Saturday, September 03, 2011

The Dalai Lama - Union of calm abiding and special insight

in Action and Performance Tantra

by His Holiness the Dalai Lama,
Tsong-ka-pa, and Jeffrey Hopkins

Dalai Lama Quote of the Week

It is necessary to alternate stabilising meditation and analytical merely cultivating non-conceptuality and non-analysis it is impossible to enter into the yoga of signlessness.

Even after emptiness has been realised, powerful and repeated analysis is needed. Merely to set one's mind on the meaning of emptiness is the mode of cultivating calm abiding observing emptiness; in order to cultivate special insight it is necessary to analyse again and again. These two modes of meditation--stabilising and analytical--are alternated until analysis itself induces even greater stablisation, at which point stabilisation and wisdom are of equal strength, this being a union of calm abiding and special insight.

In Performance as well as in Action Tantra the meditative stabilisation which is a union of calm abiding and special insight is used to gain feats for the sake of aiding sentient beings and accumulating merit quickly. (p.42)

--from Deity Yoga in Action and Performance Tantra by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tsong-ka-pa, and Jeffrey Hopkins, published by Snow Lion Publications

Deity Yoga • Now at 5O% off

(Good until September 9th).

Tricycle Community Special Event

Join Tricycle's Online Community-

be part of an important conversation

During the month of September, the Tricycle Community is hosting a Special Community Discussion with Snow Lion author B. Alan Wallace.

Tricycle Community members will have an opportunity to join in discussions of Alan Wallace's new book, Minding Closely: The Four Applications of Mindfulness, from September 6th to October 2nd.

For more information on this event and Tricycle's special promotions:

Joan Halifax: Compassion and the true meaning of empathy

Most of you have seen this video by now - but for those who haven't, this is great stuff. It's a bit short at around 14 minutes, so I have included another talk (below) from April of this year.

Compassion and the true meaning of empathy

Buddhist roshi Joan Halifax works with people at the last stage of life (in hospice and on death row). She shares what she's learned about compassion in the face of death and dying, and a deep insight into the nature of empathy.

Activist, anthropologist, author, caregiver, ecologist, LSD researcher, teacher, and Zen Buddhism priest -- Joan Halifax is many things to many people. Yet they all seem to agree that no matter what role she plays, Halifax is consistently courageous and compassionate. Halifax runs the Upaya Zen Center in New Mexico, a Zen Peacemaker community she opened in 1990 after founding and leading the Ojai Foundation in California for ten years. Her practice focuses on socially engaged Buddhism, which aims to alleviate suffering through meditation, interfaith cooperation, and social service.

As director of the Project on Being With Dying, Halifax has helped caregivers cope with death and dying for more than three decades. Her book Being With Dying helps clergy, community activists, medical professionals, social workers and spiritual seekers remove fear from the end of life. Halifax is a distinguished invited scholar of the U.S. Library of Congress and the only woman and Buddhist on the Tony Blair Foundation’s Advisory Council.
"She’s the most fearless person I’ve ever met." ~ Peg Reishin Murray in Shambhala Sun

Talk on Compassion at Capital University, Columbus, Ohio 

This is the Keynote Address delivered at the Symposium on Undergraduate Scholarship in April, 2011.

Richard Francis - Epigenetics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance


I've been meaning to post these reviews for a while now - epigenetics is changing a lot of what we have previously assumed about evolution and how genes are impacted by the environment. Turns out that genes can be altered in a single lifetime. For example, how a mother eats before and during her pregnancy - and how the father eats prior to conception - can change the genetics of their child in significant ways.

This book by Richard Francis, Epigenetics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance, has received some good reviews - I'm looking forward to reading it. Here are three reviews.

Mixing Nature and Nurture

by Julia M. Klein
JUNE 21, 2011  

In the waning months of World War II, the Nazis, angered by Dutch resistance, retaliated with a food embargo. As a result, 22,000 people in western Holland starved to death. And the effects of the famine were not limited to a single generation. The children of malnourished mothers were born undersized. More surprising, studies found that, as adults, these men and women were more susceptible to a wide range of ailments, from diabetes and depression to breast cancer and obesity.

Neither classical genetics nor an environmental explanation suffices to unravel this phenomenon. But the new science of epigenetics – which deals with long-term alterations in gene behavior – supplies a key causal link. Epigenetics involves chemical changes in cells, sometimes random and sometimes environmentally caused. What is even more startling is that these epigenetic “marks,” as they are called, can be inherited – either directly (much like genetic mutations) or in various indirect ways.  

