Thursday, April 26, 2007

HNT #19: Peace work

Yesterday I was busy spreading the word about the June 2nd event I am working on. Many newspapers and tv stations have community calendars online. There are many other community calendars online that even more people go to, such as craigslist, or indymedia. I was surprised to find one tv station that long had a calendar, now doesn't, but just about every other local one now does. I also discovered any non-profit can get a 30-second on-air announcement on AM Northwest if we bring 15 people to their studio audience. Hmmm.

The ways in which we connect and spread the word are rapidly changing. Some people only operate through myspace: email, calendars, connecting, advertising. I made my BPF Portland myspace a little more appealing by adding some photos. (I refuse to add music or blinky-blink backgrounds though...I can't stand that about the myspace culture.) I dug this one out from the archives for this week's HNT. This was probably 2002. November, light Portland rain, I'm the peace sign next to the creator of the costume. We were trying to draw attention to a news conference that occurred a day or two before a big march and rally. This little mini march took us in front of the Federal Building.

I'll still be there for a big march, I'll still arrange a meditation vigil for the rally space, but at this point I wonder how much it helps. We are blacked out of the media. Remember March 17, 18? That was the anniversary of the Iraq war's beginning. Did you hear about it on national tv news? Hardly a blip. It might sound like I agree with Utne Reader, who has a cover story called Protest is Dead. Yes yes yada yada, I've been hearing that from the beginning. Arguments about how we can be more effective. I think they overlook 1. that there is a concerted propaganda effort to minimize our impact (and they further it by believing it) and 2. publicly recorded reaction or change in administrative policy is not necessarily a measure of our effectiveness.

They compare today with the civil rights movement. They assume that the media's ignoring of the big march is because we haven't been doing those same sort of things the civil rights movement is doing. Umm, not exactly. It is also a bit like comparing apples and oranges. We can't sit in at a lunch counter in our own town to directly stop Iraqi civilians from being blown up on the other side of the world. There are people here doing civil disobedience. People are getting arrested for merely attempting to talk to their own governmental representatives. That hardly makes the news either. It's not dramatic enough. It's not bloody enough, and somehow that translates into not brave enough.

No, the way I see that the peace movement is succeeding is that more people are 'converting.' Big marches are useful for bringing people into the fold, getting them hooked up with a social action group of their choice. This is how I've witnessed this work here in Portland for the last 5 years. It has certainly worked to get me involved. Now here I am furthering the work of peace by connecting people to people. It doesn't appear to be anti-war work at all, but it is. Some people are reluctant to get involved in something unless they feel they know you. It's a cultural thing. Some people have a view of pacifists that makes them reluctant to get out in the streets because they don't think it's peaceful enough. It's a cultural thing. Many people will come to a non-political festival in a park. It's a cultural thing. They must make a connection, must they not, between the pacifists who are organizing it, and the stereotypical view they might have of pacifists? It's all connected. It's all interconnected. And it is all about peace.

Utne Reader's Joseph Hart says, "The first step toward building a movement is getting people's attention, which is not easy." Umm, we have been, it's just been under the radar of the corporate news networks. I don't see that we've had a continuous peace movement for the past four decades...not one that had enough people involved. What the movement is doing now is creating new hippies, new peace-for-lifers. That is hardly ineffective.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Books Read: Stiff

Stiff by Mary Roach
(a medical non-fiction that reads like fiction)
I've been reading Stiff, and I find myself thinking so often about the Buddhist practice of renunciation that sends monks to the cemetery. I have heard that they will sit in front of rotting corpses with the idea that they will fully let go to attachment to this life. The first chapter in Stiff is about the anatomists. The history of cadaver use for teaching medicine is theatrical and sordid. For a long time doctors-to-be were encouraged to objectify the bodies, do what it takes to make it less human. Some corpse providers learned it could be lucrative to murder to provide fresh cadavers. The purchaser must have had a clue, and he didn't care. I mull over that juxtaposition. Someone who is so dedicated to furthering the medical science that he accepts cadavers of questionable origin. The surgical theater in teaching schools was often the only way the poor could get medical help. No matter that inept students could kill them, it was of little importance. Perhaps it is good to remember, if thinking how horrific the state of the world is, that once upon a time anatomists did vivisection on people and thought nothing of it.

