Tuesday, July 16, 2019

In honor of Mahatma Gandhi

Originally posted on August 15th, 2008

I wrote this essay for Intimate Meanderings as part of an exploration of Hindu meditation in conversations between Dilip Trasi, Nitin Trasi and Morgan Zo-Callahan. I focus primarily on the unique contribution to Mohandas Gandhi, or Mahatma Gandhi. Tomorrow, August 15th is Indian Independence Day, and I publish this essay here in “Buddha S.J." as a tribute to a man who contributed so much to the spiritual practice of all humans everywhere on our planet.

Taking the Next Step, A Note on Activism as a Spiritual Practice

The Blessed Lord said: "Time I am, destroyer of worlds, and I have come to engage all people. With the exception of you, all the soldiers here on both sides will be slain.’’ Bhagavad-gita 11:32

Dilip Trasi and Nitin Trasi are committed and skilled practitioners who speak out of their own experience of meditation. Both have a deep understanding of the Hindu meditation tradition and both have worked with authentic teachers. They are also both laymen, not Brahmins, gurus or clergy, who set themselves apart by claiming special knowledge and this, in my view, allows for a freer exchange of ideas as well as a search for a common language in which we can share our experiences. However, when questioned about activism and practice, we entered a territory where they felt that they had to offer cautions and reservations. Not that their reservations might not valid in some cases, but I hope to show if the heart of the spiritual activists’ motivation and practice is of the simple “do-gooder” variety, it does not work as a spiritual practice much less effective community organizing.

One argument against activism runs like this: when faced with a choice between several courses of action, or taking no action whatsoever, we cannot say with certainty which one is the better, and, even if we practice some form of meditation, given that maturity in practice seems to sharpen our ability to discern shades of gray, we cannot favor one position over another. This caution halts us in our tracks. The idea is not exclusively Eastern. Albert Camus said; “The evil that is in the world almost always comes from ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.” (The Plague)

However, in all cases, no matter what our motivation or position, in any situation, in any relationship, in any community, country, tradition, or time, all actions produce results. Religious precepts, as they are called in Buddhism, recognize that living our lives leaves a trail of consequences. The possibility of making a mistake does not relieve the obligation to try to act responsibly; rather it imposes a further, perhaps more difficult obligation to remain open and test your experience, examine the results, and then change course if you find yourself embarked on an unproductive or negative course of action.

There is a second argument: that the desire to relieve universal suffering really stems from a desire to relieve one’s own suffering, that it is a myth to believe that we actually help others. From a Buddhist point of view, we are all intimately interconnected in a world that is always in flux. Most practitioners recognize that the source of suffering is not outside ourselves, that we are ultimately responsible for the conditions that cause suffering. That is in fact one of the reasons why we act. Activism is not reserved for enlightened beings. Submitting to moral obligation is for both ordinary and “enlightened” people. Besides, the conservative position—don’t act unless you are certain that your actions will have no harmful consequences—presupposes that omniscience, being able to foresee all the consequences of our actions, is available to humans. I have seen no evidence that such awareness is possible, even in supposedly enlightened beings.

And finally, what I would like to call the “conservative position” asserts that the strain on the social order caused by righting a wrong, causes far more pain, confusion and upset than any possible benefit of the actions. I do not buy into the argument that activists are wrong headed, self-indulgent and create harm because they upset the status quo.

The only part of that analysis that I can support is that some consequences of our actions will be unforeseen. But what is wrong with that? It will not stop me from trying to prevent women and children from being sold into sexual slavery or help innocents caught in the crossfire of the civil strife in Iraq. I will say more about any strain on the social fabric when I touch on the practice of non-violence.

Take ending of the enslavement of Africans in America or stopping the holocaust of the Jewish people that came with the allied victory over Germany in 1945. These were patent evils ingrained in the fabric of a society, or the programs of a powerful single party fascist regime. They had to be eradicated by whatever force necessary though we may have to sort out the consequences of both the American Civil War and World War II for several more generations.

