Thursday, August 30, 2012

Dream Conversations

This old teacher is one of my new inspirations! Muso Soseki, or Muso Kokushi (an honorific title) died in 1351 and left behind a legacy of Rinzai Zen, political influence, calligraphy, and gardens.

In one of his collections of writing, he lists common misconceptions:

There are a number of common misconceptions about Buddhism and what it teaches. Summarized as follows they may generally be found wherever word of Buddhism has been heard:

1. The pure land and the defiled land, or paradise and the mundane world are separate; delusion and enlightenment, ordinary people and sages are not the same.

2. There is no difference between sages and ordinary people, no distinction between the pure and defiled.

3. In Buddhist teaching there are distinctions such as greater and lesser, temporary and true, exoteric and esoteric, meditation and doctrinal study.

4. Buddhist teachings are completely equal, non better than another in any way.

5. All activity and perception is itself Buddhism.

6. Buddhism exists apart from all activities.

7. All things really exist.

8.All things are impermanent.

9. All things are either eternal or pass away entirely.

10. All things illusory and empty, or they are in between existence and non existence.

11. There is no truth outside doctrine.

12. There is a truth outside doctrine that is better than doctrine.

All of these represent statements that are to be found in Buddhist views. All of them are partial views that are used for temporary purposes. When are held as fixed views or sacred dogma, therefore, they turn into misconceptions. In order to understand the Zen frame of the mind, it is necessary to suspend fixation on such views or vacillation between them.

Ancient Dharma Beast!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Zen Center Racism: For My Mother

Tova Green gave a Dharma talk on Sunday that addressed the issues that Sistah Vegan brought up in her blog:

Yes, overall I really enjoyed the event last night. Great celebration and memories of the Zen center’s past 50 years. Green Gulch Zen Center is beautiful and I have developed amazing relationships there, so I thank the co-founders for making these sites possible. I deeply appreciate what I have learned from Zen Buddhism and the practice’s impact on how I constantly try to be mindful and compassionate– including how I try to teach largely white racialized subjects about systemic whiteness and structural racism. But I have to admit that I am quite disappointed in the mistake of seeing Simone as Angela Davis because that ‘mistake’ potentially represents an overall problem of recognizing the impact of a homogenous Zen fellowship: what does racial homogeneity do to the collective white racialized subject’s consciousness if they participate in a mostly white (and quite financially stable) Buddhist fellowship in a nation in which whiteness is privileged? I actually wish that white dominated Buddhist fellowships would add a rule that everyone has to participate in ‘mindfulness whiteness ‘ sesshins. It would be great if an added tenet to Buddhism, for such congregations, could be, “We shall learn about how structural racism and whiteness impact our Zen practice. We shall be open and loving to transforming ourselves and not become angry as we learn about how white racial formation has deeply affected our Zen hearts.”

I sat there in the midst of the usual crowd; predominately white women of middle to upper crust. Tova encouraged us to acknowledge our white privilege and I almost threw up in my mouth. My mother is not white and doesn't identify as white, and when they start making movies about Sicilian people that don't reduce us to My Cousin Vinny or prison gaurds (City Island) or mobsters, maybe we will feel white, not that'd we want to, as we like our sopressato and pickled fish. 

Maybe I'd feel more white if I'd been encouraged to go to college, instead of join the military or learn a trade. Maybe I'd feel more white if people would stop correcting my English, mostly honed in North Eastern Pennsylvania, outside of Scranton, a city of industrial decline. 

And this is why we don't want to look at our white spaces: because our cultural identities are complex, but here are some truths: 

I don't get pulled over no reason, but one of my friends often did. He walked to avoid this, where I didn't have to think twice. 

I could rent an apartment anywhere in New Orleans. 

I didn't grow up in a project (though WIC filled our bottles with formula and cupboard with peanut butter).

So this post is for my mother, who's never gone to college, and has worked hard as a nurse's assistant for 11 dollars an hour, until she was injured on the job, who's been called racial slurs in the same high school I went to, the same place where my sister was called a "Pie Face."  This is for my Great Uncle Tony Provinzano, last man seen with Jimmy Hoffa, who died in prison serving a life sentence. Why did he do it? For greed, sure, but also so some Sicilians could get a job. 

This doesn't make me a person of color, but it might make me a good ally. I recognize that there are Sicilian parts in movies that we pass for dark and mysterious, with no mention of our ethnicity, where that's not as possible for a black or Asian person. 

