Two Junes
Photo by Peter Cunningham 

I am still digesting my time at the Zen Peacemakers first Native American Bearing Witness Retreat held a couple of weeks ago in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  It was a huge experience and in the next couple of months, I will recount some of what happened there.


The Black Hills, known as Pahá Sápa to the Lakota, translates as Heart of Everything That Is and as Sacred Place of the Heart.  It’s the entrance to Heaven. It’s an area covered with dark green Ponderosa pines. Looked at from above, the Black Hills has the shape of a big heart surrounded by red soil.  Native Americans have lived there since 7,000 BC.

“Truly be here with the land and all the creations that will speak up.  Allow your hearts to break wide open.  Let’s live like that this week,” said Grover Genro Gauntt, a major coordinator and one of the spirit holders of the Zen Peacemakers Native American Retreat.  So, I did.

The first night we all stayed in Rapid City’s Motel 6 right next to a busy highway.  There were many motels in that area.  I slept well that night. Maybe because there were so many peacemakers in the motel?  That evening it drizzled, and a beautiful red rainbow appeared.

The next day we rode in an old bus (with a manual clutch) traveling from Rapid City to the Pine Ridge Reservation, the poorest reservation in the nation with an average income of $4,500 – 5,000 per year. Next we traveled on to the Badlands and finally to Wounded Knee.

It was a hot sunny day, dry and dusty.  We passed a few homes and many churches. In the Sioux Nation Grocery Store’s parking lot, an older native woman with a weathered face was selling a few beaded items.  I learned that her name was also June.  Our Native tour guide told us that youth suicide is epidemic.  Infant mortality is six times the nation’s average.  Alcoholism is rampant.  Homes can house up to 10 – 12 families.

Then we drove past the Badlands – beautiful buttes, pinnacles and spires in the midst of grasslands. Among the buttes is the Lakota Stronghold Table where the last Ghost Dances were held.  Many Sioux thought that by wearing special “Ghost Shirts” the ghost dancing warriors would be unharmed by the white man’s bullets and could openly defy the soldiers and white settlers.  They believed their dance could bring back the old days of the big buffalo herds.

At Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890, as winter closed in, a band of Minneconjou and Hunkpapa Sioux  (106 warriors and 250 women and children) led by Chief Big Foot, were surrounded by 470 soldiers of the U.S. 7th Calvary.  The troops attempted to disarm Big Foot’s band. Gunfire erupted. Before it was over, nearly three hundred Indians and thirty soldiers lay dead.

The Wounded Knee Massacre was the last major clash between Plains Indians and the U.S. military until the advent of the American Indian Movement in the 1970s, most notably in the 1973 standoff at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

National Historic Landmark – Wounded Knee Cemetery
Photo by Peter Cunningham

Wounded Knee is located in the center of the Pine Ridge Reservation on a little hill.  We walked silently on a dusty, uneven dirt road up to the top of the flat, to a small cemetery.  Halfway up the hill a small golden dragonfly caught my eye.  It was flying stationary alongside the path.  I paused to take in it’s beauty as fully as I could.  How amazing – beauty in the midst of great sadness!

At the top of the hill stands an old archway that leads into the cemetery.  The first thing we saw was a chain link fence surrounding the rectangular mass grave of the 300 massacred Indians.  Our guide’s wife, Doreen Two Bulls, was standing at the fence, silently weeping.  The sky was a clear, powder blue with a few white clouds that bore witness as did two hundred of us – to this awful massacre of men, women and children.  It was hard to take in.  There was a hush.

After leaving Wounded Knee, our bus started shaking a little, and our guide said, “You’re gonna experience a regular Rapid City occurrence – broken down on the side of the road.”  Luckily the bus made it to the Red Cloud Indian School Visitor Center where we were able to shop for Native art and handicrafts while they change the buses.  This eased my heart.

After nearly 12 hours, we got to the Flandreau Santee Sious campsite in the Black Hills.  It was dark.  There was a big bright, white tent where a solo generator hummed to provide electricity for the lights.  A sweet scent of pine trees and mowed grass greeted me. It was dark and hard to see our luggage.  There was a chill in the air.

We slept in a big women’s tent for the evening. The ground was lumpy with grass clumps and  small rocks here and there.  We used flashlights to see.  There were no mosquitoes or ticks. The spider nation was present however, with numerous small spiders that thankfully didn’t bother us. Eventually I found them to be quite sweet and gentle. I wonder if it’s because they are honored here.

At about 6 am the next morning, I was the first to awaken in the tent where about 8 of us slept.  I dressed quickly and eagerly walk outside the tent.  I wanted to see these sacred black hills that I’d heard so much about.  Once outside I gasped, was overwhelmed by the natural beauty that greeted me – my heart broke open and tears fell!

There was a little knoll to the south outlined with white morning mist.  It looked like a Hawaiian moon-bow to me. I stood as if in a dream.  A silver crescent moon hung in a pale blue sky low in the east.  The mist did a slow-motion dance moving down the hill and then up again as I silently watched.

To the left of the hill was a circular area where the Sioux perform their Sundance ceremonies.  We were instructed not to walk into that area out of respect.  Tiokasin Ghosthorse said that sundancers are men who commit to dancing the rest of their lives – metaphorically – first as a service to all life and also to keep that consciousness alive for those who do not have a voice.

Melodic Native American flute tones emanated from the main tent and echoed through the woods.   It was Tiokasin playing his flute – gentle yet undeniably strong.  That was our wake up call.  We had been instructed to leave our watches at home and to turn off our cellphones since there’s no reception there.  We were now officially on Indian time on the Flandreau Santee Sioux sacred land – the heart’s land.

Malama pono (take care of your body, mind and heart), 
June Kaililani Tanoue
Kumu Hula

P.S.  Here’s a slide show of photographs of my Bearing Witness trip. Thanks to Peter Cunningham and Darrell Justus for the photos and music by Tiokasin Ghosthorse.  Here are Peter and Darrell’s complete photos and Jadina Lilien’s photos of the retreat.