Richard C. Francis, a neurobiologist turned science writer, has written what he says is the first popular book on this booming, cutting-edge field. Even so, reading Epigenetics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance (Norton) requires an almost scholarly level of concentration. It helps to have, at the very least, a working knowledge of genetics. If the mere mention of messenger RNA, alleles and methylation (this last was new to me, too) induces panic, then this slim, intriguing volume will provoke anxiety for sure. 

To his credit, Francis, relying heavily on analogy and example, does a mostly masterful job of illuminating some very thorny concepts. He introduces epigenetics with a reference to “identical,” or monozygotic, twins. We expect such twins, who are genetic clones, to be biologically similar. But there are powerful exceptions. In the instance that Francis cites, one twin was born with a disorder of sexual development known as Kallmann syndrome, while the other appeared normal.

Read the whole review at Obit.

* * * * * * *

Lamarck's Revenge

by Judith Shulevitz
August 18, 2011
Epigenetics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance
by Richard Francis
W. W. Norton & Company, 234 pp., $25.95

THERE HAS BEEN a revolution in the world of genetics. It is called epigenetics. The Greek prefix “epi” implies something that comes in addition to something else; epigenetics adds to the study of genes the study of how they get turned on or off. Although a Martian eavesdropping on conversations about genetics in the popular media would surely conclude that genes and traits correspond in a one-to-one ratio, in reality the twenty thousand to twenty-five thousand genes in the human genome do not automatically spawn traits. Genes have to be turned on, or “expressed,” through a complex process that takes place in the cell, before they can encode instructions that will (in combination with other genes) affect the shapes of bodies, or their metabolic rates, or what have you. Genes can also be turned off, or “silenced.” Gene expression and gene silencing take place all the time, as a matter of course. The science writer David Shenk recently came up with this delightfully mad-scientist metaphor for the process: “Think of a giant control board inside every cell in your body. Many of those knobs and switches can be turned up/down/on/off at any time.”

Now that geneticists—along with neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists, and others who study development—have broadened their focus from the naked double helix (that is, the DNA) to the chemical attachments that make up all those knobs and switches, they must grapple with a force long thought to have little direct impact on genetic inheritance: the environment. Epigenetic processes react with great sensitivity to genes’ immediate biochemical surroundings—and even more surprisingly, they pass those reactions on to the next generation. This biochemical stew in turn reflects what organisms ate, drank, breathed, swam in, or felt. In other words, your genome is being affected by your social reality—by whether you live in a clean suburb or dirty city, eat fresh food or junk, and feel empowered or embittered by your station in life—and is likely to pass some sort of epigenetic memory of that experience to your offspring.

As paradigm shifts go, this is huge.

Read the whole article at The New Republic.

* * * * * *

Goodbye, Genetic Blueprint - What the new field of epigenetics reveals about how DNA really works.

Richard C. Francis. Click image to expand.

There are almost as many metaphors for genes as there are genes. One of the most familiar, and the hardest to let go of, is the tidy blueprint, at once reassuringly clear and oppressively deterministic: Our genome is the architectural plan for who we are. It tells our body how to build itself, setting our height, our health, and even our moods since before we are born. Small wonder that we imagine if we can read our genome, we will discover not just the truth of ourselves but perhaps our future, too. Remember the high hopes that spurred on the Human Genome Project in the 1990s? Though the genetic catalog is now largely complete, we still await many of the anticipated insights, and in Epigenetics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance, Richard Francis, a writer with a biology Ph.D., traces the emergence of a different genetic paradigm. Our DNA shapes who we are, Francis reports from the research forefront, but it is far from a static plan or an inflexible oracle; DNA gets shaped, too. For good or ill, the forces that determine our fate can't be captured by anything so neat as a blueprint.

Francis's primer introduces a new field, whose roots predate the rise of pure genetic determinism. How is DNA itself shaped? The search for answers begins in the late-19th-century work of scientists such as Hans Driesch, whose study of sea urchin embryos revealed that the cell plays a key administrative role in an organism's development. He discovered that if you take cells from one location in the embryo—the area that will become, say, the spines--and plant them in another—the mouth area--their function changes: You don't get spines growing out of the mouth, you get a normal mouth. A cell's identity doesn't arise from a preordained genetic recipe inside it. Crucially, it is the cues that a cell gets from neighboring cells that affect how the genes inside it behave.