Morgan, who is deeply involved in the activist world, said that he regretted that some activists, though relatively very few, get carried away by their own self-importance. When I questioned Morgan, his objection was that “full fledged” activists who had a lot of unexamined personal motivations made organizing difficult, not that they were prone to mistakes that would cause harm in the outcome. But even this is not my experience. Perhaps my position is biased because my sample of activists comes largely from a group that creates effective actions in support of a cause as spiritual practice, not an add-on, or something to do during the rainy season when you don’t feel like meditating. Practice does more than keep an activist focused. It is the source of their action.

Nitin Trasi used this definition of activism in his analysis: A doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue (Webster). I want to suggest that this definition is not broad enough to include cases in which spiritual practice is the real operative factor.

The greatest modern proponent of the spiritual practice of activism was Mahatma Gandhi, and the traditions from which he derived Satyagraha, Sanskrit for “truth force,” were mostly Indian—Hindu, Buddhist and Jain. He also read the gospel of Jesus and was undoubtedly influenced by the saying: “whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do also to me.” In the Western monotheistic traditions, taking care of the world, tikkun in Hebrew, caring for the least fortunate of society, caritas in Latin, has always been part of religious practice, much more so than in Hinduism. When we talk or write about the practice of non-violence as Gandhi developed and practiced it, we are translating the Sanskrit, Ahimsa, which means literally “the avoidance of violence,” but it is impossible not to see the influence of his western education.

Gandhi himself, Martin Luther King, Dick Gregory, as well as the Dalai Lama in his efforts to free Tibet from the oppression of Han Chinese overlords, have all undertaken practice to quell selfish motivation and focus on the goals of clearing a path to justice and equality. Many of Jesuits and ex-Jesuits represented here in Meanderings use the discernment of spirits outlined in the “Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius” to weigh their activism. The American abolitionists of the 19th century were for the most part inspired by their religious convictions, transcendentalism or Quakerism, worldviews that hold all the created, visible world to be intricately connected and their practice had the flavor of the Great Awakening, with all its limitations—preaching and conversion.

Without humans, aggression, hatred, anger are not a perpetual motion machine. They need our energy to keep the pendulum swinging. A problem arises when, by applying a force strong enough to counteract the prevailing intransigence of a social order which supports evil, inequality and social injustice, we perpetuate the underlying mechanism that holds those structures in place. Halting that engine also has side effects—what will fill the void?

There are always far-reaching effects accompanying any action, violent or non-violent. For example, World War II, which was to be the war that ended war, has not marked the end of aggression and killing. It was not enough to defeat Hitler just as winning the US Civil War was not sufficient to cause the complete freedom of African slaves. (Though there is some evidence that the amount of armed conflict has been reduced since the defeat of Germany and Japan). In the ending of the British rule over India, the Mahatma struggled with the immediate consequences of partition and the bloodshed between Hindu and Muslim. The fast he undertook in an attempt to halt the violence nearly cost his life. He says in The Story of My Experiments with Truth, "When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall—think of it, always." It’s just simplistic to think that any one action can end injustice or suffering. It is more a continuing struggle in which humans must engage. The birth of modern India, the largest functioning democracy on earth, has increased wealth and opportunities for Indians of all social strata. This is neither a myth nor inconsequential.

Whether or not one holds to some vague concept of “progress” or the endless repetition of karma due to the consequences of our actions, it seems that the world has changed and continues to change. That all life is impermanent, always being born and passing out of existence seems almost self-evident. Though I have never studied all the ways that the Hindu point of view differs from the Buddhist view, in Buddhism lived experience opens the door to religious practice.

Those who have some taste for practice seem to have chosen the path that was begun by Mohandas Gandhi. As with any discipline, Ahimsa takes practice. It is not a theory. Though solidly based on the most ancient understanding of man’s place in the universe, it launches us into the unknown territory of caring for all of humanity, the entire earth in a new way. It requires the most courageous action and deep meditation. It requires that our spiritual practice take on a wider goal than our own salvation or enlightenment.

