Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013 in Review

2013 was a terrible year.

There is simply no other way to put it.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Whitaker: 1995 - 9/6/2013

“Whitaker’s Gift”

What are you chasing?
Is it a bit of string?
Whitaker loves to chase strings.
Shiny gold is best, but any string will do.
What she thinks when she chases strings;
Only Whitaker knows.
But she purrs and meows and I see excitement in her eyes!

In the morning she wants to play with my dental floss.
I’m usually rushing to get somewhere on time.
But, loving her and knowing her enjoyment;
I stop and play for a moment as a gift to her.
I’ve come to enjoy our morning play.
Whitaker waits patiently while I floss my teeth;
Knowing that soon the string will dance for her.
Sometimes she romps back and forth, jumps up,
Lays in wait to pounce, or feigns indifference.
But always there for her stringy.

This gift I give to Whitaker:
     Exercise and play.
How great the gift she gives to me:
     Stop, play, enjoy.
What are you chasing?
Is it a bit of string?

Saturday, May 18, 2013


A person who works with their hands 
is a laborer,
A person who works with their hands and head, 
is a craftsman,
A person who works with their hands, head, and heart 
is an artisan!


I've been doing a lot of crochet at night. I pinched this quote from

Sunday, July 1, 2012

See Only Your Own Faults

Dharma Talk at Red Clay Sangha
Last week I had the great honor of presiding at the memorial for a friend who took her own life. Writing a eulogy is a very good exercise in practicing the sixth Grave Precept: “See only your own faults: do not discuss the faults of others”. This was made somewhat easier because she was a person who truly embodied that precept. Please be kind to my faults while I attempt to discuss this precept.

This precept does a very good job of illustrating some general characteristics of precept practice. First, that it is not really something anyone wants to do (if one thinks about it just a little), but we do it all the time anyway. Second, that it can be really harmful both to ourselves and to others. It demonstrates dualistic thinking. It demonstrates ego-centered thinking, and helps to further separate us from others instead of bridging the gap. It is universal. And finally, it is simply good advice.

When I say that it is not really something anyone wants to do what I mean is that there is no question in my mind that practicing not fault finding in others will enhance my quality of “daily life” – or speaking in the relative. We all know people who spend so much time seeing others’ faults that they become bitter and cynical. We also know that in order to effect meaningful change it is necessary to look at that which we ourselves control – i.e. our own faults. We know all too well when we are the victim of faultfinding how much it hurts.

None the less, we all do it. Social psychologists suggest that this behavior is learned in childhood, as one can become the friend of a common enemy by sniping behind their back. Too sad, and yet how often does it happen? It is so easy to slip from conveying information to judgment. I’m reminded of conversations I have with my sisters – usually there is some bit of information passed along about the one not in the conversion at the time and before we know it we’re gossiping.

The practice of this precept is stopping yourself and asking why you are doing it before it happens. It can reveal important aspects of how your incorrect view of that person may be getting in the way of real connection. It may also reveal how your incorrect view of the world is getting in the way of your life.

The interesting question for me is how we can use this precept to examine ourselves and see the repeated way that we separate ourselves from each other by blaming and not accepting our own faults. How we separate ourselves from life by seeing it as flawed. How we see only fault and not possibility.

Oddly, taking the blame for problems does no more good than looking for others to pin it on if there is no real understanding of the error. The ugly head of “should be” still rears itself along with the ugly head of self. Talking about your own faults is of no use unless you are looking for help dissolving them.

When helping someone learn a new skill, this can easily become confused. It is important to look closely at why the other person has misunderstood your instructions in order to be able to clear up the misunderstanding and allow learning to happen. To do this requires that you view the process as a partnership and view the other person’s viewpoint as valid. To teach, you must learn to see things the way the other person does.

When Diane Rizzetto discusses this precept she speaks of the attitude of meeting each other as strangers, not the ‘other’ conditioned by our past experience of that person, but open to the possibilities represented by the that person. In this way, we avoid the dangerous internal conversation about that person’s faults that separates us from them and the possibility of intimacy with life.

Another particular difficulty with this is that it requires me to be OK with the fact that you are different from me, disagree with me, have different capabilities than me, etc. In short, I must look face-to-face with the fear that I am not “the best” and “the only”. Fortunately, this also can lead to learning to meet oneself as a stranger and being open to the possibility that I might be something other than I had always thought.