I finished the book in time for the library book group. Several people reported not being able to finish because they couldn't follow their usual pattern of reading while eating. Many just found it too disturbing to finish, and only a few appreciated the oft-lauded humor in the book. "Too breezy," some said. The doctor in our group just loved it, and thought it tremendously funny.

The author did indeed mention the Buddhist practice of contemplating decaying bodies. She shared that information with two contacts at the field of bodies, a study of body decay for forensics use. They had no comment. She did not mention the Tibetan practice of sky burial. Also covered, plastination. Coming soon to OMSI. One of the book-groupers has seen an exhibit, she said the bodies looked plastic.

I liked the book, though I had to put it down for a few days, and felt a bit raw when done. I felt very sad at the end, after learning of the way I would like to be buried, but realizing this is not likely to be available. In fact the usual methods in the U.S. are atrociously unecological. I learned cremation uses a lot of natural gas, and sends toxins into the air. I learned embalming doesn't really preserve you for eternity...not that I want to be. Getting sealed in a casket removes me from the natural decaying process. I liked the idea of a natural burial, something I came across in Six Feet Under, but that is also not likely to be available. Laws and such.

I find it very appealing to remain part of the cycle of life. In Sweden, it is possible to be freeze-dried, and the dry powder remains can be mulch for a deep-rooted plant. That is so appealing: from death comes new life, a tree to remember me. The way Mary Roach told it, funeral directors even in Sweden seemed reluctant to embrace the process. I couldn't understand that. My family is big on memorial trees. They started with the death of my brother over 20 years ago. Now they will point at a tree in their quarter-acre yard and say, "That's the tree for your grandpa. That's the tree for Uncle Ken..." They have a wooded grove where there once was a sledding hill. What a simple step it would be to have a tree growing on the grave of the composting remains of a loved one. Remember the remains from the old Star Trek series? I vaguely recall a white powder, the elements left after all the water was removed. That could be me.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

HNT #18: Dirty Work

I've been busy lately with planning for Portland's summer Buddhist Festival, though that hasn't stopped me from watching too much TV, or reading too many blogs. I've added a bunch of books and library-related blogs to my bloglines, under the guise of "professional development." Librarians are interesting people, and it's easy to find more and more people to read and I myself write less and less.

MySpace seems to be the way to connect to younger people. Anybody interested in reaching teens and young adults needs to use MySpace, whether libraries or bands or activist groups. In the interest of promoting the Buddhist Festival in the Park, I created a MySpace page for BPF Portland. Within a week I got an inquiry about Buddhism in Portland. I guess Yahoo is just too old school.

Yesterday though I spent my time catching up with household chores. The toilet needed fixing. I installed a new flusher mechanism. Except for the uber-messy bits, I like putting together mechanical things. This was not as bad as the other messy chore I did yesterday...anybody who knows me I procrastinate from hell to high heaven over cleaning the filter media for my turtle's aquarium. ew ew ew. But, I care for my turtle and want it to live in a clean "pond," so I do it, eventually.

So the messiest thing about installing a new flusher mechanism, the old black rubber washers. Some kind of chemical reaction takes place so you get inky black goo all over. I could not get it all out of my fingernails. I missed the replacement of one: the cone washer in the water intake hose. This of course caused a leak and I drained the tank again, pulled out the brittle inky washer with a pliers, replaced it and connected it all again, and still it leaked, but just a little. I may be able to do these things on my own, but I still need the strength of a male hand for that final quarter turn that will close something up snug. Steve gave the final twist when he got home late last night.

Not feeling very naked lately, so here are the naked dirty nails from my busy day yesterday. Happy Half Nekkid Thursday.

