Horizons of Belonging

"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

Open Out the Chest that it may be Spacious

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.

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.

Heart of Steel

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.


Love is a Customary Virtue with Man

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.

Beginning a Conversation on Race and Racism

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.

Broadcasting Personality

"Social networking technology allows us to spend our time engaged in a hyper-competitive struggle for attention, for victories in the currency of 'likes'. People are given more occasions to be self-promoters, to embrace the characteristics of celebrity, to manage their own image, to Snapchat out their selfies in ways that they hope will impress and please the world. This technology creates a culture in which people turn into little brand managers, using Facebook, Twitter, text messages, and Instagram to create a falsely upbeat, slightly over exuberant, external self that can be famous first in a small sphere and then, with luck, in a large one. The manager of this self measures success by the flow of responses it gets. The social media maven spends his or her time creating a self-caricature, a much happier and more photogenic version of real life." from The Road to Character, by David Brooks

Happy 85th Birthday to Gary Snyder

“As a poet I hold the most archaic values on earth . . . the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying initiation and rebirth, the love and ecstasy of the dance, the common work of the tribe. I try to hold both history and the wilderness in mind, that my poems may approach the true measure of things and stand against the unbalance and ignorance of our times.” Gary Snyder

No Cliff is so Tall it Cannot be Scaled

What is it about photographs of women standing together in unity that always draws my attention?

Perhaps it's because they are doing something seldom seen in any culture - taking a strong yet peaceful stand together.  When women speak wordlessly through their stance of strength and courage, they speak volumes that strike right at my heart.

Yet having a physical voice is also important.  In different cultures, many have been conditioned to believe women should not have a voice.  As a result many women today limit themselves when it comes to vocal self-expression. We don't feel worthy or smart enough to have an intelligent opinion.  Shame and fear are in rampant in our American culture.  How do we learn that we are enough in ourselves, that our opinions are worth sharing?

Participants of Women's Retreat, May 2015 at ZLMC

The first step is to recognize the habitual thought that we have about ourselves.  If we don't see what we're thinking, we can't ever change the pattern.  Changing deep-seated thought patterns may be difficult but not impossible.  We can replace it with new, wholesome thoughts about ourselves.  It will take patience and gentle perseverance to change.

My practice of meditation and mindfulness gives me a little space to notice what I'm feeling when I have to speak up in a group.  Sometimes I feel great anxiety or even real fear of speaking up.  I can notice my heart speeding up and my mouth getting dry.  Then I pay attention to the story I'm telling myself that causes these emotions.   The thought is that I'm not smart enough to speak up in a group.

Once I get worked up, it usually takes me about 15 - 20 minutes to calm down.  That's how long the brain stays flooded with neurotransmitters after an intense emotional experience.  And according to neuroscientific research, as much as we try to think our way through difficulties when we're upset -  thinking never helps but only extends the flooding of the brain.  So being in your body is a good thing and helps cut the story line that feeds the feelings.

Meditation is a process of being embodied.  We notice the mind and we keep coming back to the breath and body which brings us into the present.  That is the practice.  It is also a practice that builds courage and helps us to see that we are enough, that we are each unique and beautiful as we are.

Hula dancers know the wisdom of our bodies.  It's such a wonderful thing to experience our bodies dancing!  When we are really dancing, we are "in the moment," rather than evaluating or comparing or planning.  We're just dancing.  What a relief!

We can use a lot of energy playing mind games about shame and personal unworthiness or even blaming others.  These are dead-ends and lead to suffering.  We can use that same energy to dig deeper and begin the process of changing our thoughts.  This is a very brave and compassionate thing we can do for ourselves.  And when we can truly be compassionate with ourselves, then we can naturally be compassionate with others.