We are in the middle of such a revolution. The aims of the revolution seem to be clear: clean the environment, curtail the destructive power of our weapons, find new ways of resolving conflict, create universal recognition of human rights. They also include what Jesus taught as ‘charity’—to feed the hungry, care for the sick, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners. What is not clear is the path we chose to follow to achieve those goals. The old institutions have failed or are crumbling. What will emerge? Where do we place our bets and focus time and resources? Those who are in the middle of a revolution are least likely to recognize it. They are certainly among the last to appreciate it—they are way too busy tending to immediate concerns of Right Now! We don’t even know if we will succeed.

It will also demand new myths, and I mean myth in the most powerful sense, not fantasy, but images that capture the imagination in a powerful way. And it seems that one of those myths will be the story of the Bhagavad-gita, which has inspired Hindus and fascinated Westerners. In Philip Glass's Satyagraha, An Opera in Three Acts (2001), huge chariots for Arjuna and Krishna with larger than life puppet figures are drawn up on the stage; the prologue is verses from the Gita sung, chanted in Sanskrit. On the Kuru Field of Justice, Lord Krishna tells the warrior Arjuna to put aside pain and pleasure, that action is his moral duty: “Be unconcerned with consequences, with victory or defeat, but act with the world's welfare as your intention” (LA Times, April 2008). Then when the figure of Gandhi walks onto the stage, small and clothed simply in a loincloth as he appears in later pictures; it is a powerful statement of “Truth Force.” But the performance is not left in some reverential version of Indian history—in the third act, Martin Luther King appears behind Gandhi, superimposed in a TV clip of his famous “I have a Dream” speech which electrified a generation of civil rights activists.

I would like to quote what J. Robert Oppenheimer said about his experience at the first test explosion of the atomic bomb, July 16, 1945. “We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty, and to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, 'Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.'' I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.” There may be some exaggeration in his statement. By the time he said it on TV in the 50’s, Oppenheimer had already become an activist working to stop the “Arms Race” and curtail the use of both nuclear fission and fusion in the manufacture of weapons.

Man now has developed a technology powerful enough to destroy himself, certainly to visit unfathomable pain and destruction on his fellow beings. The usual political balance for checking power, aggression and greed do not seem to be adequate to the task. It is not surprising to see that creativity, coupled with the spiritual dimension of reverence for all life, have shown up as potential sources for finding a way, not just to remedy injustice and relieve suffering, but to ensure human survival.

Because Dilip or Nitin didn’t have the opportunity to read and respond to my argument, I will give Dilip the (almost) last word on the subject.

“Let me investigate the useful side of [activism]. Activism in a beneficent sense can be defined as aggressive action towards a specific goal. We always find that in nature there exist thresholds. Right from the atom onwards, we find that a minimum energy barrier has to be crossed to overcome the forces of nature, which is called the threshold force. For example to get free of the force of gravity of the earth, a minimum velocity called escape velocity has to be exceeded (approximately 7 miles per second).

“Applying activism to inventiveness, we find that many of the great inventors were intoxicated with only thoughts concerning their invention. Scientists were considered as absent-minded people. But this is the kind of aggressiveness and activism that is necessary to break the thought barrier.

“Finally, applying activism to spirituality, we find that a paradigm change in understanding is necessary, like the quantum jump of an electron, freeing from the influence of the nucleus. Maya is like the intra-atomic force that binds the electrons to the nucleus. To overcome the influence of Maya or ignorance, one has to be intoxicated with Atma-consciousness or God-consciousness. Ramakrishna Paramahansa and Ramana Maharshi were typical examples of such persons.”

