juneteenth

Dharma Talk by Rachel Koshin-yo

Today is an important day. Today, June 19, in 1865, enslaved African-Americans in  Texas were told that slavery had ended. This event happened two years after the  Emancipation Proclamation had been signed and 2 months after Robert E Lee had  surrendered at Appomattox. Today honors the day that the last enslaved African Americans were informed of their freedom. On this day, June 19, 2022 we celebrate the  second year that Juneteenth is being recognized as a federal holiday. All I want to say  about that is, it’s about damn time. 

African-American slavery in North America was not the first form of slavery on the planet  and sadly it was not the last. But it was a sweeping organization of oppression in  America for hundreds of years based solely on the color of people’s skin. It is a part of  American history just as much as The Declaration of Independence and The First and  Second World Wars. Yet we often learn about it as a footnote, something that  happened in our past, not something to worry about now. 

In the spring of 2020, when we were all consumed with the worry of the new and  confusing COVID pandemic, another horror happened. An African-American man  named George Floyd was killed at the hands of law enforcement. An officer knelt on Mr.  Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes, suffocating him. Why? Because Mr. Floyd resisted arrest  for using a counterfeit $20 bill. Was this the first time an African-American had been  murdered by white police officers? Certainly not. But this time the event caused a  worldwide protest of police brutality, police racism, and police accountability. There  were protests in many cities, including Salt Lake City. As a result of the local protests,  this city was put on lockdown. The day of the lockdown? My 57th birthday.  Initially, I was pissed off. It was my birthday. Even with the pandemic going on I was  planning a small lunch with my daughter, son, and a friend. Because of the lockdown  my son could not leave his house. So there I was, suffering. But something happened  as a result of this suffering. I became curious. I wanted to know what was going on in  the world that was causing so much unrest. Yes, I agreed with the protestors and yet I  did not understand the impact that hundreds of years of slavery had on the African American community of North America today. To learn what was going on for this  community I started reading. I started reading books like: “Hood Feminism” by Mikki  Kendall, “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson, “How the Word is Passed” by Clint Smith, “Heavy”  by Kiese Laymon, and “On Juneteenth” by Annette Gordon-Reed. I wanted to get an  understanding of what life was like for a community I wasn’t a part of. I thought, “The  slaves were freed but yet 155 years later there is still unrest. What’s going on?” I have so much more to learn. The dharma gates are endless. But today I want to  share some of what I have learned so far. 

Yes, on June 19th, 1865, the last African-American slaves were declared free. Yes we  should celebrate that and people have for the last 155 years. Also, I want to give  overwhelming thanks to these enslaved people for building our country. For while  people like John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson were busy writing  and signing the Declaration of Independence, enslaved African-Americans were building  the buildings they lived and worked in, farming the crops they ate, caring for their  livestock, cleaning their homes, and performing many other tasks that the founding  fathers saw free labor fit for. If you asked these founding fathers about the enslaved 

labor they would probably reply with some sort of statement like, “They aren’t free labor,  I paid for those slaves!” Indeed they did. Slaves were a commodity. Bought and sold  like clothing or wheat. When Thomas Jefferson was short on cash and needed to pay  off his debts, he thought nothing of selling off a slave or two. It didn’t matter if this  enslaved man or woman had a family they were leaving, or if the slave was a child. To  Jefferson, they were just an asset that could easily be turned into a liquid asset. Most of  these people were treated with less respect than livestock. Yet they were people,  exactly the same as Jefferson and Franklin. They were exactly the same as you and I.  I’m not asking you to hate Jefferson and Franklin or to turn them into complete villains.  But I would like you to take a moment and understand that the people we have idealized  from our past were most certainly fallible. 

On June 19th 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas and  declared all enslaved people free. Texas was the last confederate state to abolish  slavery. In fact, Texas had written it’s own Declaration of Independence. This  document stated that all enslaved people in Texas and their descendants would forever  be slaves. Any freed slaves were not welcome in the state of Texas. So when General  Granger arrived in Galveston, what did his message mean? In theory, African Americans were now allowed to come and go as they pleased. But it wasn’t that  simple. After toiling, building, and caring for our country these freed slaves had nothing  to show for their efforts. They didn’t own homes. They didn’t have any material  possessions except for maybe the clothes on their backs. They didn’t own property.  Most importantly, they had no money and their jobs were just taken away. How could  they survive?  

In the meantime, the white people of Texas weren’t ready to accept that their free labor  would no longer be free. They were angry. To the whites, nothing had changed about  African-Americans except the law. They still saw them as second class citizens, if  citizens at all. There were riots against and assaults of the newly freed slaves. In  addition to their situation of lack, enslaved people were oppressed for hundreds of years  by horrific trauma. Their DNA carried experiences of rape, physical abuse, starvation,  emotional abuse, and disease. They were never taught to read, write, or learn  arithmetic. Some secretly were, but they numbered few and far between. Many ex slaves remained in a slave-like situation, just to be able to feed themselves and their  families. 