IMG_0049 copy

Friday, April 13, 2007

Maitripa Photos

The NW Dharma Assocation annual meeting was hosted by the Maitripa Institute. Here are some photos of their sacred space. Remember, it took place in February:

maitripa altar offerings

I love the way glitz and popular culture shows up on altars. That was a closeup of this altar featuring the Spiritual Director of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition, Lama Zopa:

maitripa altar

This is an eleven-headed thousand-armed Avalokiteshvara, known in Zen as Kanzeon. The legends say the Bodhisattva's head split apart in grief when s/he saw all the saved ones immediately replaced by other suffering beings in hell.

thousand armed kanzeon

and the one with the sword that cuts through delusion, Manjusri:

maitripa manjusri

The editor used this next photo of mine in the Dharma News. The Manjusri is to the right of the large Buddha, and the Avalokiteshvara is two altars to the left:

maitripa nwda

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Figuring Out Sangha

Last month I briefly mentioned I attended the Annual Meeting of the NW Dharma Association. The April/May Dharma News focused on mahasangha, which the Executive Director Timothy O'Brien defined in modern usage "as a term denoting the nonsectarian Buddhist community, united by their allegiances to the Buddhadharma regardless of doctrinal, sectarian, or cultural differences." OK that was news to me. For the non-Buddhists out there, that probably would be confusing to Buddhists, so don't feel bad. Short version, "All my Buddhist relations." It seems to me meant to get around the snits that arise around the definition of sangha. Some more traditional or conservative sects will say it can only mean a community of ordained monastics. In my Zen sect I was taught it is my spiritual community, which could include all beings and elements of nature.

At the end of February when articles were due for April/May, there was some confusion over just who was going to write up the day's conversations. The one who knew was out of commission, so I took a chance and spent a day listening to my recordings and wrote it up. I'd recorded the small group reports back to the larger group, just in case...very useful for getting exact quotes. I am so happy with my $80 digital recorder. It was a good thing, because they needed that article.

Now that the issue is published, here it is as I wrote it. I haven't compared, don't know if it was edited much.

Figuring Out Sangha

The jewel of sangha sparkled through the day at the annual meeting in February. During the morning, participants broke into small groups and discussed the question, "What is sangha?" Visual metaphors emerged, that sangha "is like the family tree. Wherever you decide to snip off the branch and decide, this is my sangha, is an arbitrary decision."

People said,

"Sangha provides a life of sanity and purpose."
"Sangha is what makes the impossible possible."
"This is where you come back to the dhamma."
"Sangha is refuge, a safe place."

The various groups grappled with the balance of the protective aspect of sangha, but also inclusiveness. There are layers of sangha, ultimately including the cosmos. The question remains, what is adaptable about sangha? What is fundamental, and what is elastic? Timothy said, "Our job is diversity, that we unite around the fundamentals and that we preserve the purity of the various traditions. That is a real dance."

In the afternoon we broke into groups based on our topic of interest; sangha arose often as a uniting thread. How do we create and sustain sangha? What does sangha look like in a rural setting, in small groups, in groups without a single teacher? How can sangha help West meet East? How do sanghas get engaged, and help individuals bring their spiritual practice out into the world?


This group focused on the questions: How do we create sangha? and How do we sustain sangha? Practical concerns raised included understanding tax status, modes of communication, fundraising, supporting teachers, and use of technology. There are ways in which dharma can be intertwined with practical needs, and they wished to keep in mind that sangha is community, not the place, or the building.

Some general rules they came up with:

· Start small
· Keep a low overhead (out of the home, many different models for that)
· Know your zoning before you even start
· Develop communication: use internet, email, googling
· Establish dialog in larger community: giving service gives back; hold open houses; hire local people; partner with like-minded groups like the Unitarians
· Have transparency with money
· It's a stronger sangha that relies on the talent and experience of many rather than a sangha that relies on just one teacher or one resource

There was included in this a dialog of ethics and dharma in the use of money, in altruism, and in outreach. It was important that as teachers they never refuse teachings on the basis of money, always to operate with generosity of the dharma. Fundraising can happen through community outreach, open houses, being a good neighbor, through doing good. An example was given of receiving federal funds for cleaning up land. Altruism as a practice can be modeled; there is a dialog between people that want to give, and people that need. The question whether to charge dues or rely on dana seemed to be an extended dialog.

Small, Rural, and Alternate Sanghas

The main question to be addressed in rural or alternative sanghas was how to deal with very different approaches and traditions, and how to incorporate those into sangha. One person said, "Getting people together from different traditions can bring divisiveness between people in a group. We need to remind ourselves that we need each other, need to find that basic support for the fundamental practice, and figure out how to allow people from different traditions to be comfortable practicing together."