Posted in Articles by June Tanoue, Community, Zen-inspired Life | Comments Off

“Though clear waters range to the vast blue autumn sky,
How can they compare with the hazy moon on a spring night!
Most people want to have pure clarity,
But sweep as you will, you cannot empty the mind.”

Keizan Zenji

Posted in Quote of Week, Zen-inspired Life | Comments Off

“The best defense against bullshit is vigilance.”

Jon Stewart


Posted in Everyday Zen, Quote of Week | Comments Off

Last month, I visited ke one(pronounced as o-nay) hanau (the sands of my birth) on beautiful Moku o Keawe – also known as Hawaii Island.  It has been over two years since I visited this beautiful island of Hawaii.

Thanks to a reunion with my college roommates of 44 years ago and to the generosity of one, we stayed in a cottage by the ocean on the western side of the island.  The salt air permeated and nourished our bodies and minds.  The sound of the ocean was ever in our ears.  There were no schedules.

Every morning  I was the first to get up – I was so excited to see the beach as the sun rose.  I changed quickly – and walked toward the ocean taking a short little path.  I stood on the beach in the cool morning air, looking at the ocean and at the dark lava rocks standing like little islands in the sea.  Big sea turtles crawled on those rocks and slept there during the day.  Small, gentle waves in the distance kept rolling towards the shore rhythmically.  The clouds reflecting the sunrise’s peach and pink were mirrored in quiet tide pools.

I could see Maui’s huge mountain, Haleakala, nestled in a bank of light purple and salmon clouds in the distance.  I inhaled and exhaled deeply and felt happiness in my bones.

It got hot later in the morning, but the ocean trade winds always kept us comfortable.  At night we took mats to the beach to lie down and look at the many stars.  The Big Dipper, Bootes, Arcturus and other constellations twinkled at us.  Saturn and Jupiter shone steadily.  Shooting stars thrilled us!

My old friends and I reminisced over meals.  We sat in the warm ocean tide pool or in the shade of the old kamani tree – appreciating the place and all of it’s plants and animals.  A family of brown Francolins lived there.  Three young ones followed their parents, all in a line, looking for food.  They sometimes ran quickly across the yard and blended in with the sand.  Every now and then one of the parents would shout out a huge unmistakeable bird song that sounded like part hyena and part cackle. I was amazed.

We took a trip to Hilo one day and drove on the new Saddle Road.  It’s called the Saddle Road because the road goes right between the great mountains Mauna Kea also called Mauna a Wakea and Mauna Loa.  The road is beautiful – open vistas on the western side and gorgeous rain forests on the eastern side.

The turnoff to Hale Pohaku or the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy sits at the top of the saddle.  I wanted to visit the mauna (mountain) and offer my gratitude.  The drive up to the center began in fog and light drizzle.  We drove slowly up the road.  As we got higher, the weather started to clear.  And then the mamane trees came into sight.  Mamane is a beautiful hardwood tree.  Its seeds are the only food for the honeycreeper, the palila bird.  Its round oval-like leaves and yellow flowers are an important Hawaiian medicinal.

Hale Pohaku sits at 9,000 feet. We parked, and as I walked towards the protectors, who are protesting the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope, I saw a truck with an open bed hosting a beautiful big yellow sign that said “Aloha Aina.“  This means love of the land.  Two Hawaiian flags in the corner of the truck’s bed flew in the occasional breeze.  I stopped to chat with two women sitting on either side the sign.  As often happens on Hawaii Island, one of the women turned out to be my high school classmate from 50 years ago!

The young Mauna A Wakea protectors were parked across the street from the center.  But before I went to say aloha, I walked behind them and climbed a small hill.  The air was dry and clear, the sky blue.  There were a number of beautiful mamane trees in bloom.  It was open and spacious.  The sun was warm and the land sacred. It felt so good to be walking on the ‘aina (land).   I looked up and saw the summit – 13,796 feet above sea level or 33,000 feet from its base underwater.  It looked so very majestic and lofty with white puffy clouds slowing passing by.

Pausing at a small rock ahu (altar) a little way up the path, I offered a pule (prayer) of gratitude for being there and for all the people who are protecting the mountain and those who are not.   Then I went to meet the protectors and gave them a warm hug, thanking them for serving there.  They returned my hug with warmth, and my heart filled. Tears dropped as I left.  Love was there all around me each day.  I hope you can feel that love as you read this.

Malama Pono (take care of your body, mind and heart),
Sensei June Ryushin Kaililani Tanoue
Zen Teacher, Kumu Hula






P.S.  Here’s a slide show of photographs of my Hawaii Island trip. Thanks to music by Keoki Carter.  I also attended a family reunion in Honolulu and made this slide show of that wonderful gathering.

Posted in Articles by June Tanoue, Environment, Everyday Zen | Comments Off

“All those who are unhappy in the world are so because they desire their own happiness. All those who are happy in the world are so because they desire others to be happy.”


Posted in Compassion, Quote of Week, Zen-inspired Life | Comments Off

transcribed talk by Robert Joshin Althouse Roshi given at ZLMC on June 7, 2015.

(Intro) We have Robert Joshin Althouse talking to us today about a very complex subject, that’s so … it’s the water we are swimming in, so it’s hard to even know how racism is affecting the way we are and think. So I’m really happy that he’s talking to us today about this subject.

(Robert) Thank you, June.

So, welcome. The title of this talk is “Beginning a Conversation on Race and Racism.” And this is a sensitive issue, and as June said, it’s complex as well. There are two issues I can think of that are really sensitive: gender and race.  I’ve been in council circles around gender that have been really difficult, and I think race is also one of these really sensitive subjects that we don’t really know how to talk about.  Ferguson happened, Baltimore happened, but they’re no longer in the news. But that doesn’t mean that what gave birth to the violence in those cities is still not occurring on a daily basis in all of our inner cities.

