Sunday, February 24, 2013

Teachers with a Capital T, Lankvatara, Practice, PERIOD.

Obligatory picture of majestic animal completely necessary- If you don't understand, you better ask somebody!

The practice period kicked up with tangaryo,Parinirvana, opening ceremonies, and I was swept away. And now, swept away again- independently studying Lankavatara, while taking Jeremy's (the Tanto) class on Genjo Koan and Fu's (the leader of the practice period) class on the three trainings. In addition, my practice leader and tea teacher is away in Japan, so tea ceremony is on hold. I've been thinking about retiring from calligraphy, also...I've put in a year, took about 6 classes, and it's fun but...not very alive for me. What is alive for me is writing, so I've been work shopping stories with an online writing community and in turn reading a lot more short fiction. Just short fiction for now. And of course, writing here.

 I'm also hanging around our Ecosattva group a lot more. I'm learning about navigating the channels of activism through legal means; I must say, Deep Green Resitance's tactics were much more entertaining, and much more convincing if you're interested in rearranging the chairs on the deck of the titanic, again. However, paying attention to how to draft a letter to our board about devesting from Bank of America is my resignation to bury my hardly used monkey wrench. I'm resigned to practice and organic farming, pushing in ways that don't create more harm, and pulling up a lawn chair to wait for the petroleum apocalypse. I wish DGR the best of luck; they continue to help me decolonize my heart/mind. 

The Lanka continues to challenge. I'm a third of the way the through. I've been taking breaks during interim and I'm not sure that's been helpful. Loosing that momentum makes it much harder to return to the study. I plan to push through after practice period until it's done. I move about 3 pages a day when I can find at least 2 hours to study. However, most pages are really,really packed with Dharma! This morning, I got to the part where the Lanka gives 4 reasons that the purification of the mind takes place in degrees, 2 reasons it happens suddenly, and 2 that are neither nor, and emphasize personal realization as the means of purification. Every time I read this sutra, I think this sutra is not what people think it is, like substantilist or "stage-driven." I also enjoyed reading Branching Streams Flow On in the Dark during the last interim, where Suzuki Roshi says that Jinshu's gradual approach is just as valid as Daikan Eno's sudden approach. It was all I could do from bursting into Tenshin Roshi's dokusan room to tell him the good news. 

On a side and more personal note, Kosho and I have ended our teacher-student relationship. I feel a little heart broken about that and a little lost as I look around here and try and find someone. Ordination, which at some point meant so much to me, seems to be shrouded with formality, possibly privilege (like why is it going to take me three to four years to take novice ordination! I just want to wear the Buddha's robe of drizzle and dew!), and I'm just feeling really aggravated with this whole one teacher model, because I'm not sure it exists. I think if we're sensitive enough, we're being taught by all teachers, all beings, throughout time and space; I sit in practice discussion with Meiya and something is transmitted, I sit with the Lanka and something is transmitted, I get on the tractor and something is transmitted! So...what are we talking about when we talk about teachers with a capital T? 

What do you think? Are these growing pains? Is this just another phase?

Deeply bowing, 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Dogen Practiced for His Mother and Aunt

Investigating what makes issues around patriarchy alive for me I found this again:

"It is not enough for us to be “good guys”. It is not enough to personally refrain from exploiting women. It is not enough for us to be personally conscientious and respectful to women. It is not enough to maintain equality in our own relationships with women. While all of those things are important, abstaining personally from outright oppressive behavior doesn’t challenge patriarchy as a system of power. Basic decency commands that we work alongside women to uproot and dismantle this entire patriarchal system– within ourselves, within our groups and communities, and within institutions and the culture at large." 

-Guidelines for Male Allies from Deep Green Resistance

The institution I am a part of is women lead; My practice leader is Meiya Wender and I am Anja for the Abbess, Linda Ruth Cutts. The Ino is Carolyn. The Tenzo is Steph. The director is Sara. The head of guest services is Anna. Head of grounds is Sukey. Fu leads this practice period. All of these great strong women inspire me to do more than be a "good guy." 

I'm speaking out for my sisters, my wife, my mothers and grandmothers, both victims of domestic violence (my grandmother was stabbed in the chest). Like Dogen practiced for his mother and aunt, I too practice for all of these women, which is to say I practice for peace, equality, awakening, and the heart of the Buddha's teaching. 

Here are some guidelines for male allies if you want to practice with me: 

1. Learn to be silent, hold back, be humble, and to listen to women’s voices. Be aware of subtle ways that you may devalue women or treat them unfairly.
2. Hear what individual women are saying. Acknowledge what they say and respond appropriately. Respect women enough to disagree with them, rather than pretending to go along with something you obviously disagree with; when you do agree, make this known.
3. We must follow the lead of women, and prioritize issues that are brought forth by women or concern women. The culture we want to move into will be women-centered: we should move in this direction ourselves. Make it a priority to have women in positions of power, and to foster new woman leaders. This includes recognizing how women leaders are objectified and silenced, and having zero tolerance for such behavior.
4. It is inappropriate for us to speak as authorities on subjects that women directly experience. As men we do not and cannot understand these experiences. If we are to speak at all on such subjects, it should only be after women or if women ask us to do so, and never from our own perspective.
5. We must challenge our own patriarchal behavior, such as patterns of silencing or devaluing women, and using patriarchal language (such as hate speech, jokes based on humiliation and degradation, and male-identified generalities e.g. ‘mankind,’ ‘manpower,’ ‘hey man’).
6. Do not use pornography or prostitution. Free your sexuality from patriarchal capitalist structures that exploit women. Be vocal in challenging the sex-exploitation industry.
7. Challenge entitlement. Women do not owe men anything, including a smile, a conversation, a hug, a relationship, or intimacy of any kind. Men do not have the right to take up space at the expense of women’s comfort or personal boundaries.
8. Challenge sexist behavior in your friends, family, associates, and political allies. End relationships with men who continue to encourage or practice sexism. We do not need permission to call out men on patriarchal behavior; it is our baseline responsibility. Calling out men in male-only spaces and groups, is a priority.
9. “Mansplaining” is not tolerated. By this we mean male speech that is arrogant, patronizing, condescending, or in some other way talks down to women or attempts to put the male speaker on a pedestal.
10. While patriarchy does hurt men in some ways, the intended target is women. Thus, while we may feel hurt by masculinity, we are not oppressed by it.
11. We must familiarize ourselves with issues affecting women, and with feminist theory and history. We should not expect to be spoon-fed a feminist understanding.
12. Within the dominant culture males are perpetrators of harassment and violence. Many women are survivors of this violence – studies estimate that nearly 1/3 of all women have been sexually assaulted or beaten by men, and many women say these numbers are low. It is not any woman’s responsibility to assume that men are safe to be around.
13. We are not here to save or rescue women. We are not here to be heroes. We are not here to be protectors of women; women can protect themselves. Our job is not to protect women, its to respect their wishes and work in solidarity with them to dismantle patriarchy. If we take on these roles against the wishes of the particular women involved in a situation, we are violating boundaries.
14. The guidelines established above represent a baseline for acceptable behavior. Following them is not exceptional, and does not merit reward. Conversely, choosing to ignore sexist behavior will be seen as an act of collaboration with the culture of male dominance.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Grave Mistakes, Monasticism, and Zen

First let me apologize (see Shitsurei Itashimasu!) for commenting on Brad Warner's practice. That's not my place. Next, let me express that I want to proceed from the ground of inquiry about obejective acts and statements toward the heart of the practioner. Let me judge no one. However, let me offer my humble and flawed feedback, as I have to say something if silence is acceptance when it's not appropriate response.

Nathan, over at Dangerous Harvests picked up on more than I wrote when I commented that Brad Warner had never done a monastic practice period. Stuck again! The self carried itself forward. Nathan took it to mean that monks are superior to lay people. I don't mean that, not ever.  I don't mean to praise self at the expense of others. But I do love this life and I do champion it. 

And I mean our practice comes from our monastic ancestor Dogen, who wrote: 

"To train constantly...requires unstinting support. The structure of the Practice Period provides such support. It is the head and face of Buddha Ancestors. It has been intimately transmitted as their skin, flesh, bones, and marrow."

A practice period is made of monastic forms. I believe that every small Zen center is practicing at least one monastic form, with or without "monks."

I said over at Dangerous Harvests, "... the term monk in my tradition is self applicable, with or without ordination, and that term is usually someone who is at Tassajara and may end when they leave Tassajara, even if they lived there for 20 years. I use the handle farmermonk carefully; it's playful for me and helpful for me to live my life. I may look like a monk, and feel like a monk, but I can't live up to the title."

And for another record, we would never get through a sesshin without our householding monks. Not only do they bring the party (financial support), most fill zendo roles, lead serving crews, and opperate with senior staff, like work leader for general labor. We say lay or monastic, but I prefer to think of the trinity of giver, reiciever, and gift. We endevor as sangha to keep the monastic forms. 

So what are monastic forms?

Is it robes? Is it incense? Is it chanting? Is it sitting? Is it celebrating Parinirvana?Almost every sangha has that or could have it in a jiff.

Zaike Tokudo and Shukke Tokudo; staying at home and attaing the way or leaving home and attaining the way. These are just titles; we have priests who wear the brown and black O'kesa who work nine to five, commuting from Green Gulch. We have monks who are so at home in the monastary, they have the red tape of bureauacracy in a baby boomer death grip. We have blue robed "lay" people who have lived here over 30 years and are in their 70s. And we have priests and lay people who have never lived here full time, but have done more practice periods than some long time residents, who are invited to be head monk, like my great friend Albert, who's a lawyer in his 50s, who has had a dedicated practice for the last 20 years and was Shuso just last fall. All of these come with or without hair.

To clarify, I don't consider people who practice monastic forms outside from monasticism, be them lay or ordained, big centered or small centered.

 I'm not considered a monk on many levels, perhaps most by my dharma brothers and sisters at Tassajara, who get up earlier, sit longer, sit colder, and sometimes get giardia together. Theres a zen history of beef about who trains harder. There's the beef between Sojiji and Eheji. And there's the beef that Nathan points at here:

"Amount of practice and location of said practice doesn't = level of enlightenment or awareness."

I disagree, but not in the sense of Green Gulch v.s Tassajara. Maybe in Dogen's sense of practice realization and who's on the teacher end of the warm hand to warm hand tradition. I'm not looking for dharma heavy weights here, like Joan Halifax Roshi. I mean someone who has trained closely, next door close, for some period of time. I mean so close you can watch how she eats, wears her robes, offers incense, talks to guests, talks to her husband, go for walks every day and receive the teaching that is beyond words. I mean to meet the teacher and be met by the teacher.

I do think it would be hard to separate Buddhism from monastic forms and maybe impossible to separate Dogen's Zen from monastic forms. These forms are empty and in being empty they are reliable vessels of Buddha Dharma. We are accountable to the forms, as we are to the teachers who transmit them. When we take the chop sticks out before the spoon, we learn something about ourselves in that moment; learning something about yourself from standards you have not set up for yourself is what I would call practicing monastic forms.

Finally, the most important thing about monastic training is the aspect of living and dying together; Lulu and I live in room 14 of Cloud Hall, and everyone knows it. We get cake as a community once a week. They hear us cry, they hear us fight, they see us in the zendo, in the fields and in the kitchen. We have teachers and practice leaders who in one moment may comfort you like a grandmother and in the next become a stone faced temple guardian of discipline. There is accountability every day and there is being met. There are less places to hide.

I ask this: Would Brad Warner benefit from the unstinting support of a practice period, so he could better transmit the skin, flesh, bones, and marrow? And how is Brad Warner doing? What is in his heart?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

I'm Just Like Brad Warner!

Accept, I don't have dharma transmission, wear a brown O'kesa, and sit on the top side of a power dynamic. My words don't have the weight of "teacher."And my wife didn't marry me because she thought I was enlightened.

Brad says in his blog that Zen teachers are like ordinary people (just like me!) and have sexual feelings. They're like your princi-pal, man. And if you consent, as a Zen student, you can have sex with him, despite what your subconscious will be doing when you have sex with an authority figure in a robe-wearing tradition.

I say robe-wearing here, because Brad has deftly dodged the trappings of religiosity, spirituality, and moral accountability, because, like, he's too damn hardcore, too damn cool for all that. It's not okay, it's not okay, it's not okay. This entitlement to sexuality drips with patriarchy.