Still, many freed African-Americans were able to find work and build communities. In  New York City, Seneca Village was built. This town was built by freed slaves who were  landowners as early as 1825. At it’s height, the town was inhabited by over 200 African Americans. Unfortunately, it was torn down by the city of New York in 1857 when the  city declared eminent domain. The city used this property along with many other acres  to create Central Park. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Central Park. I was  eager to see the space where Seneca Village had existed. Sadly, that was all that was  there – a space. A grassy field with a plaque, marked the spaces for churches and  schools. Yet there were no buildings to commemorate the memory of this town. A lot of African-American history in the United States is like the town of Seneca Village.  It’s difficult if not impossible to find the history of African-American slaves in this country.  There are no marked graveyards. Birth records were only kept by slaveholders. These  labeled slaves by their statistics, not their names. Life histories could not be recorded 

by people who couldn’t write, nor had the time to write. A typical slave only had free  time in the dark. Their daylight hours were spent serving their slave owning master. So  many past lives remain a forgotten mystery. 

As freed African-American slaves started to build their lives and grow their  independence they faced numerous obstacles. From 1890 to 1908, former confederate  states passed constitutions to disenfranchise African-American people, keeping them  from being able to vote and sit on juries. African-Americans could easily be convicted of  crimes and heinously treated without a jury of their own peers. When living in a  community of resentful white men who were angry about losing their free labor pool the  odds were stacked against freed slaves. How could African-Americans run for office or  be found not guilty of crimes they were convicted of when these laws were in place?  Clearly, just because slaves had been freed, whites did not recognize them as equals.  Jim Crow laws enacted “separate but equal” situations. African-Americans were entitled  to the same rights as whites (schools, medical facilities, and transportation) but they had  to be separate facilities. Most if not all of these facilities and services were inferior if  they existed at all. Offices, hotels, and restaurants were segregated. While many of  these laws were overturned and headed to the Supreme Court for decisions, these laws  weren’t officially repealed until the Civil Rights Act in 1964. By then, I was alive.  Americans were living 100 years after the first Juneteenth celebration. Yet, whites were  afraid to empower African-Americans for fear that whites would lose their own footing  and status in society. 

During the 20th century, African-Americans were depicted in the media. At first, they  were presented in black face, white performers wearing black makeup. Then they were  on products like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s. These products depicted African Americans as fun loving, and jolly people ready to serve their white masters. Books and  movies that depicted slaves showed foolish people who didn’t have the intelligence to  understand anything. While these people might not be able to read and write they  certainly learned to speak English effectively. Nothing stopped them from learning  English similar to the immigrants who come to our country today. Plus, slaves lived in  this country for generations. Thomas Jefferson’s slave Sally Hemings, gave birth to 6  children fathered by Jefferson. A number of these children had light enough skin to  pass as white in society and marry white partners. They certainly could not have  “passed” if they couldn’t speak English effectively. Many enslaved people came to  America with valuable skills. They knew how to produce indigo, weave, cook, quilt,  carpenter, and even cobble shoes. Yet they were depicted in our movies and books as  being useless until the white society taught them their skills. 

After the Civil war, the war was not taught in Texas school as a war about slavery, it was  taught as a war about states rights. When we hear about Texas history today, we hear  more about “cowboys and Indians” or the oil industry. Yet there were many slaves in  Texas. East Texas was developed by a man named Stephen Austin, known as the  “father of Texas.” Austin came to to Texas to create cotton fields for plantation owners.  No Anglo-American was going to work the land. Austin lobbied for slavery as way of  ensuring success in bringing colonists of the area to be successful. Austin is the  namesake of the currently liberal city of Austin,Texas. Are Texans aware of his slave related past? Texas was using African-American slave labor to tame the wild forests  and build their economy. Much like other parts of America, slave labor was used to 

build the wealth of the white population. Similar to fathers of our country, the father of  Texas had fallible side. It’s time to recognize and understand the history that made our  country what it is today. 

Learning all of these facts about the history of African-Americans I am in awe. In awe  that this community has had the resilience and tenacity to hang on through racism and  oppression. I feel shame for the anger I felt back in the spring of 2020 when I couldn’t  

celebrate my birthday. Yet I don’t want the issue to be about me at all. I want the issue  to be about acknowledging and removing my conscious and unconscious biases. This  acknowledgement and removal I believe is what will help me on a path to  enlightenment. Perhaps I will even become a Bodhisattva. I agree with Gloria Steinem  when she said, “When humans are ranked instead of linked, everyone loses.” I can’t  take away what African-American slavery was in this country but I can fully  acknowledge what it was and what we have chosen to create with it. I can continue to  learn every day and have more compassion for the people who continue to fight for their  equality and freedom in this country. I can speak up and help others learn. We are all  one. When the African-American community hurts, it impacts us all. 

The term African-American was coined back in 18th century, but rarely used until in  1969 when the African-American Teachers Association used it to name their  organization. In 1988, Jesse Jackson popularized the term to identify people who were  labeled as “Blacks.” This term is a reminder that having African ancestry does not  separate one from being an American. While we don’t call whites “European Americans” or “Ukrainian-Americans” it is valuable for us to remember that once the  slaves hit American soil they and their descendants became Americans and should be  treated equally, and not separately. Yet this separateness remains a challenge today. 

To be an African-American man in the US today means many things. It means, no  wearing black hoodies in certain neighborhoods, no jogging at night, hands in plain sight  in public, never driving over the speed limit, and never rolling through a stop sign. For  all of these items African-American men have been persecuted and even killed. What  kind of freedom is that? 