So, I think to have a conversation on something as sensitive as this, we need some ground rules so that we can feel safe and we can be ourselves. The first ground rule I would say that operates here is the three tenets of a peacemaker: not knowing, bearing witness, and loving action.

We start with some humility about what we know and how we know it—I would call not knowing “epistemological humility”—that’s a big word, epistemology; it’s just “how we know things” in philosophy. So, having some humility about how we know things. I’m a white guy, and I read this book, which I’m basing the talk on, “The New Jim Crow.”  Ok, one person’s point of view. And I read a few other things.  But I think when we have this kind of a subject, we have this kind of conversation, and I hope we can have more of them, there are going to be many points of view. And you’re not going to agree with everything that I say. There are going to be many points of view, and I think we need to respect all of them, even if we disagree. So, no knowing becomes a guideline.

And then bearing witness becomes another guideline, in terms of our practice, and we can talk about bearing witness in a lot of different ways. We can talk about bearing witness to those aspects of ourselves that are disowned, but we can also talk about bearing witness to those aspects of our community which are disenfranchised. We all draw some kind of a circle around ourselves in our imagination about who we are, and who we aren’t—and who we aren’t is outside the circle. We all draw the line in different places but if you’re really honest, there are groups of people in the culture and in the world that you really don’t think about too much—we all do this—and that you’re more or less indifferent towards because you don’t have, maybe you don’t have any common experience with that group of people, and we draw the line in different places. Maybe you draw the line and homeless people are outside the line because you have a house, or maybe they’re not—maybe they’re within the circle of who you consider yourself to be. But maybe outside the line are gay people, or trans-gendered people, or maybe people of color, or poor people, or people in prison. Oh, there’s a good group—out of sight, out of mind. How often do we see prisoners? I don’t see them, so… put them outside the circle of my concerns. You understand what I’m saying? So, when we’re bearing witness, I think it’s important to sort of be honest about where we draw the line. We are the world, we can say that theoretically in terms of Zen teachings—this is my world, it’s your world, it’s a sacred world, we’re all interconnected, and yet we do tend to draw a line around how far out we extend who we think we are. So bearing witness is the practice of acknowledging those aspects in our community which are disenfranchised.

And then loving action arises out of practicing not knowing and bearing witness. Loving action arises because we are fundamentally compassionate beings, and when we connect in a proper way to whatever situation we’re working with, through not knowing, not just imposing our assumptions on something, but really being open-hearted and brave, and opening to the situation and then staying and bearing witness to what comes up, then we’re in a better situation to do something. Loving action is action, healing action. What can we do skillfully that will reduce suffering about the situation we’re in?

So I’d say those three tenets are a ground rule. Obviously I think a ground rule is to respect all points of view. I think, from my point of view, a ground rule should be allowing ourselves to be politically incorrect. I think there’s a fear when we wade into a subject like this that we’re going to say the wrong word. And when you enforce political correctness, you drive our stereotypes and prejudices underground, and it’s much better when they’re out on the table. And this doesn’t mean, we all have some prejudice and stereotypes about race. It doesn’t mean we’re necessarily racist; it depends on how you define that word. But we all have prejudices and biases and stereotypes, and I occasionally say things that are politically incorrect. And what I would like to suggest here is that we would feel a lot safer if we allow ourselves to say something that’s not necessarily politically correct, to not have to worry about using exactly the right word, and maybe that will reveal, the way you say that, that you have some bias. And it might be embarrassing, but we’re here to be a genuine community and open-hearted and to be loving towards each other, so we could say to someone, “That wasn’t very skillful, how you said that” or something. But to enforce political correctness then drives prejudice and stereotypes underground, and then they become a ghost in the room, and then we can’t work with it, or it’s much harder to work with. It’s much easier when people are openly racist and just come out and say so. It’s the white liberals we have to worry about, you and me. We’re all so correct. Ok? Does that make sense? Alright.

And if someone says something politically incorrect, please, do not walk out of the room. Do not walk out of the room if something upsets you here. That’s an act of personal terrorism. You are terrorizing everyone else—”Oh, I don’t like the way you’re doing it, so I’m going to walk out of the room.” Please don’t ever do that here at the Zen Center if you are upset. Stay and bear witness. That’s our practice. We’re talking about something here that’s going to bring up all kinds of stuff for each one of us. It’s going to be uncomfortable sometimes, and sometimes you’re not going to agree with me.

The other thing that I think it’s important to understand is rank. Acknowledge rank when it’s appropriate. Whenever we’re talking about a subject like race, where there’s power differentials and class stratification. I know we don’t like to think that we have class in America, if you read any of the history books in school systems they never mention class—well, we’ll talk a little bit about middle class, but we don’t talk about lower class or upper class, or caste systems—we’re highly stratified as a society in terms of class but we don’t like to talk about it, any more than we’d like to talk about race. So rank—we all have, everyone has rank. You have some kind of privilege in terms of someone else.  And there’s nothing the matter with rank, rank is a way that sociologists look at culture. So in any culture there’s going to be a mainstream culture that has rank, and then people that are outside of that mainstream culture. So in our culture, the people that have rank are white folks, pretty much. Now there can be variations of this but, for the most part, white people have rank. White men generally have more rank than white women. So, I have rank, I’m a white guy. And I’m a Zen teacher. So I have quite a bit of rank, and I don’t have to feel guilty about having rank, but I can acknowledge it. It’s when we don’t acknowledge rank that things get crazy. It’s when the mayor of Ferguson stands up and says, “We don’t have a racial problem in this city”, that’s crazy-making. That’s not exactly denying rank, but very often people that have rank are unconscious about it. And so it’s important when we’re in this kind of an environment where we’re talking about race that rank be acknowledged. And often people that have rank feel very defensive about it. I have privilege, I’m happy that I have privilege. Police don’t pull me over and frisk me when I walk down the street. I’m glad they don’t. I have a pretty good relationship with police. There’s a lot more we can say about rank but it’s a dynamic that’s going to be operating in any group that we’re involved in here today, or any other, especially when we’re talking about race.

