Sunday, October 31, 2010


I would rather feel compassion
than know the meaning of it.
— Thomas Aquinas

Note to Saint Thomas:
I'm with you about preferring the feeling of compassion to knowing its meaning, but I'd like to entertain the possibility of not having to choose between feeling and knowing compassion.

I believe that with some intention, determination, and effort, we might be able to both feel and know compassion quite deeply——and reap rich rewards for our efforts.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Gentle Roots

I joined a Sebastopol Walk today with about twenty of our friendly community townsfolk. We ambled around town under a dark gray late October sky all morning looking at and learning about notable trees in our town. We saw many venerable trees. It was led by Geoffrey Skinner, his wife and fellow walkers who chipped in their knowledge.

We've all seen sidewalks lifted and buckled by roots growing under them. We might think that all trees aggressively grab the earth. But that's not so.

Lynn Deedler explained to us that the Coastal Redwood, Sequoia Sempervirens, has a gentle (but very long-lasting) grasp on earth.

We looked at the base of this Coastal Redwood tree.

It has grown gently around the concrete curb that was poured too near its feet.

For more information about the tall, wise, and long-lived Coastal Redwoods visit Here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Two Kinds of Intelligence

Midway Geyser Basin Grand Prismatic Yellowstone National Park

There are two kinds of intelligence: one acquired,
as a child in school memorizes facts and concepts
from books and from what the teacher says,
collecting information from the traditional sciences
as well as from the new sciences.

With such intelligence you rise in the world.
You get ranked ahead or behind others
in regard to your competence in retaining
information. You stroll with this intelligence
in and out of fields of knowledge, getting always
more marks on your preserving tablets.

There is another kind of tablet, one
already completed and preserved inside you.
A spring overflowing its springbox. A freshness
in the center of your chest. This other intelligence
does not turn yellow or stagnate. It’s fluid,
and it does not move from outside to inside
through the conduits of plumbing-learning.

This second knowing is a fountainhead
from within you, moving out.

—Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Meditation Techniques

In our group we read about meditation techniques.

I know of no technique more effective than cultivating loving-kindness.

Cultivating loving-kindness is simple. All that's required is to persistently wish all life everywhere be safe and well and calm. Again and again and again.

Eventually all this wishing begins to have its effect and the world begins to become happier and more beautiful.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Good vs. Evil

At our last meeting of the Society of Friends of the Buddha, one of my friends expressed his frustration when an excerpt from the Lankavatara Sutra seemed to say that everything is Enlightenment:

“When people attain Enlightenment in this sense, it means that everything is Enlightenment in itself as it is.”

“How,” my friend wanted to know, “is it possible that everything is Enlightenment. Is torture Enlightenment? Was bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki Enlightenment? Was the Holocaust Enlightenment? How can Evil with a capital “E” be Enlightenment?”

My first response is to join him in wondering about this. None of the things he mentioned seems particularly enlightened to me.

Yet I’ve come to learn in 30 plus years of studying Buddhism to suspend my initial difficulties with Buddhist teachings. Too many times I’ve grown older, and wiser. Eventually I see wisdom that wasn’t apparent at first glance.

Shunryu Suzuki once said, 

"If it's not paradoxical, it's not true."

Is it possible that evil is not Enlightenment and evil  is Enlightenment?

Perhaps so.

The Lankavatara Sutra says that in some ultimate sense, there is a unity of all things, of all events, of all actions—and that unity is Enlightenment. This sutra may be describing ultimate reality, not our ordinary everyday reality.

I hold the paradoxical thought that good and evil both exist and don’t exist at the same time. In everyday reality (where I spend most of my time) good is good and evil is evil.

However in a more rarified state of awareness, the opposite is equally and simultaneously true:  The world cannot really exist when good is purely good and evil is purely evil.

Taoists might point out that good and evil co-arise. We cannot know evil if we do not know good; we cannot know good if we do not know evil. Good and evil not only co-arise—they are two aspects of a same oneness that is neither good nor evil, but both good and evil and neither good nor evil.

In ordinary day-to-day reality, as a practical matter, we must nurture good as we resist evil.

