Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Six Tusks, Side Born, Clean As a Whistle

Earthday ceremony on Sunday morning: Chanted the Loving Kindness Sutra and The Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo for protecting the life of our planet. Listed all of the endangered species (from plants to fish) too.

Later, in an overview class of Buddhism, we hear the stories- six tusked white elephant enters the womb, baby falls out of the side of his mother, clean and undefiled, never hits the ground, takes the seven steps, declares who he is.

Later, someone says, " I really liked this morning's ceremony- so real- chanting the names of endangered species. But then we get this stupid story. I guess all religions have this silly stuff."

I say, "I'm open to six tusked elephants and these stories. If this is conscious construction only, maybe consciousness was different in the Axial age, so projections were different. Buddha sees Buddha- if Buddha doesn't see Buddha, then maybe it is silly stuff."

She says, "Yeah, except when these stories support misogyny and patriarchy."

I say, "I don't think the stories are complete. We need more stories like Subu, who tore her eye out, only to have it grow back. We need more stories about the complete Sangha."

She gets teary eyed, I'm frustrated, because I mean I am open to eye balls growing back, not patriarchy. I'm open to milk squirting to the sky from the neck of Shi Shi Bodai.

And I question the complete enlightenment of the Buddha who refused Mahapajapati's request to ordain...either he wasn't complete, or men, who kept the stories, got it wrong. I think the latter is more true.

But what's really frustrating is that I don't feel like it's the same topic. What I want to talk about is Buddhism being a radical view of "reality." This isn't a refuge belief or disbelief, but the fertile ground of open hearted radical acceptance. I want to talk about the possibility of milk-blood.

A six tusked white elephant is a lot easier to see than the nature of emptiness or the nature of mind only!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

"Just make sure you're not sedating Van Gogh."-Dalai Grandma

A response to Dalai Grandma's most recent post on Vincent Van Gogh:

They tried to medicate me, too. I was 8 yrs old. I don't talk about it much. Held me back in kindergarten, and I failed 4th and 8th grade, but they said hey- military or construction? And filed us off to various little alcove rooms where kids with severe "issues" were kept.

Then I snuck into college, plopped into teaching, and was asked to do the same thing to little kids a lot like me. In 4 years, I never sent any student outside of my classroom. Some left on their own accord, kicking and screaming, but most settled. It was beautiful.

This came up yesterday in our crew meeting. We had to write something that no one would ever guess about us: I was held back in kindergarten, I failed 4th grade with Mrs. Sexton, and I failed 8th grade English with Mrs. Answeeni. They didn't hold me back because I was already in sped classes, so who cared?

Is this what is called a past life? Feels remote, feels like a dream. I used to be embarrassed, and then as a teacher I saw how quickly those decisions about students are made- maybe you don't know-but it's only seconds, between classes, maybe on a 5 minute lunch break. They ask you to initial papers, and they some kid's path is altered while his parents are asleep at the wheel.

Thank god for books and trees and concrete blocks and zazen- these things let me know I wasn't retarded.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Turning and Tilthing

Farmer monk

salt of Dogen's Zen

coyote howling heart

frog leaping mind

cut by scythe

turn by spade

rust with the tractor

and trading skin for dirt

become earth again

Eat fast, shit fast,sleep fast. The farm is a good ways from the zendo, kitchen, and restroom. Time is a little more precious and your gear needs to be good to go by the time work meeting is over. Boots and new socks need to be accessible. Rain gear should be on your back or within reach. Hands should be ready to push, pull, lift, tear, and the non dominant hand needs to catch up. Train the wild elephant!

Yesterday, in clear weather, we planted a Bok Choy bed. In about 3 weeks, We'll turn it over and plant it again. Before this, we built on a compost mound- 200 gallons of food, some rotting, some from yesterday, collected from Green Gulch and City Center. First, straw- then food, then green cover crop. Each layer spreads out like lasagna- and you get to see what you ate- bright purple beets, gritty yellow polenta, creamy oatmeal, swamp green chard soup- and hey-City Center sure does get a lot of bananas! Then wash the buckets- 50 of them- and get them back to the kitchens.

Our crew is pure heart- just wonderful people headed in who knows how many directions-and it's inspiring to remember there are people like that out in the world who want to grow food, and maybe practice Zen (formally). There might be people like that inside of everyone.

About 3 months into my work here at Green Gulch and it's a dream. Maybe I found the thing I'm supposed to be doing, maybe I think this because there is no hesitation in my body, even when my mind is rebelling (which is about 3 out of 5 times I'm given an order).

Wind on the face, sunshine and water- what could be better?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Opps, I ate some bone meal!

I've been transitioning to the farm since Wednesday. I've left the beautiful guest house, where I tiptoed barefoot, folding delicate hospital corners on beds and delivering warm bread to Green Gulch's guests. Now, aesthetics are out the window! Our farm manager pointed this out from the ridge, where we stood at our first reservoir; the garden has neat, beautiful beds. We don't.

We cultivate approximately 10 acres of the 110 that houses G.G. We use a biodynamic/French intensive approach, which means planting close hexagonal patterns and using a lot of organic material for our soil ( 1/16 of the definition). Soil composition is our first objective! We don't use petro-chemicals and look to plant cover crops and use symbiotic relationships with bacteria and other organisms to lock nutrients into "bodies" and therefore stabilize those nutrients so they doesn't wash away. This looks like planting a cover crop of legumes, which pull in atmospheric nitrogen, and feed that nitrogen to bacteria on the roots, which then excrete nitrates into our soil. We're working toward a looped system of agriculture, one that won't require us to import nutrients for our land, like kelp or bone meal.