The other thing I would say is that the victim, perpetrator, and savior dynamic is fundamentally disempowering. And we will slip into that when we have these kinds of conversations, we’re bound to do it, but we can bring some mindfulness and awareness that when that does occur, that that’s generally not going to be very helpful as a dynamic.

And then the last thing I want to say is the point about the dharma. I’m sure you’ve heard people talk about emptiness here now, the heart sutra, and maybe you’ve studied it. People for thousands of years have been studying this teaching and trying to grapple with it and come to terms with it. It is a deep and subtle teaching in our Zen tradition. And what I want to say about emptiness is that nobody is an island unto themselves, we’re all interconnected here. In one sense we’re all similar or the same—we’re all in the same boat, so to speak. But another teaching about emptiness which is extremely important is that we’re all unique as well. And in terms of the discussion we’re having here today, I feel that the central teaching about emptiness is about diversity, about difference, acknowledging difference. There was a Chinese teacher in the early 7th-8th century China, Fau San, who talked about activating difference as a basis for generating patterns of mutual contribution for everyone to realize freedom from conflict, trouble, and suffering. When we talk about diversity, we’re often using it in, I think, an unskillful way. What we often mean by diversity is variety, but diversity is not variety. Variety is something you can measure. I can look around the room and I can immediately see there are so many women in the room, there are so many men in the room, if there were people of color here I could say there are so many people of color. You can see variety at a glance. There are so many people with hair on their heads, and there are some people who don’t have much hair on their heads. I don’t see too many of them, where are they? So variety is something you can see, that you can measure.  Diversity is not like that. You can’t measure diversity. Diversity is an emergent quality that arises when we acknowledge difference, our differences, and we allow that difference to be part of our relationship, so that we can differ well.  Diversity is how we activate and honor difference so we can make a difference together. It’s an emergent quality, and we all have diversity, we all have resources and skills that are different from each other, and when we allow those differences to be here and be present, and honored, and heard, then we are … to me that is one of the most important teachings about emptiness.  Any questions so far?

Audience: Can you say more about the triangle you mentioned earlier? The savior, the… I’m not that familiar with it.

Oh, the victim-perpetrator-savior?  Well, it can happen all the time but it’s particularly easy to fall into this kind of dynamic when we’re talking about a sensitive issue like race. It’s easy to identify people as victims or to feel that we are a victim of some injustice. It’s easy to… you might feel like you’re the perpetrator of the injustice if you have rank, for instance, you might feel that I have privilege and I’ve benefited from that, that in some ways I’ve perpetrated racism because of my rank or privilege. Or, the other part of the dynamic is being a savior, falling into the trap of wanting to save the victim, and then demonizing the perpetrator. That’s usually what happens, is that we’re standing outside, instead of really bearing witness and being on the same level with all three of those aspects of the situation, we take sides. The policemen are the perpetrators, African-Americans in the inner city are the victims, and then we become the white liberal saviors. We’re gonna go in and save them.  I don’t think that’s skillful. And it’s very easy to fall into this trap. Does that make sense?

Audience:  Yeah, yeah. It seems like a lot of the dialog, or that’s not even dialog, in our country or culture is kind of very much an Us versus Them. They’re wrong; if they only felt like us, then everything would be great whether you’re on the Right or the Left. And that’s obviously going nowhere. 

Yes, I agree.

Audience: I think it (the victim-perpetrator-savior) also has to do with the concept of not taking responsibility for one’s actions and blaming the other person. And that can happen on several levels, not only personal but societal and worldwide. They did this to me, or I’m not to blame, or poor me, that kind of thing. 

So this dynamic will come up a lot. Dan and I were talking to Charles Perry the other day, the wonderful black African-American man, who spent some of his life in prison, and is now actively working with Dan in Austin, and is a wonderful guy. And I started to talk to him about some of the stuff I’m going to talk to you about today, and he started pushing back. He started saying “Well we have choices in the ghetto, I have choices, I made bad choices.” And I was telling Dan later, I realized the dynamic that got set up there was he’s looking at me as a white liberal who’s gonna talk about all the injustices which he actually, I’m sure, he agrees with, but in this context when he’s talking to me, he’s not a victim. He’s overcome all that. He doesn’t want me to see him as a victim of the injustice. So he’s pushing back and saying “You know I had choices, I made choices, and I’ve come up, you know, I pulled myself up.” And I totally got it. See, there’s a dynamic that’s going to go on in these conversations and we have to really be aware that everyone’s got a different point of view, and everyone’s gonna come from a different place. It was very helpful talking to him, because it took my own liberal righteousness and really dampened it down and made me feel much more humble about what I’m talking about today. I’m just telling you my point of view, and I do not have the truth with the capital T. I’ve read a book. Ok? I’ve read a few things.

Audience: Who’s the author of the book Joshin?

Michelle Alexander. I highly recommend the book. It’s a little hard reading, but well-researched. What I would say, and I’m going to talk about what she said, is that she’s painting this with a broad brush.

So I want to start this conversation saying that it seems to me that how we think about race today is that we are color-blind. We sort of value being color-blind. The idea is that we’ve gotten beyond race. Well, Barack Obama is an African-American and he’s our President, and we can certainly point out other people of color that have excelled in extraordinary ways. Colin Powell. Oprah Winfrey. So in our heads we think well, if we’ve achieved that, if we have a African-American who’s President, then we must have overcome race and race is really no longer something we should be talking about or pointing out because it’s kind of, it’s really not there anymore. We’re an egalitarian democracy, you know, and everyone has a fighting chance, and so on. So we tend to be color-blind. I think that’s not helpful. People define racism in lots of different ways. For the purposes of our conversation today, I’m going to define racism as a policy which is systemic to an institution, is embedded in the structure of an institution, which allows people within that institution or associated with it to act in ways which are discriminatory and racist. But without that policy, it would be very difficult for individuals to be racist. That’s how I’m going to talk about it. Do you understand what I’m saying? So, you can say that in the South, when there were Jim Crow laws and things that created discrimination, that system of laws allowed people in the South to feel free to do things that were discriminatory and prejudiced against African-Americans. But if there hadn’t been that system of Jim Crow laws in the governmental institutions, then it would have been harder for individuals to go out and put on white hoods and hang people, and do awful things. So that’s how I’m going to define it. And I think it’s useful, at least for the purposes of this discussion, to think of racism that is held in place by policies and institutional cultures. So it’s not enough just to say we need to tweak something in the police department, like community policing. Let’s put cameras on their heads. Well, that would be great, but that’s not going to address the fundamental nature of racism in our culture. And I do believe, from my own reading, that racism is probably the most important shadow issue in the history and legacy of our country. It’s the underbelly of who we are.

