Book Recommendation: Lotus in the Fire

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  • Jundo
    Treeleaf Founder and Priest
    • Apr 2006
    • 39472

    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


    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, 04:35 PM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE
  • Kokuu
    Treeleaf Priest
    • Nov 2012
    • 6791

    #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

    Comment

    • Myosha
      Member
      • Mar 2013
      • 2974

      #3
      Thank you.


      Gassho,
      Edward
      "Recognize suffering, remove suffering." - Shakyamuni Buddha when asked, "Uhm . . .what?"

      Comment

      • Jinyo
        Member
        • Jan 2012
        • 1957

        #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 Jinyo; 10-23-2013, 09:59 AM.

        Comment

        • Kokuu
          Treeleaf Priest
          • Nov 2012
          • 6791

          #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

          Comment

          • Jinyo
            Member
            • Jan 2012
            • 1957

            #6
            Originally posted by Karasu
            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

            Comment

            • Nengyo
              Member
              • May 2012
              • 668

              #7
              Originally posted by willow
              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.
              If I'm already enlightened why the hell is this so hard?

              Comment

              • Hans
                Member
                • Mar 2007
                • 1853

                #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:





                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, 11:47 AM.

                Comment

                • Shokai
                  Treeleaf Priest
                  • Mar 2009
                  • 6391

                  #9
                  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, 12:05 PM.
                  合掌,生開
                  gassho, Shokai

                  仁道 生開 / Jindo Shokai

                  "Open to life in a benevolent way"

                  https://sarushinzendo.wordpress.com/

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                  • Nengyo
                    Member
                    • May 2012
                    • 668

                    #10
                    Excellent Hans,

                    Thank you!
                    If I'm already enlightened why the hell is this so hard?

                    Comment

                    • Kokuu
                      Treeleaf Priest
                      • Nov 2012
                      • 6791

                      #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

                      Comment

                      • Mp

                        #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

                        Comment

                        • Jundo
                          Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                          • Apr 2006
                          • 39472

                          #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, 03:25 PM.
                          ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                          Comment

                          • Hans
                            Member
                            • Mar 2007
                            • 1853

                            #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, 03:11 PM.

                            Comment

                            • Jundo
                              Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                              • Apr 2006
                              • 39472

                              #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?)


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

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