About

About your host:

Linda Blanchard lives in Texas and has been a haphazard Buddhist since 1985, and an avid Skeptical Buddhist since she first discovered Stephen Batchelor’s “Buddhism Without Beliefs” in 1998. Her avatar, Star, hosts a series of videos on youtube.com through their channel “justalittledust”. She is the author of Dependent Arising In Context, which contains several pieces that are freely available on the internet, listed below.

She also has two more papers focusing on suttas that reveal more about Dependent Arising’s structure and history, which can be found here:

And one book review of a volume that might be of interest to some readers (if you can get your hands on a copy — it’s not easy).

 

About the blog:

This blog isn’t entirely about me — but neither do I avoid talking about myself and my life.  It really is primarily about my passion for language and the way we express ourselves, and it follows me as I focus on researching what the Buddha taught, and why — which includes an interest in the times in which he lived. When what I’m learning touches my life, you may hear about my life, but my daily doings aren’t the focus here — understanding Buddhism is.  Theory is all well and good — I work on theory a lot in these posts — but how Buddhism is put into practice in actual lives is just as much a part of the insights as theory.

I write blog entries when I have something to say; the reverse is not necessarily true. My posts may not be frequent, but when I post it is because there’s something I want to share, and get feedback on, so please do join the conversation.

26 Responses to “About”

  1. Mark Knickelbine says:

    Dear Linda:

    I just discovered your YouTube videos yesterday — what a fun and down to earth way to teach the dharma! Anyway, I’m moved to write you, and hope that the fact that this site hasn’t been updated in a while does not mean you don’t monitor it.

    I’ve been an atheist all my life. I came to practice two years ago to cope with a bout of depression, and reading Batchelor helped make it ok for me. I learned to meditate in a clinical group setting, the only teacher and sangha I’ve had (of course, one’s insurance only pays for so many sessions!) As mindfulness and equanimity deepened, I was drawn to investigate Buddhism further, and started reading in the Theravada and Zen traditions. I was introduced to the problem of trying to sift the wisdom from the mythology and from the doctrine serving the needs of the monastic elite of the various schools. Most of all, I really long for a sangha to sit with, to study and share support. There is tons of Buddhism here in Madison Wisconsin, but I’ve been unable to find a group that doesn’t carry plenty of Asian metaphysical baggage with it.

    I’ve seen some of the on-line groups but I think we need to be sitting together, having our own retreats, and growing our own teachers. It would seem that Madison would be ripe for such a thing, but I don’t know where to start. If you have thoughts about this, or connections in my neck of the woods, I would be very grateful to hear from you.

    Thank you for your generous and compassionate teaching. Be safe, well and happy!

    Mark Knickelbine
    mknick@charter.net

  2. star says:

    Thanks, Mark. I can well understand your situation, both with discovering Buddhism in those logical steps, and in feeling the lack of a community that keeps its grounding in questioning and open minds. If such a community isn’t easy to find in your area, chances are good others are looking for it too. There is an ongoing discussion in the Facebook fan page “The Secular Buddhist” about how we can create our own sangha. (I also recommend The Secular Buddhist podcast and website.)

  3. Nate says:

    Wow, don’t know what took me so long to find this page. But I found it now, and have added it to my blogroll!

    Now, I must read and catch up on what I missed!!!

  4. star says:

    Glad to see you here, Nate! Fortunately, there aren’t a lot of posts. Unfortunately, I’m very wordy!

  5. Thanx for adding me in your blog list. I added you too (roll over your link and see if you like my description).
    You might want to consider posting an e-mail so we can write you instead of doing it in comments.

  6. star says:

    Thanks for the add, description, and suggestion. But if folks want to talk to me privately they can find me on Facebook where I’m easy to locate via the Skeptical Buddhist group; just send me a friend request and remind me how I know you (I’m bad with names). Or come find me in SL. I am loathe to put an email address on a web page and am a deeply unreliable email correspondent anyway.