In the last analysis, any call to action for the spiritually centered person is an act of faith, in the deepest sense—that he or she is called to participate in the action of God loving, caring for our world, that the easing of suffering is part of the dynamic of God’s love. To close, I am not going to quote scripture or give a sermon, but rather quote one of my heroes, the visionary architect, Bucky Fuller (from NO MORE SECONDHAND GOD by R. Buckminster Fuller):

Yes, God is a verb,
the most active,
connoting the vast harmonic
reordering of the universe
from unleashed chaos of energy.
And there is born unheralded
a great natural peace,
not out of exclusive
pseudo-static security
but out of including, refining, dynamic balancing.
Naught is lost.
Only the false and nonexistent are dispelled.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

“We Inter-Are”

April 21st, 2010

Contemplating Virtue from my Hospital Bed, 1989, Hollywood
by Morgan Zo-Callahan

Jules Pascin 1917

[This is the last chapter of Intimate Meanderings, Conversations Close to our Hearts, which Morgan and I put together. If you want to read more and purchase the book, just click on the link.]

In a sense human flesh is made of stardust. Every atom in the human body (excluding only the primordial hydrogen atom) was fashioned in stars that formed, grew old and exploded most violently before the Sun and Earth came into being.—Nigel Calder

Dependent co-arising fits right into Ecology. People who are sensitive to the interrelationship of all things are into Dharma lore. There isn’t a more certain path into enlightenment than that of the realized capacity for being wide-eyed in the Cosmos, being totally alive, right now, with no separation between he who is aware and that of which he is aware. Yes. Just look at It All!—Tom Marshall, S.J.

The other darkest blue-black night, I was looking up at the moon, bright pearly silver, inviting wonder. I took a deep breath, viewing golden-lighted stars with spontaneous seconds of delight and submission to being alive, aware, somehow being consciously a part of spacious skies; 14.6 billion years of creating itself, the universe is changing, ever-evolving, all being, causes and effects of each other, all continually inter-acting. You and I are related so closely in this luminescent, mysterious process, beyond what we can fully know, bringing joys as well as disasters that we cannot control. I’m a tiny participant, along with you, in this dance of stars. I was shaken into this humbling realization of Thich Nhat Hanh: "We inter-are."

A very shocking experience taught me on the deepest level how interdependent we are in life and how I 'm connected even with those I consider hostile people. That which is in all people is likewise to some degree in myself.

I was walking out of a 7-11 in Hollywood, just before dark, when six gang-bangers attacked me. The police would later say I must have looked like a rival gang member. They did not go for my wallet—they wanted to kick the shit out of me. I fought back as best as I could. I was punched, head butted and finally one of the guys sneaked a long gray blade into my stomach, severing my renal vein and cutting my left kidney in half. There was blood all over the place.

The guys disappeared into my twilight zone of being between life and death. I experienced the thin line of passing out and somehow willfully hanging onto consciousness. For a few seconds of expansive consciousness, a "part" of me went up into the sky, looking down at my body below and my immediate surroundings. My body expanded. I don’t interpret this experience as a disconnected spirit or immortal soul (atma) looking down on me. I don’t know if there’s any separate-non-physical eternal consciousness; yet, there’s no doubt, as many have related, this remarkable psychic process happens. I was, if only quickly, floating above my body, quite a crumbling, bleeding mess.

I pressed the wound in my stomach to stop some of the blood from coming out.

The doctors told me I was the first one to save my life by putting pressure on my wound. But to live I needed to be saved by the Good Samaritan. Later I would need expert surgeons. How we need each other! Passersby ran by the desperate scene, frightened. Cars slowed down and then screeched away, ignoring my "Please take me to the hospital!" A few cars stopped, opened their doors and then changed their minds and took off. Me alone now for perhaps twenty minutes, holding my guts as tightly as I could, telling myself to keep breathing, keep awake; don't give in to that fainting feeling. If I pass out, I joke, I'll die in front of a 7-11, instead of in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater? Not this way! Not by fellow Latinos, many of whom in my life I love.