In rural areas, practitioners can't afford to be exclusive. Not only are there different traditions represented, but people come from different towns. Concerns of rural sanghas are also shared by urban sanghas: diversity; sustainability; large percentage of Western practitioners that are unaffiliated with any sangha.

Some practical approaches are unique to rural settings and provide some advantages. Money is not much of an issue, and arrangements themselves are alternative. People meet in people's homes or in churches. It may be less formal a practice than a specific lineage. One person said, "Differences are positive, are to be accepted, celebrated, and enjoyed." Another advised, "When dealing with the different traditions, the best tradition is to keep it to the simplest form, the original Dharma. With the Triple Gem, the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, you can't go wrong."

West Meets East

What is sacred? What can be shared? These were the questions held by this group. The spokesperson said, "We have an obligation to take care not to lose the meaning of the original teachings as we adapt them. There is the importance in finding the core meaning, in taking care in how we translate the dharma." When importing the teaching, it is important to think of what it is like for the teachers to come to the west, to train Westerners, and to navigate social interactions.

There has been slow progress in bridging the gaps. This intersection of West and East takes awareness and respect. For example with some ethnic communities, there is some reluctance to even go to the temple if they're not actively practicing the precepts. Also robes can mean different things in different traditions, sometimes a scholar, sometimes not. Knowledge of language that won't offend is a key skill. Converts can gain connections by attending ethnic folk festivals. Converts would do well to learn the various ways teachers are recognized and authorized in different traditions.

Engaged Buddhism
[I participated in this group, so it was hard to keep myself out of the reporting.]

How do we bring our practice into worldly situations? How do we get people involved? These were the leading questions going into this dialog. When we raise the issue of Engaged Buddhism, it quickly gets complicated. There are many ways a person can choose to engage in the world, and there are many ways to agonize over best practices or choices of action.

As Buddhist practitioners we can bring the peace of our practice to the world of action. We can make the dharma accessible to an arena that can bring on passion, frustration, and burnout. While contemplation and action seem to be opposing principles, they actually are a foundation of Buddhism. Compassion and insight, the will to help aligned with the wisdom of emptiness, these unite together in bodhicitta. Our spiritual practice is not really tested until we bring it out into the world.

There is a need for awareness. Is our meditative practice selfish, a denial or escape from the world? Is our activism a kind of escape from inner awareness? Several years ago I attended a weekend of nonviolence training from the Fellowship of Reconciliation. They shared the phrase, "Picket and Pray. Picket and Pray." Catholics have the need to balance action and insight and we can learn from them too. Perhaps our slogan can be, "Meditate and March. Meditate and March."

In addition to balancing action and contemplation, there are many ways we can trip up over which action to take. The spokesperson said, "We agonized. Is it valuable to be involved in the political process? Are we spinning our wheels or are we making incremental change? How much of our energy is focused on the symptom, how much on the cause?" The question occurs to me, does that matter, or is taking action also a matter of trying and testing, practicing and making mistakes?

Engagement can manifest in our daily lives through individual choices. The questions arose, "How can we stretch ourselves to do more? How can we do this in our sanghas, not just as individuals?" Since there are so many avenues through which we can address the suffering of this modern world, we can all be stretched pretty thin. How can we coordinate efforts? The idea arose for an Engaged Buddhist Challenge: challenge sanghas to choose an engaged focus, and invite individuals to cross-pollinate between sanghas for their social action of choice. This would have an added benefit of greater interconnection between sanghas. Larger sanghas may already have more than one focus they can share.

Some possible engaged activities:
· Educating children
· Hospice work
· Prison work
· Green sanghas
· Interfaith connections
· Peace/ No war
· Corporate power
· Political campaigns (with 501c3 awareness)
· Money investment awareness

Points of Action: How NWDA Can Help

· Publish a handbook on organizing and sustaining sangha. (Sustainability; Rural/Alternate Sanghas)
· Help link people in neighboring towns. List or share individual members of NWDA in an area through a web database, or release the relevant portion of the member database to a contact person or organizer, rather than public publishing. (Rural/Alternate Sanghas)
· Organize circuit riders, a bureau of speakers and teachers willing to travel to rural areas. (Rural/Alternate Sanghas)
· Offer web-hosting for small sanghas (Rural/Alternate Sanghas)
· Sponsor forums for the public to learn about Asian traditions (West Meets East)
· Sponsor forums for peer-to-peer dialog, for teachers, leaders, sanghas (West Meets East)
· Provide information/best practices on religious visas (West Meets East)
· Sponsor (or co-sponsor with other Engaged Buddhist groups) an Engaged Buddhist Challenge to the Sanghas (Engaged Buddhism)