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

June Ryushin Tanoue Sensei

I am the Mountain, the Mountain is Me

In Zen we have a saying, "sit like a mountain."  I understood that in my bones when Robert and I lived in Hawaii in the late ‘80s until 2001.  We had a magnificent backyard view of Mauna Kea also known as Mauna a Wakea.  She was breathtakingly majestic sitting there in great dignity and silence. Mauna Kea is that rare mountain - very tall and alone - in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  Such attributes make it a perfect spot for the science of astronomy.

Astronomers love the clear air, low humidity and dark skies.  Many scientists have taken advantage of the mountain by building 12 telescopes in a special land use zone on the summit.  This zone is located on land protected by the Historical Preservation Act which recognizes it's significance to Hawaiian culture.

According to legend, Mauna Kea is the first born mountain child of Wakea (Sky Father) and Papa (Earth Mother).

My 'family and I lived on the Hamakua slide of her slopes for three generations.  Hawaiians who live in Hamakua take care of the mountain and also of Waipio Valley.

Recently, something big has happened in response to the building of the thirteenth telescope, known as the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT).  A consortium of countries -  Japan, China, India, Canada and the United States coordinated through the University of Hawaii, has almost completed the hurdles needed to build TMT. Bulldozers and heavy equipment have reached the site.

A small group of Native Hawaiians calling themselves "protectors" have taken a stand and shown up on the mountain to respectfully block the way of the bulldozers.  They are conducting themselves in their culturally disciplined manner of peace, love and non-violence called 'Aloha 'Aina and Kapu Aloha.

'Aloha 'Aina literally means deep love of the land.  Kapu Aloha means respect towards others, under any and all circumstances.  It has been beautiful and inspiring to see people practicing these two spiritual principles given the great challenge they face against this $1.3 billion project. And they have been gaining support all over the islands and world-wide.  The governor has called a 2 week building moratorium as discussions have continued about building TMT.

It's not that the protectors disagree with science and telescopes.  It's just that they feel it's not the right place for one more.  The top of mountains are most sacred to native peoples because they are closest to the heavens.  So it makes sense that the actions of the protectors on the mauna (mountain) must be pono (right with themselves and with their god) and most respectful to all - even to people they don't agree with.

So how do we live 'Aloha 'Aina and Kapu Aloha everyday?  I take inspiration from the mauna and these 'Aloha 'Aina warriors.  Both exhibit strength and calm.  We know in our hearts when we are called to do something that we must listen.  That is fearlessness.

When we love something deeply, including ourselves, we do what must be done.  We malama (take care) in different ways.  We find our courage.   We are strong enough to listen to others who do not share our viewpoint.

We are calm and spacious (or we pause, breathe and regain composure) and we speak from our na'au (guts) and pu'uwai (heart). The response arises with truth and aloha so we can remain connected even in the midst of conflict.

We have to act alone sometimes or so it seems. Like when we sit, it can feel solitary. In reality, we are always deeply intertwined with each other and the 'aina (land).  And that knowing gives us strength and perseverance to continue to love and respect ourselves, one another and the land.

Sensei June Ryushin Tanoue

Memorial for Therese Keyes, Fri. Apr. 25, 2015 at 5:30pm at ZLMC

Therese Marie Carolyn Keyes passed away on Friday, April 10, 2015 at approximately 7:00 am at the University of Chicago Hospital with her brother Carl by her side. She was 64. She died of cancer on the lungs, a complication from her leukemia. She was a member of an orthodox Christian contemplative order.

Therese was also a member of our Zen Life & Meditation Center. She rode her bike and sat meditation with us as often as she could. She called if we didn't see her for awhile to let us know that she was thinking of us and always wishing she could be sitting with us more. She's call June by her Hawaiian title and name, "Kumu Kaililani".

She never talked much about her illness. She was very humble and a a great sense of humor. She didn't take herself too seriously. When we did get to chat, she'd always get a sparkle in her eye and we'd end up laughing. She left June a video that she said was the very best comedy called, "The Best of Red Green" and that we should watch it sometime for a good laugh.

