July 2, 2018: The realization

Suddenly I noticed that for most of my life, my attention was on me. On who I was, on being good, on being great – on supporting an idea I had of who I was. Sometimes this would be about being good enough, acceptable. Or about resentment and anger at those who didn’t recognize my greatness – my wisdom, my courage, my commitment.

It’s hard to remember just how miserable I was in those days. It seemed normal to me then, and this seems normal to me now. It was a flash of memory, of myself in a certain situation – and then in another – recalling that mind, focused on myself and not on those I was supposedly there to help – that brought this now.

It comes back occasionally, mostly in the form of resentment again, when others are recognized and I am not. This is my weak point now. Mostly it’s hidden from others. Seeing it, I can now address it. Gratitude for this glimpse.

And chanting, today, feels like turning the wheels of the universe, my contribution to the activity of life. It’s real.


May 27, 2018: On Zen, religion, chanting, and wearing the robes

Six weeks ago I noticed that chanting the Dai Hi Shin Dharani is an action that reaches into the very structure of the universe. It DOES something. I started paying attention to this while chanting every morning. It began to feel like a gift, from me into the foundation of all being. I thought of this specifically about the Dai Hi Shin Dharani, long known as a magical chant to bring well-being, composed of ancient sounds that have no meaning in any modern language.

The Heart Sutra has a similar reputation, and I tried it out, chanting in Sino-Japanese with the thought that English words would distract my intention. It wasn’t so clear.

Then, yesterday, I read some words from Martin Prechtel, teacher of indigenous wisdom. He said that whenever you receive something from the gods, you must offer them something. Receiving something includes food, clothing, shelter – everything is received, and must be paid for. What humans have to offer is what we make ourselves. He particularly spoke of beauty, art, and song. And yesterday I went into the woods, forgetting my tobacco (which I offer instead of incense, for several reasons), and then wanted to make an offering. I remembered Martin’s words, and sang a song. I didn’t think, at that moment, of offering one of the Zen chants.

This morning I made sure I had offerings, the usual ones: flowers, the best water I’ve got (my only contribution is bringing it), and a candle flame. I did the usual morning service: three prostrations, the Heart Sutra in English, followed by its dedication to “every being and place,” and the Dai Hi Shin Dharani, with its long dedication to Buddhas, ancestors, spirits of many kinds, and then several lists of humans and nonhumans. I listened to the words and felt them as an offering. The English was a vehicle not an obstacle. My voice and meaning were directly a gift.

After chanting like this for over thirty years, finally I’m learning its meaning. And more. Religion, “to bind back,” means binding ourselves to what is sacred, to what is beyond cognitive understanding. Martin spoke of our offerings as payments to the gods. There are some things his people just don’t do because they’re too expensive – not materially but in terms of time, offerings, rituals – so they have no cars or cellphones. I intend to learn more about that sense of balance. Right now, it looks to me like this:

Being in relationship involves giving and receiving. A relationship based on buying and selling, on exact exchange, is hollow – like most commercial transactions in the world where I live. A relationship based on unequal giving and receiving is an unequal relationship – appropriate perhaps for parent and child, but otherwise exploiting. A relationship with generous giving and joyful receiving, in both directions, is what we want. And that is the kind of relationship I want to have with the universe as a whole, and with all the people in it.

Zazen also is an offering. I’ve said before that to sit zazen is to consciously participate in the great act of creating each other, all beings in the universe, that act which goes on with or without our knowledge. Now its quality as offering appears. I sit down, I offer myself, my whole self, to participate in the mutual co-creation – which is also my whole self.

AND – wearing the robe. Now I see more of why I wear the robe every morning for zazen and service. It acknowledges. It places this human body and mind into the sacred context, as one who offers. Remembering that the first time I wanted to wear the okesa was when I watched Katagiri Roshi bowing at the altar while we all chanted the names of the ancestors. That day, I could feel the energy flowing through his moving body toward the altar and up, out to the universe. That day, I wanted to take that place and let the energy flow through me.

