Things are heating up for Montreal-based Buddhists these days. Despite the bone-chilling temperatures, there are events and activities set to spring upon us.
- Joseph Goldstein will be in Montreal for True North Insight’s 10th anniversary and offering a talk meditation workshop on Saturday, March 15 from 10 am-4 pm (Space for the talk on Friday has been filled). To register online click here. Do check out the True North Insight website as they have a few video teaching available and there are additional events and retreats coming up.
- Gisele Laberge of the Montreal Shambhala Centre will be facilitating a One Year to Live program again. Don’t miss this as I found it to be such a rewarding and enriching program when I completed it several years ago.
- From what I’m seeing, it looks like we can look forward to Khandro Rinpoche in Montreal on the 9th and 10th of August. Oh the warmth. I feel it already.
- Now I need to give a shout out for Montreal Dharma Punx. I need some inspiration. I need some conversation. I need some motivation. I need a LOCATION. If you are interested in sitting and have an idea of where we can meet, drop me a line either via email or our Facebook page.
Indie Spiritualist is the first book from Chris Grosso, a multi-faith, multi-disciplinary chap who runs a website of the same name. I say multi-faith in that much of Chris’ belief system has been formed by many different religious and spiritual traditions as he has taken the approach of seeing what fits or doesn’t fit for him. I say mult-disciplinary in that Chris can be described in many ways – musician, writer, tattooed dude, skateboarder, recovering addict, super-fan of all kinds of musical styles, husband, father, brother … and on and on. The guy is diverse. These interests all form the crux of the book which is a compilation of short stories relating his journey both as a recovering addict, as well as someone who has worked with intense suffering only to then embark on a path of self-inquiry and spiritual inquisitiveness to discover a more meaningful life.
The book recounts Chris’ journey – all of the pain, suffering, low times and serious issues with addiction. His journey was a cycle of detention, detox, rehab, release, suffering and repeat on a path littered with some scary, dark places. He hit rock bottom and yet was able to discover and tap into the wisdom to know that a new way was necessary in order for his survival.
Don’t be fooled. ‘Indie Spritualist’ isn’t all doom and gloom though. There is a brightness and a humour within the pages which comes from Chris’ personality and his unique and somewhat self-effacing voice. He is a humble fellow and conveys his personal joys with the same attention to detail and integrity as those of his lowest and most embarrassing experiences. It is an unflinching look at both the beauty and the grotesque and is a brave work in this respect.
The book speaks to those who aren’t really into the new-agey approach which made it right up my alley. It is an accessible spiritual book for both youth and those who are young at heart. Be warned, there’s quite a bit of reference made to bands, authors and films and not to suggest that this book may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s truly going to resonate for those who are familiar with alternative culture in some way. If you don’t know who Slayer, Jason Voorhees, Bukowski or 108 are, you might not be quick on the uptake for getting a few of the references.
‘Indie Spiritualist’ is about recovery. self inquiry and how to live an authentic life. Chris’ approach is to encourage readers to find their own path and roll their own spirituality, rather than adopt something that doesn’t speak to them. No bullshit. No dogma. He shares many of the teachings that resonate with him as well as recounts experiences and mentors that helped him on his spiritual path.
Of all of the chapters, the one where he speaks to his heart connection with Ram Dass is the one that stands out to me as the most profound and where Chris’ connection with a spiritual teacher shines through. I would have enjoyed a larger section of the book being devoted to the teachers and books that influenced Chris in one area rather than appearing in unrelated short stories, but that’s just me and my anal-retentive style manifesting itself. Also, as a Buddhist, I would have liked to have seen a dictionary of terms given that there was a bit of lingo that was outside of my personal framework. Perhaps the intention is to inspire the reader to go and do some spiritual seeking and research, but for those who are already dedicated to a particular tradition, it would have been useful to have some of these definitions available. Again, that may be my anal-retentitiveness speaking as well as a bit of laziness (we all have our weaknesses right?).
An interesting feature of the book is the inclusion of links to Chris’ original music, several You Tube clips and a great list of suggestions on books, movies, music and practices that he’s into. I really liked this multi-media approach and found that it added much to the experience and helped to discover more about Chris Grosso – both past and present. (This aspect of the book negates my previous mention of wanting a glossary of spiritual terms as the multi-media bits really spoke to a universal language).
‘Indie Spiritualist’ is an important addition to the modern-day spiritual bookshelf in that it provides a glimpse into the journey of someone who isn’t just practicing from one spiritual tradition, such as Noah Levine and Brad Warner (fellow Buddhists), but the journey of Chris Grosso, who is unabashedly a multi-faith practitioner sampling and cultivating wisdom from many spiritual traditions. It’s not preachy, but rather demonstrates how he has found his own path and he encourages readers to try the same approach for themselves. He has a warmth and a passion for sharing his story and this comes through within Indie Spiritualist. His goal of helping individuals accept and love themselves as well as to break free from suffering is essential in our world and I’d encourage you to either read the book or gift it to someone who is currently seeking a new way of breaking free from addiction, despair or of embarking on their own path of self-discovery.
So much of his story resonated with my personal journey and just as Chris mentions in the book how much he enjoys meeting and hearing about those spiritual practitioners who may not fit the mold of the ‘peace, love, long-haired hippy spiritual practitioners’ but rather are into loud music, black band t shirts and skateboarding, I felt the same kinship in reading his book. Chris is very humble and self-effacing but he should be very proud of this book. I look forward to reading more from him both on his website and hopefully in future books.
*Also, I had no idea that Krishna Das was in Blue Oyster Cult. I have to thank this book for this illuminating fact!