When we forget our past we are doomed to repeat it. We need to learn and  acknowledge our past. The dharma gates are endless and we must enter them to learn  the truth of our past. When we carry the divisions of slavery and the hate of African Americans into our current environment then 9 people are murdered during a bible  study, a black man is suffocated by a white policeman, and people fear routine traffic  stops. Freedom doesn’t mean free for some. Freedom doesn’t mean freedom only if  you are white. The celebration of Juneteenth reminds us of that fact. So today, if you  are celebrating Juneteenth or just reminded of what the day represents, be sure to be  kind, fair, and equal. Remember that this day honors the end of a horrific practice and  also reminds us to treat everyone equally regardless of the color of their skin or their  country of origin. Specifically, this day reminds us that just like every human, those we  enslaved in this country deserve our thanks for what they built for us and that they 

deserved to be free and their descendants deserve to be free – free from persecution,  racism, and unfair practices. 

May all beings be peaceful. 

May all beings be happy. 

May all beings be safe. 

May all beings be free. 

Namu Amida Butsu

The Problem with Deserving

From a Dharma talk delivered at the Salt Lake Buddhist Fellowship 7/8/2018

Let’s start our talk today with a few questions – how many of you have rationalized or justified something that you knew wasn’t good for you because your “deserved it”?

How did your thinking go? What logic did you use?

Have you ever watched in glee when someone you couldn’t stand “got what they deserve”?

How do you think our sense of deserving has contributed to our global environmental crisis?

If you think about it, we are addicted to reward and punishment – mostly our reward and others punishment.

For today’s Dharma talk, I want to continue on with the theme of my last talk a few Sundays ago regarding gratitude and some of the obstacles to experiencing deep and profound gratitude –

We talked about the problem with “entitlement” and how it cuts us off from experiencing a deep and profound gratitude and today I want to talk further about that but instead of using the word entitlement, I want to use the word deserve –  which Is a lot more common in our daily language and thinking.   I think with entitlement it is easy to say, I’m not really entitled, I don’t feel entitled, I’m too poor to be entitled, it’s really easy to see when someone else is being entitled a little more difficult when we are – But when it comes to deserving, that is  is different, because we all think we deserve a myriad of things or not deserve a myriad of things – both are true and many times both are not true.

But deserving is problematic. Often we get tangled in a tangle of words – I deserve this, I don’t deserve this on a spiritual level such words often distract. Deserving can be problematic because one the definitions and connotations’ of the word deserve “is to earn”  It is this kind of deserve that I want to address –

One of the problems of deserving is this: This is from Peter Schaller who runs the Tattooed Buddhist Website:

“Deserving implies, in a not so subtle way, that the world owes us something. If we work hard, play by the rules, and refrain from doing harm to others, then happiness should be our just reward. However, the world was here much before any of us, and will, despite the imminent threat of climate change, be here for much time after we’re gone.”

I think he makes a good point – the world is not ours, we are the world’s – I think that is important and I want you to remember that – I want to come back to this quote in a bit.

Being a martyr was my profession – I was good at it – it is based on the idea that if gave so much and was amazingly understanding and so boundless in love that I was left with nothing then I would not be abandoned.  I used poetry, tears and an abundance of patience and whatever manipulation I could muster to earn the love I so deserved because of my “sacrifices”  Here is a line from one of my poems,

I was watching you slowly disappear on the orange couch

next to the green chair, So I broke apart the wooden bookcase

a built a cross – a climbed up on it -and spread my arms wide.

See how much I love you.

When she left like the others, I wallowed in my “I don’t deserve this” I argued with reality for over a year.

The outcome wasn’t about deserve or not deserve  – it was all about my skillful and unskillful action, my perception of reality –   that love is earned.

We are bound to this idea that we must earn love, acceptance, compassion as if our connection to the world was simply an economic transaction, if I do X then I will get Y if I don’t get Y it is Xs fault or because the world is unjust.

Here is a great quote from Halldór Armand

“Life’s hard. Really hard. And here’s a fact. In nature there’s no such thing as deserving or not deserving something. There’s no fairness. The human myth of fairness is a beautiful one, though—probably one of our best. It was a step out of nature of sorts, a rejection of its chaos. We strive to make our world fair and to do this we constantly have to battle our own internal contradictions. We are both the goal and the enemy.

But when fairness is our goal it’s easy to start thinking that fairness is actually the world’s fundamental principle in every aspect rather than a distant, shining star we try to follow as best as we can. We’re all familiar with this. I believe I deserve to be with the love of my life. I’ve fought so fucking hard for it. Don’t you too? Don’t we all deserve love? Don’t we all deserve happiness? Why did she say no? Why did I fail? Why Lord?

Both the Buddhist from earlier and the Existentialist are making good points. That deserving an non-deserving do not exist as a moral formula in the natural world and that in reality.  “Life’s hard. Really hard. And here’s a fact. In nature, there’s no such thing as deserving or not deserving something. There’s no fairness. We understand that implicitly, as our children grow older we tell them, “who said life is fair” and yet we really do – at least we operate under some misguided notion, that it is,  so much so that when it doesn’t work out for someone that is should we start the victim blaming.

In my own practice, I am committed to transcending this very notion of “earning”. anything, because beyond the egoic need to control my environment, that is where true compassion and understanding; where the ground of true being lies.

I have come to realize that, in many profound ways, the dynamic flow of life is a “gift economy”, where there is what is given with no implicit return or reward in the future. The ego, on the other hand, looks to earn love, the reward is of what we do or say, the expectation is to receive love, acceptance, compassion, and meaning.   I have learned from the insight of the Buddha, that love is not an object to be purchased, love is not transactional, love is the way of living in the world in love with all beings.

Gyomay M. Kubose has taught,

“We must find the way of love rather than that of being loved.”