To skillfully oppose evil here in this ordinary, everyday world, it is necessary to know something about evil—in any guise it might appear. We must have some “sympathy for the devil.” We must not be so taken by our ideas of good and evil that we fail to see the co-arising of good and evil. As we get to know “the devil” better, we can learn to effectively (and playfully) outfox and outmaneuver him.

Unless we accord evil its due respect, evil can make us crazy—either as we fervently oppose it, or as we fall under its seduction, or as we lose our bearings in apathy.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Vapor Waves

here sky falls to earth
waves of vapor wash us well
we live inside sky

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Brave and Forgiving

We had a great time Thursday night at Vicki Reno's home. The Sebtown Ukesters played some old-timey favorite songs like "Five Foot Two," "Hey Good Lookin'" and "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing." The audience sang along when they knew the words to the songs.

I could see on some of their faces the desire to join the strumming. Some in the audience signed up to join the Sebtown Ukesters. And of course, they will be warmly welcomed.

There's safety in numbers, and all you need is a wee bit of courage together with the ability to forgive your own and other people's goofy mistakes as we learn to play with each other. (Am I sounding like a kindergarten teacher here?)

We learn to be more brave and more forgiving. No one gets hurt, everyone gets happy. It's great.

My wife, Sebastopol Mayor Sarah Gurney, made a speech about her vision for Sebastopol and the many many contributions she's made to our community over the past three decades.

There was time to chat before and after the singing and speeching.  Folks stayed, sipping wine and gobbling the best chocolate chip cookies we ever tasted—really!—until about 9:30 PM.

The Hansen Lane neighbors who came to our event enjoyed being together. They met people who will become new friends. They started planning their first ever block parties and progressive dinners.The Sebastopol community spirit grows ever more happy, more harmonious.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Dealing with Wicked Witches

A young child visited his grandparents and saw for the first time the Wizard of Oz.

His memories of the wicked witch scared him so that he could not sleep at bedtime. Grandpa and Grandma tried to assure the little boy that the witch was not real, but the boy could not be convinced. 

They opened the closet in the bedroom to show him that no witch was hiding there, but the boy could not fall asleep. They opened all the closets throughout the house and looked under all the beds and behind all the curtains.

“There is no witch in this house!” they told him.

“I’m know the witch will come and get me,” the grandson said.

Grandma looked closely in her grandson’s eyes and saw his terror. She could see: the witch was real to her grandson. She went to the kitchen, got a plastic cup and filled it with water.

“When the witch comes,” she told him, “throw this water at her.”

She put the cup on his nightstand.

The boy smiled, exhaled, and fell asleep.

A nod to Ellen Handler Spitz for this story.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Potent Mood Lifter

I was playing my ukulele this morning as my wife departed for a day of door-to-door re-election campaigning.

She said, “That is such a happy instrument! I love that ukulele!”

I love my uke, too. It is a potent mood lifter.

When I feel the least bit blue, I grab a ukulele, tune it, strum, and sing out. By some divine magic the ukulele lifts up my spirits and also the spirits of everyone within earshot, even bugs.

Last weekend one of my ukebuds and I carpooled down to San Francisco to add our voices to an immense chorus of ukesters aiming happily to sing our place into the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest group of ukulele players ever assembled.

We met many new ukulele friends, all of them happy, and none of them, as far as I could tell, a whole lot better than us——a little bit above beginner.

We saw the movie “The Mighty Uke” and strummed together and sang. Here’s a picture of me taken by Andy Andrews who is one of the “stars” of the movie and of the ukulele movement. 

Alas, the world record remains unbroken, but we went home happier than we came. Ukuleles do that.

The ukulele was born more than 140 years ago in the Kingdom of Hawaii as it fell into the strengthening clutches of the U.S. Empire. The ukulele surely helped the Hawaiians cope with depression.

Now the ukulele is born again, growing in popularity as steeply as the United States descends in its manufacturing sector—weaponry of mass destruction excepted. (I, for one, am deeply ashamed to say this, but we Americans can’t crow about our health care system, our public transportation system, our care for the homeless, or our public education, but we got some really fancy weapons of mass destruction, and we've used them before.)

As we languish in our moribund empire, the ukulele’s resurgent popularity is surely an echo of its original birth in Hawaii.

We better sing some songs about peace!

Here’s one of my uke buds singing a classic uke tune.

Here’s a link to a story about our Adventure in San Francisco