Dharma talks at White Heron Sangha

The Negative Space of Buddhism in Michael Pollan’s book, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

Monday, August 27th, 2018

A talk to the White Heron Sangha, Sunday August 26, 2018

1.

One afternoon last May on my way home from working at City Farm San Luis Obispo, the car radio came on with my favorite program, Science Friday. I was surprised to hear the genial voice of Michael Pollan speaking with its host Ira Flaytow. Before I could could pick up the thread of the conversation, out popped the words psilocybin, LSD and mescaline. So that’s what he’s up to now, I thought.

Ever since I heard Pollan read The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2007) during a long drive to Canada ten years ago, he’s been one of my favorite writers and most informative teachers.  That book’s comprehensive reflections on the history, biology, economics, politics, and morality of America’s food system altered my tastes, motivated me to design a required general education course in argumentation at Cal Poly around its subject, and inspired me to spend a good part of my retired working life on our local urban farm. The broad impact of his work was demonstrated by a local incident that received national notoriety.  When Pollan was invited to give a public lecture here by Hunter Francis, the director of Poly’s center for sustainable agriculture, large agribusiness funders pressured the university administration to deny him an opportunity to speak unless he was part of a panel that included a professor of Beef Science from Kansas.

That book and two later short ones—In Defense of Food and Food Rules—mainstreamed attitudes about industrial agriculture, factory farming of animals, and healthy eating that had been elements of the counterculture of the sixties. As effective manifestos for change, they contributed to the revival of organic and local food movements. It struck me as fitting that he was now addressing another suppressed strain of that culture of my youth.

The conversation I tuned into was promoting a new book by Pollan called How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. Flaytow was dwelling on the opening theme of the subtitle—the New Science of Psychedelics.  What turned me on, however, was its coupling of Science with Consciousness and Transcendance incorporated into a “how-to” book promising doubled satisfaction, with a pun on “change your mind.” (more…)

The Better End? Euthanasia and Buddhist Values

Sunday, February 4th, 2018

A talk to the White Heron Sangha
February 3 2018

As a child, I grew up in a small family consisting of my mother, Lise, my father, Henry, and my grandmother, Elise, all refugees from Hitler’s Germany who arrived in New York in 1938. Elise and I adored one another all through my childhood and youth. Though she spoke little English, she was vibrant and irreverent and eloquent in expression and gesture.  She was also adored by the customers for whom she worked as a seamstress and to whose homes all over the City she travelled by subway until well into her eighties.

After my first year in graduate school in California, I returned to New York for the summer of 1964, spent nights in Greenwich Village with a friend and days in upper Manhattan studying for my Latin qualifying exams at Elise’s small apartment. She’d make me sumptuous hot lunches and watch admiringly as I practiced my conjugations.

A couple of months after I returned to California my parents wrote me that Elise had suffered a massive stroke that paralyzed her left side and left her unable to walk or speak. They had no choice but to place her in a nursing home and expected it would be over soon. But by the time I came back for a visit at Christmas, it wasn’t. (more…)

Dharma and Darwin

Saturday, November 5th, 2016

Introduction

My talk today follows in the tracks of fellow sangha members who’ve given us presentations on the convergence of scientific inquiry and the insights of traditional Buddhist precepts in the area of neurobiology and brain science. I want to explore the ways the theory of evolution that has provided a framework for all biological research during the last 150 years illuminates and is illuminated by my experience of meditation and my rudimentary understanding of Buddhist doctrine. (more…)

A Trip to Cloud Mountain

Thursday, December 3rd, 2015

An address to the White Heron Sangha, November 29 2015

Four years ago, at a series of workshops conducted at Crow’s End in San Luis Obispo by White Heron Sangha members, June Kramer and Nancy Hilyard, I was introduced to the technique of concentration meditation, as adapted from the teachings of the Burmese monk, Pa Auk Sayadaw by Tina Rasmussen and Stephen Snyder. Concentration, or Samatha meditation is claimed to have been favored by Buddha himself as an approach to elevated states of consciousness known as the Jhanas, which are precursors to true insight and eventually enlightenment. This form of meditation was long considered an esoteric discipline reserved for monks and initiates, but in recent years it has become accepted and popularized for lay practioners by a number of Buddhist teachers. (more…)