibility that puts the ball firmly in their court, but if you are about to starve or freeze to death, you need a helping hand offering you a piece of bread and a blanket, not letures about how you might have sold the Buddha some sour milk in another lifetime, which is why you are now living in deep pain and suffering.

    And yes, most mainstream Buddhists would refer to Karma in the way which Jundo outlines above. A lot of Christians also pray to God to let their football team win. In my book that doesn't make it particularly "enlightened" (excuse the pun) Buddhism or Christianity for that matter.

    Gassho,

    Hans Chudo Mongen
    Last edited by Hans; 10-23-2013 at 03:11 PM.
    Chudo Mongen, Ordained Novice Priest-in-Training

  15. #15
    Hi Hans,

    Yes, yes, I agree. I scoff at some who might say that, for example, all the people in villages swept away by the great Tsunami in Thailand must have had some collective "past life debt" that was being repaid, or that the rape victim or beggar is that way because of a past life.

    But in the case of the fellow in the hospital ... if he believed it, and it gave the experience meaning, then more power to him! What is more, it might be so. I am not so proud to say that it might not be me having such visions and visitations on my death bed. If a Bodhisattva wants to come and lend a hand in my chemotherapy ... WELCOME! There are many Tibetan Holy Men, living today, who claim to have seen their past lives. While I tend personally to very strongly doubt what they might have seen, and while it is not vital to my own Practice centered right in this life and moment ... it might be so.

    For those who wish a very basic introduction to Buddhist views of "rebirth" and Karma, there are a couple of essays in the "Big Questions" series ...

    Jundo Tackles the 'BIG' Questions - VI (Karma)
    Jundo Tackles the 'BIG' Questions - VII (Life After Death?)
    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/forum...-BIG-Questions

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 10-23-2013 at 03:18 PM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  16. #16
    Hans,

    I agree. Thinking about one's own karma and how your actions have brought you to the place you are now and where your present actions might take you have merit. Doing the same on behalf of another person, not so much. In Tibetan circles I heard it said that the victims of various natural disaster were experiencing the ripening of their collective karma. True? I have no idea but suspect not. Helpful? Not really.

    Like Willow, I have experienced alternative health practitioners speculating on my behalf about what might have caused my illness on a karmic level. This is very often unhelpful and loads guilt onto an already ill and stressed person. Mostly it seems like a way of neatly tying up loose ends in a complex universe and proclaiming to understand what is going on rather than sitting in the middle of unknowing.

    Gassho
    Andy

  17. #17
    Let me just add that I am a "The Greatest Magic and Miracle is Right Here in the So-Called 'Ordinary' Right Before Your Eyes .. So OPEN THEM!" kind of fellow.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  18. #18
    Thank you Jundo - I understand what you say.

    A close friend who died of cancer had amazing visions the last few weeks of her life. She was not at all religious but seemed to have pierced a veil between what we normally think of as reality and something sacred. Admittedly she was on high levels of morphine but it felt comforting that the mind has the ability to connect in such a way with whatever gives comfort and strength.

    I think I was more along the lines of I would not want anyone to unnecessarily suffer because they thought some past 'unknown' karmic deed/deeds had contributed to present misfortune.

    And thank you Hans. I need to study this more - the notion of multiple loops makes sense.

    I think this is probably a big topic. If we're all interconnected then presumably so is the karmic load - even down to whether a person smokes. The genetic link for smoking and addictive behaviour is strong. Is someone else's past life also in some way my past life?

    So many ways to think on this

    Gassho

    Willow

  19. #19
    Hello Andy,

    I hear you. To me this reflex is also closely related sometimes with the "positive thinking Gestapo", people in general and some alternative health practitioners who want to tell you that it is your always negative thoughts which gave you some illness...often just adding insult to injury. One of the main reasons for such views is the massive undigested legacy of early Theosophy and Anthroposophy, which have shaped so much of modern culture in general and new-age culture in particular.

    And now I feel another book recommendation coming up : http://www.amazon.com/Turn-Off-Your-.../dp/0971394237


    @Willow: Don't think too much about it, that is why the Buddha warned against trying to figure this out, our shaven ape hardware won't cut it. Better to sit Zazen instead!

    Gassho,

    Hans Chudo Mongen
    Last edited by Hans; 10-23-2013 at 03:29 PM.
    Chudo Mongen, Ordained Novice Priest-in-Training

  20. #20
    Just seen lots more replies - will read through now.



    Willow

  21. #21
    Treeleaf Engineer Seimyo's Avatar
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    I've added to my list Jundo. Thank you for the review.

    Gassho
    Seimyo

    明 Seimyō (Christhatischris)

  22. #22
    I agree with Jundo, whatever helps one get through a long night.

