Tuesday, November 29, 2011


"All extremism, fanaticism, and obscurantism come from a lack of security. A person who is secure cannot be an extremist."

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

It is good to reflect, what is security?  

It is certainly not merely economic security, especially not in the midst of the arising-passing impermanence of life-death. 

Lack of security is often another side of fear.

What is fear?

What is being no-fear? 

What is giving no-fear?

(c) 2011 Elihu Genmyo Smith

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Control Part 3

Carrying the self forward and confirming the universe is delusion.

The political and social realm is often the self writ large. Therefore, the "carrying the self" as the basis of fixing and changing is delusion and attachment that results in suffering and harm on the so-called individual level and for the so-called larger body politic.

In the midst of beginningless greed, anger and delusion, in the midst of the ignorance of dualistic self-centeredness, fiddling with improving and fixing by changing the self, the individual self or self of larger political and social entities (all the varied self manifestations),  may be unskillful - unless our effort is in the midst of at-one-ment, unless it is in the midst of nondoing, nonthinking, it may be driven by reactive self-centeredness.

The use of the control of others is an interesting phenomenon, a counterpoint to various self-improvement enterprises.

It may be hard for us to appreciate that Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, to name a few of the most notorious of twentieth century political leaders, were all trying to fix problems in the lives of  their nation, to improve the lives of their people.

They attempted to use governmental control of others as the way to improve the lives of the people.

Unfortunately, they also believed that there were those who were not included as the people, as "their people", as "their nation."

The "not included" were based on ethnic and racial criteria, religious criteria, social and economic positions, and even intellectual and educational status. It might be the Aryans versus non-Aryan, workers versus the capitalists, or even the 99% versus the 1%.

And this exclusion, this dualism of "included" versus "not-included", has justified all sorts of evils done to those not included. The above noted political leaders were so sure of their own vision (as were many other leaders throughout history) of what was right that they were willing to do all sorts of harm and violence, we can say evil,  in their attempt to attain their vision, to justify their vision. And we know the results of that in killing and suffering in the twentieth century.

In the twenty first century this continues, with extremists on the political left and right who justify using governmental power (and extra-governmental means) to enforce their vision on others and justify their abuses of power in the name of their vision.

This is also found in a number of non-governmental extremist movements in different parts of the world. In general, these sorts of extremist movements justify terrorism against those who are excluded from "their people," who believe and live by political and social norms different than their own, or against those who are not willing to submit to their control.

A recent worldwide example of this is the various forms of Islamist extremists (especially in the Middle East, Africa and south Asia) who justify terrorism against those not included in "their people", those whom they often denigrate by calling them infidels. This is evident in conflict between Sunni vs Shia Muslims, or Muslims vs non-Muslims or simply attacks on those who by the Islamist's standards have "insulted" Islam or not-followed a particular form of Islamic rules.

When we do not see and manifest Shakyamuni Buddha's  "I and all beings of the great earth together attain the way" then we believe that dualistic self-centeredness is natural. For all of us this perpetuates suffering and harm. And when we act it out politically the results are increased suffering and harm.

to be continued...

(c) 2011 Elihu Genmyo Smith

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Control Part 2

We may attempt to control what appears, disappears, what arises and passes.

Alternatively, we may attempt to control what we "do" with what arises, passes, the conditions and beings of life.

This "doing with" what arises includes noticing our reactions to what arises, and allowing that noticing to result in our practice effort, in appropriate and skillful response.

If we do not see the difference between these different "attempts to control",
if we confuse these different control attempts and treat them as if they were the same,
then we may be confusing self-centeredness and skillful action.  We may not be able to see what is ours to "do" and what is spinning off into dreams of delusion, attachment, greed and anger.

This confusion, especially if we are acting out of an attempt to control what arises, can result in all sorts of difficulties in life, difficulties in practice. Our efforts may further reinforce dualistic misperceptions and self-centered harm and suffering.

For more comments on this, see this audio talk:


Here is a Jewish perspective on this matter: "Ultimately, the only power to which man should aspire is that which he exercises over himself." --- Elie Wiesel

(c) 2011 Elihu Genmyo Smith

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Control Part 1 - you don't own me

This is an old song, a wonderful Dharma song:

"You don't own me, no,

I'm not one of your little toys.

...Don't tell me what to do,

Don't tell me what to say." 

As a reminder from time to time, as a practice support, we should sing this song to our life, to body - mind, to others, to circumstances; and they can all sing this to us.

To rephrase something Joko Beck taught, "Your life is not about you..."

"Your life is not your business."

