He hele pilali ‘aina maoli no.
A sticky going, as if stuck fast to the land.
Said of one who is preoccupied and forgets to go home.

‘Olelo No’eau – Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings, #574
Collected, translated and annotated by Mary Kawena Pukui

Spring is here!  After coming out of a long, hard winter,  the sun and warm weather are especially welcome!  I just completed another seven day sesshin – silent meditation retreat.  Some people cannot imagine being quiet for more than a few minutes or maybe an hour, but never a whole day.  It takes getting used to.  When I first started doing sesshin some fifteen years ago, I didn’t know that it would become something that I would love doing today.

Our sesshin is not complete silence.  The precaution is no unnecessary talking because talking can be a distraction. Sesshin is a time to shine the light inward and do some listening instead.

Our Zen Center does three of these sesshins a year.  It’s one of my favorite ways to come back to my true home – something like coming home to Hawaii. Home is also wherever you are.

You can get so far from home, from your center.  We get involved in too many activities and are constantly too busy doing things.  There seems never to be enough time in a day to get everything done on the ever expanding list.  Yet important things like taking care of ourselves always seem to fall by the wayside.

Many of us can have a gnawing sense of insecurity that we are not good enough, and, as a result, we spend a lot of time propping up who we think we are or should be. And this takes a lot of energy too.  Because of this we find that we hate to be wrong or at fault, and we always want to be right and look good.   We work very hard not to be criticized, and, if we are rebuked, our world is crushed.

Regular meditation helps me work with these feelings of shame or low self-worth.  It builds resilience and courage.  Asesshin absolutely brings me home to my true essence.  I see clearer and am more focused. There is more space between my emotions and me.   Sitting quietly every day is critical for my well-being.  It strengthens my insight that we are all deeply connected – humans, trees, birds, squirrels, sky, elements – everything.

This sesshin followed our first major collaboration with the American Indian Center of Chicago (AIC) in a performance called “Many Traditions – One Heart, An Afternoon of Native Dance, Song and Storytelling.”  It was part of AIC’s NativeEschikagou (Chicago): Powwow 60 series.

We shared the stage with our Native American sisters and brothers from many tribes – an inter-tribal gathering.  We learned about the sacredness of Grandfather Drum, the different dances and what they meant.

For example, the Men’s Grass dance told of a disabled man who’s handicap showed him that, although he couldn’t dance like the others, he could dance like the prairie grasses.  With this insight, he created the Grass dance and joyfully joined the others on the ceremonial grounds. The Women’s Jingle Dress dance is one for healing the ill.  The dress was envisioned in a dream and is from the Ojibwe Nation.

AIC’s dances are similar in many ways to our Hawaiian hula.  We dance like the breezes through the trees or the ocean caressing the shore or the vastness of mountains as we tell different stories through hula.  Our dancing reconnects us to nature which helps to soften and open our hearts.  Sometimes love is there.  Sometimes sadness, fear or anger.  We realize then that all of these feelings are what make us who we are, and we honor them.  We become resilient enough to include and accept whatever arises.

We come home when we realize that we are enough, beautiful, strong and full of aloha.

Malama pono (Take care of body, mind and heart),

June Kaililani Tanoue
Kumu Hula, Dharma Holder

P.S.  Here’s a slideshow of our “Many Traditions – One Heart”performance with photographs by Ed Leinartas, Robert Althouse and Amy Hanaiali’i Gilliom’s song Napua.

Posted in Articles by June Tanoue, Creativity and Authenticity, Uncategorized | Comments Off

“Lying back against these ancient rocks of Africa, I am content. The great stillness in these landscapes that once made me restless seeps into me day by day, and with it the unreasonable feeling that I have found what I was searching for without ever having discovered what it was.”