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Faery Garden

I first realized that this garden would be different when the bamboo poles showed up with moss-covered sticks poking out of the hollow tops. That's odd, I thought. I suppose the idea is that the moss will flourish on the sticks. That will look neat. I usually walk past this garden on my way to catch the bus.

Then the bones sticking up out of pipes submerged in the dirt made their appearance. Hmmm. As a vegetarian I can't help but think of the animal these came from. But they work. They looked like little mushroom houses.

I started imagining little beings congregating and flitting from house to house. More details were revealed on subsequent walks. A human-sized bench. A pink jar. A pottery piece looking like a cross between a beehive and a kiva oven, with a tea candle inside. A fairy palace?

A fairy-sized road, but a path only just big enough for a human to take a few steps through the garden. A platform that looks like a miniature swimming hole raft. Skulls, reminding me of the cattle skulls in New Mexico, only smaller. I once painted a watercolor of skulls in my cousin Jo's Jemez yard. She liked it so much I gave it to her. I wonder whatever happened to it. (Jo died a few years ago, and I'm no longer in touch with her daughter or significant other.) There are so many interesting little details.

One day when I wasn't rushing to catch the bus for work I stopped to talk to the creator D and his housemate C, and asked if I could take photos. I told D I thought of it as The Fairy Garden. He said, "That's exactly right!" He told me he got the idea for the beehive sculpture from a medieval monastery on an island in Ireland. Like this maybe? He found mosses and ferns in the forests. One he brought back from his home state. One day he was on the road to Canby, looking for ferns off the road, he found a dying ground for deer, possibly the depository for car crash victims. Carcasses in various states of decay offered up his skulls. And I wonder what else?

His sweet dog Lou got in the picture:

I saw the two housemates another day, and they greeted me warmly. The garden artist was working on creating some tables from old growth logs. I didn't think to ask how he got them. Cormac McCarthy's The Road was perched on the fairy raft. He'd just bought it, hadn't started reading it. I told him I'd just looked up fairy in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, and I learned that faery is the land of the fairies. (It turns out the old version that is online says faery is interchangeable with fairy. The current book version defines it this way.)
A few days later, in the rain:

The land of faery,
Where nobody gets old and godly and grave,
Where nobody gets old and crafty and wise,
Where nobody gets old and bitter of tongue.

W.B. Yeats: The Land of Heart's Desire (1894)

Books Read

Undine by Penni Russon

Steve happened to see this book on the table moments before I carried it off for my day's commute and work. "Undine? Would that be related to 'ondine'?" he asked. "An ondine is some kind of mythical woman of the sea." When you read enough fantasy, your understanding of the myths becomes richer, deeper, and more filled with details. Most often the fairies under the hill, allergic to iron, uncaring of humans, are the mythical creatures represented in fantasy. I don't believe I'd come across an ondine before.

I didn't know of such a mythical creature, so I was glad for the heads up. When you're aware of the myth underlying the story, rather than give away the plot, it adds layers of implications. For instance, when you recognize the story of the Pied Piper, your mind is not tied up with the plot, but with the undercurrents of the human psyche revealed by this particular telling. The story isn't just about a mysterious stranger that charms rats and takes the town's children. It also invokes the rest of the story, and the details not used are just as telling as the details used. Deviations change and enhance the myth. Some good fantasy writers allow the myth to sneak up on you, and before you know it, you realize you've been led into the pied piper myth.

So before I even started reading, I had the opportunity to find out what I could expect. I learned Undine is an elemental. There are stories based on elemental magic, such as Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Masters series. Ondine is a water nymph in German mythology. She has a siren-like voice and she can become human...and lose her immortality...if she falls in love with a man. There's always a dark side to a myth, and Ondine's curse will cause her unfaithful man to lose his ability to breathe if he falls asleep.