The notion of race began the minute we started colonizing the Americas and we said “The Indians are savages. They’re in the way.” We started slavery, and couldn’t really enslave Indians because they have tribes and they can come and create a lot of trouble, but hey, you could import black people from Africa and divide their families, so they had very little power. They were easy to make slaves. So from the very moment that we founded this country and the notion of manifest destiny was brought up, you know, we have a right as white people, to take—we need more land. First of all, slavery is working, and there’s these Indians in the way. We need land, and more slaves, and they’re down there in the South and Southeast, down in Florida, and we’ve got to move them out. After all, they’re savages. The moment we had the notion that we were superior over anybody because of race, we began the whole journey that we’ve taken as a country. So, race has been a part of our history from the very beginning.  So I’m not going to go through all the history, but obviously we had slavery, we fought a civil war to bring the union together and in some respects to end slavery. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and slaves were freed. And there was a Reconstruction period where the federal government occupied the South up to a point, that was until … roughly from 1865 to 1877. And in 1877 the federal government withdrew from the South. And the South, after the war, was in shambles and ruins and disoriented, and didn’t know how to proceed. Slavery had been a huge part of the economy. So, what happened is that from 1868 to 1963, Jim Crow laws started to be put in place, and these were laws on the books that could arrest African Americans, primarily, for vagrancy, or being uppity, or mischievous behavior. If you had a debt, you could be arrested and put in prison, and end up being contract labor. Basically, you would go to prison and you weren’t called a slave, but they would send you out to a plantation every day and you would work. So they still had slavery through the Jim Crow laws. And there were all kinds of intimidations that went with the Jim Crow era—there was the Ku Klux Klan, there were councils, there were ways to intimidate. Even though black people could supposedly vote, it was pretty intimidating for an African American to go to the polls. They had poll taxes, they had all kinds of things that made it hard to vote. And they had these people around in scary white sheets that were anonymous and could kill you, and did. So the Jim Crow laws were actively racist, discriminatory, they were out in the open. Everyone knew what was being done. There was no ambiguity about it at all.

And then we had the Civil Rights movement, roughly from 1954-1968, in which we had extraordinary people—Martin Luther King is one very fine example—who really began to question the injustice of the discrimination against people of color, mostly in the South but also in the North. Martin Luther King came to Chicago and people threw rocks at him. Here. So, there was the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which formally dismantled the Jim Crow laws, the Jim Crow system.

And then what’s really interesting is that there was a kind of backlash against the Civil Rights movement. In 1982, Reagan declared the War on Drugs. At the time, and as part of that federal policy, he directed local and state law enforcement agencies to begin directing their resources toward arresting and putting in prison drug users—people that were using drugs. The only problem was that at the time he declared this War on Drugs there was not a drug problem in the inner cities. And so the law enforcement agencies would take a double-take and say “what? You want us to stop going after criminals and go after people that smoke marijuana or take heroin or something, but there’s not that many of them here. Besides, it’s a state’s rights issue. You have no right to tell us what to do, you’re the federal government. We’re the states, and so we can do what we want to do. We don’t like the federal government  telling us what to do.” So in a very short period of time, the federal government realized that in order to make this War on Drugs work, they were going to have to give financial incentives to local and state law enforcement agencies to have them use their resources to go after drug offenses, which is what they did. They started pouring enormous sums of money into local and state law enforcement agencies and within a very short period of time, those agencies which had resisted the federal policy were now competing for funds and training and equipment. And within a couple more years after Reagan had announced the War on Drugs, lo and behold, crack cocaine starts flowing into the inner cities of America from South America. Guess where it was coming from? It was coming from the Contras, who were fighting a civil war in Nicaragua against the Sandinistas. Remember that? And in 1968 the CIA admitted that they were supporting the Contras. It’s never been proved that the CIA was actively funneling drugs, or crack cocaine, into the inner cities, but Gary Webb wrote quite a few articles in the San Jose Mercury News about this as a kind of a conspiracy theory—that the CIA very much knew about drugs going into the inner cities and was actively supporting it. And he wrote a book on it called Dark Alliance. I think he eventually committed suicide. So, whether you buy into the conspiracy theory or not, what’s the matter with this picture? We declared War on Drugs, and it’s primarily being directed towards the inner cities—poor people, people of color—rounding them up, putting them in prison, not for violent crimes but for nonviolent drug offenses, drug possession of marijuana, and they’re being put in prison, and at the same time our federal government, through the CIA, is supporting the Contras in South America, who are actively bringing crack cocaine into America. What’s the matter with that picture? Does anyone feel some kind of disconnect here?