Roshi Peter Muryo Matthiessen

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

 

Zen teacher and literary giant, Peter Matthiessen passed away at his home in New York on Saturday, April 5, 2014 at the age of 86. He was Bernie Glassman Roshi’s first dharma successor. With much love and admiration we honor his extraordinary life, his passionate commitment to everything wild and his active work to protect the environment.

Peter said: “The Buddha says that all suffering comes from clinging. I don’t want to cling. I’ve had a good life, you know. Lots of adventures. It’s had some dark parts, too, but mainly I’ve had a pretty good run of it, and I don’t want to cling too hard. I have no complaints.”

We have printed here an interview he did with Terry Gross on NPR.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. The publication of Peter Matthiessen’s final novel “In Paradise” is coinciding with his obituary. He died Saturday at the age of 86. We’re going to listen back to an excerpt of my interview with him. Matthiessen was a naturalist, as well as writer, and his fiction and nonfiction books were often inspired by his travels to remote regions, including mountains and rainforests. His books include “The Snow Leopard,” “Men’s Lives,” “At Play in the Field of the Lords” and “Far Tortuga.”
Along with George Plimpton he was a founder of the literary magazine The Paris Review, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that a documentary film revealed he was working for the CIA at the time and he used the Paris Review as his cover. I spoke with Matthiessen in 1989, before that revelation, And asked about a subject that was central to his life and his writing, Zen Buddhism.
He was initially reluctant to write about Zen. I asked him why.
PETER MATTHIESSEN: Well, I think it almost – in the nature of Zen, to speak about it is already kind of missing the point because Zen, the whole teaching depends on the immediacy and the spontaneity of this present moment. And the minute you talk about it, you’re introducing ideas and concepts that get in the way of seeing directly, which is the whole basis of the training.
And then to see behind it another way of looking at reality, which is what happens through meditation practice and really enhances one’s life. So there’s a built-in contradiction in writing about it. On the other hand, even the meditation is a tool, and the writing is a tool, and it helps people, prepares the ground for this sort of insight and training.
GROSS: Did you seek out Buddhism, or did you happen into it?
MATTHIESSEN: No, I didn’t seek it out, nor did I happen into it. I was – during the ’60s, very early on, my then wife, who since died, we were very interested in finding a teacher of some kind, and we couldn’t – there weren’t really any around in the early ’60s. And we got into experiments with LSD, and we did a lot of LSD during the ’60s not as a recreation but as a way of seeing something else, seeing things another way.
And that kind of wore out for her pretty early. I went on with it a bit longer. And she went over to Japanese tea ceremony and then from there, through friends, to a Zen teacher who was then working in New York City. And, I, a year or two later did the same thing and found that it was far more effective and far closer to what we originally had in mind than the drug use was.
GROSS: Had you ever asked any of your teachers what they thought about taking LSD?
MATTHIESSEN: I don’t think – I think they feel that any chemical is a screen that gets in the way, and I think that’s true. I think these drugs, if properly used, and if you knew what you were getting, which you don’t anymore – in the old days of LSD it was quite different because Sandoz Chemicals in Switzerland was making it, and you knew exactly what the dose was, and they knew exactly what the amount was.
But a Zen teacher, or any spiritual teacher, would be against it simply because you’re seeing things purely. There always is that, finally that chemical screen, even if you are having an extraordinary vision of existence.
GROSS: One of the founders of the school of Buddhism that you practice, Soto, had said that the way to be truly universal is to be particular, moment by moment, detail by detail. And I wonder if you see that as really applying to writing, as well, that to be universal you really have to focus on detail.
MATTHIESSEN: I think so. I think all really good writing is attention to detail. It’s that one detail, that one scrap of dialogue, one color or smell that brings the whole scene to life. You can’t throw in everything. You’d be just writing all day long over one small scene. So you have to find that one thing that the reader can build up from.
For example, William Faulkner, he was extraordinarily skillful. He would pick out one, or at most two, physical characteristics of somebody and then just repeat them over and over again, and the reader gradually builds up a whole character around that one physical detail because the detail is so well-chosen that it serves you in this way you can do it.
GROSS: I want to ask you something else about Zen, and this is from something that you said in your Zen journals book, “Nine-Headed Dragon River.” You were explaining that you were studying to be a Zen monk, studying in the States, and you had passed 13 of 14 checkpoints. You failed the last, which was about the vital expression of the inexpressible. And you said you were only able to come up with a weak intellectual answer.
I found that a fascinating thing to stumble on for a writer, and I was wondering if you’d tell us a little bit about what this means.
MATTHIESSEN: That’s in Koan training, which is part of formal training for the priesthood and so forth. In Soto Zen and also in Rinzai Zen, any kind of Zen, and that’s a very famous Koan, that, the sound of one hand, usually it’s called the sound of one hand clapping, but it’s actually the sound of one hand, what is the sound of one hand?
This is a Koan that stops you dead like an iron wall. I mean, where can you go with that logically? It just makes your whole logical apparatus collapse. And that’s the point of it, that you would see it all from a different way. And nonetheless, you could arrive at a kind of an answer, which would be adequate, a presentation which would be adequate, without quite understanding the subtleties and what’s behind it.
So there are 14 checkpoints of that Koan, and you have to pass all 14 of them, and they’re kind of increasing in difficulty and subtlety and so forth. So finally an intellectual answer is not nearly good enough. You have to manifest that Koan and present it, and this is part of the training.
GROSS: Well, let me ask you again how that connects with your writing. Has that training in not using the intellectual to explain or to understand helped you in your writing?
MATTHIESSEN: I wrote a novel called “Far Tortuga,” which is my own favorite of my books, and one reason it is is because I tried to replace, similarly in metaphor, an image with just these very simple descriptions of the thing itself, of, for example, the feelers of a cockroach coming out from underneath a galley cabin on a ship deck or the water vibrating in the rim of an oil drum on the deck because of the diesel motor, just these things, just to see over the line of birds migrating along the horizon, just if the reader could see those and see the immense mystery and hugeness of existence shimmering behind those very, very concrete details.
GROSS: Peter Matthiessen, recorded in 1989. He died Saturday at the age of 86.
I’m Terry Gross.

