I am finally getting around to doing a proper “About” page.
As those of you who have been following this blog know, originally it was at https://fireunbound.wordpress.com. This title was taken from Thanissaro Bhikku’s book Mind Like Fire Unbound. His book is about the enlightened mind. For those of you who want to see the description of the old site, you can go there and read the original About page.
But that site outgrew the free hosting at WordPress.com, and was subsequently moved to this self hosted site. And since that time, it has grown from a blog into something resembling a full web site. As you can see there is now a meditation guide – which is a work in progress – a few papers that I have written, and an Additional Resources tab that includes a variety of quite extraordinary writings and talks on the Dhamma.
So much for the mechanics of the site.
As for the philosophical underpinnings, you may be familiar with some of the many ways in which Buddhism has morphed its way into the West. Stephen Batchelor has championed what is commonly called “agnostic” or “secular” Buddhism. Jon Kabbat Zinn has used meditation to found an approach called “Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction,” or MBSR. People such as Dr. Andrew Olendzki have suggested that Buddhism will find its final expression in the West by merging with Western psychology. There is also the relatively modern, Burmese invention, “vipassana meditation.”
To be sure, many of these things have value and are helpful to many people. I personally have benefited from many of them. But having said that, you won’t find much of those things here. This web site is dedicated to orthodox, religious Buddadharma.
In the almost quarter century that I have been studying and practicing the Buddhadharma, I have gone through so many approaches to Buddhist practice that I have lost count of them. I started in Zen, and out of respect to that beginning I still only use black meditation cushions. I dabbled in Tibetan Buddhism, another form of Zen, and many flavors of of “vipassana meditation.”
Eventually, however, I managed to work my way through the then newly published copy of the Majjhima Nikāya. At the time I did not understand a lot of what I was reading. But I had enough of an intuitive sense to see the brilliance of it, and how it all hung together.
I read once – I think in Rupert Gethin’s superb book “The Foundations of Buddhism” – that when in the 18th and early 19th century Westerners first came across the teachings of the Buddha, they initially thought that it must be the collective effort of a number of teachers. However, after going through a substantial amount of the Pali canon – the oldest existing source of the Buddha’s teachings – it became clear to them that the material was so consistent that it could only be the product of one mind.
The Pali canon is an extraordinary collection of works. And it isn’t like there are not changes and additions that have occurred over the years. There have been, of course. Some of them have become more obvious in recent years as we are becoming capable of comparing the Pali versions to the two Chinese versions we have of the Buddhist canon. In some cases there are also Tibetan versions, and in even rarer cases Sanskrit versions. It is a body of literature of incalculable wealth.
But what stands out to me most is how underneath it all, how consistent it all is. In fact, it is so consistent that the inconsistencies really stand out, even to a non-scholar like me.
What I found in these early teachings was a body of thinking that hangs together in a way that nothing else of which I know does. This includes controversial subjects – controversial in the West, at least – like rebirth and jhāna. The whole of the teachings hangs together so well, that I find it hard to start picking them apart, and only keeping the parts that I find culturally acceptable. Frankly, I think the burden of disproof falls onto the disprovers.
The universe works the way it works. It is coldly indifferent to our opinions about it. One of the things that I respect most about the Buddha is that as intelligent as he was, he resisted the temptation to start “making stuff up.” He kept looking and looking and looking until he came to a final resolution. It almost killed him. But what he found, in the end, was the greatest jewel of them all.
So this web site – and more importantly my practice – is dedicated to his original teachings, and not as a way of adopting some mindless orthodoxy. These are teachings that have been verified over the centuries. If you dig deeply enough you can see that. We in the West tend toward spiritual materialism, which translates into a belief in science that is rooted in the physical universe. However, as we are now discovering, even science is running into its own limitations. Science now tells us that the physical universe constitutes only 20% of the whole of reality. We live in a universe of quarks and probabilities and multi-verses and empty space and vibrational frequencies. It is a universe that sounds more like a home to mystics than Newtonian physisicists.
I know a prominent person who has a PhD in Buddhism. He was trained at – among other places – Harvard University. And when he was confronted with evidence of rebirth, do you know what his answer was? “I just don’t believe it.” That was his rational, well-reasoned, highly educated response. “I just don’t believe it.” Thinking like that makes me want to pound my head on the desk.