Now don’t get me wrong, I know that a lot of us struggle with feeling that we don’t deserve love, or that we don’t deserve compassion.  A lot of this feeling undeserving comes from what is implied by deserving, the earning or meriting love.”  I don’t deserve to be happy, I don’t deserve to be loved because I am incapable of doing the things to earn love, or I am so defective, so filled with darkness, depression – I am unworthy of love. let me say that it is healthy to begin to feel like you DO deserve to be loved, but I challenge you to keep going, to go beyond deserve and not deserve.

I think this is the role of the myth of Amida Buddha in a modern context.  Amida Buddha represents at its core the inherent gift of love, of accepting one’s self as one is,  the gift of life, of simply being you, of being alive- because the archetype of Amida doesn’t love you because you are good – or you have earned it because of all the good you have done –what is funny about the Pureland tradition of Shinran, is that you deserve love in spite of any good you can do or any bad that you do.   It is all these attempts to earn love that bind love to outcome forced by will – In an absolute sense, the Amida archetype tells us that we are loved simply by the miracle of our existing – from this perspective everything, all things are loved – it’s nothing that you earn – it is nothing that you are entitled to – it is a natural inherent grace.

amida zu
Amida Buddha accepts you even when you do not. This is a drawing showing the Amida and the Bodhisattvas dragging those who feel unworthy to the Pure Land.

We love our concepts of deserving, it gives us a sense of controlling our worlds., I am not saying that we do not need to “earn” a living or do the things that we need to do to be responsible for our families, what I am saying is that our sense of “deserving” is skewed.

Life is more complicated than some formula – how many things happen every day that people don’t deserve, who many things have you received in your life, that you did nothing to merit but still have in abundance?

How many times have we held back compassion because, “they got themselves in that mess, it is their own fault”? As we pray every Sunday,

We want to remember that,

In compassion do not look for cause and blame

we give no thought to effort

Compassion transcends “deserving”

it is only concerned with the suffering that is there.

A digression.  I would like to share a story I once heard and it has stayed with me ever since.

” There once was a Christan preacher, preaching on the street near a temple. A young novice monk was walking by the preacher when the preacher asked him if he believed that Jesus died for his sins?  The young monk just shrugged.  The preacher then told the young monk that if he didn’t accept Jesus as his savior he would go to hell. The young monk stopped and thought for awhile and then asked the missionary, “are they a lot of suffering people in your Christian Hell, OH YES! said the missionary excitedly – The young monk all of sudden smiled a big smile and said,   “Good! That seems like a good place for a Buddhist Monk.”

So why this talk about deserving and not deserving – because it creates a view of the world  that cuts us off from experiencing life as it really is  – it can separate us from one another and because it is almost impossible for us to enter into a profound gratitude, a transformative gratitude while we are stuck in the cycle of reward and punishment – we are only marginal grateful for the thing we earn and unable to accept the gift that is unearned which is most of your life.

Lastly,  because it can be delusional – because of our time here on earth so little of what we do is earned by ourselves but by the support of the earth and the processes that give us life, our ancestors that brought us into this world, our fellow beings, and lastly the dharma. All the countless others that have made your life possible, as Gyomay sensei teaches,

“There is no I apart from others.”

I want to leave you with this

Let’s aspire together to transcend deserved and undeserved to live in Oneness, come as we are and appreciate and be grateful for all the gifts we have been given especially the ability to come together today and to learn from one another.

Namu Amida Butsu

Listen to the Podcast

Driving Dharma

I would like to start our my dharma glimpse with a poem from the Venerable Robina Curtin; she is a Tibetan Buddhist nun in Australia, I love its matter-of-factness of her lines.

“We’re all mentally ill.
We’re all delusional.
We’re all junkies.
It’s just a matter of degree. “

I like how she embraces specific negative labels and says, “wait, hold on, you think that is not you…come on!” These are the labels we use for other people, not for ourselves, we can discount them, dismiss their experience because they are not like us, it’s all a way for us to avoid looking at ourselves. She calls it as it is, “You are delusional!” I think most of us would agree that we are delusional in a “not yet awakened way” but not “actually delusional” or in a “literally delusional” way but is that true?
In our sangha manual, we have this adapted line from Shinran as part of our liturgy,
Blinded by our delusion, anger, and greed we cannot see the brilliant light that embraces us – The Great compassion never tires, always casting its boundless light upon us, just as we are, always.
Sometimes for our dharma talk, we will use the prayers and affirmations in our practice manual as a starting point. We used the one above for a recent discussion. I asked the gathering what they would call someone who is out of touch with reality or in other words a person who doesn’t accept reality as it is and they responded with delusional. So I followed up by asking them how they were delusional. Not something they are usually asked. It was great to see their eyes light up as they started to slowly understand how they are actually delusional in a real everyday sort of way. It was then that the words of our dharma brother Noah San came into my head, it was a line from his book on Secular Buddhism which I really liked. In the chapter about Dukkha, he distills the cause of suffering into to a very simple and profound way. He writes that “We suffer because we want reality to be different than it is.” I offered this teaching to the gathering. It is that simple. We are delusional because of we. “we want reality to be different than it is.” It’s even more than want, we scheme, invent strategies, create convoluted stories all, so we do not have to accept reality as it is. Let me share an everyday experience that helped me see this.