Posted in Zen-inspired Life | Comments Off

There’s a world behind the world we see that is the same world but more open, more transparent, without blocks. Like inside a big mind, the animals and humans all can talk, and those who pass through here get power to heal and help.

Gary Snyder

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

Karolis Zukauskas is an advanced member of the Zen Life & Meditation Center of Chicago. He uses the name Gint Aras to post blogs on his personal website, Liquid Ink. This article was also posted on The Good Men Project. He has two decades of experience teaching, over ten of them in a Chicago-area community college.

Why are we afraid of teaching young people how they relate to the network of human interaction? Why do we value our independence over our dependability?  

___

Should a teacher teach wisdom?

In an ideal world the answer would be yes. Ideally, a teacher would have gone through some process to achieve wisdom, or s/he would have at least found a path that dealt with wisdom in some tangible way.

On a practical level, this is really problematic, especially for an English professor like me. Part of my purpose is to teach skepticism. Who’s to say which ideas are actually wise? Can we define wisdom effectively? Is it wiser to read the Old Testament or to learn differential equations? Which philosophy represents something better than what our grandmother used to preach: say sorry when you’ve hurt someone, give more than you receive, express gratitude and consider the impact of your actions.

We pressure men not merely to do it all alone but to imagine themselves as burdens on others if they need help.

Now flip it around. Aren’t these ideas asinine? Perhaps they work to maintain order in a kindergarten, but how can I use them if my goal is to grow a business or advance a career? I need to crush the competition and increase my income. I cannot give more than I receive. That’s called negative net worth, and it’s stupid to actively choose poverty.