This is freedom.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Buddha's Birthday (Hanamatsuri) at Red Clay Sangha

A great time was had by all at our observance of Hanamatsuri - the Japanese Festival of Flowers which celebrates Buddha's birth by showering the baby buddha statue with flowers and bathing it with tea. This year we also had an easter egg hunt and chocolate bunnies since the dates coincided! photos courtesy Beth Lilly

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Just Choose Something Already!

I often feel like that guy – awash in an infinite sea of choices unable to proceed. Why do we hesitate when choices are presented to us? Sometimes I’m sure that if I wait a better choice will come along and I’ll be sad I picked too soon. Often I worry that I’ll be judged by my choice, or hurt someone’s feelings. I know that you will choose differently and seem to like your choice better than I like mine. What to do?

During our November retreat at the Red Clay Sangha, we had the opportunity to chant some different texts and translations. These chanting services were regarded by most who attended to be “really good.” Since we are in a formative process, should we adopt these? We have it on good authority that the translations were designed to be easily chanted, but so were the ones we are currently using. We are accustomed to the style and text of the SotoShu set, but we have new members joining who are accustomed to the RZC set.

A delightful little irony, the first text from RZC in the book we used at the retreat, “Affirming Faith in Mind,” begins:
The Great Way is not difficult
for those who do not pick and choose.
When preferences are cast aside
the Way stands clear and undisguised.
This describes an attitude we are trying to maintain in our practice – of meeting reality as it is without putting our opinions on it. The noise in the kitchen is simply sound until I prefer that it not be there. Even the pain in my leg is simply sensation until I consider it to a threat to my remaining healthy and alive and clearly prefer it not be there. A large part of our training is repetitively seeing those preferences arise and doing nothing based on them.

We work very hard to cultive this choicelessness, but should it apply on a broad scale? Do we solve the problem of inability to choose by declaring that we are simply going to not choose? Do we tell the kid behind the ice cream counter to pick for us? It seems to me like that is just avoiding the karma and worse making someone else responsible for it.

Mu Soeng in his commentary Trust in Mind (alternate translation of the title of the text quoted earlier), includes ten (10) side-by-side alternate translations of the text. The text that begins with the stanza about not choosing. In his translation, he even augments it with his own interpretations as:
The Great way is not difficult
for those who have no [addiction to] preferences.
When love [likes] and hate [dislikes] are both absent,
everything becomes clear and undisguised.
This addition of the simple phrase “addiction to” (or perhaps “attachment to”) helps me connect to this stanza. Not only does it have a lot of connection to the Dharma, but to me personally in my little path through this life.

I’ve spent the past year looking pretty closely at addiction, attachment and desire. A bit over a year ago, I had lobe of my lung removed due to cancer. Not smoking seemed like the better choice than continuing to smoke at the time. For a while, I was using a nicotine patch and interestingly enough, I still had cravings to smoke. This led me to look at what I was craving instead of merely satisfying it (odd, how both choosing and examining choosing were more healthy behaviors).

It is taking quite a while of making the conscious effort in the choice of not smoking to realize that I am not really craving a cigarette (in fact the smell is somewhat nauseating right now), but rather craving GRATIFICATION. Sometimes that gratification is avoidance of a situation (such as right now I am wishing I could go burn one to take a break from writing this). Usually the gratification that I’m craving is simply naked gratification.

This gratification cycle is really the preference to which we are all addicted. We want our choices to be RIGHT. We want the gratification of not only having our preferences satisfied, but in being right about them. We have, in short, attached a self to these preferences and become addicted to it.

But choices must be made regardless. We cannot let everyone be hungry because we think shouldn’t choose whether to have apples or oranges (or wait for someone else to decide). Or worse choose apples and become angry if someone says that they would rather have had an orange.

The important thing is to choose and yet not be addicted to that choice. This is one of the things we train ourselves in through meditation. I chose to meditate, I choose to practice for instance counting, I screw up, I restart, over and over and over and over again. I do not wait until I am certain about it, I just do it. If someone tells me that I’m doing the wrong practice or that I’m doing this one wrong, I calmly listen and integrate what they say.

It is also important to choose and allow that choice to attach to your self as well. Whenever I start defending my choices I know that I have allowed that choice to create a bit of self. If I can make that choice and not attach to it or let it attach to me than I might have a chance to simply have it be what it is of the moment and not create suffering. I also need to not take credit for that choice.

In this way, we can learn to choose with freedom and compassion. We can also learn to accept what we did not choose with the same freedom and compassion. Mostly we learn not to create a self from those choices.

I would like to end with something completely different, “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference