- The Farm
- The Alliance
As the disasters roll on, moderated by occasional happy surprises, I’ve wondered what to say here. Finally I saw it.
How do we do spiritual practice with the things that are happening too fast and too frightening? Including, how do we avoid blaming others?
Tuesday, August 8
Maui: A huge fire destroys traditional native center Lahaina, kills over a hundred people and displaces hundreds.
Thursday, August 10: Florida requires school history teachers to include “benefits” to slaves.
Friday, August 11: The Marion County Record, small town newspaper in Kansas, has its offices and the owners’ home searched and computers seized; warrant appears to be petty and nonsensical. The co-owner, 98 years old and a retired journalist, died the next day, possibly due to stress. Fear of losing a free press rises. Lawsuits are flying in all directions.
Monday, August 14: A Montana youth group won their lawsuit for climate protection, based on a clause in the Montana constitution: “The state and each person shall maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations.” (Six other states and 150 countries have similar constitutional provisions.) Both ridicule and celebration abound. A Federal case started in 2015 is based on the Fifth Amendment “nor shall any person…. be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” They’re still struggling for the right to appear in court. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juliana_v._United_States
Tuesday, August 15:
Wednesday, August 16: Multiple wildfires in Canada’s Northwest Territories lead to evacuation of Yellowknife.
Always: around the world wars, refugee disasters, corruption revelations, deaths, climate disasters, poverty, hunger, discrimination, and so forth. And this Facebook meme: To feed everyone in the world would cost $34 billion a year. The United States military spends over $71 billion a month.
Going tentatively here, thoughts as they arise and then what follows:
Which are the most useful in your particular life? Is it the practice of compassion, for instance, or the specifics of the precepts?
I will not start a list of tangible activities that seem to me like “right action;” that list would go on forever. But I will invite you to notice such actions in your own life.
a request on behalf of a friend: Cory Clemetson is a long-time friend of Mountains and Waters Alliance and a serious dharma practitioner. He’s a member of Common Ground Meditation Center, and has given time and energy to justice movements both at home. Cory is recovering from surgery for an infection in his spine, and will be unable to work for several months. There is a GoFundMe with more information, here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/cory-as-he-recovers-from-spinal-surgery.
upcoming study group: This is a repeat of my mention from last newsletter: We’re studying Ayo Yetunde’s Casting Indra’s Net, Wednesday evenings starting September 6, and registrations are required (free).
Free fundraising: We’re listed on iGive, which uses your online shopping to support us at no cost to you. Right now they have a special deal: Sign up by September 30, make any purchase within a month, and we get an extra $5 in addition to the percentage. (It’s easy to use.) If a dozen people signed up and used iGive just for air travel, we would really notice the addition.
Love to all. Please be in touch.
for Mountains and Waters Alliance
“To start repairing the world, and ourselves” writes Dan Harris about this book by Ayo Yetunde. theologian, spiritual counselor, and activist. In this spirit, we begin a fall study group with Casting Indra’s Net, exploring our lives in relation to Yetunde’s offering. The ongoing study group is welcoming new member at this time. More information is at this link. You can register by email. No fee, but donations are welcome.
Here are a few other upcoming events:
August 12, community day at the farm, from afternoon through evening, concluding with meteor showers and moonrise. Click for information. Registration encouraged.
Every Monday morning, online zazen (sitting meditation), 6 am Central Time. Registration encouraged.
These events are coming, but do not yet have registration access yet.
September 21, in Northfield MN: We’ll be at the International Day of Peace, 5-7 pm, participating in a community event.
October, date TBD, weekend sesshin (meditation retreat) in Duluth, MN.
November 5, dharma talk at Northfield Buddhist Meditation Center – online and in person.
December 1-8, Rohatsu sesshin – 7 days of sitting meditation, at the farm. Partial participation welcome.
Greetings from the land of summer!
This newsletter includes a short event listing, plus some reflections on learnings from recent retreats and travels.
There will be later events and talks, including
We have space now for two more residents. Perry is now leading on farm and outdoor work, and there’s plenty of room for both labor and creativity from new residents, long-term guests, and short-term helpers. Just contact Shodo. We’re not scheduling work days, but welcoming you at times that work for all of us.
The past few months I’ve been in learning mode. I’d like to share a little.