Here is a related Dharma talk:


(c) 2011 Elihu Genmyo Smith

Monday, October 24, 2011


Comprehension by Elihu Genmyo Smith

When we attempt to fit life into comprehension, there is dissatisfaction and suffering.

When we give comprehension to life, then comprehension nurtures joy.

(c) 2011 Elihu Genmyo Smith

Friday, September 23, 2011


the symphony right now.

Did you believe you are a solo?

Is there any solo?
Is there no solo?

What is the symphony right now?

You are the symphony.

Do you see?

(c) 2011 Elihu Genmyo Smith

simple and immediate - Joko's style

by Elihu Genmyo Smith

The important point about Joko's style of practice was that it emphasized what is simple and immediate.

Simple means that everyone as they are can practice - it is not dependent upon some special abilities, past training or skills.

Immediate is right now, come as you are, not a matter of what you have prepared or the conditions and circumstances.

(c) 2011 Elihu Genmyo Smith


Sometimes it seems that it is most difficult to commit to right now; sometimes it is most difficult to renounce attaching to right now.

"Renunciation is not getting rid of the things of this world, but accepting that they pass away."
- Aitken Roshi

(c) 2011 Elihu Genmyo Smith

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Some Practice Questions

All beings are our self, all conditions are our house - and they are changing.

All states of mind, emotions, circumstances, are our life - and clinging to them, or clanging against them, makes for dissatisfaction and stress.

Are we our self? (strange question - can we not be our self?)

Do we inhabit our house? (If not, where are we?)  Do we only inhabit "part" of our house?

Do we live our life? (If not, whose life are we living?)

Do we notice when we are "not"? (What is "not"?)

If we notice, do we see what to do - and  do this?

When it is "hard," what are the practice efforts, skills and supports needed?

The fourth practice principle is - "Being just this moment, compassion's way."

(c) 2011 Elihu Genmyo Smith

Monday, August 1, 2011

Extreme Earnings and Buddha Dharma - preliminary musings

by Elihu Genmyo Smith

The following are some preliminary musings and questions on economic and power disparities from a Buddhist practice perspective:

We seem to live in a world of differences - of cold and hot, wet and dry, strong and weak, smart and dull, rich and poor, and the many other manifestations of the ongoing impermanence of conditions arising and passing that is this life. But if we only see the differences then we are sure to suffer in the midst of changes, liking some and disliking others, clinging and attaching. Do we see the differences in the midst of the non-differences, the "unity" of the differences? Or do we miss this and only act out of our likes and dislikes for particular differences? Skillful and appropriate actions grow out of the wisdom that sees the differences in unity, the unity of differences - and is able to manifest compassion. This is true each moment, in our personal life and in larger social, political and economic realms.

What does Buddhism in general, or precepts such as the non-elevating/non-degrading 7th Bodhisattva precept or "right livelihood" in particular, have to say regarding the extreme gap between the earnings of top corporate executive and the majority of "their" workers, or about the various forms of power and economic disparities between various elites and the general population in a society?

The economic gap is a fact today all over the world, though the extent varies. We find this to be true in companies in China and in corporations in the US, in India and in Russia, in Europe and in Africa. This is a characteristic of present day world economy and some corporate cultures, sometimes attributed to capitalism though we find it in societies whose economic system are certainly not classical capitalism, and which are far from democratic.

Lest we think that it is a matter of capitalism, it is important to recall that communism/socialism in the 20th century produced great power and rewards disparity in many states, including the Soviet Union and China, with the added terrible feature of arbitrary authoritarian rule and large scale state murders and persecution. Some more egregious examples include :

1. The famine, purges and ethnic cleansing by Stalin's government, which killed between 5 - 10 million people in the Soviet Union according to scholarly estimates (in addition to the 10 - 20 million killed in WWII in the Soviet area) and caused major suffering, uprooting of peoples and destructions of homelands;

2. Mao Zedong's policies in China, including the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward, which are believed to have killed 40 to 70 million people and caused suffering for millions more;

3. Cambodia under Pol Pot, where the "killing fields" destroyed about 20% of the population.

Can we generalize regarding the relationship of Buddhism and economic and political disparities?

There are a number of American Buddhist organizations like the Zen Peacemaker Order whose focus (primary focus?) is engaged Buddhism. A question to clarify is, what are other Buddhist perspective on the economic, political or social disparities, and even more significantly, whether a Buddhist position/perspective exists, and is it necessary to formulate one?