  7. Linda –

    It was a pleasure to discover your lucid, informative blog. Your discussion of karma caught my attention, and I read on. I am adding your blog to my blog roll.

  8. star says:

    Glad you found the blog, Ben, hope you can join in the comments column when you have time.

  9. thank you for learners, practitioners and teachers like yourself.

    May you be well and happy always.

  10. Sam says:

    I just want to say thank you for writing articles that explains why Buddhism is not a typical religion. I used to have a lot articles explaining Buddhist concepts and how it relates to modern world, but unfortunately like it says in Buddhism, it has came to an end.

    I even read your articles in secular Buddhism website. Keep it up!

  11. tiramit says:

    Thanks for all these posts and a really good title! I only just arrived and shall spend some time looking around. Will be in touch soon

  12. Karen says:

    I read in your post on dependent origination about a paper by Gombrich on “Burning Yourself”. Do you know how I can get a copy?

    Thanks.

  13. star says:

    Hi Karen. The paper isn’t *by* Gombrich, it was published by him but written by me. You can find the paper on the Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies website, or you can buy the book Dependent Arising In Context via amazon.com — it has more on the subject than just the paper in it.

  14. Tom says:

    Hi, Linda — I came across Burning Yourself a couple of weeks ago on a site I had never heard of before (Secular Buddhist Association). I am very impressed with Burning Yourself and your insightful explanation of paṭicca samuppāda. My own exploration of Buddhist teachings and practice began when I was at University (1964). I have explored many kinds of meditation and met many teachers. Still, I seem to have no saṅgha. Thank you for your suggestions to Mark Knickelbine. I am not sure I am the kind of person who could start a sitting group (love mankind, don’t particularly like individuals, story of my life). Anyway, thank you for Burning Yourself (although that doesn’t quite sound right). I think that you have opened a window into the Dhamma that has been closed and painted shut for a very long time AND you have given me a reason to pry some more. Although I am not a scholar (Pāli is like Teflon to my brain), I, too, like words and particularly like your rendering of saṅkhāra as “drive”. It reminds me of Dylan Thomas’ “The Force That through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower”. English is a wonderful language, but sometimes it just can’t get along without copious footnotes.

    I look forward to much reading on this site and The Secular Buddhist.

    Thank you for the wake up call!

    Tom.

  15. star says:

    Hi Tom, thanks for the kind words. Pali would be teflon to my brain, too, if it weren’t for the Digital Pali Reader (free software — see the Buddhist Links page above if you’re interested in it).

    The Secular Buddhist Association site now has an active forum that I intermittently participate in — hope to see you there!

    http://secularbuddhistassociation.com/

  16. Tom says:

    I found the Digital Pāli Reader a couple of days ago and, at first, couldn’t figure out how to use it (!) [duh!] – Anyway, when that was sorted out I saw the great value in this wonderful app. Whether I will be able to retain anything is another story, but I can see how excellently useful this truly wonderful app is. —- Today I listened to your animated videos. Already I have recommended them to friends in another city. They have a ‘saṅgha’ but no teacher and no “introductory” apparatus, although they have a very basic web page. I thought a link or reference to your videos would be extremely useful for them. —- Another teacher, whose work I find extremely valuable, is Piya Tan (to whom I sent a link to Burning Yourself – he was much impressed). Piya lives in Singapore and publishes his translations and commentaries (explanations, elucidations) on line at “http://dharmafarer.org/wordpress/” (his work is also “searchable” in case you are looking for something specific) – of particular interest is his trilinear translation of both the ānāpānasati and satipaṭṭhāna suttas. There is a word-for-word translation under the Pāli and then the word-for-word is transferred into English word order and understanding. One not only is exposed to Pāli vocabulary and grammar, but also one gets a flavour for the way Pāli is spoken. And, of course, there is a very valuable teaching on meditation/sitting —- Pāli is still Teflon to my brain, but Piya’s extensive writing is a valuable insight into an ancient language highly relevant to our world today.