A lot of my examples of late have to do with driving. I think I need to start a blog called Dharma Highways: How Driving Teaches us the Way……or maybe not. Every morning when I drive to work, as it does every day, the flow of traffic continually changes, slows down, speeds up, always in a state of flux because of a myriad of cause and conditions. This is the very nature traffic. When traffic stops moving it ceases to be traffic and becomes parking. That aside, here I am driving to work like I do every day and the reality that I want, the reality that I expect is the following:

no red lights,
goodly speeds,
graceful lane changes,
blinkers, yes blinkers.

I expect traffic to be light and if heavy still to move efficiently. But what happens when these expectations are dashed after the first right-hand turn? Anger? Rage? We, I mean I – become frustrated, my pulse races, my vision narrows. I am assigning all kinds of character traits to people I don’t know, transforming them into an enemy. The chanting I was just doing moments ago, forgotten and now I am driving aggressively and tailgate the car in front all because she moved into my lane and caused me to touch my breaks. Of course, I do not notice the bumper sticker placed loving on the driver’s side of the bumper, by her special needs granddaughter, that reads, “World’s Greatest Grandma.” Then in a flash, I realize, “Holy crap I’m delusional!” In a very real way, I do not see reality as it is. I am suffering because I want “reality to be different than it is.” It really is lunacy to suffer so significantly in the ebb and flow of traffic; it is traffic, it ebbs and flows.
The incident made me think of how many other places in our lives that we are delusional? Our relationships, our jobs, our expectations of ourselves. One of the most significant teachings that I have found in the dharma and from Gyomay Kubose Sensei is that acceptance IS transcendence. We suffer because we are unwilling to accept reality as it is and are so willing to dive right into depths of dukkha because we want so badly to believe we have some control over life. I would rather suffer and stay deluded than to accept how little control I actually have. And yet to be free, I have to acknowledge there nothing I can do to change reality. That reminds me of what Hiroyuki Itsuki writes in his book Tariki, his mantra that keeps him sane, “there is nothing I can do.” I too realize that there is next to nothing that I can do about the natural ebb and flow of life itself. This is a great mantra when stuck in traffic, “there is nothing I can do about the natural ebb and flow of traffic.” I guess I have found something that I can do. I can accept the ebb and flow of traffic. I can directly observe how it works and by doing so become more aware of the unnoticed kindness of strangers that let me in, the person in the car next to me crying, or the kids in the back seat laughing and making faces, all manifestations of the light of the great compassion.
Yes, I am delusional, and I am working on by degrees accepting reality a little more each day, even when I am stuck driving 47 in 70 miles an hour zone.

Gassho

Dharma Glimpses from Bright Dawn.

Dharma Glimpses are short dharma teachings  from Bright Dawn Lay Ministers.

Here are some podcasts from Bright Dawn Way of Oneness podcast page.

Faust my Dharma Teacher.

Listening to the Dharma 

Buddhism and Gender Equality

Who are you?

And here are some more Dharma Glimpses in written format on our Bright Dawn Blog.

 

Naturalness

Bodhisattvas and Buddhas

Peaceful Heart

Invisible Cemetery

No matter how much I would like to, I will not punch a Nazi

Though the title is trite, what I want to say is not. Since what happened this weekend in Charlottesville Virginia, I have been thinking of the young woman who was murdered standing up against hatred. Personally I think there should be more coverage of her. Do you know her name? What do you know about her? I am ashamed that I know more about what the president didn’t say then about her. I want to stand up against hate because of what happened to her, not because of what the president did or did not say. She is a victim of home grown terrorism and the manifestation of hatred here at home. Our hearts and compassion go out to her friends and family and to the other victims harmed that day. We stand untied with them. I want to share something with you that I wrote earlier about this event.

Today I have been seeing a lot of fury filled posts and posts with the popular meme of Punching a Nazi, meme’s for your page and T Shirts if you want. I can understand why after this weekend. Punching a Nazi meme has been popular for a while among some of my more “progressive” friends and seems so tame considering what happened.

It is at times like this, overwhelmed with the horror of events like what happened in Charlottesville, that we need to be mindful. No matter how good it would feel, personally right now, to punch a Nazi…I would not nor would I tell another to punch a Nazi. This is not a skillful response to hatred. That doesn’t mean we don’t put our very bodies on the line to protect our brothers and sisters. We will.

The Buddha taught that hate cannot overcome hate. That doesn’t mean we can’t be angry. Anger in the face of injustice can motivate us to action. But what kind of action? Punching Nazis, spitting in their faces, spraying pepper spray at them is not skillful action and it can lead us to swallow the same poison of blind hatred. It is important to know anger and hatred are not the same. Melvin McLeod has taught that, “Anger is the power to say no. This is our natural reaction whenever we see someone suffer—we want to stop it.” We can and must stand up to the poison of hatred in our society, and in ourselves. Is our anger the kind of “wise anger” that motivates us our of love for our brother and sisters or is it the passionate volatile anger that does not come from love but from our own fear and suffering? Can we recognize this reality in ourselves? Do we know the difference?

The Buddha taught that “Hatred ceases by love”. It would be naïve to think the Buddha was teaching that by simply loving a Nazi you’re going to transform them.(though it can). But on a larger scale, hatred fuels hatred regardless if it is righteous or not. It is true though that in time only love can remove the fuel from the fire. Punching a Nazi only adds fuel to the fire, Even if you shut him or her up it doesn’t change anything, they will rise again more convinced of the righteousness of their hatred.

We see now see the attempt to use a moral equivalence by the President and the “Right” media machine to somehow diminish their complicity in sowing seeds of hatred and fear for short term political and financial gain. There is no such moral equivalency. Period.