From the time of Shakyamuni Buddha until the present, Buddha Dharma has been practiced in societies where there have been sharp power, wealth and rewards differentials and disparity. Certainly in the time of the Buddha it was the royalty and rich who were the primary patrons for supplying the various monastic properties. And yet, the poor were treated as an important part of Sangha practice, being among those to whom the mendicants went for alms and to whom Dharma teaching was given. To overly generalize regarding economics and social structure,  these Asian societies were certainly quite hierarchical; the plight of the poor throughout the centuries in many of these lands was often comparatively much worse than at the present time in the US and Western Europe.

The Buddha encouraged (according to the most ancient extant texts) those who wanted to practice with him to "leave home." This meant giving up privilege, power and wealth - so certainly these were seen as a hinderance. Nevertheless, in the Buddha Dharma there is not an overall criticism of the nature of society or power and economic disparities. At the same time there was NOT the incorporation of caste hierarchy within the Sangha. (The issue of lack of gender equality, and the greater freedom of women in the Buddhist Sangha as compared to the contemporary societies, is a topic to explore elsewhere, though it certainly is related to economic circumstances and power options).

Buddhism continued to flourish on the Indian subcontinent through periods of various Indian Empires within which power and economic disparities were the norm. With the Muslim conquest of what is now Afghanistan, Pakistan and India from the 10th Century onward, Buddhism as a practicing community was wiped out in those areas.

Buddhism flourished, despite periods of suppression, through Tang, Song, Ming and Qing China, during which time the power and economic disparities and inequalities were at least as great as those in modern day Western  capitalism. Japanese Buddhism developed and matured in a society which maintained power and social hierarchies, with disparities of wealth and power as the norm, even as it went through various governmental forms, from the Nara period, the Kamakura period, up to the long Tokogawa period and the Meiji to the present. We can speak of Buddhism in Tibet as being entangled with the power and economic elites. This was also the case in the various parts of South East Asia, and even in the Indonesian archipelago, until Islamic domination of Indonesia in the 12th and 13th century.

Though the issues of economic and political disparity were often on the periphery of the concerns of much of Buddhism, at the same time, there are many examples of Buddhist teachers supporting the peoples against the oppressive activities and taxation of the government and of economic and power elites.

To cite just a few (and leave out many/most - so please do not be offended by what is omitted):

Zen Master Hakuin writes that the political leader “can perform no greater act of virtue than to lighten burdensome taxation and maintain peace in their domain.” He is especially critical of the political leaders who live “a life of the greatest luxury…with never a thought of the difficulties of the common people under him. From the blood and sweat he wrings from them he is able to fill his tables with fine sake …As there is never enough money to satisfy such appetites, he ends up dispatching merciless ministers...Not only do officials reckon the tax rate yearly, they also raise the rate two or three times during the same year…” ( see my blog article -
http://clouds-genmyo.blogspot.com/2011/01/would-hakuin-join-tea-party.html  ). Zen Master Ikkyu was well known for his criticism of the various abuses of political and social elites, and especially by the religious elites. Korean Buddhist monks where involved in the anti-colonial movement against the Japanese occupation. Recently in Burma/Myanmar the monks are in the forefront of supporting the general population against the governmental abuses of power and economic oppression, as are the Tibetan monastics spearheading the work against the Chinese political and economic oppression of Tibet.

Our practice is right here, right now. Buddha Dharma is about the cause of suffering and an end to suffering. The Great Bodhisattva Vows include liberating/saving numberless beings, putting an end to inexhaustible desires. So, clarifying these matters, practicing these matters, what is the Buddha Dharma about capitalism, wealth, income and power disparities?

To be continued...

(c) 2011 Elihu Genmyo Smith

Friday, July 29, 2011

Intolerance - part 1

Elevating self and thereby putting down others, putting down others as a way of praising our self, creates conflict and suffering. The 7th Grave Bodhisattva Precept is "not praising (elevating) self and putting down (degrading) others" - and if we are attentive when these reactive habits of elevating and degrading arise and when we are caught by this, we can see the endless difficulties this causes in our lives, personally, socially and world-wide. And we can see where our practice effort is. 

There are many ways this perspective can support our practice and allow us to relieve suffering as we clarify life.

Certainly in American politics in the last 60 years (in my life memory) we have had the very strong habit of couching political and social visions in a elevating/degrading way. Recently there has been the very vicious language and actions used by those on the left towards President Bush (2nd) as part of their opposition to him, and likewise the language and attitudes towards President Obama from those on the right. In fact, degrading others and thereby elevating self seems to be a staple of rhetoric in left wing politics in the US, especially in the "blogosphere", and in the right wing talk-radio world. Of course, this has long roots in US political culture since Revolutionary War times, and in European social and political discourse since the early 19th Century.

So, how do we skillfully disagree, skillfully differ, skillfully debate, even skillfully critique?