  17. star says:

    Thanks for the suggestion to check out Piya Tan — I will put him on my “to do” list. The accommodation I’ve made with the Pali that works for me is this: just get in there and play with it, and what sticks, sticks, and what doesn’t I’ll just look up for the nth time. It is a great boon having such good tools at our fingertips.

  18. Tom says:

    They aren’t “good” tools, they are “wonderful” tools.

    Anyway, you have got me hooked. While I find it almost impossible to remember vocabulary and where diacritical marks go, I persist.

    I had also looked at Ñāṇavīra Thera’s writings some years ago. It will come as no surprise that they were, then, incomprehensible. However, NOW, they are just a little more accessible to my otherwise not-that-bright intellect. I would like to imagine this is a nimitta of success! While that is dubious, I want to thank you for your encouragement.

    I have been trawling through your web site recommendations and finding wonderful things. I feel a little like Howard Carter might have felt when he busted through that wall in Egypt.

    Tom.

  19. star says:

    I’m thrilled that you’re digging in.

    As far as Nanavira goes, my advice is get a hard copy, and write translations of the words in it. But then, I have a difficult relationship with paper books: I’m addicted to them. I tend to revere them and think they should be kept pristine. However, I find that some books *need* to be written in, so when I read his, I have a sharp pencil with a good eraser on it nearby.

  20. Tom. says:

    Well, Linda, thanks to your urging and your book Dependent Arising* and your Posts, I am, as you say, digging in. Rather than write in a hard cover or paperback, I am printing out Clearing the Path from the on-line PDF and using DPR to sort out Pāli words (although Ñāṇavīra’s gloss is quite useful). Additionally, sutta citations can be checked out in Piya Tan’s Dharmafarers, a great resource for excellent detail and penetrating explanation. It’s becoming a fascinating adventure. In a past life, I worked. In this life, I am retired and, I hope, using my time wisely.

    Tom.

    _______________
    * I’m also adding all the diacriticals you left out of your book. That’s not any kind of criticism, either. It gets me to check more closely, sort out what the words entail and so on. I have always felt slightly miffed and affronted when diacriticals are left out. It’s like finding that the writer has intentionally misspelled the words just because they are “foreign” – but, on the flip side of that, it’s a great opportunity to be more mindful, more thorough and (whether it sticks or not) I at least try to take advantage of this opportunity to be a little more educated.

  21. Tom says:

    I’m finding the Ven. Ñāṇavīra Thera’s Notes on Dhamma absolutely fascinating! (not to suggest “easy” by any means). I have also, by some fortuitous accident, run across “Memrise” – some digging and I found a nice place to start with Pāli memorization: http://www.memrise.com/course/65453/buddhist-pali-terms/

    The site is a treasure trove of languages and all kinds of other things to learn. There are some very clever memorisation techniques I have found quite enjoyable. I cannot yet claim that it’s “working”, but it’s a lot of fun and, in conjunction with DPR, quite helpful.

  22. Gregory says:

    Thanks for the link to your site. Lots to take a look at here.
    Best wishes.

  23. Gregory says:

    I’ve just read your post of yesterday. I appreciated your points about compassionate and careful listening in debates on contentious matters. It can be tiresome to be scolded for things you didn’t say, or that are even the reverse of what you said. Thanks.

  24. Linda says:

    Good to see you here, Gregory. Yes, well, it’s rough going, this conversation about race, and I’m glad Mark started it up over on the Secular Buddhist site, with his review of the book “Radical Dharma”. Facing the raw emotions that arise — even anger that we tend to find more justified than most variants of that emotion — is tiring for all of us. But my thought is this: which am I more tired of, racism, or trying to work against it by having these conversations?