First, in March I took a week for a writing retreat, then a week in a cabin up north (very cold). I thought I would sit zazen and walk outdoors, but mostly I slept a lot and recovered from exhaustion. I gave a dharma talk at Bluestone Zen Community in Duluth, and went for a walk on slippery rocks above Lake Superior.
Second, Kincentric Leadership Training, a week in Colorado at Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center, with a group of people who share a love and respect for beyond-human beings.
Third, a family vacation in the Carribean.
Fourth, an inipi (sweat lodge) ceremony.
Then it was time to settle down and ground myself in ordinary life before any more adventures.
What I can see now is how easy it could be to do the original vision of Mountains and Waters Alliance, in which groups of people get together and do ceremony connecting with their local plants, waters, soils, animals, everything beyond human, asking for help with this incredible task about climate and environment – including healing the way humans are harming each other and the natural world. If doing this calls to you, let me know; it will encourage me to move forward sooner.
I’ll say farewell for now, and be back in about a month. Be sure to write if you want to connect. And if someone shared this with you, you can subscribe at the website, bottom of front page.
for Mountains and Waters Alliance
Hello and welcome. Here’s catching up with a little of everything.
With new resident Perry Post, there’s lots of activity in the garden. Perry is a permaculturist and experienced gardener and landscaper, and he welcomes help.
The best way to get involved is to let me know so we can get in touch when there’s an appropriate opportunity. After conversation so we know what you’re up for.
I’m holding the schedule until after I return from the Kincentric Leadership Training (late May) because I expect to have new ideas. But there will be land care retreats, ceremonies, work days and work retreats, and sesshin.
I’m noticing anniversaries.
This is for the many people who’ve supported Mountains and Waters Alliance through the years; I won’t name them individually for reluctance to miss someone, but we have these groups:
May it continue.
I’ve been invited to participate in the Kincentric Leadership Training, which will begin next week. I know just these things about this:
The book is nearing completion. Working title is Being Earth: Unleashing the power of the natural world.
It’s going like this: donations support the land and facilities. I’ve never been paid, but MWA rents space at the farm, and covers some of my retreat and study travel. Working half time makes that harder but supports the whole thing. In 2022 I borrowed money to upgrade the house to have space for four residents. Four would pay the loan down fast, but there’s one plus me. So I’m working extra, and doing less study and teaching.
Warm and cold, sunny, rainy, blossoms everywhere, spring ephemerals; the fiddleheads have come and gone, the nettles are offering themselves for eating, and when the rain stops we should find morel mushrooms in the woods.
Looking at the violence and polarization all around, I think societal collapse is well along the way. That thought helps me forgive the individuals involved. At the same time I see a thousand – no, a million signs of renewal. Reasons to be Cheerful is a pleasant place to hang out to see encouraging news. One of these days I’ll write about world issues again. Maybe.
What else is there to say? Life is good. Even when it isn’t.
Dear Folks, this is embarrassing. The date is February 11, not February 4th. Forgive any confusion. This is correct!
February 11 at 10 am. This two-hour program includes meditation instruction, meditation (zazen), a talk about Zen, and discussion. You need to register; directions and more information will be sent.
1-5 pm February 11. If you come for the morning, we’ll provide lunch and you can spend the day. Or just arrive by 1 pm. Be sure to register by email in advance. We have extra warm things, but dress for being outside in the weather and ask for help if you need extras.
(If weather is completely impossible, we’ll do indoor projects instead. But the forecast suggests weather in the 20’s, and sap will be flowing very soon.)
February 17-19. Just sitting meditation. Probably just a few of us, but you’re welcome to come for part or all. It’s okay to register by email.
It’s likely that the next event will be a workday on March 11, but we’ll see about that.
Blessings and love,
I greet you from the land of cold and snow, entering the next winter storm, knowing that the erratic weather is from climate change. Imagining Mother Earth shaking us off, freeing herself – and dreaming that we can still make peace, become friends, live in the hands of the gods again, in the hands of all beings.
I asked for a poem for the time, and here is what came.
After writing, I went down to the altar at the creek, and asked for my health to improve. I could feel an answer. Still a mystery.
The river has two names, Dakota and English. Inyan Bosndata (Standing Rock River) and Cannon River (from the French for canoes).
The creeks have no names. People ask their names. But I honor their wildness and their changing, and don’t want to burden them with a fixed name. The state DNR calls them “intermittent streams,” which seems to acknowledge their wildness.