Lest we think that this is a Western habit, instead of seeing that the Bodhisattva precept is addressing a fundamental attachment and delusion of being human, a form of beginingless greed, anger and ignorance, we can see examples in Ch'an literature of elevating/degrading. Though it is not the main focus of their work, we can see examples of this sort of rhetoric and expressions in texts including even the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Ancestor (these parts often attributed to some successors), and the writings of Dahui, Dogen and Hakuin, to cite some well known and prominent examples.

We are the boundless universe - this is a fundamental point of practice. (I have written of this precept elsewhere in Ordinary Life, Wondrous Life, and will adapt some of that in what follows.) There is not a drop of self that is fixed, permanent, separate.  Ch'an Master Shitou (Sekito) says, "Understanding that all things are self, that is what all the Ancestors realized!..The Ancestors did not have a self. Nor was there anything that was not their selves."  

To explain (and unfortunately add what may not be needed), it is because we are boundless, are no-self, that we can say the entire universe is self, all beings are our self. Being attached to someone/something, believing it is solid and fixed,  clinging to self and other, is, in a sense, praising our "self" and degrading "others."  Doing this, not maintaining the precept, results in consequences and suffering that grow out of breaking-up this life that we are.

In a way, when we criticize someone else, we are automatically praising our self:  I am not like that; I would not do that sort of thing.  We are breaking up this life that we are.  When we feel the need to praise our self, we may be saying, “My life is not OK, unless I add this something to it; being ordinary is not OK.”  Is this so? Is whatever we see as ordinary—as life without that extra—OK?  Do we see, live, this inconceivably wondrous life as is? 

Even if we assume something is lacking, is that in the bigger container of nothing lacking, nothing extra? Believing that something is lacking can result in sorrows and grief. Though that belief can be a good impetus to practice, it can also lead to acting unskillfully - to acting out of a self-centeredness that perpetuates suffering.  

There are ways that we put our self down by thinking about how we should be.  By subtly putting our self down, we are both praising and degrading our self.  Self and other are not just different.  It is all self.  Whatever I meet, whomever I meet, I am just meeting my self.  And it is all other.  But this self and this other are the self and other of no-self which is inconceivably wondrous. 

We can get trapped by the words.  The point is not the words, but what we are doing, what we are believing, what we are clinging to.  Sometimes we treat our self as another.  That is already making our self into something solid and fixed.  And there are all sorts of ways that we imply—speak of—self and other, sometimes without even realizing it, making it solid and fixed—“solid and fixed” meaning believing and attaching/clinging.  When we praise our self or put down someone else, stop for a moment and ask, "what am I doing?" 

A verse from the  Teachings on the Precepts is:

Buddhas and ancestors have realized the emptiness of the vast sky and the great earth.
When they manifest as the great body,
They are like the sky, without inside or outside.
When they manifest as the Dharmakaya,
There is not even an inch of earth on which to lay hold.

The issues of elevating/degrading are a cause of violence between communities and nations. In the past almost 2000 years the disregarding of this precept of not elevating self and degrading others has been a particular cause of religious conflict among the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and also by their actions towards other traditions, including modern manifestations such as Islamist extremists destroying the giant Buddhist images at Bamyan.

The Jewish philosopher Michael Wyschogrod, based on the Hebrew Bible, says "God chose Abraham and his descendants in the flesh." He sees a parallel between the Jewish belief that God resides in the flesh-and-blood people of Israel, and the Christian idea of incarnation— the belief that Christianity is justified by changing the basic Hebrew Biblical “indwelling of God in Israel by concentrating that indwelling in one Jew rather than leaving it diffused in the people of Jesus as a whole.” The question for Christians and theologians is whether this indwelling in Jesus negates or superceded God's choice of Israel in the flesh (whether indwelling in Jesus elevates Christians/Christianity and negates/degrades Jews and Judaism). In the early years of Christianity it clearly did not, especially as many early Chrisitians saw themselves as part of the body of Israel. For an extensive exploration of the theological implications of this, Wyshogrod's work is a good place to start.

Christians  have used the theory of "supersessionism" (which is an elevating of Christianity and a degrading of Judaism) to justify almost 2 millenia of hatred and persecution of Jews. A similar, though theologically different, supersessionism by Islam elevates the Koran, Mohammed and Islam above the earlier Abrahamic traditions and texts of Judaism and Christianity, the Hebrew Bible and Christian Bible, thus justifying their loss of textual validity and the violence towards Jews and Christians by Islam (as well as their inferior "dhimmi" status in Islamic societies), and the wars between Christianity and Islam, even including the actions of Islamic extremists such as Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. We also see this in the past century's ongoing Middle East conflicts between Israel and Arabs, as well as the ambivalence and even hostility of some Christians towards Israel. (I will leave the issues between Islam and Judaism regarding this matter for a later time.)