At the same time some progressives on the left are allowing themselves to be co-opted by the right with their “Antifa” aggression and hatred. I understand this being of Jewish ancestry and being human. But trying to shut down free speech and taunting the haters only feeding the beast they are trying to slay with “righteous anger” and indignation.

In our fellowship we follow the saying, “Do no harm but take no shit.” Let us help one another in our practice of compassionate yet bold action to say “NO” to suffering and social injustice and to manifest “wise anger” in our efforts to effect change.

Kakuyo Leibow Sensei.

On Unskillful Means: Cultivating Ignorance

The cause of all pain and suffering is ignorance.
Gautama Buddha

I have been thinking of this lately. About how many of us suffer but we do not know why we suffer, we are ignorant to the real causes and conditions of our suffering.  I have also been thinking of a different kind of ignorance.   It’s funny the things that bring other things more in focus. It was the simple reflection on the sound of the word itself. Mouthing out the word slow, by its syllables, I realized a simple thing, the word Ignore is at the heart of ignorance.

The word ignorance in English is passive, “a lack of knowledge, information or experience.” This kind of ignorance refers more to how we don’t realize our reality is not reality, or that there is no abiding self.  We are ignorant to the inherent emptiness of all things. This kind of ignorance can be as simple as never having heard of the Four Ennobling truths, or a guy name Siddhartha.   But the ignorance I have been thinking of the more active form which takes its energy from the verb; to ignore. This is different from the other ignorance since this ignorance is not passive. One who ignores is one who, “refuse to take notice of or acknowledge; to disregard intentionally.” This active ignorance is different from cultivating a not knowing mindset,  which can be a powerful practice of freeing ourselves of fixed ideas. It is a kind of active, ego preserving ignorance that I have been thinking about.  I was thinking of this because of something I read recently in a book titled, Awakening from the Daydream by David Nichtern, a book about the Buddhist Wheel of life.

In the Buddhist Wheel of life there are the six realms of existence at the hub of the wheel is ignorance; both passive and active.  The more active ignorance is the core aspect, the core mindset found in the Animal realm.  As Chogyam Trungpa’s writes, “The animal realm is associated wit stupidity: that is preferring to play deaf and dumb, preferring to follow the rules of available games rather than re-define them. ” Here we are “ignore” information that would require us to change. We do that alot.  Trungpa goes on to say, [we] completely ignore such possibilities. If somebody attacks you or challenges your clumsiness, your unskilled way of handling a situation, you find a way of justifying yourself, find rational to keep your self-respect. You are not concerned with being truthful as long as your deception can be maintained in front of others.

This is an active ignorance.  But this type of cultivation doesn’t just happen in the animal realm of being but, according to Nichtern,  is also found in the other realms, especially when looked at through the lens of our everyday experience. How does ignorance play out even when we find ourselves in what could be considered one of the god realms? Let’s look at it from an everyday mindset perspective.
For us Westerners, it could be said we live in both of the god realms, we are dancing between them from moment to moment, generation to generation. Most of the things we want we can go to the story a select from 12 different kinds and get immediate satisfaction. We live at a level of wealth and prosperity that most of the world can only dream of. We consider all of this not a gift but a “right”, I have earned this. Traditionally, those in the god realm find themselves there because of good karma and from a small perspective we could think that they have “earned” the right to be there. We do that.  Many Americans see our country, or “way of life” as proof of our social virtue, as if we are somehow special and “exceptional” and deserve our prosperity. And that is not just socially constructed but has seeped into religious thinking, think of the popularity of the “gospel of prosperity” taught in some churches. Far from the homeless, communalist, and agitator that was Jesus.

Being in a god realm frame of mind, we like it, we want to stay in it, we want to freely enjoy it, we don’t want to think of consequences, or it ending, of how it affects others, etc. As Nichtern writes,

“we have to cultivate a certain kind of ignorance, actively ignoring any aspect of our experience that is unsettling or disruptive in mood. “

This is very true when we are faced with our impact on the planet as westerners. It is also true that the cost has been more felt by the poorer nations where we get the raw materials from. Those is the god realm mindset, “cultivate ignorance” by denying global warming, by buying cheap products and ignore the fact that they are produced by child labor or that the children making our jeans work in dangerous and toxic environments. This is also true in the Jealous god realm mindset, where we want what the ‘gods of finance” have and we don’t care if we have to get rich on the backs of others so we can live the high life, live in the realm of the gods above us. We cultivate an ignorance of the other and the suffering, anything that can get in our way of achievement. Maybe the election of 2016 was symptom of living in the jealous god realm too long. Some forms of Ignorance are not passive but active. We want we have and don’t want to lose it. That being said, how are you in your own life cultivating ignorance?  I think in a real way, the reason we are trapped in the endless wandering of samsara is because we are continually cultivating the opposite of  awareness. Each time we turn aways from the teachings that sing to us everyday, when we refuse to see ourselves reflected in the faces of others, when we refuse to open up, or accept things as they are, when we feed every self-justification and machination to get or keep that insubstantial thing that is desperately hoped will give final satisfaction and security, we cultivate ignorance and perpetuate our suffering.