Magic in stories often seems to me to be about external expressions of growing sexual passions, and so does Ondine's myth. Magic fantasy especially displaces the wildness of sexual stirrings into the amoral, sometimes cruel, energies of magic and fairies. This book begins as though it could play either way…either it's real "magic" stirring in the Australian teenager, or it is a girl becoming a woman. Soon though it becomes clear that this is a book about unbridled magical power, when she dreams of three bronze fish, and three bronze fish turn up at her door. Undine becomes interested in an older boy, and the engulfing energies of magic and sexual feelings become linked. I see such books as a way for teen girls to deal with such emotions but making it more about magic. It becomes a way to lasso this primal, sacred and slightly dangerous need.

That said, this book is more of a teen book than a crossover book. Adults who don't normally read fantasy would find it pretty simple and straightforward.

Half Moon Investigations by Eoin Colfer

Eoin Colfer wrote the hit Artemis Fowl series, but he doesn't limit himself to the fantasy genre. I enjoyed the unmagical Benny and Omar, a quick read in which a boy moves with his family from Ireland to Tunisia. In this case, you have the kid's version of a hard-boiled detective. Even in Colfer's fantasy books, mysteries show up as the core of the plot, and I saw shades of Artemis Fowl in this character, Fletcher Moon. Less evil genius and more nerdy sherlock, Fletcher has solved mysteries from the age of three. The thing about super-smart kid characters, they're able to use their age to their advantage when adults don't take them seriously. Fletcher Moon is almost too smug about his ability and good guy status, but as the book progresses, he becomes less the know-it-all detective, and more the smart kid forging friendships and a future as a real detective. Just a side note: I think this is the first book I've read in which the characters used euros, not dollars, not pounds.

Shadows in the Starlight by Elaine Cunningham

Back in the fall I read the first book, Shadows in Darkness in this the Changeling Detective Series. It seems to be losing its sexy promise, and concentrating more on hard-boiled detective intrigue. It's ok, but I'm not chomping at the bit to read the next one. A little more of the elven world is revealed: their lack of care for humans, the changeling detective's care for her human friends, and hints that those bonds could be dangerous for her and the otherworldly folk.

A Gift of Dragons by Anne McCaffrey
Much like the Star Trek TV shows, the Dragonriders of Pern series gives a satisfying drama in space fix. The characters become familiar, the roles of the various guilds, the individual quests to be all they can be, all these satisfy that itch for a happy ending. The good conquers trials and tribulations.. Mostly it's a freak of nature, the wild is that which must be conquered. I read through the whole series until Anne McCaffrey started sharing the writing with her son. By that point it became a craft of plugging in the correct formula for this trial, that reaction, those responses. It became predictable, just like Star Trek. But it was good to revisit that world and meet new characters with their personal trials and quests.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Spring Pink

I've been enjoying spring this year because I got a new allergy medicine.

Cherry tree hanging over our driveway, third week of March:

A young magnolia up the block, March 21:

April 1:

April 5:

Thursday, April 05, 2007

HNT #17: Zen Studies

I have been busy catching up on my blog about Dharma School. Three lessons I've given from February to April 1st, and I hadn't written about any. I'm becoming better about taking photos. Mindful that Mom the Minx wanted to see the "sandbox photos," I snapped a few during the class. These are not my hands, but I realized this was perfect for Half Nekkid Thursday.

Mini Zen Garden

Sometimes I record the class so I can listen to write it up. Something about my hesitant cadence and soprano voice sometimes rubs people the wrong way, and they think I'm having an attitude where there is none. I can't hear it when speaking, but when I listen to myself recorded, I hear shades of prissiness and whininess. Some of that may be karmic ghosts of past lack of confidence, something that affects the timbre of my voice even though I may speak with confidence now. Some of that may simply be my soprano, sometimes girlish voice. Nothing I can do about that.

My Dharma School blog can be found here. The funny thing is, Steve just recently went back and read my stories and enjoyed my pictures. I'd told him about the blog but he hadn't had the time to look, and needed to google for it. More photos of the hands shaping sculpey are there, as well as some sweet photos of my cat stepping on a previous lesson's project to get to me.

(for more HNT see link on sidebar)