So, I don’t want to quote a lot of figures because it will get overwhelming, but I need to just give you a picture of what happened with the drug war in terms of the amounts of money we’re talking about. From 1980 to 1984, the FBI anti-drug funding increased from $8 million to $95 million. For the same period, the Department of Defense anti-drug budget increased from $33 million in 1981 in to $1,042 million in 1991. The Drug Enforcement Agency increased their budget from $86 million to $1,026 million. The FBI increased their budget from $31 million to $181 million for anti-drug activity. And the National Institute of Drug Abuse, which would be an institution that’s trying to actually help people with addictions, their budget was *decreased* from $274 million to $57 million. So at the time that crack—make no doubt about it, crack cocaine is an awful, awful drug, let’s be clear, it was a terrible drug—as crack cocaine was coming primarily into inner cities, into poor black neighborhoods, there was a huge, sensational media blitz about all the horrible drug crimes that were happening in the inner city. Do you remember this? Do you remember the Willie Horton ads? That was a very effective ad. So there was all this talk—and Nixon excelled at it, the coded words, “crack mothers,” “welfare queens,” “welfare mothers”—these are coded words for poor, black mother in the inner city that’s lazy, and, you know, it’s a coded word. Now they can’t come out and say “black person in the inner city” but they can say “welfare mother”… or “predatory criminals.” So instead of using out-and-out racist language, the War on Drugs became a new kind of Jim Crow system in which you’re using language around crime as a kind of code for “poor black people in the inner cities.”  And there was a lot of sensational media stuff about the scariness of crack and, primarily, the crack crime (which was not actually increasing), but the terrible people that were using that and how awful it was.

So if you’re really honest, and you just thought for a moment, if you picture in your mind a criminal, what do they look like?

Audience: Big, dark and scary.

Audience: Wearing a hoodie.


And probably having a gun, too. And we pretty much all have that image if we’re honest. No one says “Rod Blagojevich.” So, once the drug war got underway—and what’s really surprising and shocking is that at the time, in the beginning of the ’80s, sociologists were talking about prison systems, that they were almost disappearing. They really weren’t needed. We had some, we didn’t have a lot, and though crime rates rose from the ’60s and the ’70s, after the ’70s they sort of leveled out. So, the prison system blossomed and increased enormously once the War on Drugs was announced and got under way. More prisons were built—they had to build more prisons to house all the people they were rounding up in the inner cities and arresting. Once these people, primarily young black men but also other people of color, Latinos, Latinas, women, immigrants, Native American Indians, but mostly black people, African Americans, African-American young men, being rounded up and put into prison for the slightest offense, you know—possession of marijuana, they smoke crack, they weren’t really going after or arresting the drug kingpins, they were arresting low-level, non-violent drug offenders, primarily. And they were giving them big sentences and they eventually had mandatory sentences which, for a first-time offense, you could get five, ten years in prison. Now that’s not the worst part of this. Regardless of the amount of time someone spent in prison, whether it was 10 years or 20 years or 1 year or 1 month, they come out of that prison system and now they are labeled a felon, a criminal. That meant that they could not vote, they could not serve on a jury, they could not get food stamps, they could not get public housing, and if they went to apply for anything, a job, they had to check a box pretty early on in the application that they’re a felon, or criminal. It made it very hard to get jobs. Well the condition of the parole, of getting out of prison, was you have to pay debts and money, fees to parole courts and on top of that you have to go get a job and get housing. Well this is a real double-bind. That’s hard for someone coming out of prison, been in prison for 20 years, now they have to find a job, they don’t get a lot of training, they have to get housing, they don’t get public housing, and money was being diverted from public housing to build prisons. That’s true. Yeah, the budget for public housing also decreased because they needed the money to build more prisons. That’s where people were being housed. And so the recidivism rate of going back into prison was very high. So, you see, essentially this is a new Jim Crow system, disenfranchising African Americans, because once they come out of prison, they are an under caste in terms of the mainstream culture. They have very few rights.

Audience: And now that we have prisons that are being run by corporations, it’s a very lucrative business and they just keep it going.

It is very lucrative; they are on the stock market. A huge part of our economy is this whole system based on the drug war. If we were to end the drug war tomorrow there would be a million people unemployed. So we do have a vested interest, now, this has become part of our economy. It’s big money. Military equipment is being sent to police departments. With the help of the Supreme Court, you can’t even sue for racial bias in any legal proceedings. Police departments can take property from people that have used drugs, their property, all their assets, cars—and a law was passed that police departments could keep that property, they don’t have to hand it over or sell it or give it to the federal government—so here’s another incentive, let’s arrest someone and we can take their property and their car. And it turns out if you were falsely arrested, it doesn’t really matter because they can still take your stuff. What’s the matter with this picture?  And then they started having SWAT teams, and those grew enormously. And they were not nice, they were not polite. They come in the middle of the night, break your door down, run into your house with lights flashing and grenades and guns and yelling at kids. Does that remind you of any other time in history? When storm-troopers came to people’s houses and…?

So what Michelle Alexander is saying—and as I said it’s hard reading, I felt a lot of disconnection as I was reading this, I just couldn’t believe what I was reading—is that this is the new Jim Crow. This is a systematic, racist policy that is perpetrated by our federal government and has been funded by every president since Reagan, including Clinton, including Obama. There is no politician that can get elected without being tough on crime. It’s a “crime issue”—it’s really not, but that’s the propaganda. When people look and see “oh the prisons have expanded, it must be because crime is bad,” no, the statistics don’t say that. There’s not a big increase in crime. That’s why this is such a difficult issue to get at, because if you go and say let’s stop imprisoning these people, then people will say well, but what are you going to do about the crime then if you don’t put them in prison? It’s really not about crime. It’s about non-violent drug offenders. So it’s a very, if you look at it from a kind of dispassionate point of view, it’s a really good system for rounding up people of color and getting rid of them, essentially getting them out of the culture and disenfranchising them so when they come back in they’re an under caste for the rest of their lives. It’s not true in every case, there are some exceptions—in Illinois you can actually get your, Charles was telling me, he can vote, I was surprised—so in Illinois you can get your criminal record expunged depending on what you did, which means it’s off and you don’t have to check that box when you go to get a job. So there are exceptions to this, but I think it’s important to appreciate that this is a large part of our economy, with a huge vested interest. The prison systems are often built in rural, white areas. People benefit by building the prisons, people have to run the prisons, there’s a legal system from the judges on down to the prosecutors and the parole officers that is supported by this War on Drugs. They military gives equipment to the police departments, and the police departments have a vested interest in keeping this going.  It’s a big system.