As I look at my life, I realize how much I have cultivated ignorance. I have ignored things that looked me straight in face, and were so close I could feel their breath on my skin…a failing marriage, smoking, a drinking problem, childhood wounding, the fact that what I was doing was re-wounding myself and others. This was true when I spent days or years in the mindset of the Animal realm, I chose not to see but to seek after the distraction of sex or alcohol. Sometimes I think my television watching and Facebook scrolling is how I still cultivate ignorance. Doing so has only given me a first class ticket to spend sometime in the arid environs of the Hungry Ghost realm, or subway ticket to the cold and hot Hell realms of the world’s injustice perpetrated against me. Even with all the Buddhas that were always there waiting for me,  I chose darkness over light, I cultivated ignorance, gloried in it.  But the compassionate light of the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas found me. It was the clanking of the six ringed staff (representing the six realms) of Jizo that finally woke me up. …. and still, at times I find myself cultivating ignorance. I don’t want to do this anymore.  As Dogen taught, I am going to seek to know myself to forget myself to be awakened by a myriad of things.

Now my aspiration, my vow is to be like Haya Akegarasu, to dispel ignorance by heeding what he wrote in Shout of Buddha,

“Don’t pass by things you don’t understand as though you didn’t see them at all…. want to see everything.. want to see through the bottom of things,…want to touch everything, to taste everything, to transcend, to enlighten, to embrace everything.”

Yes! I want to embrace everything. Let us free ourselves of ignorance by opening our eyes, our minds and our hearts to everything, having the courage to look into the heart of life, to look into the darkness, to look into the light and not turn away from any of it, to no longer cultivate ignorance and by not doing so wake up.

Boundless: October’s Newsletter.

lord-buddha-hd-wallpapers-7

Here is a link to our latest newsletter, poetry, photograph, practice and more.

https://caleibow.atavist.com/boundless-oct-2016

Ku Yo – Offerings to all the Buddhas

“ Ku Yo, making an offering is a very important virtue in the Buddha’s Way…Ku Yo is done in relation to someone who is more worthy than oneself…to do Ku Yo is one way of expressing profound gratitude and nourishment for the very source of our gratitude…it is an honor to do Ku Yo.” – Gyomay Kubose

 

The concept of Ku Yo resonates with me. To make offerings to all the Buddhas is something that brought me back to Buddhism, after being away for a while. I have no idea of why this is what brought me back. If I look at my history, one would think that this is what would drive me away instead of drawing me nearer. Recently I was re-reading the Shorter Pure Land Sutra about how one of the practices in the Pure Land being was to make offerings to countless Buddhas of other Buddha lands. In Sukhavati, it rains Mandarava blossoms all the time, and those flowers are gathered up and then offered to numerous Buddhas across the universe. Along with other meditative or Bodhisattva practices, there is also the practice of Ku Yo. I love that fact that the offering to the Buddhas is not something that is rare but something that is continuously unfolding. I like to think of the flowers as a representation of the compassion and practice of those living in the Pure Land; the flowers raining from the sky represent the fruit of practice and awakening. As Mark Healsmith has written, “The flower is a wonderful exemplar of the uniqueness yet interconnectedness of all life “ and makes the offering of them an expression of the interconnectedness of all life and “profound gratitude, for the very source of our gratitude.”

The other reason why Ku Yo resonates with me is it is something that I have been contemplating. I have been thinking about Ku Yo in the frame of the “Way of Gratitude” and some of the barriers that impede our cultivation of it. I have been thinking about the role of humility and gratitude and how humility is one of its prerequisites. I think, at times, we struggle with gratitude because we struggle with humility. As I have been thinking about this and asking others, I found that for many of us we struggle with humility because we have not experienced it, only its unhealthy sibling; Shame. In humility we are open, we are ready to learn, we show both sides of the leaf. With shame, we close our self off from the outside world and bury our leaf in the darkest hole. In this state of mind when we see someone with boundless compassion or great practice we do not see it as something we can learn from, but they become a source of further comparison and a deepening shame of our failures. That which could give us hope and insight into our Buddha Nature only becomes a testament to our failures. Gratitude gets choked off in the darkness. Humility, on the other hand, opens us up to awe and the acceptance of our limitation, it frees us to “keep going” without the burden of judgment and shame.

As Gyomay writes, Ku Yo practice is being done in relation to someone or something that is more worthy than oneself. More worthy than me? A part of us does not like such a statement. Here is where many of us live in a paradox. In our shame we feel unworthy and yet we bristle at the idea of someone being more worthy than us? Why is this concept so challenging for some of us? Maybe it is because we have inherited the karma of “rugged individualism” and a misplaced meaning of “equality”? In opening services at our Sangha, we recite lines from the opening they use at Plum Village Sangha in France. One of the lines says, “may we be free from the “equality complex””, to remind ourselves that there are things greater than ourselves, like the three refuges for example; the Dharma, The Sangha and the Buddha. I am grateful that there are things in this world greater than me! I feel a sympathetic joy and gratitude to those I make offerings to. I think that Ku Yo is the fruit of “sincerely seeking the true life” (46) There is no Ku Yo without “true life” and no true life without “Ku Yo”, they “co-arise”. Offerings to the Buddha inspire us to become Buddhas, they come from the heart, there is no ego in it.” (46) all the time realizing that what bows and is bowed to are the same.

I have great appreciation for the more psychological and secular forms of Buddhism and they have been companions with me on my journey. At the same time I appreciate the idea of something greater than my small ego-self, a point of reference that elicits awe, a devotional expression within samsaric dualism, that works dynamically through poetry, metaphor and experience to dissolve all dualisms into the great ocean of compassion.