This is like the 13th step sponsors in AA; it's like an LT seducing a corporal; it's like sleeping with your boss, and worse. Part of Brad's vows (did he take any? I have no idea) to wear the Buddha's robe was "I take refuge in the Sangha as the perfect life" and the Grave precept of not disparaging the triple treasure. It's very hard to say when someone is breaking a precept, and actually, we don't usually say anything like that; What I'm saying is this: is not okay, meaning, when I read about teachers having sex with Zen students, my stomach flips, my knee jerks, my radar goes off.

Even someone as lowly totemed as myself strives to stay beyond the world's dust. Newcomers to our Zen center can't tell the difference between my black robe and blue Rakusu and the Abbesses' black koromo and sky blue O'kesa. I'm asked if I'm a priest, I'm given starry eyes, and I think it is my duty to make sure someone is not "falling" for my getup (which is a very helpful getup, once you're around awhile- more on that later). Maybe they think I can get them on the farm crew, maybe they think I'm up for a roll in the turnip shed; I can't (over 150 applicants a year) and I won't (I'm married to Dancing Mountain!).

I've tried to comment on his blog, but his comment section is a shit flinging contest. I don't mean to fling shit; I do mean to contribute to our community discourse.

 Brad's book Hardcore Zen really helped me after I read Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, 10 years ago, thus my vested interest. And I grew up listening to Minor Threat, Gorilla Biscuits and "picking up change" at local Scranton/Wilksbarre punk/hardcore venues; Has anyone ever noticed I'm covered in tattoos? Brad, bassist in a hardcore band, Zer0DFX, was a real bridge for me, as Thich Nhat Hanh made me throw up in my mouth a little.

However, don't let your babies grow up to have heroes. What Brad keeps saying repeatedly, that it's legitimate for zen teachers to have sex with "congregants" upon consent, flies in the face of taking refuge in the Sangha. Sometimes people need support to take refuge from themselves when they activate deep habit energy, like maybe trying to seduce the Zen teacher or saying yes to the Zen teacher.

Yes does not always mean yes, in any context.

I am not like Brad Warner, but I am not separate from him, nor am I immune from the same capacity to do harm.

Monday, February 11, 2013

My Gold Streaked Shadow

From exuberance, I talk too much when I should be practicing noble silence, our form of using functional speech sparingly. What am I yammering on about? Where is it coming from? There is a dark shadow, but in that dark shadow is also a streak of gold.

I talk from, Zazen, tea ceremony, sutra study, Buddhist philosphy, activism, calligraphy, creative writing, running, hiking, yoga and I even made a damn clay tea bowl, thinking I'd do that once a month, too,

My resume is ridiculous: Mason, Carpenter's apprentice, Dog musher in Alaska, English major, Middle School Teacher, National Park Ranger, Monk. These were big ideas.

Invited to a weekly Tai-chi class, I can barely contain myself. I won't be going, but I'm white knuckling for some rest.

And I love it all. If you asked me to not have done something, I'd ignore that. If you ask me to stop some of my hobbies, my attachment balks at the lack of diversity, the boredom, the static and stale day in and day out nightmare.

What's the shadow? I call it dilettante. That word makes me cringe and want to spit hot fire. And that smoke signal of suffering lets me know it's time to pay attention: I'm actually not good at any of the above listed things. Mediocre to barely proficient, at best (and that may be too kind).

However, that may be me, and it may be okay, because I'm a happy guy. In addition, I'd like to shut up about it, because I think my friends and family may find it exhausting. I know I do.

Oh, and I'm not beating up on myself here- it's just something I noticed, something I want to be careful with. The only thing I'd like to change is how my mouth flaps like a whippoorwill's ass. The rest I'll deal with in quiet, steady, observation.

For a deep bow to my gold streak, to the talkative but personable, to the dilettante interested in life, I give you my favorite poem of all time:

What's In My Journal

William Stafford

Odd things, like a button drawer. Mean things, fishhooks, barbs in your hand. But marbles too. A genius for being agreeable. Junkyard crucifixes, voluptuous discards. Space for knicknacks, and for Alaska. Evidence to hang me, or to beatify. Clues that lead nowhere, that never connected anyway. Deliberate obfuscation, the kind that takes genius. Chasms in character. Loud omissions. Mornings that yawn above a new grave. Pages you know exist but you can't find them. Someone's terribly inevitable life story, maybe mine. 