Her brother Carl said this on her website where she kept people appraised of her health status. "I know how much it meant to her knowing so many wonderful family and friends would visit this site. Near the end she asked me to be sure to thank you all for the amazing amount of love and support over these very difficult times."

We are holding a memorial service for Therese this Friday, April 25, 2015 from 5:30 to 6:30 pm at the Zen Life & Meditation Center located at 38 Lake Street in Oak Park, IL. As per her wishes, in lieu of flowers Therese would like donations to be made to your favorite charities.


Keeping Quiet

Now we will count to twelveand we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth, let's not speak in any language; let's stop for one second, and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment without rush, without engines; we would all be together in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea would not harm whales and the man gathering salt would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars, wars with gas, wars with fire, victories with no survivors, would put on clean clothes and walk about with their brothers in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused with total inactivity. Life is what it is about; I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded about keeping our lives moving, and for once could do nothing, perhaps a huge silence might interrupt this sadness of never understanding ourselves and of threatening ourselves with death. Perhaps the earth can teach us as when everything seems dead and later proves to be alive.

Now I'll count up to twelve and you keep quiet and I will go.

Pablo Neruda



Stand still. The trees ahead and the bushes beside you.Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here. And you must treat it as a powerful stranger, Must ask permission to know it and be known. The forest breathes. Listen. It answers, I have made this place around you, If you leave it you may come back again, saying Here.

No two trees are the same to Raven. No two branches are the same to Wren. If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you, You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows Where you are. You must let it find you.

Native American Teaching

Turtle Island Mandala Series

Turtle Island is a term that comes from the American Indian tradition, used to describe North America. For me, the term carries with it a set of values I share about the sacred nature of the world. In this world there is respect for living in harmony with the earth, with the natural world, it's communities, plants, animals and many beings.

I place these images in the context of mandalas. It's difficult for me to describe in words what a mandala means. It is not a concept or a symbol, nor is it merely psychological, though it seems to have a healing power that can restore us to wholeness. Mandala arises out of how our experience organizes itself. It's not about a center. Centers are uncountable. There can't be a center without a periphery. There can be no enlightenment without delusion, so the mandala includes our confusion, bewilderment, and chaos. The order and chaos include each other. And then, there is the ground of totality beyond any reference point. The mandala is communicating the richness of this human experience, so perhaps it doesn't need to conform to our visual preconceptions.

Robert Althouse

Art, Farming and a Safe Place For Boys to Discover Meaning

Karolis Zukauskas (Gint Aras) is a member of the Zen Life & Meditation Center. He has a blog from which this article was taken. You can view other articles by him at his site, Liquid Ink. Theodore Richards is a friend of many in our Zen Life & Meditation Center community and has spoken on numerous occasions at our Sunday Morning Zen program. 

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to sit down with Theodore Richards, director and founder of The Chicago Wisdom Project, to discuss his ideas regarding contemporary education. The conversation left me inspired and quite moved.

The Chicago Wisdom Project is a non-profit, holistic education program that focuses on students’ creative expression and contemplation of the self. They teach mindfulness, meditation, and they partner with educators and institutions around Chicago, but also run a farm in Michigan.

I’ll quote the vision from their website:

  • Students should complete a creative project, giving them a sense of their ability to accomplish something meaningful.
  • Students should expand their sense of who they are by seeing themselves as part of a broader community and as having deeper connections to their ancestors.
  • Students should begin to see the future in terms of possibilities rather than limitations.
  • Students should have the confidence, after completing their rite of passage and their project, to teach others.
  • Students should have a sense of their passion, that which gives their lives meaning
  • Students should be aware of the issues that face their community and other communities around the world and how those issues are interconnected.
  • Students should have a greater appreciation for nature.

It’s this last point, the appreciation of nature and its connection to the creative process, which originally intrigued me. The Wisdom Project teaches permaculture and allows students to go on retreats and to learn about growing food ecologically in their small farm, called the Wisdom Farm.