However, my mother would be more comfortable sitting on our porch back at Mid City Zen in New Orleans, smoking cigarettes and talking with our black neighbors than she would amongst the crowd we draw here at Green Gulch. Why? Because something about Zen Center is gratifying the upper middle white class. 

Speculations are dangerous, I think, as many students who have been discussing the talk are finding. What are the identifiable signs white-ness here at Green Gulch? For one, our leaderships is entirely white. For two, we are not donation based when it comes to many programs and we like expensive to-dos, like the Field to Farm dinner that's selling plates for 150 dollars each. This also makes me want to throw up in my mouth; Neither my mother or father could afford this dinner. This is why John Jevons accuses us of growing Yuppie Chow.

But in the last 7 months residence here, I've seen at least two people of color drop out early from our guest student stay; one was an Army veteran and another a young man. And the guest student stay is affordable, only 20 dollars a night. What I suspect is there is an underlying inherent racism that comes through in a politically correct, but subtly  toxic way on the part of our residents who don't mean  to mis-recognize Nina Simone. 

My wife was on board with this motion to address our institutional racism right away, and I'm still struggling to show up for it. I didn't come here to change things, I love this place, and I'd be very happy to ignore the spinning world in exchange for tea ceremony, dharma study, calligraphy, and organic farming. But, it's from this love that I wish other could experience it freely, and right now, they can't.
I think this inherent racism needs to be addressed culture wide at Zen Center if we hope offer a legitimate path to liberation, for ourselves, as much as others, because this snare is of the greed, hate, and delusion variety. 

* Thanks to Nathan at Dangerous Harvests- I stole your links!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Not by my hand! 

Enter great doubt, as I sit in my first ever Sumi-e class, cost 45 dollars. Michael Hofmann, the artist who painted our Tea house Fusuma (rice paper doors), taught the class. 

As I learned how to paint each leaf, I started calculating: Each day, about 40 cents of income. Each stroke, about 5 cents (a 3 hour class for 45 dollars), max earning potential as a Zen priest in 6 to 9 years, maybe 600 a month, past earning potential about 50,000 a year, and the cost of a baby someday? I have no idea. 

This is what I call "Money-Meditation." It's about as much fun as "How-many-hours-of-sleep-did-I-get-last-night?-meditation" or the "Am-I-actually-loosing-my-teeth?-meditation."

I only know one answer to great doubt: Do nothing, drink boiled water, and sit Zazen. This demi-god of Mara is like the T-Rex- the more you move, the more it will chase you. 

Only took 6-months: Noted, thank you very much. 

So, I have great doubt about my path a Zen priest, and I avow to do absolutely nothing about it and follow the way right before me, which is wake up, sit, work, eat, work, sit, study, relax, relax, relax into every moment. 

Crazy huh? But I've been here before. You wouldn't have to dig to deep into this blog to see that. 

Dragons and elephants, bring me your illusions! 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Satori is Just Doing, I Think.

I can still feel the rattle in my wrists from pitching stone all day. Some may not know, but I became a laborer and mason's apprentice when I was 15 years old. I used to get picked up in a big ol truck at the end of our muddy dirt road in rural Pennsylvania, and off I'd go to brick, concrete block, stone, and concrete floor jobs.

I just got done reading The Peaceful Warrior, which was assigned reading after I confessed to a recent bout of rage I released upon litterers in our valley. Maybe someday I'll tell that foaming-at-the-mouth-story, but right now I'd like to not criticize the book and just bring up some points I see virtue in.

But I give this book a 4 out of 10. It would be a 3, but it was easy to read, so, bonus point.

I should mention my teacher LOVES this book.

Let me try and see the virtue here:

At one point, it's said, that what we have when we are full engaged in physical activity is Satori. I'm not sure what Satori is, but I know that when I am fully engaged in physical activity, the babbling mind stream runs to a trickle, if it doesn't completely stop.

I was not such a physical person until I started working with my hands. Actually, I was pretty overweight; I played Dungeons and Dragons, read fantasy fiction books, and chatted online as a young teen. I didn't start working until a guidance counselor, looking at my below average grades, offered military or vocational training. I opted for masonry.

I'll never forget my first weekend on the job, and meeting Ezeko, the first Zen master I ever met. Ezeko was about 72 at the time, and is still working everyday to this day. That puts him at about a 85. Two things about Ezeko:

1. I've never heard him complain.
2. I've never heard him say anything about anyone else.

For 7 years, he taught me how to use a hammer and chisel and a trowel. The rest of those guys taught me how to carry 130 pounds of concrete blocks up and down, up and down, up and down, while my skin turned walnut brown and I learned all the words to Johnny Cash, Wille Nelson, Frankie Lane, Tex Ritter, and, for some reason, Harry Belefonte.

