Saturday, March 30, 2013

Brad Warner Says We're Beholden

Just ask Brad Warner, he'll tell you.

Here I go again. And yes, I will.

Brad wants to talk about zen center's abbots. Yet he admits he doesn't really know how the abbots are chosen, he pretends to know our problems.

Brad says, "The other more serious problem with the SFZC solution is that it makes the abbots beholden to what Marx called the “tyranny of the majority

He goes on to insinuate that our teachers are "forced to act and speak according to the wishes of the majority of her students, she becomes unable to speak the truth as she sees it and the teaching suffers." He might say he didn't mean to say that about SFZC and he was applying it broadly, but this quote follows the previous quote in the following paragraph. 

Why am I bothering to say anything? Because he doesn't know what he's talking about. He's never been anything but a guest student at SFZC. He is not qualified to make the above statements. 

Here's what I know: I'm anja to our zen center Abbess Linda Ruth, and she really put herself out on a limb when it came to supporting the farm and Califonia's prop 37, which aimed to push mandatory GMO labeling in California. This was an unpopular move for two reasons: One, we actually hung political signs on the temple farm gates, and two, there are zen center priests who do facilitation work with major genetical engineering firms. When she pulled political signs out of the sleeve of her kimono, at 70+ public Sunday Dharma talk, she threatened our dana base as a means of standing up for what she believes is the truth. 

Further, being abbot at zen center is a labor of love. Every time we get more responsibility here, the less time we have to sleep. You do get a huge pay increase as abbot, but like he says, it's a temporary rotating position, and it is tiring. 

Ejun Roshi Linda Ruth said once if you're upset with zen center, and looking for zen center, look in the mirror, you are zen center. 

It must be really nice to not be beholden, to say what you want, live an ethically open lifestyle, write books, and wear a brown okesa. 

I call shaveling. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Vow As Inquiry

"Sometimes, we are such dark emptiness we can't even hide in the sleeve of our own robe.

And yet, when we tear petals off cherry blossoms we don't make cherry blossoms; only spring does that."


You would think we could do anything. I've seen little dry newts climb up the mountain. The wrong way of course, since the creek and pond are in the valley. Picking them up and turning them around in an attempt to save all beings doesn't quite do it. They turn around just as fast, climbing towards the sun. What's in store for them? I don't really know, but I've got a gut feeling it's not good. 

So a student from the past called. He's 18 now, in New Orleans. I'm in that valley with the newts. Hawks circle here and baby foxes play in the shadows. He has a 6 month old baby girl and he was just released from prison. He has a misdemeanor and felony charge to answer to; he's looking at 1-30 years in Angola; and while he's guilty of something, he's not guilty enough to spend even one year in a place like Angola. 

He said if I hadn't left the city, he might not be in this trouble. We were very close. But when I was in the city, a bullet found him on a late Sunday night, or an early Monday morning. A year before I met him he witnessed national guard shootings at the super dome during Katrina. He was about 10 or 11, packed in there with about 15,000 people. Then packed into my classroom the next fall, about one of 40 students. Now he's charged with a violent crime.

Who is not guilty? Without saying too much, his "victim" has dropped the charge. The state has not. The case sounds like a Saturday night in the hood that got out of control. People were intoxicated. He's young. He doesn't have his G.E.D yet. He did well the three years I taught him. He might need some more middle school. He doesn't need to be one of 5,000 at Angola, where he'd be picking cotton upon entry, like a great many slaves before him. 

I've called him every day. Our phone is in the basement of our temple. In class, we study the wheel of deluded existence. In the basement, I talk about it on the phone. The best I could offer was to take the plea bargain. Maybe a year in the parish prison for misdemeanor charges and parole. But not the possible sexual slavery of Angola, the possibility of disappearing in the 18,000 acres of plantation land. The murders that ensue in that hell realm are over seconds in the chow line and about protecting your bodily integrity.

He refused. He said he would fight the felony charge and risk the time. Then, just yesterday, changed his mind, told me not to worry, that he was going to cop out. He regretted having paid a lawyer 2,000 dollars for this advice. I told him it was wise of him to seek council; what could I know, I was just his 6-8th grade English teacher.

Meiya, my practice leader, saw that I hadn't really slept much. She said when you offer help, you offer it like incense. You offer it, and then hands off. Watch what happens.

Our vow to save all beings is inconceivable. However, it's followed by three other inconceivable vows- to end delusions, enter Dharma gates, and the become the Buddha way. The inquiry is enough to keep the vow alive. The vow must be pure inquiry. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

"Look, look! Speak, speak!." Self, No Self, Dogen and Me.

One day Lin-chi gave this sermon: "There is the true person of no rank in the mass of naked flesh, who goes in and out from your facial gates. Those who have not yet testified to this fact, look! Look!"

A monk came forward and asked, " Who is this true person of no rank?"

Lin-chi came down from his chair and, taking hold of the monk by the throat, said "Speak! Speak!"

The monk hesitated.

Lin-chi let go his hold and said, "What a worthless shit-stick this is!"

The first time I heard this, I was terrified. The Tanto was screaming at the Shuso, and a lot of the elders of our community were laughing. But I had no idea what they were talking about. And I still don't.

What can be derrived from this exchange is that we don't know who the true person of no rank is, but it's coming through this body's eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. My question started in our Genjo Koan class when we were asked by that same Tanto who screamed at that Shuso, what does studying the self mean? Which led to what does Dogen mean when he writes study the self?