So, to me, that’s a racist policy that our government is actively doing and I think it affects every one of us. I think it the issue of our time, it’s the most relevant thing happening in our culture, and it’s very hard to come to terms with it. But I think this is part of, we like to think of ourselves as egalitarian and without class, and a democracy, but in terms of this issue, we are as racist as we’ve always been as a country. We have more people in prison than any other country in the world per capita except for some tiny government, I’d never even heard of them, in Africa that has a population of 700 people or something. They have a higher per capita people in prison than we do. But other than them, for the rest of the world we have a higher per capita prison rate than anyone. As of 2007, we have less than 5% of the world’s population and we have 23% of the world’s prison and jail population.

I’m not going to give you a lot of quotes and figures but if you go and look into this yourself you’ll see that African Americans are disproportionately represented in the prison as opposed to white people. There are different sentences for crack cocaine as compared to cocaine. Cocaine is primarily used in white communities; crack is used in poor black communities. There’s the same amount of drug use in white communities as there is in black communities, in fact there may be more drug kingpins in the white community, but you don’t see them going into the western suburbs here knocking down doors and SWAT teams in the middle of the night. If you did, there would be a total revolution. Everyone would start crying foul. So they cannot go into white communities and do what they do in the inner city, we would never accept that. That would never be allowed. They’re not really arresting a lot of the white drug use, which is just as prevalent as black’s. This policy is focused on the inner cities, on poor people of color, clearly discriminatory. I don’t see how you could say anything other than that.

I think that’s enough for now and we can start the conversation. I’ve kind of laid the ground, and it may be hard to know what to say, but I think it’s important to get that this is more than just a violent outbreak in Ferguson. It’s hard to keep track of all the black people that are getting shot. Almost every week, it seems like there’s another one shot and killed. The young kid, Tamir, who was a kid playing with a toy gun in a park. And they showed the videos, the cops pulling up, jumping out of their cars, within 3 second he was dead. They shot him. How can that happen? So this is the country we’re living in and I say as I have been reading this, I just have the sense of disconnect. There’s another really excellent article in the Atlantic monthly called “A Case for Reparations” that was written in June of 2014, a very long article that focuses a lot on Chicago and red-lining practices. Up and through the ’60s at least, mortgage companies actively had maps and they would paint areas of the city red that they considered high-risk for real estate, and they would not give them loans. And the FHA which was created in ’64 or something to help people to get loans and better rates and buy houses; they did not give loans to black people. They could not get an FHA loan.

Audience: Wasn’t with HUD that also went along, I think it was on NPR?

Yes, HUD was connected with the drug war and crack cocaine. So I could go on and on but that’s probably enough to chew on, and it’s okay if you don’t know what to say or how to proceed, but maybe this is why it’s hard for us to have a conversation about this, because it’s almost overwhelming to really come to terms with it.

Audience: I feel overwhelmed. 

Audience: I feel depressed and think what can I do? Oh my god, it’s so big.

Audience: And where does it stop? You know I’m thinking about all this stuff about the National Security Administration and all the money that they’re spending. And even if they no longer are able to listen in on everyone’s conversation, or at least record them, is that connected with this whole process? Having information on us in case we don’t go along with the program? 

It’s hard not to feel a little paranoid about the government when you start looking into this. Maybe we’ll all become Tea Party folks.

But what I would say, but we’re running out of time and I wish we could have a longer conversation about this, but I am stewarding a new circle, we are calling it a social action circle, here at the Zen Center on race. We don’t really know what the name of the circle is; we haven’t yet met as a circle. If you would like to continue this conversation in the container of council, in a circle, then I will be the steward of that circle for the time being to get it going, and the vision will come out of the people in the circle but for me, just to give you a sense of how I think we’re going to practice with this as a community in the circle is we’re going to practice the three tenets. We’re going to do council and listen to each other’s story, and my hope is that we will get a lot of diversity within that circle.

We made a board decision at our last board meeting, I proposed that we differentiate circles in three ways: We have support circles like the women’s circle, men’s circle, listening circle, writing circle; we have administrative circles, the board is an example, we’re really working on the shared stewardship model, so we do things through the circle process in terms of governance, so there might be a program circle, or a marketing circle; and then I’m proposing that we have a new category of a circle called social action circle, which is designed to do some action eventually, to do something. And I don’t know what that would be yet. And I also proposed to the board, and the board voted and approved it, that that circle, social action circle, has to be run by a steward that we trust, and I hope that you trust me, and if we do more of these we might have to do training for steward eventually, but that we allow social action circle members to vote on whether they want to include non-members in their circle. And that’s the only kind of circle we’ll allow the possibility of non-members to be in there because, look, we’re a block from Austin. And my sense is that if we’re going to deal with this as an issue, we need to build relationships with people in the community, people in Austin. And they’re not going to be members of our Zen Center—Baptists, different religions.

And my vision for the social action circle is that we create as much diversity in the social action circle as we can.  People in different parts of the justice system—judges, lawyers, prosecutors, probation officers, people that have been in prison, leaders in the community, maybe ministers—and that we build as diverse a circle as we can and then we listen to each other. We just listen to the stories. And I think that’s very powerful. And I think we have a practice of doing that here, where we can hold that container, where it’s safe for people to have a conversation about this and not be afraid that someone’s going to blow you out of the water because you said something the wrong way. And I think there’s a great deal of power in listening to people’s point of view, and listening to stories, and I’m confident that if we really practice not-knowing and bearing witness that way in this circle, we will eventually know what to do. We will have something we can do. But it may take a long time.