Finally, my good, lovely Samaritan, a Christian named Mike Bunnell, passed, stopped, opened but didn't shut his car door, and took me to the emergency room of Kaiser Hospital on Sunset Blvd., just a few blocks from where I was stabbed. I was in for a long surgery, my lungs collapsing, more than a month in the hospital.

What a strange and wonderful experience for my growing as a human being: sensing the "inter-being" of the attackers, a hero who saved my life, the surgeons-nurses-therapists who healed me, police, friends, family visiting me in the hospital and myself: all together. This unexpected, difficult trauma also allowed me to feel forgiveness, as well as blaming, being angry. Luckily it was mostly an occasion of gratitude for life, for resolve to live well, to improve myself in the areas of virtues such as mindfulness, being peaceful, releasing my anger, jealousy.

I had some hours of quiet and many hours of social interaction. Sometimes pain wouldn't allow for social contact or the presence required for meditation and reflection As police showed me pictures of gang members, I would think about how much they looked like some of my students, dark, Latin, handsome, looking older-more hardened than their ages; and my rage somehow melted before it could start. My heart went out to them, understanding that they are finding acceptance and some personal power by being in gangs; some of them are seriously addicted to crack, meth, heroin.

You hurt me, dear hermanos, but I truly forgive you, by which I mean I still wish that you be happy and that I intend no revenge or payback. Even though I cannot like you right now, I won’t close my heart to you. I wish you find what will really make you feel peaceful and full. I agree to cooperate with the police to find you young men who pulled off this payback on the "wrong man." You need to face the consequences of your harmful actions—not a payback though you might interpret it that way. Believe me it’s not. [I could identify two of the six gang members, but the police gave up after a year of searching for them. No witnesses came forward.]

And how close I still feel to you, Mike Bunnell!—though we're totally off into our own worlds—we stay in touch. I would later visit the doctors, therapists and nurses to personally thank them and give them small gifts. A lady therapist once asked me "if I wanted to talk about it?” I just cried for about the entire hour with her; she facilitated lots of healing just by her warm, open and understanding presence. How dependent I was on that kind, lovely woman. Without the air of the skies and the warmth of the sun, we would perish. Without Mike’s generosity, my good luck and preparedness of expert medical care, I wouldn't have made it.

I spoke extensively with the policemen and policewomen on a few occasions. They talked about their frustrations with the huge gang problems in L.A. They related how a different gang that same day had stabbed an elderly man in the spine, taking his wallet and watch. The man is now paralyzed from the waist down. We talked about the gangs from El Salvador, from Mexico, from East L.A. and South L.A. We talked about the work of Dolores Mission in Boyle Heights. I told them about my Mexican and Salvadoran students and how I went to funerals for a few them, murdered in drive-by shootings. Sometimes we talked about our personal lives. I had never felt such closeness with people in law enforcement and never thought much about how tough their jobs are, in often-hostile surroundings. How is it that we ended up speaking with each other for so long? I learned so much about lives I knew very little about. It's crazy to say it, but here we were also enjoying ourselves in our conversations about "good" and "bad" guys. We were making more of the occasion than just looking at mug shots and my groaning in pain from the after-effects of a long surgical wound, stapled together from my stomach to the bottom of my chest.

The violence in my attackers, the kindness in my hero, the dedication in my nurses and doctors, the encouraging thoughtfulness and visiting of my friends and family, the struggle of the great police officers: I was finding all these people and these qualities in myself. I am the Samaritan. I am the therapist and the patient. I am the gangbanger and the policewoman. We have all the different so-called "positive" and "negative" qualities. This terrible experience was an opportunity to cultivate virtues, Paramitas, in myself.