I can tell you from experience that there are very strong similarities between the creative process and the life cycle of a garden.

While the people who attend these programs are younger than my community college students, Theodore Richards and I serve essentially the same socioeconomically disadvantaged residents of our city.

After listening to him describe his mission and experiences, I’m convinced that most of my students, but especially young men, would benefit tremendously by doing something like this, and that community colleges around the country would be well served to invest in some of these philosophies and methods, perhaps in the same way that 4-year colleges include “study abroad” sessions as part of so many majors. My students don’t need language or math education as much as they first need some time to learn to place themselves into a greater context, and to understand how to reflect and feel comfortable learning.


Without getting too technical or using too much educator lingo, I feel that community colleges like mine do students a great disservice by focusing as strongly as we do on “outcome based education”. The way this works is that “expected outcomes” are compiled and listed. (The list above pokes a bit of ironic fun at the kind that end up in college course data forms or syllabi.) A course is deemed effective if students, assessed after completion, show they’ve met the outcomes.

Especially in the subjects I teach—Humanities and Rhetoric—certain things are simply impossible to quantify or measure with any precision, and assessing them depends on an evaluator’s experience, good taste, intuition or feel. Teaching is, after all, an art.

Our society isn’t very comfortable with this. We want to quantify everything to have “solid data” measurable and comparable to other results. While there’s plenty of virtue here, we’ve gotten too caught up in it. It’s as if we wish the exploration of the mind were identical to building a truss.


I’m an artist and also an amateur (but fairly serious) organic gardener, and I can tell you fthere are very strong similarities between the creative process and the life cycle of a garden.

As a parent who gardens with my children, a girl and a boy, I notice how much they learn from something as simple as planting tomatoes or coming out each morning to see how many strawberries have ripened for breakfast.

They know food does not come “from a store”. But there are greater lessons: delayed gratification, patience, awareness of variables that harm or aid growth. My children feel the joy of collecting food and the pleasure of sharing it with neighbors. The greatest lesson of all is that they see their intimate connection to nature, not the common delusion that they are separate.

The creative process, of course, is natural. It is not an artifice we impose on ourselves. To create, one must allow ideas to come, let them take their course as we also guide them. Creative ideas grow. Sometimes they’ll be attacked by weeds or insects. They’ll dry up in the sun or get washed away. People will taste them and like or hate them. They are born, ripen, rot and die, yet they are never “finished” completely; they lead to other ideas in endless cycles.

The most valuable lesson of exploring one’s creativity, especially for a young person, is that we wish to perfect things but can never be perfect. Creating—cultural participation vs. cultural consumption—is a process. Its purpose is to journey, not to arrive.

The Chicago Wisdom Project is teaching all these things and building community in the process. Most notably, it is a place where, alongside girls, boys can explore, safely and in numbers, their emotions and ideas. They can express them freely. The goal is not to gather a “bunch of skills” that will one day help them become providers. Instead, the boys in these programs do what very few contemporary school settings allow them. They get to feel, accept themselves feeling and share that feeling with others. They contemplate and process what gives them meaning, not what value they might one day offer someone else.

If we had truly daring and visionary education reformers working in our government and in our schools, we’d be looking at programs like this one and finding ways to make them the rule and not the rare exception.


Photo of Chicago Wisdom Project students by Michael Relstab


True Community runs each Wednesday. Gint Aras explores his experiences as an instructor in a community college that serves a lower-middle to lower class district in Chicagoland.

- See more at: http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/art-farming-safe-place-boys-discover-gint-aras/#sthash.KrVRolGa.qYy7qvSU.dpuf

Secular Ethics

"As the peoples of the world become ever more closely interconnected in an age of globalization and in multicultural societies, ethics based on any one religion would only appeal to some of us. . . What we need today is an approach to ethics which makes no recourse to religion and can be equally acceptable to those with faith and those without: a secular ethics." Dalai Lama from Beyond Religion

The Myth and False Lesson of Independence

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