Wyschogrod writes, "The state of Israel is a practical test of the validity of (Christian) supersessionism.   If the Jews have lost their election because of their non-acceptance of Jesus, then God's  promises of the land are nullified and without the slightest contemporary relevance. But if supersessionism is wrong and Israel's election is still in effect, then the Jewish bond to the land is a divinely sanctioned one and it is this that the Catholic Church and many non-evangelical Protestant churches (and most Eastern Orthodox Christian Churches - EGS) find impossible to say."
Wyschogrod continues, "It is as if the words stick in their throats. They have no difficulty in supporting Israel as a place of refuge for persecuted Jews, as long as it is put on a humanitarian and non-theological basis. But once Israel is spoken of biblically and theologically, they get very nervous." (For one thing, Christian past persecution of Jews and their present relationship to Judaism as a sister and older tradition has to be contemplated and explored. This would be difficult for many who justify elevating their own tradition.)

Furthermore, "they seem to think that any religious sanction of Zionism would serve to justify all injustices imposed on the  Arabs and it is this they cannot accept. But this is, of course, a profound confusion. To affirm that the Jewish claim to the land is ultimately biblically and theologically sanctioned is not to give Israel a blank check to do whatever it wishes. The God who promised the land to the Jewish people also commanded that people to love the stranger and deal justly with him. It would be eminently  possible for the churches to affirm God's gift of the land to the Jewish people while remaining critical, even very critical, of this or that aspect of Israeli policy."

Can we have alternative visions, approaches, practices, without at the same time elevating/degrading? What exactly do we lose or gain in taking this elevating/degrading approach?

To Be Continued...

(c) 2011 Elihu Genmyo Smith

The Function of a Zen Center - from a talk by Joko Beck

  What I want to talk about today is the function of a Zen Center. In a general way we can say that the function of a Zen Center is to support practice: of course that's true. But we have a lot of illusions about Zen Centers, as we do about teachers. And one thing we tend to think is that a Zen center is a place that should be very nice for me - in other words, it should be non-threatening - I think a good center should be quite threatening at times. It is not the function of a center to take care of your comfort or your social life. By that I don’t mean that we should not have social functions - I think they’re great – but they are not the primary function of a center. A Zen Center’s function is not to provide people with a social life. It’s not necessarily supposed to make them feel good, and it’s not supposed to make them feel special.
   A center is primarily a powerful tool to assist us in waking up. As a sangha practicing at a center, yes, we need to support each other, but the nature of that support may not be exactly the kind of support that is often seen in an office. You know, a girl’s boyfriend leaves her – “Oh, you poor thing! Why you know, when my boyfriend left me...” and off we go. There’s a “we’re all victims in this together” attitude, which is not support. The more we practice well, the less of that fake kind of support is what is met at a good center.
   It should be a place that give us support, yes, but also challenges us; and in that sense we're all teachers of one another. Some of the most powerful teachings at a center have nothing to do with the teacher; sometimes the teaching is from another person, coming directly from that person's experience. To be honest, to be aware of what real practice is, and to share it with others - this is what makes a center a different kind of place to be.
   Sadly enough, Zen Centers tend to be somewhat ego-perpetuating: we want them to be bigger, better, more important than the other guy’s center, certainly! There are very subtle ego currents that can circulate in a Zen Center, as in any other organization, if we are not especially careful.
   And some thoughts on the sangha: one point is crucial – the longer people have been practicing, the less important the outward roll should be. And for that reason I don't want people who have been practicing for a long time to assume that they are always going to be monitors - sometimes, yes, of course. But the more senior the student, the more I want their influence to be felt through their practice, and through their willingness not to seem important; and to let the newer students begin to assume some of the outwardly conspicuous positions.
   The mark of senior students is to be working when no one else knows they’re there. I see people working in the Center office at odd hours; sometimes I come back from shoping and their working hard. That’s a sign of mature practice, getting the job done and keeping our own importance out of it. Personally I’m trying to go that way by downplaying the tremendous importance given to the role of a teacher. And I want this to apply to all of the older students. So if you feel you are not getting to do what you usually do, GREAT! Then you have something nice to practice with.
   Another mark of a good Zen Center is that it shakes all of us up; it is not the way we want it in our pictures. So, in our upset, what we get back to, then, is the basis of practice: which is, as near as I can put it into words, to assume more and more of an observer stance in our life.
   By that I mean that everything in our life will continue to take place: the problems, the emotional difficulties, the pleasant days, the ups and downs, which are what human life consists of – but it is the ability not to get caught – to enjoy what’s happening when it’s good, to have equanimity when it’s bad and to observe it all, which is the continuing work.
   The mark of maturing practice is simply the ability, more and more, to notice what’s going on and not be caught by it. Easy to talk about, but probably 15 to 20 years of hard practice are needed before we are like that a good part of the time.
   And that is not the final stage. When there is no object, no person, no event, no thing in the world with which I identify, by which I’m caught – when there is no object and no observing self – then there is a flip into what, if you wish to give it a name, is the enlightened state.
   I have never known anyone whom I felt had accomplished that, but some persons have done well; and, if you are lucky enough to encounter such a person, you sense the difference in one who is not caught by life (needing it, craving something or someone, insisting that life be a certain way). You notice that such a person is at peace and free.
   These are the people who are a healing and beneficent influence on any life that is near to them. They don’t have to do anything – the healing comes from the way they are. The transformation is what we want from practice. We are more than lucky to have such an opportunity in this lifetime. Let’s take advantage of it and do our very best.