♦◊♦

I’m writing about this basic conflict because it is the one of our times, the white elephant, the ferocious tiger sleeping atop all the paper ones. We are facing a conflict of consciousness. Any sober, detailed observation of our current ethos reveals unexamined contradictions braided through strands of very serious bullshit. Our current cultural philosophy has either run aground to become ineffective or it has already taken us past a tipping point.

Consider the following ideas. They are obvious to any conscientious educator struggling to teach forgotten topics like humanities, philosophy or rhetoric.

We teach people that independence is an ideal, yet we do not teach them to learn independently.

We teach people that the self is defined as an individual, yet we do not teach them any means of individual cultivation, or even the value of this.

In fact, we actively teach and model behavior of self-destruction. I’m not talking about the lessons available in school—there’s only so much you’re going to learn if your goal is to fill out a worksheet or pick the appropriate answer from a list of five, and to do it all before a bell rings. I’m talking about the lessons available in the observation of adult behavior.

Watch adults. What’s important to them? Feelings. They have to feel good at all costs, and they feel best when they perceive themselves as grandiose, gratified either by money or beauty or strength. If they cannot be wealthy and gorgeous and strong, the image or myth of fabulous and powerful wealth will suffice. That’s the philosophy that leads to maxed-out credit cards and leased Volvos. It also leads to the collapse of the financial system.

But it’s stupid to actively choose poverty. Or weakness. Or ugliness. Etcetera.

♦◊♦

In the community college where I teach, wealth is a very important topic. Most of my students are from the underclasses and a lot of them have worked the shittiest jobs in America. They are really confused about money and often come to college simply because someone promised them they’d find paths to wealth here.

Of course, most of them find nothing; a lot of them find debt and failure. There are many reasons, but the most important one is that they’ve understood the contract superficially. Go to college. Get a job. Receive money. Buy cool stuff. (Compare: Study a discipline. Develop a skill. Provide a service. Earn a living. Support a family.)

Because I’m aware of these assumptions, I start classes each semester by asking students what they’re doing here. Time and again, we come up with the same reason:

  • I want to be independent.
  • Well, what does that mean? What is independence?
  • It means not having to depend on anyone else. I don’t want to have to depend on my parents for support.
  • Ok, so what will you do?
  • I’ll get a well-paying job.
  • Where?
  • For a company.
  • Ok. How does that achieve independence? Aren’t you just shifting your dependence from your parents to a company? Sure, you’re working there, and maybe you were mooching from mom. But don’t you have to depend on this company to stay in business?
  • I can start my own business.
  • That’s a great idea. But how will your income arrive now?
  • From customers and clients.
  • I see. But isn’t that also a shift? Now, instead of depending on a company or your parents, you’re depending on someone in the world being wealthy enough to afford your service or product.

And around and around we go. The reason is obvious. Independence, when defined as not needing anyone else, is illusory. Over the course of human history, we have always been interdependent members of communities and societies, assumptions that were a matter of course for most cultures. The illusion of independence is not only a recipe for failure but also actively discourages community building; at its worst, it encourages narcissistic pursuit. Perhaps it was a radical and shiny idea in the 19th century (for a very small and elite group of highly educated men). But we’ve bastardized it, and the results are all around us.

♦◊♦

I don’t want to dismiss the American traditions of independence and individualism. There’s something impressive about our work ethic, and it’s far better to teach someone that they have agency than to send them begging. People do have the power to change themselves; I see it every semester. But our ideas have become inflexible, extreme and devoid of context. They manifest in the form of bad loans far more often than they yield industrious youth.

No one succeeds, just as no one fails, entirely on their own.

Why? We’ve moved away from grandmother’s wisdom, which is the wisdom of a certain brand of independence and individualism with nuance and insight. The independent individual—one who thinks for him or herself—has a responsibility: they are dependable. They are aware of the consequences of their actions. They take responsibility for their decisions, no matter the result. But they are not alone, and they are not weak or insignificant if they reach out to others, especially those who are wiser.