Read the whole article at Slate.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Upaya Dharma Podcasts - Al Kaszniak & George Chrousos & Joan Halifax & George Bonanno & Philippe Goldin: 8-25-2011: Zen Brain: Trauma, Stress, Loss, and Happiness (Part 1)

Excellent, a new series of Zen Brain talks from Joan Halifax and a host of experts (Al Kaszniak, George Chrousos, George Bonanno, and Philippe Goldin). These talks are always enlightening and entertaining.

Al Kaszniak; George Chrousos; Joan Halifax; George Bonanno; Philippe Goldin: 8-25-2011: Zen Brain: Trauma, Stress, Loss, and Happiness (Part 1)

Speakers: Al Kaszniak & George Chrousos & Joan Halifax & George Bonanno & Philippe Goldin

Recorded: Thursday Aug 25, 2011

Buddhism is a path to liberation from suffering, and among the most pervasive universal triggers of suffering are trauma, stress, and loss, including bereavement. Fundamental to Buddhist teaching, and the path of Zen, is the recognition that freedom from suffering can be found through practice realization of the fundamental nature of the mental continuum as ever-changing, interdependent, and without any fixed, unchanging self at its core.

Recently, scientific studies of human resilience following trauma and loss, response to stressful events, and the consequences of meditation training have begun to provide third-person evidence that converges with the first-person experience of Zen practice.

In this retreat, prominent scientists and Zen practitioners will explore Buddhist, neuroscientific, and clinical science perspectives on trauma, stress, loss, and the human potential for resilience and happiness. Talks, discussions, and explorations with participants are embedded within Zazen practice throughout each day.


Authors@Google: Father Greg Boyle

Father Gregory Boyle visited Google's Santa Monica office on Aug 11, 2011 to discuss his book Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. This talk took place as part of the Authors@Google series.

Here is the Amazon blurb on the book, from a Publisher's Weekly starred review: 
In this artful, disquieting, yet surprisingly jubilant memoir, Jesuit priest Boyle recounts his two decades of working with homies in Los Angeles County, which contains 1,100 gangs with nearly 86,000 members. Boyle's Homeboy Industries is the largest gang intervention program in the country, offering job training, tattoo removal, and employment to members of enemy gangs. Effectively straddling the debate regarding where the responsibility for urban violence lies, Boyle both recounts the despair of watching the kids you love cooperate in their own demise and levels the challenge to readers to stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it. From moving vignettes about gangsters breaking into tears or finding themselves worthy of love and affirmation, to moments of spiritual reflection and sidesplittingly funny banter between him and the homies, Boyle creates a convincing and even joyful treatise on the sacredness of every life. Considering that he has buried more than 150 young people from gang-related violence, the joyful tenor of the book remains an astounding literary and spiritual feat.

Father Boyle is also the founder and one of the forces behind Homeboy Industries, a gang prevention and intervention program in Los Angeles. Boyle spoke in this video as part of "GANGS: Strategies to Break the Cycle of Violence," a 2010-2011 speaker series sponsored by the Department of Social Welfare at the UCLA School of Public Affairs.

Kingsley Dennis - A New Collective Mind for a New World

Kingsley Dennis is the author of New Consciousness for a New World: How to Thrive in Transitional Times and Participate in the Coming Spiritual Renaissance - in this article for Huffington Post, he presents the idea of our cultural hypnosis, the trance-like state we live in wherein we do not examine the beliefs and values we inherit from the culture in which we are embedded.

A New Collective Mind for a New World

- Sociologist, writer, Co-Founder of WorldShift International
Posted: 8/31/11

We all share a common psychological environment that many of us, most of the time, take for granted. We often underestimate, or even neglect, the power of destructive thought and "mental pollution" upon the sensitive and responsive human membrane that constitutes our "social biosphere." How we are taught (or conditioned) to think will affect how our species manages cultural development and the culture's subsequent intervention into Earth's living systems.

It can be stated that, for the most part, humanity unknowingly participates within a cultural hypnosis. From early childhood, our experiences are established to conform to our specific cultural norm -- any anomalies are usually corrected, and the corrections then reinforced through various socializing processes, such as family, school, friends and such. Thus, our "world" is often given to us through the medium of particular cultural filters, and so each of us is literally hypnotized from infancy to perceive the world in the same way that people in our culture perceive it.

This is a very powerful behavioral and perceptual socializing mechanism. To break from this indoctrinated perceptual environment is extremely difficult and often beset with many personal problems arising from peer pressure and ties to friends and family. A shock is often necessary in order to catalyze one's own change of mind.