I think that’s why we get overwhelmed about this; we think we need to do something right away, and I don’t think we can skillfully do something right away. We need to first of all make some kind of commitment, those of us that want to work on this, to educate ourselves and learn as much as we can, to listen to as many points of view as we can, and really bear witness to it. And then, if we build relationships in the community, then we can do something. But until we’ve done that, realistically, we’re not going to walk over there and say “hey we want to help you. We’re going to give you a free mindfulness class.” That’s not gonna work! You walk into Austin and say “I’m a Zen master! I want to teach you about mindfulness to help you”…?  So we have to proceed slowly and thoroughly, and I think we have the tools to do that as a community and I think also what’s included in the conversation is, as an organization, what do we do that is biased and discriminatory that we’re unconscious about? Because I’m sure there are things that we do like that, things that I do. I think for the most part we are a pretty great, wonderful community, and we have a lot of diversity here and we try our best to honor it. But I think, probably, we have our own shadows, and those things are usually scary to deal with. And I think the best way to deal with shadows is in a circle, where we’re committed to being together in a way that is kind and respectful and loving, but committed to being with each other. And I think out of that commitment will rise some action. I hope.

Audience: During this session, I noticed my interest in windows kind of came up, and maybe gave me an awareness. And I saw two or three blacks go past, and not just walk past, but actually look in the window. And one person looked at one of the sheets that was put up there. I thought that was meaningful. 

So there’s a sign-up sheet here. I don’t want you just to come up to me casually and say I’d like to be in the circle, I want this to be really intentional. I want to know that you want to be in the circle. You can approach me , you can email me, you can call me, you can sign up on that paper, and if you’re on the list, then I’ll send out a Doodle thing when June and I get back from vacation, and we’ll schedule our first circle meeting. But I don’t want it to be casual or just curiosity. If you don’t really want to commit to this, please, don’t join the circle. It’s alright, we have lots of different circles and this circle is, I want people that are committed to grappling with this. So if you want to be in the circle, I’d love to have you in the circle, sign up there today and then you’ll certainly be on the list, or call me or email me. I can’t remember everything when people take me aside and tell me I want to be in the circle, there’s too many people around me. I might remember if you tell me by word, I might not, sorry. But if you call me, or email me, I’ll get it. Or if you sign the sign-up thing there, I’ll get that too. Ok?

Thank you so much for listening to a difficult subject and being willing to learn about it, and be open. Thank you.

Posted in Articles by Robert Althouse, Conflict, Connecting with Others, Zen-inspired Life | Comments Off

When mindfulness is equated with bare attention, it can easily lead to the misconception that the cultivation of mindfulness has nothing to do with ethics or with the cultivation of wholesome states of mind and the attenuation of unwholesome states. Nothing could be further from the truth.

B. Alan Wallace

Posted in Mindfulness, Quote of Week | Comments Off

“The pathology of wrong thinking in which we all live, can only in the end be corrected by an enormous discovery of those relationships which make up the beauty of nature.”

Gregory Bateson

Posted in Connecting with Others, Environment, Everyday Zen, Quote of Week, Zen-inspired Life | Comments Off
 It’s my favorite month – the month I was born in and named for.  June is also the season in Chicago when we know that winter is mostly over and summer is on the way.  That also makes me happy.

Beautiful flowers abound, and now that we’ve sold our house, the way that I see flowers is on my walks through the neighborhood.  Big red, white and pink peonies scent the air and make me smile.  I kneel to smell the purple yellow irises and the many different shades of lilacs delight me.

This past Sunday I gave a talk about the Seven Factors of Awakening at our Zen Life & Meditation Center.  Mindfulness is the practice that forms the foundation of living a Zen-inspired life for us.  It’s also very much a part of living a Hula-inspired life.  Mindfulness is the first factor of awakening or enlightenment – an essential quality for helping us on our path in life.

Awakening can mean getting up from a deep sleep.  I think many of us virtually sleepwalk through life and miss a large part of it.  And then we die and it’s over.  So how do we wake up and really see and appreciate our lives while we are alive?

Mindfulness is defined as an intentional awareness which is embodied and nonjudgmental.

When we dance in hula, we first learn the placement of our arms, hands, body, and feet in space. We remain very mindful of that.  We don’t have mirrors in the center so it’s a wonderful practice to just feel our bodies in space without our eyes.

Then we move our bodies to music.  At first we usually are extremely mindful of how we are moving in space.  This can be difficult to do – especially if we aren’t sensitive to being in our bodies and dancing.

So, we must notice and stay with the edges of our discomfort by making time to practice. We must be okay with the difficulty of learning something new.  That takes patience and persistence.  When that is too hard for people, I say, “No problem, just back away for awhile.”

I have a 75 year old student, Theora Humphrey, who has been practicing hula for 2 years with me.  When she first came, she couldn’t raise her arms over a certain height and her posture was a bit stooped. She also had problems with the hula step. But she had a persistent attitude. She wanted to learn and practiced regularly – almost daily – every week.  Today her posture is much better: she can raise her arms beautifully, and she has learned to combine the hula steps with the hand gestures.

Mindfulness is being a careful observer of what is right in front of us.  There is precision in such attention.  It’s simple, direct and without judgment.  It’s not telling ourselves stories about our experience – it just the simple awareness of things as they are.

It’s not so hard to be mindful.  It just takes training to remember to be aware of what’s present.  When we dance hula, we train ourselves to observe where we are placing our hands and feet.  After enough practice, the body learns to do this without a lot of thought.  But we must still stay alert.  We must be present and aware of things going on around us as well as of our dance movements.

Hula is very much a group activity.  You are dancing with your hula sisters or brothers.  Like any team activity, learning your part is very important.  But being mindful of where you are in relationship to your hula sisters and brothers is equally necessary. It’s learning humility and great generosity of spirit.

With such awareness – the hula of many bodies becomes the hula of one body.

Malama pono (take care of your body, mind and heart),





Sensei June Ryushin Kaililani Tanoue
Zen Teacher, Kumu Hula

Posted in Articles by June Tanoue, Everyday Zen, Mindfulness | Comments Off

“A year in prison can cost more than a year at Harvard. This is not a hallmark of a well-performing economy and society.”

Dr. Joseph Stiglitz

Posted in Community, Conflict, Quote of Week | Comments Off