Our inability to see ourselves as individuals who are interdependent and interconnected to an unfathomable network of human history and interaction damages society and isolates people. These ideas are most isolating to men, especially as they age. We pressure men not merely to do it all alone but to imagine themselves as burdens on others if they need help.

For reasons I don’t think anyone truly understands, women have something, either socialized or genetic, that allows stronger community building. Perhaps men would have this too if we told them, “It’s okay to seek help. It’s okay to depend on others. All successful people do it.”

♦◊♦

That’s exactly the part of this narrative that drives me nuts as an educator. When we use examples of self-made men, we present them as icons of independence, men who needed nothing but themselves and their drive or brains or brawn in order to become demi-gods. The facts are completely different. No one succeeds, just as no one fails, entirely on their own. You do not mine your own ore and grow your own lumber. The city you live in was built by the dead. The money you earn was invented. The math you use to solve problems has a history of over two thousand years. What you misunderstand now was also misunderstood long before your parents met.

We can dismiss the history of human development and ideas, but we cannot deny it. We can inflate ourselves to grandiosity, place ourselves above Pythagoras or the Phoenicians if we wish, but hubris like this is the mark of the unwise.

Our culture of megalomania is setting up young people, especially men of the underclasses, for failure, disappointment and isolation. The social consequences are serious. The average students I see coming out of high school or floundering about our college for a few years do not know their intentions are to become unskilled consumers who hope resources never run out. For the vast majority, there is no alternative identity.

While they claim they want independence, they can learn virtually nothing on their own or even in teams. They all have phones that can access any amount of useful information, but when faced with a discussion question like What is money? they will look at each other, ask Do you know? shrug, giggle and give up. If the discussion group is mostly women, they will then chat about something else. If the discussion group is mostly men, they will most often sit in silence or play with their phones. To them, this equals going to college. They understand the concept literally. It means arriving at the building and being there. Someone will tell them what they need to do. Any moment now.

The ironies to all of this are tragic. These young people have not formed these assumptions or behaviors in a vacuum. Perhaps it is naïve or idealistic of me to ask students Why are you here? and hope one time to hear someone say Because I want to learn to be dependable. It’s difficult to blame me with naiveté when dependability is exactly what society, at least in the job market, expects from them. That’s the same society that fails to model that behavior or impart the lesson.

- See more at: http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/the-myth-and-false-lesson-of-independence-gint-aras/#sthash.MeUpdHq1.dpuf

Posted in Articles by Karolis Zukauskas, Community, Connecting with Others | Comments Off

“When you express gentleness and precision in your environment, then real brilliance and power can extend onto that situation. If you try to manufacture that presence out of your own ego, it will never happen. You cannot own the power and the magic of this world. It is always available, but it does not belong to anyone.”

Chogyam Trungpa

 

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

“May the naked now be clothed,
And the hungry eat their fill.
And may those parched with thirst receive
Pure waters and delicious drink.
May the poor and destitute find wealth,
The haggard and the careworn joy.
May confidence relieve those in despair
And bring them steadfastness and every excellence.
May every being ailing with disease
Be freed at once from every malady.
May all the sickness that afflicts the living
Be instantly and permanently healed.
May those who go in dread have no more fear.
May captives be unchained and now set free.
And may the weak receive their strength.
May living being help each other in kindness.
And as long as space endures,
As long as there are beings to be found,
May I continue likewise to remain
To drive away the sorrow of the world.”

8th C, Indian Text

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

Sit, be still, and listen, because you’re drunk and we’re at the edge of the roof.

Rumi

Posted in Meditation, Quote of Week | Comments Off

There is a special way of waiting upon truth, setting our hearts upon it, yet not allowing ourselves to go out in search of it.

Simone Weil

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

“I know of no single thing more conducive to great harm than an unrestrained mind.”

Buddha

Posted in Mindfulness, Quote of Week | Comments Off