I’m currently reading Chris Grosso’s book “Indie Spiritualist” and very much liking what I’m reading so far. Over lunch today I watched this interview by Elephant Journal’s founder Waylon Lewis and think you might enjoy it as well.
They cover Chris’ upcoming book, overcoming his past struggles with addiction which form the basis of his book, a few suggested resources to help with recovery, several books and authors that he’s into and touch upon how awesome it would be to read ‘The Tibetan Book of the Living Dead’. Oh my. I’d buy that graphic novel
I’ve been spending quite a bit of time on the web these days both for my 9-5 as well as in helping my sangha update our website. That hasn’t stopped me from some things crossing my path in the online realm so here’s a few things I wanted to share.
- This post titled ‘Violence, Blood, Broken Bones and Other Joys of Meditation’ over at the Indie Spiritualist puts it out there. PS- I’m on Chapter 5 of his new book and it’s super good.
- Tashi Mannox, an artist that I hoot on and on about on this blog will be in North America delivering a workshop and a presentation at the Rubin so if you can, do check him out. Here’s a short film on his work:
- Mondo Samu is starting a group with the incredibly smart acronym of M.E.A.L.S. – Mindful Eating and Living Sangha which will be a year-long book club that will:
- Recite the Five Reflections
- Share a Mindful Eating Experience
- Read and discuss the book Savor, by Thich Nhat Hanh
- Practice Mindful Movement
Mondu states that:
My hope is that this year-long grassroots-group exploration will deepen my own practice further, help others establish mindfulness as a way of healthy living, and – hopefully – encourage them to go out and spread the practice through starting similar groups the following year, and so on. If successful, it could see a viral growth since those who complete the year, may hopefully create groups of their own and repeat the process, again and again.
If you are so inclined, do get in touch with him. He’s doing great work with online Buddhist communities and this should be an interested exploration.
- I feel this way about my dogs… Just had to share it.
It’s been a while since I’ve spoken about anything other than random links, cartoons or books that I’ve had my nose buried in. Let’s see… What’s been going on?
Practice is spotty. At best. I have a list of readings and practices to get cracking on, but I’m not sure where my mojo went off to. Winter blahs? Driven to distraction by mass distraction? Aches? Pains? You name it. I have it.
I’m trying not to let it get to me. I’ve seen this funk before. I’ve come out of it. I’ve slipped into it. Rinse. Repeat. It’s part of my practice to not practice and then pick up again. My hair is on fire but I’m just feeling a little warm behind the ears while I wait for my head to be engulfed.
How about you? How’s your practice? How are you feeling?
I don’t even know where to begin with writing about this book because it is ALL CAPS REMARKABLE!!!
Seriously. I have been hooting on about this book for the longest time and pretty much everyone who I speak with gets an earful from me fangirling on and on about its simple brilliance. I’m currently engaging in Lojong practice, so it arrived on my Kindle at a very auspicious time and pushed its way past the recommended books from the list of those on the suggested reading list.
A bit of background for this review and for those who judge books by their covers. No. That isn’t a misprint and it does read as ‘Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong’. Norman Fischer is a Zen priest with a background in interfaith study, teaching, practice and writing, having previously released a book titled Opening To You: Zen-Inspired Translations of the Psalms. The final paragraphs in this book alone featured some of the most powerful thoughts on religion and faith that I’ve read, but more on that later.
Now about Lojong, It’s a mind training practice in the Tibetan Buddhism tradition. No. It’s not anything spooky, despite the words ‘mind training practice’ which sound a bit like the domain of the CIA or something you’d see in an episode of The X Files. Lojong is a practice in which one studies and reflects on 59 slogans as a means to lead oneself towards compassion. Pema explains it a bit more eloquently than I do over here.
Fischer begins the book with details on how the slogans are similar to Zen koans which is a quite interesting way to view how these two traditions have much overlap. As with similar books on Lojong such as my perennial favourite, ‘Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving-Kindness’ by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Fischer views his contribution as having written a ‘training manual’ and in essence, this book provides a real world approach in suggesting how the slogans can be used in a way that fit into everyday life. Written in a casual tone, Fischer’s voice is friendly, instructive and overall is like hanging out with a funny and engaging spiritual friend. Again, I’m a big fan of his now and discovering him better late than never.
While the tone of the book is friendly and not too hardcore in it’s commentary on the subject matter (read this as it’s not requiring a PhD in Buddhist Philosophy), it does offer up one of the clearest descriptions of absolute and relative bodhichitta that I’ve encountered. Given that the distinction between these two truths can get a bit sticky for some, I appreciate the author’s clear presentation of this oft misunderstood aspect of Buddhism. That is the beauty of the author’s approach in that he helps to make complex topics a bit less blurry.
Fischer is very perceptive about human nature and our motivations and delivers matter-of-fact teachings on the human condition. He deftly weaves teachings and quotes from Zen and Tibetan masters along with his own personal perspectives within the book in a way which contributes an exciting blend of past and modern approaches and insights on the Dharma.
This book is unique in that it is a Zen priest’s commentator on an Indo-Buddhist text and a new flavour of Buddhism added to the mix. While wearing different coloured robes and with a background in Zen, the author is able to convey the key points of compassion which Lojong aims to inspire in those who encounter it. The book is gentle, humorous and feels like meeting a friendly guide on the path. As my first introduction to the work of Norman Fischer, I am now finding myself wanting to experiment with his interfaith perspective as a means to explore my spiritual side a bit further as it relates to a different school entirely. Zenbetan? Tibzen? Who knows?
What is known is that this is certainly now one of my go-to Dharma books and I’ll continue to recommend it highly to everyone who’s willing to listen to me!