Cheers to the geniuses of deliberate obfuscation and being agreeable. May we be generous and compassionate with our gold streaked shadows. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Humble, But Not A Doormat

D.T Suzuki's Dharma name, Daisetsu,  means "Great Humility." I just had to say something, as I read in a blog that had to say something. I invite any feedback for my response, as I'm trying to refine humility from doormat, and expression from aggression (even assertion), practice right blogging, and connect with our huge sangha of way seeking minds.

Oh, and I like this blog, Original Mind, very much! Very worthwhile practice to surround yourself with so many people you respect, and then disagree with, even when you don't want to.

 Of course, I maybe wrong; who isn't when perception is deception?

Dear Doshin,

I respectfully disagree.

 I'd like to address this statement: "Part of this, at least in the Zen community, is attributable to D.T. Suzuki and his mythologizing Zen and Japanese culture."

First, my experience with D.T Suzuki is a very no-nonsense approach to dharma, delving into and translating sutras like the Lankavatara which hadn't been touched by anyone -Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tibetian, in hundreds of years. His explications of texts often travel over several centuries, several languages, hundreds of miles of dirt and myth, pointedly the questionable 18th century transliterated Sanskrit versions of Chinese origin.  This is my perception of D.T's work, who markedly never ordained, despite the bulk of ordained scholars working by his side at Otani University, Living married, parallel lives, filling their coffers (not to mention the Soto-shu and Rinzai-shu coffers) with Sangha money, while D.T survived as just a scholar, lecturer, and professor.

And Allen Watts is unknown to me, accept I put on a tyvek suit, clear the trail to his grave of poison oak, and neatly arrange the liquor on his huge granite rock that came from Tassajara. The place is intimate, hidden, and less visited than I expect it to be. But I feel a kinship on our behalf; maybe I should read one of his books.

This is important to me. The comment above mine says, "Right on, brother!" I'm saying to you, "Maybe not always so, brother!" as we wear the Buddha's robe together (mine is lay, and blue,and small, but I am no householder and also, of no rank).

This is important to me because D.T went out of his way to not mystify western Buddhists; He was raised Jodo Shinshu, and lectured on it in Japan, but refrained from doing so in the west, as he felt it was too esoteric and that Zen was more appropriate, though he said it was the, "most remarkable development of Mahayana Buddhism ever achieved in East Asia"

Finally, my frustration is that we are not Japanese enough when Japanese people come here and see our very clean, spartan, and naturally wood grained statures, floors, walls in our zendo/Buddha hall, where we do nine prostrations instead of three by request of our founder (who was Japanese, but the practice is our practice, which is not Japanese).

I wish I could show you my wool v-neck sweater and black long johns under my Juban and Kimono (Japanese), Sitting robe (Chinese) and 5 paneled kayasa (the Indian, small, Buddha's robe). All but the sweater and long Johns were worn in Japan, and that is our contribution to the tradition of about 800 years of "Japanese" practice (where the first 400 years, most sutras were recorded in Chinese, and in China, they worked hard to produce/locate Indian sanskrit and poly versions).

My question is what stereotypes does cultural appropriation rely on: If we seem Japanese, wouldn't that require Japanese to be something other than what it really is, which is empty, which is a compassionate understanding that Japanese is completely free from whatever we think it is, and so are you, and so am I.

Bowing the best I can,


Oh Bodhisattva-Mahasattvas, Concentrate On Her!

My beautiful wife, Lauren, will receive Jukai, a new Dharma name, and the 16 Bodhisattva Precepts today. 

This poem is dedicated to her and to the Buddha's robe, which she has sewn herself and will wear herself. 