Perhaps some day they will tell me their names; until then I leave them to themselves.
There are now three residents, with space for one more now, probably an additional space this fall. Pleae write if you’re interested in joining us.
One of us will be focusing on the land; we expect more activities, more workdays. Watch here for announcements.
The Facebook page for Mountains and Waters Alliance is now closed, and will be shut down. There are two ways to stay connected. You can subscribe to the blog at the website, and receive emails. Or you can follow my personal Facebook page (Shodo Spring), where the blogs are always posted.
If there are additions, we’ll announce them here.
I’m giving a talk online at Hokyoji, a Zen practice center in Southern Minnesota. You can find information and access the talk at https://www.hokyoji.org/sunday-talks/ The talk begins at 9:30 am Central Time; sitting meditation is offered at 8:30 and 9:00.
This is the season of fundraising appeals. I’ve been invisible, underground, working on the book, occasional talks, and leading one study group and one discussion group. With nothing to see, I make no claim to your dollars. Still, if you would like to support this work here is a window. Gifts make it possible to give more time to teaching and writing, and ultimately to center my life on our mission. https://mountainsandwatersalliance.org/donate-support/
Currently I work more than half time as a psychotherapist. It’s good work and also demanding, and helps me repay the loan I took out to expand the house and make space for a beginning community. (There will be three of us here by January, with one space open for an additional resident.)
An online study group will begin Wednesday, January 4, 6:30-8 pm, on Dogen’s writing “Being Time” through Dainin Katagiri’s Each Moment is the Universe. Registration is necessary, preferably by December 15; donations are requested but not required. More information here.
There will be an in-person “Introduction to Zen” on a January Saturday morning, not yet scheduled. If interested, you’re encouraged to contact me; it will help planning.
The general monthly pattern is a retreat on the third weekend, a workday on the second weekend. Retreats are either sesshin, an intensive meditation retreat, up to five days long, or “land care retreat” including meditation, dharma talk and discussion, and mindful work on the land. There’s a flexible fee, registration required, and I love doing these.
Workdays are usually informal and involve whatever is needed, mostly farm and land work. Lunch and snacks are provided, and no money changes hands. Sometimes people stay after for dharma conversation.
Speculative schedule (that’s even less than tentative, and none of these are event listings yes.)
November 27, this Sunday, I’m giving a dharma talk online for Hokyoji Zen Practice Community in southern Minnesota. The talk starts at 9:30am Central Time; zazen begins at 8:30 and you can join at any time.Here’s the link: https://www.hokyoji.org/sunday-talks/
December 10, Saturday, I’ll talk online with Heartland Zen about the text Sansuikyo (Mountains and Waters Sutra) and the book I edited for Okumura Roshi. 11:00 am, meditation 10:30. Link is at https://www.heartlandzen.org/
At the end of this year I will discontinue the Facebook page for Mountains and Waters Alliance. If you have been following there, you might sign up for blog posts (bottom of this page), or switch to my personal page (Shodo Spring) if it’s not too crowded for you. The reason is that organizational pages keep becoming more and more difficult to use, and I don’t think the page is that useful.)
On this day in 1963, an assassination took the life of John F Kennedy, a courageous leader in many ways. It’s 59 years, and the world has changed incalculably. Or perhaps just its appearance has changed, except that now we face climate disaster and open fascism and so much else. We also have great upwellings of humanity, love, and creativity. I imagine a great event at the 60th anniversary, a celebration of life and humanity. My part in that celebration will be to honor the gifts of trees, mountains, rivers, oceans, prairies, meadows, mycelia, all of life – and to ask for their continuing participation.
I’ll follow that with acknowledgment of how it goes in our world today. I’ve given too much attention for too long to external events. December’s post will look outward at it all, hopefully from a calm place.
Voting is an exercise of political power. Self-expression has nothing to do with it. We vote all the time for people we don’t prefer, in order to avoid potential disasters. If you’re worried about possible disasters of any kind, please vote in addition to your other actions.
To make sure you’re still registered correctly: https://www.usa.gov/confirm-voter-registration. It also has information on how to register in each state, and whether you need ID.