Carrying block after block, I disappeared. Using the saw, I disappeared. And making that chisel sing, I disappeared.

For the first time in my life, and for the rest of my life, I felt my body. When I was teaching, it felt trapped; farming, I couldn't be happier, and that's the catch: Satori is worthless if we can't cultivate it in our most ordinary moments.

As a result, some people have a strong case against me for being a work-a-holic. I'm probably guilty of that. It's not so good.

Also as a result, I feel challenged to stay in my body, which means to let the body and mind act as one, in more ordinary situations. I have failed at this about 95% of the time! Not Kidding!

So, I am here. Very happy in the Green Dragon temple, ordination on the horizon. But I know I have to return to really push through. No prediction of when, but I promise I will.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

In a Pond Without a Paddle

Who has two thumbs and was stuck in the pond, holding a severed air line and gasping as his paddle fell out of the boat while said airline snapped off the pond aerator?

Same one who has two thumbs and is typing this.

Serious jackass, or humorous fool seem to be my only choices, really.

Epic scene- We set out to harvest pond weeds. I lent my PVC coated bibs to another farmer so she could clean out some seedling flats, and I scrounged up a pair of one-legged Hally Hansons, missing-suspenders-replaced-by-weedwhacker-line (which broke about the same time the air line snapped). We'd only been harvesting for 45 minutes by quitting time, and I really wanted to stay, and another farmer really didn't, and I asked him to scurry up the bank through a thicket of black berry brambles, so I didn't have to ferry him to the dock on the other side and could continue to launch my 16 foot weighted weed rake out into the depths and pull in some sweet green nitrogen for our compost pile. He said I was a lunatic. I felt my father's marine voice well up inside me, something about this farmer not packing the gear to serve in this beloved temple, but resisted airing that ancient twisted karma and carted his land loving ass to the other side, and set off alone, indignant and self righteous..

As I reached the other shore (of delusion) I became aware of a misstep in my action and way of thinking, but having received the instructions from my teacher to investigate WHO I AM NOW, I proceeded with a spirit of baring witness.

I tied off to my favorite tree trunk. I launched my rake. There was about 70 pounds of pond weeds on the other end. I braced myself and pulled. My vessel started to float to the middle of the pond. Someone untied the rope from the raft and it wasn't me.

Stubbornly, I poled back to my favorite tree trunk, retied an awesome knot to the raft (learned while dog mushing in Alaska) and an even more awesome knot around the trunk, ensuring I would not budge.

To investigate this self, I asked, "are you happy right now?" and the answer was "Fuck off."

Note, this self is lashing out irrationally.

Note, this self is commenting on itself and might catch a swift kick to the teeth if this doesn't stop diagnosing this self.

The farm manager came by and asked where the crew was. I said they went down to the alter to bow out. He asked if I minded moving an aerator to the back of the pond where green scum had accumulated. Eager to work off some of the fire in my soul, I said sure!

I moved one aerator, and the air line wasn't long enough, so I picked another one. Anger fueled my every move.

Wasn't long before I lifted the irrigation pump's intake out of the water and could hear the pump grinding away, sucking in air. Not good. The sprinklers in the field went mysteriously dry, said an irrigator, and I replied, "Yeah, I know something about that."

A few minutes latter, an aerator in the boat as I trucked to the back of the pond and, snap, the small PVC nipple gave out and I had an air hose go wild in the boat. I grabbed it, and while my hands grabbed the hose, they let go of the paddle.

So, there I sat, an air hose spewing air, and my paddle floating five feet away.

I sat there in silence for about 10 minutes. My mind was completely still, actually. There was nothing left. Eventually, a farmer came along and got me my paddle.

The farm manager found me hauling the weed harvest in, saw the broken aerator, and couldn't hold back his laughter.

I chose humorous fool.

Just amazing.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Blogger Says Choose An Identity

Rather unannounced, Ariel Pork, the pigasus, disappeared, and Go Cloud, Run Water! and the farmer monk stepped forward. I'm not sure my old friends will find me; I think they'll be okay. It was time to change.

I've been blogging for about 9 years now! I started around the same time I began Zen practice, roughly in my sophomore year. For the intrepid reader, go here to see So Much For The Afterlife.