(c) 1986 Charlotte Joko Beck

Monday, July 4, 2011

INCOGNITO by David Eagleman

This book clarifies some of the neurological and biological basis for many habits of mind and reactions that we call self-centeredness and attachment.

The arising emotion-thought of greed, anger and confusion is already familiar to any one who practices, who sits. The neurological insights of Incognito will further clarify this. Hopefully, it will enable you to see more clearly how and where practice efforts are called for.

The fundamental delusion of self is highlighted from a neurological perspective. Seeing this can help your practice be more appropriate and skillful. However, you and I will have to make the connections between the insights of this book and our practice - since this book does not. The book ends with questions and issues that zazen, that body/mind practice, could and would clarify. Eagleman does not write about zazen, about sitting practice, and it is not clear if he knows of it or has experience with Dharma practice. I would encourage him to explore this since zazen practice does address some of the questions and issues with which he ends the book. 

An interesting coincidence is Eagleman's use of the metaphor of "we are not the ones driving the boat." This is very similar to a practice talk by Joko about how we react inappropriately to behavior by others as if they are driving a boat which will "hit" our boat - until we can discover that there is no one in the other boat, at which point we can skillfully and appropriately respond without anger and other dualistic reactions.

(For those interested, there are neuroscientists working with the neurology of meditation states, such as Richard J. Davidson.)

I recommend Incognito if you are interested in this neuroscience perspective.

(c) 2011 Elihu Genmyo Smith

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


The following from Joko's daughter and son:

Our mother, Joko, died peacefully at 0730 Wednesday June 15, 2011.

That's all for now.  I'll email again.  For now, please think of some  
teaching of hers that may have opened you to transformation in some  
aspect of your life and the transformation that occurred.

Love to all and thank you for your prayers for a peaceful passing for  
the most amazing person I have ever known.

Gassho,  Brenda Chiko

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Joko June 13

The following from Joko's son, Greg Tando Beck:

"Hi all, Just a note to you about Joko. Brenda and I are at here side and keeping her comfortable. She will pass on soon, like today or so. So wish her well in her final chapter and send her your prayers and love."

Sunday, June 12, 2011

JOKO update

As of June 11, 2011, Joko will no longer see visitors or take calls.  She is well, feeling fine and eating a small amount; she continues to get weaker.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


I received the following from Joko's son and daughter, and spoke at length with Joko's daughter. Many of you have known Joko, and many have read her books.
 The practice at Prairie Zen Center is rooted in her teaching, practice and love. Please appreciate her life and include her in your practice now.
The letter and pictures are self-explanatory.
Elihu Genmyo Smith

    From Brenda.
My mother, Joko, is now in hospice and I don't expect her to live more than one or two more weeks.  I put her into hospice because she was not eating and losing weight.  Please know she is completely happy.  She gets to lie in her hospital bed and no one is telling she has to get up and walk every hour.  No one is asking her to please eat.   Now, she will take a few bites of breakfast, and maybe a few bites of her other meals and eat all her vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce.  She is happy as a clam and, as she told me, will die when she's ready.  She says it's soon. 
If you would like to visit her, there are a few guidelines.  Please call her home number (928-778-4841) first and ask the caregiver (Robin, Olivia, Cari or Diane)  if it's okay to visit and set up a time. (The caregiver will check with Joko.)   When you visit her,  a bit of talking is okay if she's up to it, but mostly it's just about being with her.   Also, if her caregiver asks you to step out or anything else, please know they have her best interests at heart.
If you are out of town and would like to visit, please call her home number to check if a visit is okay.  If so, once you get to Prescott, you'll need to call again and see if your scheduled appointment time still works for her. PLEASE  DO NOT COME TO THE HOUSE UNANNOUNCED.   I cannot provide housing.   There are a few people in town who have offered a place to sleep if you can't afford a hotel.    Please ask for their number to make further arrangements.
As you know, My mom loves all of you and we want to accommodate as many visitors as possible as long as she is able. Again, please know she is quite content and without any suffering.
I asked her if she had any words for this email and she said for you to figure it out.
Thank you and love to you all.
P.S.  Fotos taken tonight of Joko enjoying her ice cream.  (the flash didn't work all the time)