Quoting an email from my friend Bob Ciernia:
“In Mein Kampf, Hitler said what he would do if his party came to power. People didn’t believe him. Let’s not make the same mistake …. Despite losing the popular vote by over 7 million votes (and losing the Electoral College vote 306 to 232), a majority of Republicans believe they won the 2020 Presidential election. What does it say about your view of the world if you think the only way you could ever lose an election is if it is rigged? Again, please take them at their word ….
“If you want to do something… there is still time to affect the outcome of the 2022 election. I [Bob] am a member of this group: https://www.fridayaction.org/projects/#current [They identify critical races and send postcards, sometimes increasing voter turnout by 10%. Of course there are many options for action.]
“Please remember the words of Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), a Lutheran minister who spent eight years in prisons and concentration camps between 1937 and 1945.
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Remember that local candidates matter, Secretaries of State control voting, and school boards make a difference for our children.
From Edna St. Vincent Millay, over a hundred years ago.
September sesshin had 3 participants, and was a gift. Even though I spent my free time protecting the garden plants from the first frost, as well as building fires to warm the zendo, at the end my heart was lighter and I was able to engage wholeheartedly with daily life having released some kind of burden.
Next summer when the garage gets hot, it will be like our own kiln. (This lumber was milled from our own trees. There’s more of that to come.)
For upcoming events, see last month’s post. Except this update: the Wednesday night Zen group is on hiatus, and will begin January 4 with an organized class on Dogen’s writing “Being Time” using Dainin Katagiri’s Each Moment is the Universe: Zen and the way of being time. We’ll meet at 6:30 pm on the first three Wednesdays of each month January through April. It will be more formal than our past reading/discussion, and a donation is requested at a level that works for you.
And there will be at least one introduction to Zen event – a day or a half-day – probably January 21.
I wrote last month; now I’m keeping it simple. Please email me if you have interest in either a short-term visit or a long-term stay.
The book is nearly done and has a working title: Being Earth: What to Do With the Time that is Given Us. The initial description: “A Buddhist response to the crisis of our times, Being Earth draws on history, anthropology, archaeology, biology, and psychology to invite new perspectives and possibilities.”
because of the construction, inflation, medical expenses, and life in general. I’m working more hours, but also encouraging donations, tax-deductible, either on the website or by mailing a check.
There’s also a free way to support through www.iGive.com. You set things up with them, then automatically a small percentage comes to MWA when you buy online from one of their sellers. Most airlines and many major companies are on it.
If you’re experiencing problems with wildfire, flood, drought, storm, covid, or social crisis, my heart is with you. Ask if you would like us to chant for your well-being.
for Mountains and Waters Alliance
Please forgive the long silence. I’m back and will try to be more regular.
(arrive Thursday night, end Tuesday noon)
The term sesshin means “to settle the mind.” We sit quietly together, 6 am to 9 pm with breaks for walking meditation and for meals. It’s a gentle time, and if you haven’t done it before please call and talk with us first. I love this way of just sitting together, but for most people it’s best to explore gradually. Partial participation can be arranged.
Details are here, registration is required. There is no extra charge for staying here.
followed by a potluck supper. (There is not an event post for this.) Work is 9-4, break and socializing 4-6, potluck about 6.
Most likely projects involve garden and land care. If there are enough of us, moving wood and other heavy projects are offered. Lunch is provided.
Register by email; say whether you will come for work, potluck, or both.
Stands alone or leads into land care retreat. Includes instruction in sitting and walking meditation, brief discussion of chanting and ceremonies, and questions and answers. By donation. If you would like to come just to this and not the land care retreat, please email.
This weekend begins with introduction to Zen, then combines meditation, dharma talks, and outdoor work in the spirit of being one with the earth. Registration is required, there is a fee, and more information is here. You may also begin Saturday morning after breakfast, at 9 am.
These are all coordinated by email rather than website. If you are interested in joining any, email me.
Having finished major construction, upgraded to four bedrooms, and long work with volunteers outdoors in garden and woods, I find myself talking with several potential residents. If you are tempted to come and practice here, please
contact me soon. Here are a few basics:
Tuesday I had a lovely interview with Siddhesh Mukerji, who is writing a book about Buddhism and activism. His questions brought out my thoughts beautifully. Here is a recording of our conversation, unedited.