There seemed to be a split; some senior students, priests of many years, really felt that Dogen was not talking about this human self in Genjo Koan when he said:

 "To study the Buddha way is to study the self" Kaz Tanahashi * & Okamura *

"To learn the Buddha's truth is to learn ourselves" Nishijima*

"Studying the Buddha way is studying oneself." Cleary*

"To learn the Buddha Way is to learn one's own self." Abe*

* Translater credits

One senior monk said Nishiari Bokusan Roshi said verbatim that Dogen was not talking about the human self, while the Tanto said Okamura Roshi's translation for Dogen's Kanji for self was very unique and unusual; he said it was part person, and part wings, and could be interpreted as "your own self learning to fly." 

I fell strongly into the camp of including this human body in the study of self, along with the apparent self of all other beings, and the selfhood, or separateness of all other objects, landscapes, and anything I could possibly bring into a subject+object duality. There was this assertation that all I really could be  is skandhas or alaya vijnana.

Call it a hand, or call it a collection of five fingers, comes to mind from Okamura. I don't remember the last time my alaya vijnana stubbed its toe. My skandha's don't need to be shaved.

The Buddha himself never answered this question. When asked if there was a self, he answered with silence. When asked if there was no-self, more silence. This is a finger pointing at eternal assertion and nihilistic denial, and acknowledgement of the nothingness of emptiness and the somethingness of enlightenment. 

There is an ultimate reality in being human and I think it occurs between our thoughts; what are we between our thoughts? This is what I'm looking at when I follow Dogen's instruction. Could I do this without this human body, without breath, without a brain to have a delusional thought, without out a mouth to utter a defiled word, and isn't there something radiant throughout delusion and defilement? 

The next day, Meiya-sensei called me in for practice discussion. I sat before her dark brown Okesa in the candle lit room and said I'm trying to learn from you, but I don't think we have anything to talk about. Just like baby owls fall from trees and walk on two legs with wings outstretched learn from elder owls who fly above, I think this is the best thing we can do. You can't tell me anything, and yet, I'm here to learn, and I'm sure about that, though I'm not sure I'm learning anything. 

She answered in silence. She smiled, too. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Pro-Black Out, Anti-Capitalist

"He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it."  

-Martin Luther King

Capitalism is an environmental disaster. It's a system based on perpetual growth, high return and low risk (low pay for those who create the high return), and uses an alienating foreign currency (dollars, yen, euro,yuan) that directly opposes the well fare of our planet and all humans.

  Our planet's true currency is clean air, clean land, and clean water, and our human Buddha nature currency is wisdom and compassion, and that's what we should invest in. Our true currency is based on balance; capitalism is based on imbalance. Capitalism is about acquiring surplus. Surplus is not natural. Even in terms of agriculture, surplus is a response to market projections. Did you know that organic farms plan on losing 20% of the harvest? We sow more than we can sell based on projected loss. We're lucky at Green Gulch to have a forgiving kitchen that will serve what we can't sell. We are still eating squash from last years harvest, and let me tell you, there are only about 10 different ways to cook squash. But I think that's the way it should be. This food isn't a refuge, it's to sustain this life for the sake of enlightenment, like we chant everyday.

But what can we do to resist? Here's what I did: I took my measly 9,000 out of the market when I was told that my mutual fund couldn't detail the nature of my investment. Apparently, you need to have about one hundred million invested to get that kind of attention. I moved to a Zen center where I could get away from 9-5 work, a salary that was heavily taxed for federal interests, like war abroad, and started to do without. Only to find that our organization has a capital investment plan with a social responsibility clause that does not prohibit investment in petroleum industry. We moved with our Ecosattva environmental group to get the clause redefined to include a petroleum prohibition, but we heard that won't be possible at the moment. We also heard that our sentence that asked we only invest in companies that are beneficial for all beings would make investing impossible (my hope exactly!).

So, who's the dummy? I pulled my investments out, I cut off my salary ( I took about a 44,000 dollar pay cut to pursue the life I'm living right now), and can't see through the murk of my future, only to be included in an institution's participation of what I see as evil, what I see is the opposite of saving all beings.

So I look at my wife, as she knits, and I sit here. She says, do you love me, and I say, very much, but I'm in pain, and I don't where I can live. She says, you can live with me, and I say can you live with me? Because I'm not sure I can live here. And we talk about humanure, closing the loop, living without electricity, and what that might mean for us. And I kind of know that there is no out there that is separate from in here. I also know I love it here, and I love the people here. I also know there is no capitalist and no non-capitalist. But I disagree, I am perplexed, at how we go on, reaping the benefits of a system that is exporting violence, ecoside, and patriarchy and accept it as an "Industry standard" or a necessary evil.

And If  people who move to a Zen Center and organic farm can't be convinced that capitalism causes ecoside, where in the world could I go?

You know, my grandmothers, one a seamstress, one a union grocery store worker, and my grandfathers, both soldiers then a welder and a roofer, were on the short end of the capitalist stick. Pop (James Keith) jumped out of an airplane and his chute didn't open, his back was ruined for life. He roofed with that back. Bampa (Gaetano DiPrimo) was an infantryman in Korea, then worked for a trucking plant for the rest of his life. Nanny (Veronica Glenin) was proud of her union job. And grandma (Gail Canterbury) worked in different factories, embroidering, inspecting gems and typing. They worked so hard, and somebody got rich because of their work. My parents continue to struggle, mired in debt. They deserve freedom, all of them.

Why isn't it obvious that equality just comes from equality? There cannot be a man at the top. We cannot try and turn a profit off another human being.

I can't wait for the blackout. I lived 5 beautiful months in Alaska at negative 30 degrees, and the worst thing about it was being alone. I can't wait until farming is just a part of being human, and instead we identify as priest, painter, singer, poet, sculptor, storyteller, hunter as our affinity, and not our job.