I think we can do better than “I just don’t believe that.”
Eric Van Horn
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
I hope we can do better than “I just don’t believe that.”
Dear Mr. Horn, being about to embark on writing a book on the life of the Buddha and looking at other books on offer on the same subject, yours seemed to be one of the few worth a second look. My just completed book is called Jesus and the Buddha; A Study of Their Commonalities and Contrasts. If you would be interested in seeing it I would be happy to send you a soft copy of it. All I would ask is that you not pass it on to others. My other writings can be seen here; http://www.buddhisma2z.com and http://www.bhantedhammika.net
Thank you for your comment, Bhante. In truth I do not have time to do any optional reading, but thank you for the offer. But I hope that others will go to your web site and explore your book,
Would you please write ro me offline. You could briefly look at a couple of my posts on dharmaoverground to get an idea of my practice. I have read most of the Little Books recently and think I am in one. By the way, greatly enjoyed and learned from this experience. Gratitude and respect to you. I also have a couple of questions that I’d rather not put in public. I promise not to be a pest and will cease writing the moment you say quit–if that should happen. Much metta,
I’m sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you. I have been knee-deep in a four-book project that I am just finishing up. You can write me at [email protected].
Thanks for your blog and your books. I’m guessing there might be times you feel you’re talking mostly to yourself. Just letting you know that’s not the case.
That is very thoughtful of you, Chip. Thank you. Truth be known, it does feel like that sometimes (!). Fortunately, it is a labor of love.
I have just recently started to meditate and look into Buddhism. I am so greatful to have found the “Little Books”, and more importantly the “Travel Guide”. Looking up books on Buddha I was shocked how many current books are out and about for the reading pleasure. I was more interested in what Buddha actually had to say, much like yourself. I know nothing as of this moment. The Travel Guide has pointed me in the right direction. I think. I do however consider myself less than a beginner. looking forward to continue reading “Travel Guide”, and someday finding a teacher. Thank You for writing and sharing. It is truly helpful to a beginner like myself.
Dear Mr. van Horn,
thank you at first for your great new books, I studied them all. Basically I did really extensive studying and investigating in books and web-sites, about breath meditation.
I also tried to contact, and search advice with several meditation authorities, such as Ajahn Sona, Leigh Breisington, Ajahn Brahm and Matthieu Ricard. Unfortunately you get never clear structured answers from them. At all the books and YouTube videos and other sources, believe me, I did absorb all what is to be found deeply several times, never clear and concise descriptions of the main cornerstone “breath meditation” is given.
Interestingly the most appealing is Ajahn Sona’s, although again only vague, description of breath meditation is in several YouTube videos and dhamma talks.
You gave also a hint of a very interesting discourse about Nimitta by him.
His main advice is to feel the breath in the nasal cavity, in the head. He than describes Jhana (or at least piti), of a feeling of airiness in the head which spreads out over the whole body.
I am meditating myself for 5 years now every day. Unfortunately my very busy professional life leaves not much time to do meditation (and I have an office job where I anyway sit the whole day). So I sit between 10 and 30 minutes one time every day.
I do breath meditation and have always problems, and uncertainty, about how to sens the breath properly. Basically I feel the breath more in the nasal cavity, higher up in the head and hear always the breath inwardly, this both goes always together sometimes hearing inwardly more prominent, sometime feeling more prominent, but I cant separate it. So my question is of course, what do you suggest, is my practice, proper? Furthermore when you and other teachers, especially Leigh Breisington mention pleasant sensations in hands or anywhere in the body, it is again super vague.
For example in another form of relaxation called “autogenic training (by Schulz)” one reaches a similar feeling, (warmness, heavyness of hand, and later spreading over the whole body) much quicker. Is that comparable? Even when I sit quietly, in the hairdressers chair, after 10 minutes I get such feelings, much quicker. Is that also comparable?
May I ask you kindly to describe and write about those intricacies way more deep and extensively. I mean this is the most vital part, and no one cared about it!