That’s the difference between philosophy and religion. Relationship. Love. Gratitude. Offering. There is nothing but offering.


May 11, 2018: Zen, practice, and 70

Last Monday I returned from 10 days of Zen – first, teaching in Columbus, Ohio, where my student Don Brewer lives and practices. He and Marge hosted me magnificently, and a total of perhaps 40 people came to the events – a climate change workshop and an all-day sit being among them. Between times, mostly I rested, and socialized with a few people. I don’t know why I was so tired. But this teaching – it requires something, and I’m not accustomed to it. I’d found myself unable to plan. Friday evening, I was full of anxiety – having to create the workshop as we went along, even though I’d written an outline. I heard it was good, and then relaxed a little. And then it became clear what to say on Sunday, and that was easier. I liked that talk, and I’d like to retrieve it.

I’d like to retrieve many of my talks, now that I’m managing to record them on my phone. The “learning new technology” thing is a barrier. I’ve learned lots of technology, and you always have to learn another one. So I try to get the recordings onto my laptop, hoping some day for the energy or for help to process and share them.

And it would really be better to write things as I go. That was over a week ago, and it’s faded. I’ll try harder.

From Columbus, Don drove me to Terre Haute, Indiana, where I visited my old friend in prison. He’s been on Death Row for years, has exhausted all his appeals, and keeps thinking he’ll “get a date” some time soon. His life hangs on national politics and what the President cares about – and what Congress is willing to do. He renewed his promise to let me know, so I can try to be there.

Then the treat: a 5-day teaching retreat, called Genzo-e, with my teacher Shohaku Okumura and friends Taigen Leighton and Byakuren Judith Ragir. Judith was one of the first people I knew in Zen, and is ten years ahead of me. I always admired her, but now with my own stability in practice I listened and heard the depth and power of her teaching. The text was “Gyo-butsu Igi,” a writing by ancestor Dogen, about practice-buddhas, dignified conduct or (different translation) awesome presence. I don’t know what to say, but hopefully I’ll write something in “study group” later.

I pitched my tent on the grass behind the dorm, and learned how to get there on time. In support of me, they didn’t burn incense while I was there. But the windows were closed most of the time – cold, heat, rain, or outside noise during lecture – and I had to wear my mask nearly all the time. The first day I tried to cheat, and had a very bad evening – so I kept the mask on after that unless the air was completely clear. I hadn’t thought I could tolerate wearing it for five days, but, one hour at a time, one minute at a time, I did, and the zazen was supportive and the talks were brilliant, exciting, and nourishing. And it’s lovely to just be a student, with no responsibilities other than to keep the schedule and harmonize with the other practitioners. I left happy – and wondering whether it’s realistic to return. But I will, in the same way, because my teacher plans to retire in five years. I envy him a bit: at 70, he has a whole life work behind him. At 70, I’m just beginning mine. Probably started at 65, when I led the Compassionate Earth Walk, a life-changing experience. But Mountains and Waters, still in its very early phases, is my life work. Whatever it turns out to be – two years ago I went on a retreat in the mountains with David Loy and Johann Robinson, and everything turned upside down. Last year I spoke with some ancient characters carved on a hillside, and things moved again. This summer I’m taking a longer retreat, in the mountains again, to allow things to turn again, allow myself to be moved.

The fundraiser:

I ran a Facebook fundraiser for Mountains and Waters Alliance (MWA). I thought about $2000 would really be enough to pay for building the website and maybe operating it for a year or so. But FB says ask for small amounts so people will feel good. I set a goal of $1000. Then FB says “offer matching funds” so I offered to match the first $500. The bummer – $500 actually was donated, FB tells me to produce on my pledge so I donate $500 – and then FB says I’ve met my goal! Grrrr. I donate money to MWA all the time, they’re not supposed to count my  donation. So I wrote a note and one more person has donated… But the $950 in unsolicited donations earlier this year will probably take care of the website.

