“We have reached a threshold in human history, today. From now on morality must either be all-inclusive or it becomes immoral. In our world there is no more room for outsiders. And our sense of belonging must include not only humans, but animals, plants, and all the inanimate furniture of our Earth Household. Nothing will do any more, but the widest possible horizon of belonging.

“That is why we see two momentous moral changes happening in our time. All precept structures based on exclusiveness are breaking down, belonging to the past. A new appreciation for precepts based on a universal sense of belonging is fast gaining ground, belonging to the future. Of all our religious precepts only those will survive which are the expression of limitless belonging, but those will indeed survive. They will be shaping the future if there is to be a future.

“More and more people are beginning to realize that the survival of our planet depends on our sense of belonging—to all other humans, to dolphins caught in dragnets, to chickens and pigs and calves raised in animal concentration camps, to redwoods and rainforests, to kelp beds in our oceans and to the ozone layer. More and more people are becoming aware that every act that affirms this belonging is a moral act of worship, the fulfillment of a precept written in every human heart.”
—David Steindl-Rast

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E wehe i ka umauma i akea.
Open out the chest that it may be spacious.
Be generous and kind to all.

 ’Olelo No’eau – Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings #388
Collected, translated and annotated by Mary Kawena Pukui


Last Sunday I was happily sitting on a stone wall facing a calm, languid Lake Michigan.  It was a warm, gentle evening, and there were hundreds of people at the monthly Full Moon Fire Jam on the lake.  We were waiting to see the total eclipse of the super moon or blood moon.  Many drums were beating out a rhythmic tune causing people to naturally move and dance.

Photo by George Mukei Horner

I walked, with friends, past the crowds toward the lake and sat looking up at a cloudy sky with no moon.  The cloud bank was moving along and occasionally the moon peeked through.  We were lucky.  Right at 9:22 pm, the cloud bank cleared and there was the glorious moon in full eclipse.  She was a dark, burnt orange orb floating in the sky.  I cheered along with hundreds of others.  And I offered prayers of peace for all.

That night reminded me of watching the total solar eclipse when I lived in Waimea in the early 90′s.  The eclipse happened at 8:30 am and was intensely dramatic.  As the morning slowly darkened crickets began to chirp.  The moon came between the earth and sun blocking it entirely on that July morning.  There was also a very thin ring of fire around it.  Everywhere was dark as night.

I’ll never forget seeing our sun as a black orb floating in the sky to the left of Mauna Kea, our great mountain on Hawaii Island, just as I’ll always remember the burnt orange moon above Lake Michigan.

I’ve been thinking about the Native American Bearing Witness Retreat I attended in the Black Hills this past August.  The Indians call the Black Hills the Heart of Everything That Is.  It’s also the entrance to heaven, the Sacred Place of the Heart.

And what is found in the heart?  Love.  Love starts in our hearts and spreads throughout our body and mind.  The beauty of the Black Hills and the warm-heartedness of her people opened the sacred place of my heart too.

We bore witness and listened to many stories about racism and trauma at the retreat – both historical, trans-generational and present day trauma happening to the Indians.  The effects of trauma – deep poverty, alcoholism, domestic violence, and youth suicide rates on the Pine Ridge Reservation – overwhelmed me.   There are many parallels to the Kanaka Maoli (Hawaiian native) experience.

One of the most disturbing things I heard about was the trauma to the environment and it’s effects on people.  Charmaine Whiteface told us that there are nearly 300 abandoned uranium mines around South Dakota that have been polluting the area with radioactive dust and particles for the last 60 years.  There is a high proportion of cancer-related illnesses and birth defects in certain areas.  We were probably inhaling it on the retreat site!  There is also a total of 15,000 abandoned mines in the United States – most found in the 25 western states.

I remember being very disheartened and depressed after several days of this kind of information.  Wednesday after dinner, I walked over to the prayer circle and to the fire that was burning in the center.  I sat quietly on the ground.  I was soon mesmerized and comforted by the flames that danced between the pieces of wood. I smelled the calming sage burning in the cool evening.  Nevertheless a deep sadness filled my heart and body.  I felt heavy and thick.

That night in the women’s tent, I had a hard time falling asleep as thoughts circled around and around.  I knew that it would help to stop the thoughts by becoming more aware of my body, so I focused on my breath first and just noticed how I was breathing without needing to change it.  Then I focused on other parts of my body – how it felt lying on the ground in my sleeping bag.  I asked what part of my body felt heavy?  Was it my heart, my stomach, my lungs?  I brought my focus fully to each organ and lingered awhile to notice how each felt.  I fell asleep a little while later.

The next morning I awoke early and walked outside the tent into the stillness of early morning. My sadness couldn’t be contained, and I just burst into tears.  How could something so terrible happen here in this sacred place of the heart?  I was angry. I was depressed.  I felt like a big weight was pressing down on me.  I couldn’t really smile.

Council circles were held after breakfast each morning.  Our circle was outside the women’s tent.  We sat in folding chairs on uneven ground.  We spoke from the heart and listened from the heart.  Sharing my distress with the circle in the healing presence of the Black Hills helped me.