Last Monday, I learned of an opportunity to support Lakota-led prayer action protecting the Black Hills, He Sapa. My friend Karen Little Thunder and others gathered for prayer outside a Federal courthouse where there was a hearing on violations of the laws regarding new lithium mining. I emailed and used social media to reach whoever I could, and spent an hour at the Central Altar on this land, offering chanting, meditation, and energy. The Black Hills Clean Water Alliance will know what happened.
Blessings in the fall. Please remember to breathe.
for Mountains and Waters Alliance
A few months ago I started saying “This is what societal collapse looks like,” and I don’t see any reason to take that back. You can look at the list of symptoms if you need to be convinced, but otherwise don’t bother. The Supreme Court seems determined to disassemble every good thing that has happened in the past century or so.
I’m aware that I keep saying this. It continues to be true, and the emergency is escalating.
The basic understanding of Mountains and Waters Alliance is that we are not the only ones here, and we are not the only ones with agency. By “we” I mean humans, especially industrial humans, especially members of the American capitalist economy, including those of us who consider ourselves progressive, radical, or better than others in any way. Thus these proposals:
Yes, I admit to still dreaming of escaping climate disaster and political catastrophe. But I only propose work that will help us regardless of what happens in the so-called outside world.
There will be a date for this work, or a series of dates, but meanwhile go ahead. I’m looking for people to help, or to co-create. Email me.
Here’s a list of upcoming events. Please respond by email to anything that does not have a link.
I will post links and titles on the website as soon as I have them.
There will be some reports later about progress on the farm and buildings – moving closer to sustainability, and more comfortable for both guests and multiple residents.
Emailing is always a good way to start. It’s also fine to register for an event that has registration set up.
Love and respect,
And a poem to finish.
On April 10, 2022, I’m pleased to invite you to a dharma talk online at Hokyoji Zen Monastery. Hokyoji is dear to my heart from early practice and also a year of individual retreat in the early days. They are now a thriving community, and because of internet they’re able to invite speakers. I’ll be talking about the well-known lines from the Genjo Koan: “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self.”
Here is information and a link: https://mountainsandwatersalliance.org/event/dharma-talk-sunday-april-10-2022-hokyoji/
There are some other schedule changes, mostly shown on the website.
Changes and uncertainties are for two reasons: I’m nearing the end of writing the book, and the house is under construction.
The war between Russia and Ukraine is still going on. The stories are heartbreaking, People around the world are mobilizing in amazing ways. A few people are pointing out that most of us have been complacent about tragedies in other places in the world – perpetrated by the U.S. or our allies, or against Black and brown people. It’s overwhelming. As is the change in the weather, the likelihood of widespread hunger in the coming year or soon after, the level of polarization within the U.S., and a lot more. My personal Facebook page tracks a lot of these things, and hopeful responses, if you care to follow. Here, I try to avoid distractions and encourage wholehearted engagement in each one’s life.
And last night, after a week of rain, I stepped out the door to a clear night sky with a last-quarter moon shining brilliantly above. Just a breath.
for Mountains and Waters Alliance
About two days ago, a shooting war began between Russia and Ukraine. Everyone knows who is right and wrong, except me. People have sent essays and speeches, and I can add a few bits of information or links. Here is just one source of many: a talk by Vladimir Pozner. There are some common themes in these alternative voices: that Western powers promised that NATO wouldn’t expand eastward, and then it did; that Putin once wanted to join NATO and was turned down. I do not support Putin or the invasion, but the media has gotten into that cheerleading mode that I cannot join.
War is never good. Claims of innocence are always suspect, though innocence does exist in the world. What to do? Praying for peace is always a good thing; meditating for justice is also safe. That’s all I’m going to say. You’re invited to add a comment with your favorite information source.
Meanwhile, life goes on here, far from the war. It’s a little disconcerting, being aware that all our lives are in the balance and not quite sure what to do. But really, not so different from dealing with global warming, or violent racism, or most things: what can we do? Joanna Macy describes three kinds of action: holding actions, building the new future, and spiritual work. I’m mostly involved in the latter two, living in a present and working for a future spiritually based and connected with all of life.
It would be great if people who are doing things add a link or a short comment – especially about these very immediate events including the Ukraine-Russia conflict.
A local reporter came to do a story, and did this beautiful and wise description of what we’re doing here:
There seems to be a paywall. They told me people could generally access the article once or twice before the paywall came up, but some people are having difficulty. I am trying to arrange access.