I hate asking people for money, or any kind of self-promotion. I know too many people raising money $5 at a time for food, for gas, for bail money for front-line activism – or because they’re being bombed in Gaza. I feel guilty, then consider it and know that I’m doing what I think is most useful – So I went back to work, as a psychotherapist, which is both well-paid and something I enjoy. Well, I do enjoy it, but the money isn’t coming in the way I wanted, and the work is expanding way beyond the allotted two days per week. Because I have to keep learning, and because there’s administrative work even though the clinic does the billing. So I’m tired a lot and trying to figure out ways to cut back. When successful, my total (including Social Security) will be over $20,000 a year – comfortable to live on, but not enough to move forward with MWA or upgrading the farm.

I’ll post just a note in “Study Group” because I promised weekly. I don’t have time to write a proper blog post. I feel just fine about prioritizing in-person human contacts, but this other stuff gets lost. Wishing I had a “social media” person. Oh well. Spring is here and I’ll be outdoors with friends shortly.

And here finally is what I wrote three weeks ago, 4-20-2018:

In a facebook conversation, I found a new expression of what this work is about. So often I get discouraged, disheartened. Something like this popped into my mind. And, since I’m trying to write a pitch for a fundraising campaign, I made words trying to express it.

Imagine every tree and mountain, bird and earthworm and mushroom, every river and every inch of earth engaged in a great act of giving life to each other, to everyone, all the time.

Imagine it’s really that way, and we’re the only ones refusing to be part of it.

The evidence is mounting up: this is the way the natural world works. Let’s join it.

Mountains and Waters Alliance.

Daydreaming about visiting Daniela Myozen at Furnace Mountain Zen Center. Such a long way, so much fossil fuels and I dislike driving. Daydreaming about walking or bicycling. Imagining a walking pilgrimage: leave home. Stop at Terre Haute and visit my friend in prison there. Walk to Sanshinji, along a road I’ve driven so often. Walk to Louisville to meet a new friend. Pilgrimage to Port Royal, honoring Wendell Berry, if he would accept a visitor. Walk to Furnace Mountain.

I thought then I’d walk to my grandchildren in Atlanta, but that adds almost 400 miles and I’ll be tired by then. I’ll get a ride to Atlanta. So the walk is 843 miles.

A lot of beautiful roads. I have walked 10 miles a day, but could work my way up to 20. – so it’s something over 42 days. Call it 2 months, with rest stops and all. Carrying a pack. Need a super-light tent – or finish making that bivy sack I started on the Compassionate Earth Walk in 2013. And need to be in shape. (*Update: I bought a super-light tent, under 3 pounds).

I would have to be really retired, and need to leave the farm in somebody’s care. I want to do it. I could start exercising now, start getting in shape. Walking. Biking. As much as possible.


Thoughts following a Facebook discussion of population.

A modest proposal: Since it takes 5 adults to raise an emotionally healthy human (said by some, makes sense to me) we could reduce population rather quickly by changing the way we do child-raising. Instead of one or two parents exhausted by their children (these days, including paid day care and the rest, and the endless shuttling to camps and lessons for those who can afford it), how about 5 couples have two children, raise them together, put their joy into them. Of course they will want to have a bigger family – a crowd for the children to grow with – each set of 10 adults/2 children could have a crowd, maybe a total of 50 adults/10 children or so, for the informal kinds of schooling, playing, ball games or gardens or walks in the wood….
Another advantage: you could have children without having to be married. Big advantage: HELP! And saving the planet is not to be ignored.
Having those kids at age 30 instead of age 20 is also helpful. Reduces the multiplier effect.
In one generation each billion could become 200 million. In the second generation that billion is 40 million; in the third generation it’s 8 million, and in the fourth generation we’re down to a livable population.
Of course it’s too slow for the actual pace of climate change. So what?
Let me add – this is for the wealthy countries, places where people can expect Social Security and other systems, not needing their children to support them in old age. Start here. The others will follow when that matter of old age support is handled.