That evening I shared a hula choreographed to the song Make Strong by Hawane Rios. It is a beautiful Hawaiian song written by Hawane when she was 25 years old.  It reminds us of the strength, perseverance and dedication needed during times of great travail. The Indian women told me that they appreciated it.

I was impressed by all of the native presenters.  I felt especially close to the Indian women – the way they worked with all kinds of difficulties in their lives and, when the time was right for laughter, they laughed with great joy.  They reminded me of Hawaiians that I know – open, humble, kind and generous. Their warmth helped me to realize that we are all in this web of life together.  Whatever we can do to help one another makes a difference.

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

June Ryushin, Kaililani Tanoue, Sensei
Zen Teacher, Kumu Hula

P.S.  Here’s a  slide show of selected 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.

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Why are politicians proof of reincarnation?

You just can’t get that screwed up in one life time.




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In a time when self-promotion, selfies and social media grab much of your attention it may be refreshing to hear a teaching that allows you to simply be yourself. In fact, given that narcissism seems to be of epidemic proportions in our culture, perhaps such a teaching that helps you appreciate your life in such a simple, non-referential way is, in fact, revolutionary.

Dharma is a word used in Buddhism that has different meanings. The most basic meaning of dharma is that of a system or way. We could speak of the dharma of tea or the dharma of flower arranging. It’s simply a system or norm of how some activity is organized. In early Indian thought, dharma simply meant “thatness” or “isness” of things. The dharma of water or the dharma of fire. So the meaning is very simple and straightforward. It’s just how things work or function. So this is the simple, mundane meaning, and then there is a deeper meaning sometimes referred to as saddharma. In the West, we don’t seem to have a good word for this. We might call it doctrine, or dogma or truth, but these terms seem to have some religious connotation that don’t exist in the word saddharma. Saddharma has to do with how you use your mind. You might say it is the spiritual path you create for making sense of your life. And path seems necessary as some reference point, or else you needlessly complicate your life.

So this dharma is the real thing. It’s been practiced, taught and appreciated for 2500 years. The Buddha added the term, “satya” to dharma, which becomes saddharma. This dharma is beginning to speak of truth in a deeper way, rather than stirring up more turmoil in your life.

Saddharma is a path of practice which tames the mind. It pacifies and cools off the passions and aggressions of your neurotic mind. The dharma offers the possibility of liberating you from your endless drama and confusion.

Instead of occupying yourself with constant discursive thoughts, opinions and judgements, the dharma helps you let go of the business and reactiveness that often have their way with you.  At first it may seem threatening because it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with your schemes and agendas. It doesn’t offer you the usual comfort or reassure you by solidifying the ground of your ego.

The dharma is pure because it is not stained by your ego’s agenda. At first you have your own interpretation of what the dharma is, and at the same time some deeper intuition is cutting through that. And practice is a sorting out process whereby you begin to trust and listen to the deeper intuition which doesn’t provide you with any comfort necessarily, but at the same time is uplifting and inspiring because it is so sane and reasonable.

Traditionally all training in the dharma takes place through discipline (sila), meditation (samadhi) and wisdom (prajna).

You begin to appreciate that in order to tame your mind, you need discipline. Otherwise your mind is given over to impulses and judgements which stir up trouble and chaos. Discipline requires that you be willing to be alone. It’s really up to you and no one is going to save you, not even your teacher or the sangha community.

With discipline you can begin to practice mindfulness meditation. You are able to sit with yourself in a very simple way; to let your mind settle. This practice of one-pointed attention (shamatha) brings a sense of precision to whatever you do. You find that you can land on one-spot. You let go of the constant obsession with distracting and entertaining yourself.

Discipline and meditation help you develop prajna wisdom which is not wisdom about something else nor is it theoretical in any way. It’s very direct and cuts through any sense of your own territory as well as your constant attempt to solidify and objectify the world around you. It’s a sort of bull-shit free zone you find yourself in. At first this could seem completely threatening but you are surprised that it actually brings you a sense of relief and upliftedness in your life. You are becoming a genuine human being. You are soaked in the dharma and there is no gap. The dharma is your life and your life is the dharma.

So the dharma, the deeper intuition that has very little if anything to do with your opinion or interpretation of it, becomes the path you walk on. And it’s completely inspiring. Nothing could be more satisfying than this fundamental truth. When you walk, you walk. When you sleep you sleep. When you eat, you eat. You become genuine and open-hearted.

So dare to be ordinary. In our culture today, that’s an extra-ordinary thing to do.

Roshi Robert Joshin Althouse ©2015








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Every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes . . . I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.

Pope Francis

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We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, spread love. Be poor among the poor. We need to include the excluded and preach peace.

Pope Francis

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“You can not escape your life. You can not escape your death. But if you try you’ll experience a world of hurt.”

Roshi Robert Joshin Althouse


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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), 
Sensei June Kaililani Tanoue
Zen Teacher, 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.


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“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

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“The best defense against bullshit is vigilance.”

Jon Stewart


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