PS - If the pictures below do not load for you, they are also to be found at: http://prairiezen.org/Members/comings_and_goings.html







Friday, June 3, 2011

What To Do? Part 1

Most of us know that life is ongoing changes.

We sometimes remember that conditions inherently can not satisfy because of impermanence; because particular changes that we do not want occur, or what we do want does not occur.

So our life task is to live joyously in the midst of changes, to see what to do skillfully and appropriately in the midst of not seeking satisfaction in the particularity of changing conditions. This is true of this body-mind state, of this wider world.

"Illinois is said to be the most corrupt state" I was recently told by someone who lives in the state capital and has some experience with this.

The former governor is on trial for corruption - and justifies his actions in his testimony as just the "way" politics in the state is done. His predecessor as governor is in prison after conviction on corruption charges.

Illinois is now a one-party state in that the legislature and governor's office are controlled by Democrats. Currently, the state promised pensions and benefits are being cut and bills the state owes, along with constitutionally mandated funding, are going unpaid for long periods due to the near bankruptcy of the state. Taxes are being raised and new fees levied on ordinary people - all the while the state politicians are creating rewards for themselves and their allies.  Someone troubled by this asked, what to do?

A new contorted redistricting plan has just been created in a secret, backroom process with little real public input. It is designed to insure that those in power stay in power and even expand their power.

What is our skillful and appropriate practice when circumstances either close or far create difficulties in life? Of course, in the above political situations you can call and write political representatives, organize groups and protest. And when that does not result in changes that satisfy, what next? In fact, this is always our practice question, whether dealing with political and economic circumstances or those of family and social relations, as well as sickness, old age and death, this ongoing change. As the 6th Ancestor of Ch'an/Zen says, Ongoing change is Buddha Dharma.

When there are no actions that we can see that are skillful and appropriate, or when our actions seem to result in little or no change, what to do?

In general, if we find that we are upset or angry it is useful to truly experience this anger bodily. Allowing holding to be released, there can be arising and passing. Then we might see more clearly what is skillful and appropriate.

If we continue to hold to upset, anger, there is the practice of body-mind looking, who is upset/angry?

Another way is to look, what is this?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Public Servants

Political officials on all levels are public servants.

Their function is to serve the public interest.

Unfortunately, some of our political officials do not know how to serve or are not willing to serve the public interest, the public good.

Instead they often want to serve their own interest or the ideological interests with which they identify. And they are encouraged to do this by some aspects of our political and judicial history and philosophy. 

In our court system we support an adversarial process as the way to get to guilt, innocence and justice. The prosecution and defense adversaries "fight" a case out within the rules of the judicial system and the results are supposed to lead us to finding the guilt or innocence of the accused. We often assume, but clearly this is not requisite, that the verdict will also reflect a finding of the "truth" of what occurred, though when examined closely we can see that it is only a "truth" within the limits of the rules of the judicial system, not the wider reality.

This adversarial process has often been extended into the political arena, with the decision making in elections, legislatures, executives and elsewhere having become an adversarial process with the "winners" justifying their actions based on their partisan winning. And what we lose in this is the very fact that our political officials no longer serve the public interest, the public good, even if they attempt to re-brand their partisan interests as the public interest. And sometimes all they can see is their partisanship, and they get caught up in that sort of poison which harms them and the public discourse and atmosphere.

A recent example of this gratuitous partisanship: In the wake of the killing of Osama Bin Laden (whatever one says about his being killed rather than captured), there has been a general willingness to rise above partisanship. Even Nancy Pelosi announced that she called former President George W. Bush to congratulate him on the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden. Despite this general rising above partisanship, we have Barney Frank, a senior Democrat, publicly criticizing Eric Cantor, the second-ranking House Republican, for saying, in his congratulations to President Obama, that  Obama had  "followed the vigilance of President Bush in bringing Bin Laden to justice."