In response to this welcome, I will offer some introductory afternoons later this year, summer or fall.
Spring 2022 Events:
We expect to have construction in April, dates unknown, and there will be a chance for volunteers to help – especially with moving furniture, possibly with painting and other work.
Last, I want to leave you with this poem by Wendell Berry. It’s from 1977; I can’t say it’s still true 45 years later. I still offer it.
Sending blessings to you. Inviting you to pray for peace, love, and joy, for justice and freedom. Inviting you to stop by the nearest old tree, or meadow, or creek, to greet them warmly, bring an offering of any kind (a song? A cookie?) and speak to them the same prayers, share with them, consider them as friends and allies.
I had promised to talk about the Buddhist understanding of Self. But the great Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh has just died. I’ll still talk about self, through his teachings. You can find information and access the talk at https://www.hokyoji.org/sunday-talks/ The talk begins at 9:30 am; sitting meditation is offered at 8:30 and 9:00.
On Friday the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh entered parinirvana, at 95 years of age. He wrote:
Instructions for the Continuation
“Please do not build a stupa for me. Please do not put my ashes in a vase, lock me inside, and limit who I am. I know this will be difficult for some of you. If you must build a stupa though, please make sure that you put a sign on it that says, ‘I am not in here.’ In addition, you can also put another sign that says, ‘I am not out there either,’ and a third sign that says, ‘If I am anywhere, it is in your mindful breathing and in your peaceful steps.’”
We think we have selves, and that they last, that they are more important than our bodies. This is a mistake. There is a self for each of us at every moment. It arises in the moment, given birth by our own karma from past actions, and by everything around us – everything in the world. Each self is instantaneous; they seem to last because the karma is similar and some of the surroundings are similar too. But a self is momentary.
The thought of speaking about self was triggered by reading this from Ivan Illich:
In oral cultures, one may retain an image of what has been …but the person exists only in the doing or the telling, as the suffix comes to life only when it modifies a verb. Like a candle, the “I” lights up only in the activity and is extinguished at other times. But not dead. With the retelling of the story, the candle comes to glow again. No pilot light gives continuity to the first person singular between one story and the next. The “I” can exist only in the act of speaking out loud – or to oneself.
The idea of a self that continues to glimmer in thought or memory, occasionally retrieved and examined in the light of day, cannot exist without the text. Where there is no alphabet, there can neither be a memory conceived as a storehouse nor the “I” as its appointed watchman.
We now live in a time and place that idolizes the self. A look at advertising will tell you that. We can’t imagine meeting each other except as selves. We worry about losing ourselves – and our protective actions create a suit of armor – heavy, exhausting, and inaccessible to the outside – inaccessible to life. We’re ready to fight to protect this self. Even if we know better, we imagine a lasting self.
Other things also seem to have selves: a family, a neighborhood, a group, a nation, a world. Imagining that they are permanent and thinking they can be annihilated, we arm ourselves and defend them. The idea of a lasting self causes suffering. Yet there is a self that arises and ceases, moment by moment, fresh and new. Here is an image of the way it goes with self, from writer Sharon Blackie:
We think that we imagine the land, but perhaps the land imagines us, and in its imaginings it shapes us. The exterior landscape interacts with our interior landscape, and in the resulting entanglements, we become something more than we otherwise could ever hope to be.
And my own story – I didn’t become a Buddhist, or receive the precepts or shave my head and become a priest. I didn’t walk for three months through the Great Plains. Something moved in the wholeness of things, and pushed this little personal self one way or the other, and I found myself in places I had never imagined. Doing things I can’t possibly do as a self.
Thich Nhat Hanh wrote this about losing his mother:
The day my mother died I wrote in my journal, “A serious misfortune of my life has arrived.” I suffered for more than one year after the passing away of my mother. But one night, in the highlands of Vietnam, I was sleeping in the hut in my hermitage. I dreamed of my mother. I saw myself sitting with her, and we were having a wonderful talk. She looked young and beautiful, her hair flowing down. It was so pleasant to sit there and talk to her as if she had never died. When I woke up it was about two in the morning, and I felt very strongly that I had never lost my mother. The impression that my mother was still with me was very clear. I understood then that the idea of having lost my mother was just an idea. It was obvious in that moment that my mother is always alive in me.