About breath meditation, you will probably feel the breath most strongly at different places on different days. It may even move during a sitting, but that will probably only happen if you sit longer, like 60 minutes or more. This is why if you start your meditation by sweeping the entire body you can get a sense of where you feel the breath most strongly during that sitting.
The pleasant sensations are a tingling sensation. As the mind gets quiet, you will feel them somewhere in the body. The most common place is in the palms of the hands, but it could be anywhere.
The warmth is a different feeling. Warmth usually occurs when the mind or body are experiencing healing. One of the beauties of a quiet mind is that the mind and body can heal.
Let me also suggest that you do metta meditation as a regular part of your practice. As Venerable Smapasadana points out in this talk, the Buddha actually talks about practicing the brahma viharas (metta, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity) three times more frequently in the texts than he does breath meditation.
As for your practice being “proper,” I think it is very hard for any practice to be wrong unless it does harm. This practice requires incredible patience. Just keep doing what you are doing and trust the process. I think you are doing fine.
Dear Brother Eric Van Horn,
Sadhu Sadhu Sadhu for making this blog.
This is about Jataka Story #521. There is no comment section under Jataka Stories and cannot find your email address from your blog, thus I am posting this note here. You may remove it after seeing it.
For you info, the birth identification in Jataka #521 is actually the Jataka #522.
I checked Jataka 521 (https://nobleeightfoldblog.com/wp-content/uploads/Jataka/Volume4/Jataka521.html) and it looks correct to me. The original PTS translation is at https://sacred-texts.com/bud/j5/j5014.htm.
I have finished reading Jataka Tales v1 in kindle. Its very good.
I am currently reading Jataka Tales v2 in kindle. Also very good. It seems Jataka #82 is incomplete. Can you please send to me the complete version? Thank you in advance. 🙂
I just checked Jataka 82 (https://nobleeightfoldblog.com/wp-content/uploads/Jataka/Volume1/Jataka82.html) and that is all there is. Some of the stories are admittedly curious, and I sometimes wonder why they were included in the collection. But I decided to render them just as they are in the Pali.
Eric, I just finished reading your “Little Book of Buddhist Virtues,” and I felt prompted to write and let you know how much I loved it. More than enjoyed of course, but was blessed and encouraged by what you wrote. Never having studied any Buddhist thought or literature, it was enlightening for me in this way as well. I will be publishing my own book on Virtues soon, in fact it was researching for that project that led me to your book. Please don’t think I stole your title, as I had some time ago tentatively titled my book the “Little Book of Virtues!” The one thing I really took away from your book that helped me was the emphasis on the change that happens in us, our state of mind, or perhaps a “heart change.” So that the virtues become more the byproduct rather than rules to follow. My background is Protestant Christian, although the last few years have found me in a state of what is popularly called “Deconstruction.” And found me much more open to other points of view as well! Anyway, Thank you! Well done! I will recommend your book to others.
Thank you. You may be interested to know that in the next month or so I will actually be unpublishing the Little Books series as well as the “Travel Guide to the Buddha’s Path.” I will be replacing all those books with a new series called “The Buddha’s Path.” There will be three books in the series: “Foundations of the Buddha’s Path,” “The Heart of the Buddha’s Path,” and “Awakening on the Buddha’s Path.” I have spent the last year reworking all of what I have written about Buddhist practice. As usual, the eBooks will be free. I will also reissue an updated version of “The Life of the Buddha.” I think that the new organization is better structured and organized.
Best wishes on your journey.
Hello, I was really devastated to see that your little books on Buddhism series is now nowhere to be found online! where did they go?! they were excellent and so thorough, I have been recommending them to interested friends for YEARS and now I can’t find them ☹️☹️ If they are no longer on Amazon could the PDFs at leas the added back to your website? ???
Hi, Jolie. I believe you have already gotten a response to this post, but other people may have the same concern. I spent the last year performing a major reworking of the Little Books series. The Little Books have been retired and replaced by (a) the three book Buddha’s Path Series and (b) the biography “The Life of the Buddha.” Links to all four of these books are on the Books tab. The Buddha’s Path Series contains (1) Foundations of the Buddha’s Path, (2) The Heart of the Buddha’s Path, and (3) Awakening on the Buddha’s Path.