All Buddhist traditions, just as other religious traditions, include teachings and practices regarding virtue. In the Mahayana tradition, the ideal and the consciousness of the Bodhisattva, the super-generous, self-sacrificing spiritual attitude of compassion, is held in high esteem. This consciousness is described as luminescent wisdom, heart-full. Swimming deeply in the inner heart, it is expressed as love and impartial acceptance of all others, wishing all to be in touch with the inner heart-goodness within each person, meeting that same "place" within ourselves. We include ourselves, even though we are last. The Theravadin Arahant concentrates on inner liberation, which of course, includes the metta practice of wishing that all be happy and insisting on a moral practice, leading to a strong and kind character. The Vajrayana Siddha Tradition of realized masters also includes teachings of virtue and vice. It offers its own methods for becoming strong in virtue, especially through the relationship to the Spiritual Master.

I tried to name and consider the "Seven Deadly Sins" (pride, lust, covetousness, envy, anger, laziness, gluttony) and the corresponding Life-giving virtues, which eliminate the deadening result of living principally for ourselves, alone. Jesuits are fond of saying to live as "women and men for others." I made it my meditation to think about what qualities I could engender in myself to live a better life. There are virtues the Buddha extolled and those who follow him attempt to cultivate. Paramita is Sanskrit for “perfection,” “reaching the other shore of the eternal.” The idea of "reaching the other shore" marks the end of seeking. Six virtues (sometimes ten) are mentioned: generosity or charity (Dana); discipline, integrity (Sila); patience, non-expectation (Khanti); energy, joy (Viriya); meditation, attention (Dhyana); wisdom (Prana).

Our English word “virtue” comes from the Latin word virtus meaning strength and vigor to refrain from collapsing under the weight of afflictive emotions such as anger, pride, laziness, and addictive pleasures. In Buddhist traditions, such collapses result from not letting go and clinging to selfish desire. Due to our seemingly overwhelming genetic and social, conditioning, it’s difficult to first be honest about ourselves and then to continue our personal practice of developing our insight into the “interrelatedness” of all things and the accompanying compassionate action that flows from this insight.

It is our cordial, friendly intention, our kind actions, which greatly influence our present consciousness and circumstances; therefore, a major factor in developing generosity is letting go of being overly attached to our time and schedule, to slow down, to take breathing breaks for ourselves, even in the midst of busy days. Be generous to let ourselves be human. I used to give the finger to people who cut me off on our chaotic L.A. freeways, sometimes adding a "Fuck You"; now I say, "May you be happy whatever your day may bring you; I wish you good fortune."

Generosity is sharing, being a charitable giver and a gracious receiver. It's exemplified in my Good Samaritan, Mike Bunnell, who just gave to me, just for the giving. In my own life, it is opening up to communication, going beyond irritations and rushing. Be a generous listener. It’s being truly present with the Right Effort to serve others, rather than being preoccupied with our own obsessive thoughts or the dualistic thinking of “looking down on” or “looking up to” others. A few friends said to me that the gang should just get blown away by Uzis, that they were trash. No such idea ever entered my mind. It’s a practical concern for the poor as well as for the affluent, to share money for really good causes. It’s being grateful for the warm sun, for beauty, for being loved and connected to the whole of life. We are all a part of each other, so why not give with gusto and generosity?

Discipline is—even in the midst of our mistakes and difficulties—to keep the moral precepts, practice compassion, cause no harm. It is being authentic; living with integrity, not necessarily what society says is the right way for us to live. Our lives are ours. Who else can live them but we ourselves? I felt somehow renewed and resolved to try and be a better human being from my time in the hospital, some healing of body, mind and spirit. I felt I could overcome my negative habits and conditioning, and cultivate inner strength and understanding. I have to do it for the young women and men down at Homeboy's Industries and Homegirl's Cafe who are doing such great jobs.

Patience is the cultivation of serenity, not trying so much to change others, but rather, to pay attention to changing ourselves. It is the skillful means not to be overly reactive to our complex emotions, which arise in our daily interactions. It's knowing that our happiness does not have to depend on the fulfillment of our expectations. I was happy to be alive at the hospital, so I could handle the very laborious therapy required just to be able to walk. I wasn't a "difficult" patient; though I would express my needs respectfully.