I opened the door and went outside. The entire hillside was bathed in moonlight. It was a hill covered with tea plants, and my hut was set behind the temple halfway up. Walking slowly in the moonlight through the rows of tea plants, I noticed my mother was still with me. She was the moonlight caressing me as she had done so often, very tender, very sweet… wonderful! Each time my feet touched the earth I knew my mother was there with me. I knew this body was not mine but a living continuation of my mother and my father and my grandparents and great-grandparents. Of all my ancestors. Those feet that I saw as “my” feet were actually “our” feet. Together my mother and I were leaving footprints in the damp soil.
From that moment on, the idea that I had lost my mother no longer existed. All I had to do was look at the palm of my hand, feel the breeze on my face or the earth under my feet to remember that my mother is always with me, available at any time.
These are very personal experiences, described by a great teacher who was once that young man whose mother died. So he gives us the same thought now: don’t think that I’m in the stupa, or outside of the stupa, but maybe think that I’m in your own mindful breathing and peaceful steps.
Don’t think that he is gone. He’s just moved on. Don’t think that you or I exist or can be destroyed. Think of yourself as lightly as a feather, a leaf on the wind, moved by something larger, carried by all beings, created every moment by Life itself.
This body is not me.
I am not limited by this body.
I am life without boundaries.
I have never been born,
and I shall never die.
Look at the ocean and the sky filled with stars,
manifestations from my wondrous true mind.
Since before time, I have been free.
Birth and death are only doors through which we pass,
sacred thresholds on our journey.
Birth and death are a game of hide-and-seek.
So laugh with me,
hold my hand,
let us say good-bye,
say good-bye, to meet again soon.
We meet today.
We will meet again tomorrow.
We will meet at the source every moment.
We meet each other in all forms of life.
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
They remind us of the Buddha’s teaching on death:
One day the Buddha asked the monks to leave and find other places to stay during the monsoon….After the monks had left, Ananda could see that his master was ill. The Blessed One, in great pain, found comfort only in deep meditation. But with the strength of will, he overcame his illness.
Ananda was relieved but shaken. When I saw the Blessed One’s sickness my own body became weak, he said. Everything became dim to me, and my senses failed. Yet I still had some comfort in the thought that the Blessed One would not come to his final passing away until he had given some last instructions to his monks.
The Lord Buddha responded, What more does the community of monks expect from me, Ananda? I have taught the dharma openly and completely. I have held nothing back, and have nothing more to add to the teachings. A person who thought the sangha depended on him for leadership might have something to say. But, Ananda, the Tathagata has no such idea, that the sangha depends on him. So what instructions should he give?
Now I am frail, Ananda, old, aged, far gone in years. This is my eightieth year, and my life is spent. My body is like an old cart, barely held together.
Therefore, Ananda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no other refuge; with the Dharma as your island, the Dharma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge.
At Kushinagara, where he died:
Then the Blessed One said to Ananda, Enough, Ananda! Do not grieve! Have I not taught from the very beginning that with all that is dear and beloved there must be change and separation? All that is born, comes into being, is compounded, and is subject to decay. How can one say: “May it not come to dissolution”? This cannot be.
He said a few more things, then:
All compounded things are subject to decay. Strive with diligence. Then, serenely, he passed into Parinirvana.
Thich Nhat Hanh had retired after his stroke, and gone to live quietly in his home of Vietnam, surrounded by students who loved him. The Buddha continued teaching to the last, and even gave teaching from his deathbed, to one last beginner. Both let their lives go lightly and peacefully.
We have this teaching from Thich Nhat Hanh.
There is no birth, there is no death;
there is no coming, there is no going;
there is no same, there is no different;
there is no permanent self, there is no annihilation.
We only think there is.
May we receive this teaching. May we allow our lives to be lived. May we recognize that myriad things come forth and experience the self.
If you would like to come and spend some time with the land this weekend (Oct 9 and/or 10) here is the information and registration link. It’s a work weekend and there is no charge; the schedule is loose and you can come for part of it.
The real reason for this note is to share a beautiful interview with Tenzin Palmo, about practice and emptiness. She is the nun who spent 12 years in a cave in Tibetan Buddhist practice; she is also an absolute delight to meet. She is talking (at this moment) about the importance of foundational practice, which would be calming or mindfulness practice. And about practice in daily life as well.
I recommend this interview very highly. It’s about an hour, and you could listen to it in small pieces if you like.