April 14, 2018: War, murder, and life

Maribel Barajas Cortes, 25, a Green Party candidate in Mexico, was murdered. Since last fall, 60 candidates in Mexico have been murdered.

The United States launched missiles at Syria yesterday, supposedly about the chemical weapons blamed on Syria’s president. Britain and France also sent weapons. Russia threatens to destroy the aircraft carrier from which the missiles were sent. People in the U.S. are organizing demonstrations:

A poll on my facebook page asks “Which would you rather die of? Climate change or World War III?”

Republicans in Congress are retiring in large numbers. Maybe they hope not to be there for the impeachment vote. Unauthorized missile attacks is said to be an impeachable offense.

It’s mid-April, snow is coming down, and friends in Nebraska and South Dakota are in blizzards, some with power out. Climate change is really here. How many cities and countries now face water shortages? Floods? Hunger?

And the condition of the nation, of the world, of civilization is being exposed, even as the corruption of the current U.S. administration is being exposed.

Thich Nhat Hanh, via Maia Duerr:

In Vietnam, there are many people, called boat people, who leave the country in small boats. Often the boats are caught in rough seas or storms, the people may panic, and boats can sink. But if even one person aboard can remain calm, lucid, knowing what to do and what not to do, he or she can help the boat survive. His or her expression – face, voice – communicates clarity and calmness, and people have trust in that person. They will listen to what he or she says. One such person can save the lives of many.

Genjo Conway:

Hearing there are bombs in the air
I vow with all beings
To breathe them into my own body
And stop these madmen before it’s too late

There’s a temptation to cling as long as possible to the appearance of normalcy. But nothing is normal, unless lies, death, toxic food, rampant murder, extreme poverty with extreme wealth, and the destruction of the living world are what you call normal. I choose not to call them normal, but pathological. The veneer of civilization is coming undone. The brutality behind it already started appearing as refugees were refused everywhere, and with the violence at Standing Rock and in Gaza, and as the appearance of a safety net is destroyed in the U.S. – enough.

April 14, 2018 pm: The arrogance of youth and health

I’m preparing to teach a class at the Northfield Buddhist Center. It’s an Introduction to Zen series, and this class is called “What’s it good for?” I actually didn’t know what I was going to say. I went looking in books. (Sure, the answer is there inside me. But it’s nice to have company, companions, and it’s nice to ask for help sometimes.)

First I found Sawaki Roshi (my Dharma great-grandfather) sayi”transform your life from a half-baked, incomplete way to a genuine way.” And some more.

Then in Living by Vow, by my own teacher, I found a bookmark that took me to his story of when he was physically unable to sit zazen. in the way he had been doing for years. He says “My previous practice had been an attempt to satisfy a need for status and benefit. I wanted to live a better life than ordinary people.” Unable to do it because of his physical condition, he became perplexed and depressed. He was stuck. Then, one day, he sat down on a cushion for no reason. “I didn’t sit because of the Buddha’s teaching. I didn’t need a reason to sit; I just sat. … Finally I felt free of my understanding…free to be myself and nothing more.”

I’m still sitting with the arrogance of youth and health. Still living, acting, practicing in that way – wouldn’t have noticed it. I won’t say that he was fortunate to have a back injury in his 20’s, and I always think that I am fortunate to be vigorous and healthy in my 60’s. But the arrogance! May I soon be free of the arrogance of youth and health.


Journal 2018-04-07

This note on what settler privilege means – yes, that includes me – and then some more good thoughts. Having settler privilege means that some combination of one’s economic security, U.S. citizenship, sense of relationship to the land, mental and physical health, cultural integrity, family values, career aspirations, and spiritual lives are not possible—literally!—without the territorial dispossession of Indigenous peoples.”

Journal 2018-04-06 John Trudell on European tribes and what happened

How to forgive myself and my ancestors for becoming the colonizers – because we were the colonized. He describes how captured people first submitted their bodies, then submitted their minds and beliefs – and then all is lost.

American Jews are harshly criticizing Israel. Finally.