    One of the things I have been thinking about as I read the book is the concept I keep hearing thrown around about how “it’s not my job to educate you; if you have questions go look it up”. And I understand that point, at least as far as once we do have a question, we can always try looking it up (and around issues of race, and its pop vocabulary, there’s plenty out there) but what I’ve really been thinking about is delusion, in the Buddhist sense. And about how powerful delusion is; I would imagine anyone who has spent a little time with the practice would recognize this: the issue with delusion is that the mechanism works to prevent us from seeing anything but what we usually see. That’s the point of delusion, right? We can’t readily see outside us. And in Buddhist sanghas what I find is a willingness for others to help us see outside our normal perspectives.

    I imagine for Buddhist teachers, who get to see all the variants of human delusions manifested over and over again, pointing them out might also get tiring. But they keep on as long as they can, doing the work. Maybe it feels less exhausting because they aren’t as invested in the outcome of each individual finding their way out of their particular delusions. A black leader fighting the delusion of white privilege has a huge stake in changing a white person’s point of view. But that’s actually every white person’s. The task is *huge*. The combination of the personal stake in the outcome and the size of the task must make it exhausting. But on the other hand, the personal stake would, I think, also be motivating in a way it isn’t for a dharma teacher fighting all the genres of our delusions.

    It’s kind of like the Bodhisattva vow, you know? As it appears in “Radical Dharma” the first line is “Beings are numberless; I vow to save them all.” Being black and trying to educate many individuals about white privilege reminds me of that vow. But I imagine the vow is easier because it contains within it recognition of the impossibility of the task, and so the vow-maker begins by not being too invested in actually seeing the goal achieved in this very lifetime.

  25. Gregory says:

    Thanks Linda. You raise a lot of interesting points in your comments above. I’ll try to engage with some of them.

    “It’s not my job to educate you”. I’ve read this sort of comment a number of times in various contexts. It feels like a cop out to me. Of course it is nobody’s job, but if you decide to engage in a debate with someone it is an odd response. The other person asks for clarification or explanation. This sounds like good listening – a desire to understand someone else’s point of view. Why would you not respond? Why not take them at face value and try to explain?

    Fighting delusion. Of course we are all limited, in part because of our upbringing, life experiences and so on. Some see more clearly than others. Where we have to be cautious is in assuming that if other people disagree with us they must be deluded. That if they don’t accept our guidance when we put them straight they must be either stupid or wicked. Debate is very rarely like that. Honest, thoughtful, well-meaning people just can come to different conclusions on contentious matters. This doesn’t make debate useless. Often we can move a little closer together. At worst we will have understood the other person a bit better.

    You speak of a black leader fighting the delusion of every white person. (I think that’s what you meant!) There are some assumptions buried in that. The first is that the black leader has no delusions of their own. (We are all fallible.) The second is that their target is every white person. (Of every class? Of every nation? Irrespective of their words or actions?) The third is that the way to change the way people think is by (metaphorical) fighting. How about sharing, communing, loving?

    There. Some contentious stuff. I hope you will recognize the friendly spirit in which it was written.

  26. Linda says:

    Yes, as always I recognize the friendly intent in your discussions with me. We have disagreed often enough, but I think we both recognize each other’s good intentions.

    I agree with pretty much all of what you said there, though I would clarify my meaning about the black leader needing to educate all white folks — I wasn’t being literal, nor was I assuming perfection on the part of that leader. (Actually, in my thoughts I was defining “the black leader” as absolutely anyone who steps up to the plate and tries to make what’s going on, from their perspective, clear to others.)

    But I know when I debate — for example with you, about how to interpret dependent arising — while it is clear that I am engaging with you at that moment, I have a sense that I am trying to reach a much larger audience at the same time, beginning with those who will read the comments soon, or later, all the way to the Halls of Posterity. Among those in the Halls, I would expect to find plenty who are far more enlightened than me — and may they laugh good-naturedly at the gaps in my attempts at clarity — but yes, talking to everyone. Mostly, though, I was trying to convey the sense that the feeling in these debates might well be overwhelming due to recognition of the hugeness of the task of making a dent.

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