I tend to repress my emotions when I'm hurt and angry. The practice of meditation and self-observation allows me to breathe, feel and be mindful of the turbulent emotions I may have. It creates an atmosphere of patience within me. Our awareness will embrace our emotions and gently allow them to subside. In the process we let go of our need for others to be as we want them to be and of our anxiousness to be overly critical of others and ourselves.

Joyful energy is the result of our genuine interest in what is most real and vibrant for us; we also are happy for another's success when we know that we share our lives together. I felt this speaking especially with Los Angeles police officers at the hospital; we were so energized by sharing our joys as well as cultivating sympathy in our sorrow. Before this time, I had some fear of the police. When sincerely interested in others, we are happy when they are happy. This interest, appreciation for, celebrating with others overcomes my jealousy, my prejudices, my envy for what others have, any feeling that I'm better than or lower than anyone else. Getting banged up, ending in the hospital brought lots of pain and anxiety and fear. Yet joy was present! I also reflected how we can be content with enough in our lives. I like what Nisargadatta says: "We don't want what we have and we want what we don't have. Reverse the attitude and intention. Want what you have and don't want what you don't have."

Meditation is the practice of being still, quiet, attentive, and mindful. We just observe and breathe, be here in the moment. We do not seek experience or push any away, whether bliss, deep “absorptions” or “negative" emotions. We are awake to whatever arises in consciousness, to see for ourselves what is unfolding within. In the hospital, I had no experience of bliss; I could barely follow my breath most of the time. Yet the practice helped me deal with physical pain, by being able sometimes to "creating a space around the pain."

Wisdom supports every virtue. It is integral to our practice of loving-kindness. Wisdom cuts through separating of people, including ourselves, into “us” and “them,” “I” and “you.” I learned this thanks to a wide array of people at the hospital and even to the gang members. Wisdom discriminates, allowing us to understand the conditions of all actions. I thought about my activism, realizing that when "I'm being nice," I am sometimes just protecting my own image. That does not serve anyone. Appropriate social actions arise from wise compassion, intelligent organizing to help others be more free and independent.

At least now, my meditation is not even “work.” I no longer supplicate some energy or force or godhead outside myself. It’s natural for me to sit down and check in with my thoughts, to see what’s in my heart. I pay attention to myself, and make efforts to be kinder, especially to those closest to me, gentler, vigilant not to cause harm to others and myself intentionally.

I’m most grateful just to be able to follow the course of my breath and my life’s yearnings. I’m calling life's curves and turns "meanderings" because there’s no sure path; it’s so windy and unexpected; we’re being fired into the Unknown; but somehow subtly able to be connected to the whole of living, in peace, bliss, mental discernment and understanding. We can create circumstances where intuitive insights “loosen” us from severe uptightness. I experience happiness when living at peace within and letting others live, without any need to control or exploit others or myself.

Ryokan, a Zen monk in eighteenth century Japan, lived in a little hut, leading an ordinary monastic life with few possessions. One night he returned home and found a thief had stolen all his belongings. In response he wrote the following haiku poem:

“The moon at the window,
the thief left it behind.”

Such is the wisdom and freedom from clinging! May all of us be happy and strengthened in our practice of virtue!

Sun. Orange-Yellow burning orb, eating forty million tons of material per second, sustaining us, exploding as one of 400 billion stars in our local Galaxy, Milky Way, just one of the 140 billion galaxies in our universe. Here we are—small, yet with precious opportunity—with a sincere intention that all beings be happy and strengthened in our practice of virtue and understanding. Ven. Dao Yuan sometimes recites at Sunday morning meditation: “The Earth is our support…” We inter-be—no separate self—the stars, moon, sun and earth inter-mingle, the whole vibrating mesh of life courses through us in every breath.