Not being willing to serve the public good, the public interest, means that political officials also cease to be political leaders. Paradoxically, it is primarily the one who serves the political interests who can be the true political leader.

(c) 2011 Elihu Genmyo Smith

Friday, April 22, 2011

It should be, it should not be

What to do when someone you love is ill - and there is nothing you can do to treat or help with the illness? 

There are of course many things to do, and yet we can not do anything about the illness, about all sorts of other conditions they must go through.  This question is all the more so when we/they are at a distance. Many of us have faced this and might right now be in this situation. 

This is exactly suffering, the unsatisfactoriness of ever changing conditions. This is the birth, sickness, old age, death that is our life.

What to do where there is nothing to do "about" circumstances, about affecting the changes that we "want"? In a world of conditions changing and often being other than what we want, other than the condition we are attached to, this is a fundamental life question, a fundamental practice question. We may have things we can do, or at least think we can, think we should have things to do. Good. Do what you see as best. But what to do when you find that there is no thing you can do?

Our practice opportunity is this moment, being this body mind condition and yet not being caught by our likes or dislikes, grief, over the condition. Doing so, we can enter this and also leave this, so that we can be this without having to react to this, without getting "caught" by this. Only then can we do our life in the midst of our life.

This is difficult and painful concerning the conditions of people we love or are close to. This applies as well to the "way" the world is, the conditions of war, peace and violence, and to our ideas of what would be best, 'right' or just in political, social and economic circumstances.

My adult daughter is in UK and ill. Being here in the US, there isn't anything I can do to assist her with needed medical treatment. Even if she were close by, this illness is a reminder of the limits of what we can and can not do about circumstances, our own or others. The ongoing impermanence of sickness is reality. And there are many things one can do, whether close by or at a distance, to support and compassionately respond, empathically join with others, in the midst of ongoing change, impermanence.

This is not a new concern - there is the story in the time of Shakyamuni Buddha of Kisa Gotami and her dead child, her extreme grief and suffering about this. She wanted the Buddha to bring her child back to life, to relieve her suffering. We want and don't want all sorts of things, in the midst of ongoing change which is itself Buddha nature, this cause and effect impermanence which is itself Buddha's teaching of the nature of reality. And the Buddha's teaching enabled Kisa Gotami to clarify suffering, embrace the grief and suffering, live "through" the suffering so that it no longer bound her.

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kisa_Gotamihttp://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/btg/btg85.htm )

The history of Buddha himself includes his own family and clan being wiped out in war despite his best efforts. 

Always our task is to see what to do in the midst of the conditions and circumstances that tug at us, at reactive habits, at fears, grief, sense of justice, a "need" to do something.

This is where our practice is. 

Can we see where attachment and stress are blinding us from being present, from being what is so, from seeing what is so, from seeing what to do? Experiencing this moment, then from this doing, even not doing, are exactly the opportunity for skillful action, for our particular humanness to  manifest.  

Can we manifest who and what we truly are, manifest and reveal the wisdom and compassion that we are, what we are capable of right now?

(c) 2011 Elihu Genmyo Smith

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sitting Zen

Being sitting does not require doing any thing. It is ordinary. In fact, it is non-doing. Or to say more, it is doing non-doing. And there is breathing practice, koan practice, shikantaza/just sitting, being present - all "in the midst of" non-doing; being simple.

Friday, April 8, 2011

not-knowing listening

What our political administrators and leader need is not-knowing listening. In fact, all of us can profit from this.

It seems that both in my state of Illinois and in Washington DC this is sadly lacking.

The budget conflicts and threatened shutdown(s) of the Federal government are a prime example of the unwillingness of the various leaders to be listening to their "opponents" and to the needs of the public - so that they can respond appropriately. But, since they are already so sure of what should be, and so self-centered in justifying and propping up their position, they do not listen/hear/see because they think they already know.

In the Heart Sutra the quality of compassion is personified in listening to, in hearing the cries of suffering and responding through being empty, seeing the emptiness of all conditions and thus being able to do what is called for in accord with the conditions and circumstances which arise right now.

(c) 2011 Elihu Genmyo Smith

Thursday, March 31, 2011

What Is So

"The core  is (being) without-thought, the basis is without-characteristics, and the root is without-abiding.

Without-characteristics is being free of characteristics while in the midst of characteristics.

Without-thought is not thinking in regard to thoughts.

Without-abiding is the true nature of being human."

The above is a loose translation from the Platform Sutra attributed to Huineng, the Sixth Ancestor of Ch'an.

Our choice this moment is to be what is so - or to skillful respond when we are not being what is so, despite being what is so.

(c) 2011 Elihu Genmyo Smith