First paint a cagewith an open door
then paint
something pretty
something simple
something beautiful
something useful
for the bird
then place the canvas against a tree
in a garden
in a wood
or in a forest
hide behind the tree
without speaking
without moving...
Sometimes the bird comes quickly
but he can just as well spend long years
before deciding
Don't get discouraged
wait years if necessary
the swiftness or slowness of the coming
of the bird having no rapport
with the success of the picture
When the bird comes
if he comes
observe the most profound silence
wait till the bird enters the cage
and when he has entered
gently close the door with a brush
paint out all the bars one by one
taking care not to touch any of the feathers of the bird
Then paint the portrait of the tree
choosing the most beautiful of its branches
for the bird
paint also the green foliage and the wind's freshness
the dust of the sun
and the noise of insects in the summer heat
and then wait for the bird to decide to sing
If the bird doesn't sing
it's a bad sign
a sign that the painting is bad
but if he sings it's a good sign
a sign that you can sign
so then so gently you pull out
one of the feathers of the bird
and you write yours name in a corner of the picture

- Jacques Prevert, translated by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Friday, February 8, 2013

Non Celibate Married Monks Wake Up! (early)

We have a flock of farm apprentice applicants visiting and one said, "It's not like there are real monks here...I mean, you're not celibate y'all just wear robes for sitting and ceremonies."

Well, in the above picture it's real early in the morning and this real married couple (technically not monks, but wear robes and live above a 60+ real person temple) is making real pancakes and is also real tired. 

I wonder what people think us non celibate monks are doing in our bedrooms that some celibate monk isn't doing with their own damn hand or with a nightly emission; I wonder what they think house holding married couples are doing; I wonder if they know how exhausting a single person's bedroom can be, how rife with pain.

Excitement...adventure, I know, we shouldn't crave these things. Mostly Lulu and I are too tired anyway. 

I'll be honest, I want a gold star. I envy the single monks here. Sometimes Lulu and I argue (gasp!) into the night and when that 4 am wake up bell comes around, off we go to sit and chant for the first two and half hours of the day. This year, we stayed to support the temple for Thanksgiving and New Years and I worked over 24 hours straight and no one actually noticed, pulling their own hard shift. And at the end of a day of community life, our refuge and room is a shared space; she may want to knit and I might want to do yoga, or she wants to do yoga and I want to fling calligraphy ink. We take a lot of deep breaths. We laugh a lot. 

After living here for a year, we've never been closer. There is no where to hide, so you stop hiding.

Of course, loneliness takes its toll, too. I'm not saying our way is the hard way, but it is a life full of practice opportunities (or as we sometimes say, A.F.P.O- another fucking practice opportunity). Right before I got married, my celibate teacher said, "Austin, whatever you choose, you choose your own suffering!"

My request: Don't be fooled by our forms. Why argue about who's finger points best at the moon? 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

One Continuous Mistake

First, so sorry about my polarizing posts, like the one below, where I speak from emotion and not generosity, tranquility, or anything nice. Katagiri Roshi said you have to say something, but did I have to say it like that? Sometimes I'm rabid. Shitsurei Itashimasu!

Second, I haven't felt like keeping up this blog. How much has been useful, timely, beneficial, true, and an improvement on the silence or the blank page? I don't know. But it's been a couple of years, and I don't feel like quitting, dare I risk the title of dilettante, again.

Third, the fucking honeymoon is over for me and my zen practice. Hard questions have arisen. Kosho and I have parted ways and my ordination is suspended, sort of, in that there is no one who has agreed to ordain me at the moment. Kosho and I parted ways on very satisfactory, very grateful terms, and I miss him very much; I just don't think I'll be going back to the south any time soon. He gave his blessings and said, "see it through." We will keep in touch.

Meanwhile, the farm comes alive. Little cotyledons poke through soil in the green house, cover crop grows tall in the field. We built a low tunnel and tried to get a jump on the season with some lettuce. The skies are clear, the clouds feathered from mountain to sea. You can hear the waves late at night half a mile away (that's no hyperbole!).

Meanwhile, I'm curious, walking with this lack of faith, staying close to my questions, believing no answer. The schedule of the January intensive ground my bones to dust, and I find myself under the weather, morose with enthusiasm for work and Zazen. I've been reading a lot, feeling creative. Lauren, my wife, is amazingly gentle and supportive. She's doing quite well in the kitchen and is only 9 days away from Jukai, a huge step for her.

So with a beginner's mind, with a is-that-so-mind, with an-only-don't-know-mind, I proceed. Sometimes sunfaced, sometimes moonfaced.