The Grace of Oneness

“ This realization of oneness. It involves the highest type of communication and respect.  IF your life is realized in the this sense…you would see that the whole world supports you.  You exist because others; everything supports your life.  This totality, this oneness evokes a gratitude and a great joy beyond explanation.” Gyomay Kubose

 

We live a life immersed in grace;  the grace of being supported by all things at all times. We are supported by the solar system, by the sun that continually lights our world and drives the processes that help the earth to give us air to breath, water to drink and food to eat, that helps us to see, We are supported by the smallest things, to the largest. We are supported by microbes and bees that help create the food we eat, and by all the trees that help us breathe.   The bees give us grace every day, the trees give us grace, and there is also the grace given by our ancestors down through long passages of time; so much grace given that is still within in us now.  We are all interdependent and existent in this very moment.  In the midst of our diversity and interdependence we can come to direct realization of Oneness and by doing so we can communicate our respect and gratitude for them, for all of life, for all the gifts which in oneness we have received  and which are unmerited.

 

For me, namu amida butsu is an expression of this oneness and grace, an expression of Buddha-nature.  The Oneness that Gyomay Sensei is writing about in the above quote, is for me personified as Amida Buddha.  Because of Oneness I exist and therefore I exist because of namu amida butsu. This is how I understand the idea among some teachers, that  the nembutsu is simply an expression of gratitude for all that Amida Buddha has done for us. My practice of chanting the nembutsu is a form of the highest form of  communication and respect. Through this practice I cultivate a recognition / realization of Oneness, and all that Oneness does for me every day, and this brings forth the fruit and joy of gratitude.

 

This has tied into something that I have been thinking about  and that is gratitude, gratitude as a form of awakening.  A few years ago I had an experience in the midst of great suffering, where something shifted and I was overwhelmed with an intense gratitude for everything I had experienced and everyone I have ever known, even for just a moment.  I spent hours going through my email list sending out heart felt thank yous to everyone on. I think even companies whose email list I was part of even got a thank you and I am sure a few who received the emails, shook their heads. I called friends, I reached out to as many as I could to share my gratitude for their very existence.   In this space of gratitude, I wept and I laughed.  It was confusing at first because of the amount of tears that fell.  I remember thinking why am crying so hard?  I am  not sad so why am I crying? I realized that for me this is how deep and profound gratitude expresses itself.  Later on, this experience also helped to me realize that for many years I had seen “love” as the highest emotion, the goal of religious practice.  I have had experiences of profound love for all things,  where I loved even the street sign that I was standing under, and yet that night I experienced something even more expansive and sublime than “love”;  I experienced an unbounded gratitude. Writing this now and remembering what it was like, the lines from last week’s report are even more profound  “ We should always be ready to die, able to say, “thank you for everything”.  In some ways, that is what I experienced that night, the “thank you for everything” and remembering it helps me to understand what Gyomay Sensei was teaching.

 

I like what Jeff Wilson,  a Jodo Shin minister has written,  “in Shin Buddhism our main focus is the practice of gratitude. We practice simply to give thanks for what we have received. It’s a small shift in one’s perspective, but when pursued, it can be transformative.”  This came home to me the other night when I was holding my little boy in my arms, he was cuddled against my chest and I was just feeling him breathe and thinking how much I loved him and I just repeated thank you, thank you, thank you and the love I was feeling already, expanded exponentially and was enfolded into an ever expanding gratitude.  I think the cultivation of  gratitude is an important practice because it acts as a catalyst that can expand positive states of consciousness. Cultivating gratitude, by recognizing  and by expressing it, manifests more gratitude and deepens our awareness of Oneness.

 

Namu amida butsu

Namu amida butsu

Namu amida butsu

 

May it be so.

Our Chant and What it Means.

We chant a version of the nembutsu which means to keep remember the Buddha.  Here is the chant that we do  every Sunday as a part of our practice and a brief explanation of what it represent? Here it is.
Namu Amitabhaya
Buddhaya
Dharmaya
Shanghaya
Namu Amitabhaya
Buddhaya
Dharmaya
Shanghaya
Namu Namu Amitbhaya
Namu Namu Amitbhaya
The chant traditionally uses Namo which means Homage to, we use the less traditional “namu” which means “to bow” and can also be loosely translated as “to become.” as to become Amitabhaya Buddha who is a Trans-Historical Buddha of Boundless Compassion accepting everyone just as they are, a Buddha of absolute grace. The chant is an aspiration to become like Amitabha Buddha and to demonstrate boundless compassion for all beings. Namu Amida Butsu means I follow/return back to Amida Buddha it is also there to remind us that Amitabha Buddha is there to help us realize our Buddha-Nature and all the Buddhas sing for our awakening.
On a more practical level, we say Namu Amida Butsu, especially after become aware of doing something that reveals our foolishness, lack of compassion, our greed and anger. For me it means, each moment of awareness is a moment to begin again, that I always have a “blank slate” to begin again even right after doing something foolish.  This opens a boundless space of practice and self-compassion, until we come to realize the path of pure surrender.
 I like this straight forward take on reciting Namu Amida Butsu.   Shinran (1173–1263) taught that for most of us, the pursuit of enlightenment is a futile, ego-driven exercise, and that thanks to tariki, or “other power,” or the personification of “Buddha-Nature” within Amida Buddha, we come to understand that we are already enlightened. “We should chant the Nembutsu out of gratitude, because we realize that we are already home home and we’re grateful.
For those of a more traditional or formal perspective here is a link.