“Right to exist” is questioned. Well it should be. One nomadic pastoral people, Jews, millennia ago, decided to settle down on land occupied by another pastoral people, Palestinians whatever they called them then. I believe God told them to do it. They claimed ownership of the land.

Nobody owns the land.

This is the first and fundamental mistake.

Like Europeans entering the Americas, claiming it because the inhabitants knew better than to objectify and “own” it – it’s not exactly the same but worth mentioning. The Doctrine of Discovery is closer – Christians have the right to kill and dispossess everybody else… Jews, the Chosen People, have that right.

Like Europeans enclosing the commons, so a person could not live off the land as they had done for generations, – but here it’s by race, not only by class.

May this awakening continue. May American Jews remember what Judaism really means, and may they remember that we are wanderers on the face of the earth.

And the Keystone pipeline refuses to behave properly. I thought, “Is it possible that the earth herself is rising up?”

Trees talk to each other and support each other. Forester Suzanne Simard. I look forward to the day she gets the Nobel Prize, because she already deserves it. EVERYONE IS A SENTIENT BEING!

Patagonia is suing the Trump administration for undoing monument protection for several lands. There has never been a legal case on this before. I was just encouraged. And I’ll look into buying from Patagonia, the next time I actually buy new stuff.

Journal 2018-04-05

This morning, chanting the Dai Hi Shin Dharani, I brought my mind back from wandering to give full attention to what I was doing. Making sounds that are meant to produce magical effects, which translate to words praising Avalokiteshvara, the great being of compassion.

Suddenly it became real. With full attention, it became clear that my chanting was addressing the very source of the universe, the locus of all causes and conditions. Suddenly I was certain that there is nothing else I need to do. I can’t tell you what that means, I need to find out.


Happening now in climate change:

Land care, agriculture, sentient earth, and the like.

Wetlands in reducing nitrogen pollution:

“Microbial farming”

Action – environment

Here are some groups – and approaches – that I think are effective.

  • Community Rights organizing – the explanation is right there on the website.
  • Indigenous environmental action – Standing Rock, Honor the Earth, and others. Complicated because the communities are so challenged, but the vision of a whole culture, spirituality included, defending itself against colonization and genocide – it’s inspiring. I think Standing Rock changed the nation. (My European ancestors were colonized 1000 years before the North American peoples; we’ve forgotten too much about how to live.)
  • Climate Disobedience Center has my respect. Tim deChristopher is the most famous of them. They actually do material things to interrupt environmental destruction – like turning valves on pipelines. Mostly, I think they’re committed and serious; I respect them greatly.
  • Science and Environmental Health Network, and Women’s Congress for Future Generations – I’m watching them closely and participating a little.
  • Our Children’s Trust – suing the government on behalf of their own future.
  • And of course this work, Mountains and Waters Alliance. Change culture, change consciousness, AND work together with the other conscious beings of the planet.

Those are all environmental groups. I’ve chosen to focus on climate change even though I don’t ignore the rest. I always choose to work with the cause.


Spirituality   – a new blog by Dharma sister Laurel Carrington, which includes personal reflections and some lovely explanations of Buddhist teachings.

Impermanent Sangha – retreats in nature, Ecodharma retreats.

Sanshin Zen Community – my teacher’s sangha in Indiana.


How to Live (including anthropology, archaeology, fiction, and whatnot)

Ancient communities combined farming with wild food gathering

David Abram – Alliance for Wild Ethics


“Against the Grain – A deep History of the Earliest States”

Sarahasia – Attempts to explain the origins of human violence. I was not pleased with their assumption that we all share the opinion that Muslims are particularly violent. Still interested.

Leonard Schlain – The Alphabet Versus the Goddess – neuroscientist looks at how writing contributes to human violence, including historical coincidences and discussion of brain function.

‘Hills, Valleys, and States: An Introduction to Zomia’ – James C. Scott – with an excerpt here:  Locally Reliant Living for Challenging Times:

A half-hour online TV series exploring things people are actually doing for more resilient communities.

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