For a new mind to emerge during the times ahead it will be necessary for people to take power back into their own perceptual mechanisms, to empower themselves by withholding legitimacy regarding old and outdated modes of thinking. Social philosopher Willis Harman has described this by stating, "By deliberately changing their internal images of reality, people can change the world." This change, then, requires us to take back our rightful legitimacy unto ourselves, to decide carefully what we think, how we think and which beliefs we choose to adopt.

This also concerns our opinions, agreements and support, which we have previously been all too ready to give away. Our beliefs, perceptions and state of mind are crucial for how we understand the world around us. Thus, giving away our right over the power to choose how we wish to perceive the world serves to empower others over us. This, in essence, is the crux of social control, and this mechanism belongs to the paradigm of the old world and will have no place in a post-transition world.

Many of us are unsuspecting as to the degree of insecurity that governs our perceptive abilities. We focus on the immediate and seemingly ignore the long term, despite the long term having the greater urgency in scale. Our social institutions and media continue to reinforce the immediate and short term, thus strengthening our social myopia.

Our early history equipped us to live in relatively stable environments within small communities. Challenges were in the short term and nearby. The human mind thus evolved to deal with low-impact, short-term changes. The world that made our mind is now gone, and the world we have created around us is a new world; paradoxically, it is a world that we have developed limited capacity to comprehend.

It is fair to say that we now have a mismatch between the human mind we possess and the world we inhabit. Most of the momentous changes in our cultural history have taken place in the past 100 years. These days, we don't have that luxury of time as events (with long-term consequences) are rapidly changing around us, before human cultural evolution has had time to readapt.

Cultural evolution has worked more or less well until the present century; now, it finds itself hampered by an outdated human perceptual system. Contemporary society still relies too heavily -- and unconsciously -- on ancient modes of thought and ancient styles of thinking. This begs the question: Can a collective and rapid change of mind occur on this planet? In the words of neurologist Robert Ornstein, "Conscious evolution needs to take the place of unconscious cultural evolution."

Our old mind was set up to be on the lookout for insecurities and fear-inducing situations -- it was our survival apparatus. Yet this apparatus has continued to be reinforced through social conditioning. What is required now is a reinvigoration of vision: Everything that we have culturally achieved has been the result of human vision. The human imagination is a primary force; it allows the intervention of energies and guidance. It is both creative and destructive, and through it we are able to manifest the world we envision.

We now need to upgrade our visionary capacity, to open up more fully to inspired thoughts and guidance. To fail to do so will be a great loss for our species, as these are critical times for the instinctive perceptual faculties, and we need to bring these new organs of perception into being. In Masnavi, a three-volume work of mystical poetry, the revered Persian poet Jalalludin Rumi writes:
New organs of perception come into being as a result of necessity.
Therefore, O man, increase your necessity, so that you may
Increase your perception.
Every change requires a change in consciousness -- this has always been the case. The 21st century will not be a place for business as usual; it will be a new epoch, and as such, it deserves a corresponding consciousness.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Antonia Macaro and Julian Baggini - Do our habits form us?

The Shrink (Antonia Macaro) and The Sage (Julian Baggini) discuss habits and their impact on who we are as human beings - from their regular column in the Financial Times Magazine.

Do our habits form us?

By training ourselves to replace tired old habits, we can reshape our character a little

The Shrink
Some people pour themselves a glass of wine every day when they come home from work; others always go on holiday to the same hotel in the same place at the same time of year. I even know someone who has pasta with pesto for dinner almost every night.

Habits can be useful and comforting – they create familiar textures that make us feel in control – but they can also turn into a straitjacket that restricts us and leaves little room for development and spontaneity.

Yet we can be far too quick to judge habits as wholly negative features of our life that we need to let go of in order to release the free spirit within us.
There's more . . . but here is the beginning of the The Sages section.
The Sage
It has become a self-help saw that one way to achieve an ambition is to act as though you had already done so: to become a winner, act like a winner. Perhaps the most striking example of the flaws in this thinking comes not from a life coach but a great Christian philosopher, Blaise Pascal.

Pascal reasoned that without knowing whether God existed or not, it was a better bet to believe that he did than that he didn’t. Believers had comfort in this life and a better chance of getting into any next one, while non-believers would have to live without any hope and no entry ticket through heaven’s gate, should it turn out to exist after all.

The logic of this is dubious, but even if it holds, how can you get yourself to believe in God if you don’t have good reasons to think he exists, merely that it would be good for you if you did believe?

Read the whole article.