Another transformation, causes and conditions, but this Go Cloud, Run Water! is not Ariel Pork and Ariel Pork is not So Much For The Afterlife. Transformation implies too intimate a relationship, when all there is a relation between these blogs.

Go Cloud, Run Water! comes by way of a friend, Heather, who came by this phrase in a calligraphy class. Unsui, wandering zen monk, translates to "clouds and water."

My intentions for Go Cloud, Run Water! are:

1. To continue to chronicle my practice life, (my life?) through "journaling" in a transparent medium. 

2. To engage topics in a spirit of inquiry.

3. To create, find, and foster a community of discourse between Buddhist practice bloggers of all walks. 

I'd like to apologize ahead a time for missteps like: 

1. Engaging in arguments. 

2. Presenting misinformation.

3. Presenting views as solid, concrete, absolutely figured out. (See example here)

So, onward! And for good measure, a poem, by Chia Tao, that drop of water, that fluff of cloud stuff:

For A Buddhist Monk

In a tangle of mountains,
in autumn trees, a cave-
hidden within,
a magic dragon pearl.

Poplar and cassia
overlook a blue sea;
rare fragrances waft
from a stone pagoda.

A monk since youth.
you still have no white hair;
you enter upon meditation,
in a frost streaked robe.

Here there is no talk
of the world's affairs-
those matters that make
wild the hearts of men. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Farming and Tea and Calligraphy

Some people have great complaints about Green Gulch. They're not incorrect. However, there is a lot to participate in here that people who complain about Green Gulch didn't actually participate in.

Aside from two Dharma talks and three Buddhism classes a week, 3 periods of meditation and two ceremonies everyday, and weekly roles, like chiden, tenken, or shoten, and monthly one day sits or workshops on everything from bee keeping to photography, or haiku or calligraphy, two yearly sesshins, practice periods, and tea ceremony events like a kaiseki or chaji, I find enough here to stay busy and motivated.

Not to mention a library with about 600 or so books I've never read.

Not to mention some senior Dharma teachers and seasoned priests to have practice discussion with, and traveling Dharma teachers passing through.

One close friend dared me to be happy here for more than two years. He lived here for several, so he's got a longer view than I do, but I can't help but think a poor attitude like that would make a person not like it here.

Everyone likes to talk about Tassajara and how much better it is than Green Gulch. Frankly, it makes me vomit in my mouth a little. I'm not buying it. I'm going in the winter, because that's the plan and path to ordination, but I'm not going because I think it will be better. Why? That's how I ended up here, thinking that some place was better than the place I was in. And just about every week, I miss Mid City Zen, our little Zendo, our little Sangha, its growth, and its sincere, almost pure way seeking mind, its beginning beginner's mind.

And there some things that bug me about Green Gulch, for sure, but I won't list them here. Let a person find out for themselves what their mind decides to attach preference to. For now, I'll abide, and point out three things that will keep me here for a while.


Learn about birth and death right here!

Tea Ceremony:

Sit in seiza until your knees explode in here! Also, enjoy the calligraphy, flowers, sweets, tea, and pottery, while in near death pain. 


Don't know what it says? No worries, neither do native Japanese or Chinese- it's hentaigana, older than dirt cursive, like reading a letter from your Grandparents. 

So, no disrespect to the disrespect, but there's a lot to love and hate wherever we go. Let's not offend or, whoops, defend! 

Friday, August 3, 2012

On Hate

This Italian Zen priest said,

"Leave the gun, take the cannoli."

Sounds good.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


Yesterday, I think I sat my worst period of Zazen ever. My legs wouldn't stay where I wanted them, I was so, so tired, my back slumped and my hands just held each other. I completely gave up.

Later, in the fields, I felt so relaxed. One farmer said, "I've never seen you work so leisurely." And I checked in, and since giving up, I felt really, really at ease. 

It was only a couple of moments before that "at ease" felt like something heavy to carry, and I had to drop it so I could pick up a wrench and free an irrigation snafu. 

So, enlightenment seems like such a heavy, silly word. To have enlightenment is to have one more thing to be free from. Sometimes Kosho Zenrei says don't get stuck. I think I read about a fish escaping a basket. I think practice-enlightenment is this fish escaping, over and over and over again. I am both the fish and the basket, since we create the basket, by thinking, "Oh I'm at ease" I create a basket of being at ease, and if I'm not careful, I'll keep reinforcing that basket until it's made of concrete and barbed wire.  

What's your experience?