Our farm manager is amazing. Mother, wife, recent Shuso- She has a wealth of knowledge about farming, Zen, and life! She's direct, thorough, and has a sense of humor. I think that's what I like best about being here- I'm surrounded by these amazing people with extensive past lives- sports medicine doctors, Hungarian merchant marine captains, psychologists, musicians, artists- and all of us strive to live upright, side by side, filing into the Zendo every morning, under the watchful eye of the Ino, who reminds me of a mountain lion. Beautiful, but I'm not sure I want to do practice discussion with a mountain lion that is Ino...that's a protective mountain lion.

There are all kinds of silly mistakes to be made. The stories are oral, so I won't write them all here. But one unfortunate apprentice ate a hemlock carrot. Another set the field on fire while sneaking a smoke break. Me? I was thinning baby plants, found a lettuce out of place, and popped it in my mouth, breaking my vegetarian vow with big clump of bone meal!

Tasted like a fried fish eye. Not too bad.

Monday, April 9, 2012

In other news...

I have a great new practice leader:

My first teacher wrote me a letter and we're reconnecting after 2 years of silence.

Tomorrow, I get to spend the day with my teacher:

I'm helping sew my teacher's Mountain Seat Kesa

I love my five fingers.

Farm season starts on Wednesday (This is our lower field)

My Hair is getting long. By the time I ordain, Pocahontas pigtails.

Practice period is over. No more Oryoki:

Today is the Shuso Ceremony for my long time friend, inspiration, and officiating priest, Reirin:

"Father, mother, forever you wrestle inside me."

Master Sergeant James Edward Keith

Patricia Ann Provenzano

She's strong, olive skinned, waves of black hair. He's upright, Semper Fi, high and tight, green camouflaged.

We sat in front of the fire for a very long time in silence. Her hands, folded neatly in the universal mudra, started to fade into her black robes as the sun went down. This silence was so loud!

Bird, frogs, the bonsho bell, the han, the fire, feet scurrying to Zazen, and we were already sitting, facing each other, just me and one more person willing to dedicate her whole heart to this practice, giving freely. After about twenty minutes, I ask, is it possible to improve this silence? What is timely, beneficial, and true?

She smiled, and said, "Well, coming from an introvert with an affinity for the 15th century, no, we don't have to say anything, we can just sit here."

I wanted to know about our stories; what do we do with them, how is practice benefited by investigating or releasing whatever concepts spring up, sprouting to full blown words, blooming into full blown stories, and inevitably going to seed, guaranteeing their return?

I wanted to know how to stop the stories If I wanted to. I told her my perspective on this from my studies with Kokyo and the Lankavatara. I'll try and explain that here in 4 lines.:

1. Consciousness is 8 parts, the first 5 are your senses, the 6th your concepts, the 7th your story, the 8th is the store house(Alaya Vijana).

2. It works like this:
Something apparently arises, you sense it, it hurts (1-5).
You look down and see an arrow in your chest and, ouch, I have an arrow in my chest (6)
You think, "I'm always getting hit by arrows!" (7)
You have story.I'm in pain because I'm a person that gets hit by arrows, this is why I fail (8)

3. In the Lankavatara, the Buddha says, it's this 6th consciousness that starts samsara.

So, on a Saturday night, I'm facing the teacher, and I want to know, what came first, the tears or the story about horse slaughter, beating dogs, and other things I did while in Alaska.

And stories about my father and suffering he endured.

And then the story about my mafioso grandfather who stabbed my grandmother.

And then the story of we're doomed, because our karma is a violent karma (this was my great uncle.)

In the movie Tree of Life, there's a voice over during a scene where children play, father comes home from work, mother wanders through the trees, and it says, "Father, mother, forever you wrestle inside me."

Does that get anyone else too? Does anyone else have beautifully complex parents? Intricate, fascinating, parents?

I think Karma and Alaya Vijana might be more complex and comprehensive, like you actually have the entire world, Gandhi in the right corner, Hitler in the left, wrestling inside you.

Wisdom beyond wisdom, she was kind, gentle, and firm. "You're not going to stab anyone, because to stab someone is to stab the Buddha, is to stab yourself. There are two schools around here: one that says we can drop our stories, the other that say that will never happen, so we can change them, and should. But, thinking is what we do when we want to get away from feeling. That's what our stories are doing. If you want to be present with your what arises, practice tonglen."

I've not studied much about tonglen, but here she simply said to breathe in whatever arises- anger, greed, sadness, and breathe out compassion.

Compassion: what the hell does this mean? Just to wish self and others to be free of the occupier.

This has helped in the past few days as the open box of karma (ripped open by sesshin?) seems to be dumped on my lap. What's interesting is to engage pleasant feelings with pleasant concepts and stories coming up (from the Lankavatara, this too is a trap-this too will plant seeds).

For example, working in the kitchen in close proximity to others, I'd want to speak, which is not something we do during work practice. If you have something important to say, you say it, and if you have something very important to say, you ask someone to step to the side or catch them later. So I'm talking about words like, "Hey, do you like neutral milk hotel? I'm a king of carrot flowers!" too.

What makes me want to say a silly thing like that? Happiness, actually. Sometimes love. What a thing to do, breathe in love, breathe out compassion. This feels powerfully changing.

There's also a lot of frustrated and anxious energy in the kitchen, too. It was very helpful to recognize that's what was going on and breathe out compassion.

This is a lot, and this is all. Thank you for checking in. Sorry for the delay.

Saturday, April 7, 2012


Wake up at 3:10 am.

Sew. Make coffee.

Sit at 4:45 am.

Sing refuges, drink hot rice drink, sleep at 9pm.

Eat rice and use the bathroom with great vitality.

This is the courage of a Zen monk.