    The beliefs of Karma are intertwined with numerous dynamics that Jundo and Hans have mentioned above.

    BTW, thanks Jundo for the book recommendation. I have ordered my copy.

    Gassho,

    Lu
    Shinjin datsuraku, datsuraku shinjin..Body-mind drop off, mind-body drop off..

  23. #23

    Smile

    Quote Originally Posted by Karasu View Post
    Hans,


    Like Willow, I have experienced alternative health practitioners speculating on my behalf about what might have caused my illness on a karmic level. This is very often unhelpful and loads guilt onto an already ill and stressed person. Mostly it seems like a way of neatly tying up loose ends in a complex universe and proclaiming to understand what is going on rather than sitting in the middle of unknowing.

    Gassho
    Andy
    "sitting in the middle of unknowing." Sounds like a good plan to me.
    _/_
    Rich
    MUHYO
    無 (MU, Emptiness) and 氷 (HYO, Ice) ... Emptiness Ice ...

  24. #24
    If there is something like Karma it does not necessarily mean that everything that happens to me has a karmic reason.
    There is karma, and there is chance.
    You can get hit by a car due to karma (if you haven't kept your eyes open) or due to bad luck (a drunk driver who loses control over his car and hits you).
    Yes, we are responsible for our actions and their outcomes, but we should never forget that sometimes shit happens...

    Gassho,

    Timo
    no thing needs to be added

  25. #25
    Treeleaf Unsui/Engineer Kyonin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LimoLama View Post
    Yes, we are responsible for our actions and their outcomes, but we should never forget that sometimes shit happens...
    Yes, this is what I think.

    I don't know about the cosmic meaning of karma. Maybe I need to sit and study more.

    But what I do know is that everything we do has consequences. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. But at any rate we are mostly responsible of our actions.

    Gassho,

    Kyonin
    Please remember I am only a priest in training. I could be wrong in everything I say. Slap me if needed.

    The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. Mr. Spock

  26. #26
    Hello everyone,

    Great thread ... for me, whether I have a karmic thread from previous lives or where I am going to be in the future based on my karmic trace is not important - if I do not live in this moment right here, right now, I will have no impact on the previous karma or future/next life I may live. If the struggles I have today are based on the negative karma I have created in a previous life, then I refer to the "right here, right now", live this life, not my previous life or my next life. Life is precious and one should not waste it ... be kind, generous, and supportive now ... this is my view in changing previous karma and creating positive karma "now" and for lives to come.

    Gassho
    Shingen
    真 眼

    As a trainee priest, please take any commentary by me on matters of the Dharma with a pinch of salt.

  27. #27
    Senior Member Myosha's Avatar
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    Hello,

    The facts of karma is mindful of a friend noticing his companion stroking a rabbit's foot for luck. "I thought you didn't believe in 'good luck'?, he asked. "Well", his friend says, "they say it works whether you believe in it or not."^^


    Gassho
    Edward
    Practice with humility, respect all beings, avoid attachments, give rise to praj˝a from your own awareness, put an end to delusions - Hui-neng

  28. #28

  29. #29
    Thank you for the book recommendation. Added it to my list. A great thread and subject for discussion.

    While karma has always fascinated me, I tend to approach karma as simply as possible - what i sow is what I reap. When I screw up, I expect there will be consequences. Pretty simple. But I have always had this mental image of karma. If you drop a pebble in a pond it creates ripples. Some ripples die off quickly, some reach the shore and stop, some bounce back and hit you, others interact with other things in the pond and bounce off in crazy directions. This has always been my image of karma and how it works. (Probably based on something I read, just not sure what.) But harder throws, or heavier rocks create larger ripples, and the water reacts with everything. The idea that karma is somehow linear and comes straight back at you, just doesn't seem to work for me.
    Neika / Ian Adams

    寧 Nei - Peaceful/Courteous
    火 Ka - Fire

    Look for Buddha outside your own mind, and Buddha becomes the devil. --Dogen

  30. #30
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Late to the party, but a few thoughts...

    Serious illness is serious business. I've got a condition that is fairly serious; it could be fatal from one day to the next. When it was discovered - back in 2005 - I was in a very bad place, but the last thing I did was try and find a "cause" for it. (It's a congenital thing, which may or may not be a unique mutation, ie, not inherited.) I find no use in trying to pin the blame on karma or anything else; that just deflects from living with it in the now.

    I totally see how karma works in this life; as Neika said, what you sow is what you reap. "If you plant ice, you're gonna harvest wind," the Grateful Dead say in Franklin's Tower. But saying that karma comes from past lives has two problems. One, we can never know whether it's true or not. Two, there's no point in worry about it if you're attentive to what you do in this life.

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