Friday, September 26, 2014

Zen Butcher

Many years ago, when just beginning formal Zen practice, I knew people who practiced  at a Zen Center farm in Maine with Walter Nowick where their samu/work included processing turkeys. At that time, in my city-bred naivete, it was surprising to me that a Buddhist group, even on a functioning farm, would do this sort of work. 

Today I was sent the following article the reflects upon about the nexus of practice, livelihood and midwest realities and raises interesting practice questions. Is it possible to be a "Zen butcher?" What is honoring food, what is honoring being nurtured, nurturing?

The Fall of the Zen Butcher by


One of the most significant differences (in this meat processing plant), though, was an easy one to overlook: the sign that hung high on the wall, out of the reach of blood splatter, which read, “We Honor These Animals, For By Their Death, We Gain Life.”

This was the house of the Zen Butcher.

Over the last seven years, a vibrant local foods community grew up around Black Earth Meats, Bartlett Durand's humane-handling slaughterhouse. The slaughterhouse and retail store developed an enormous following, supplied high-end restaurants all over the Midwest, supported nearly 50 employees and 200 area farmers, opened a Madison retail location called The Conscious Carnivore, and garnered attention from the Food Network’s Andrew Zimmern....'

 For the rest of the article see:

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Bodhisattvas Vaccinate

In my opinion, if you vaccinate your children or your self, that is Bodhisattvic activity, serving the needs of other and relieving them from potential harm and suffering.

And if you do not vaccinate, unless it is due to medical reasons or lack of opportunity, you put others and your self at risk, potentially causing harm and suffering, and maybe nurturing self-centeredness and delusion. What self do you protect? How? What is protecting? How far or narrow is self? What is being the Bodhisattva you are?

Here is an article that gives some details regarding this matter:

"Almost 8,000 cases of pertussis, better known as whooping cough, have been reported to California's Public Health Department so far this year. More than 250 patients have been hospitalized, nearly all of them infants and young children, and 58 have required intensive care. Why is this preventable respiratory infection making a comeback?

In no small part thanks to low vaccination rates...

The conversation about vaccination has changed. In the 1990s, when new vaccines were introduced, the news media were obsessed with the notion that vaccines might be doing more harm than good. The measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine might cause autism, we were told. Thimerosal, an ethyl-mercury containing preservative in some vaccines, might cause developmental delays. Too many vaccines given too soon, the stories went, might overwhelm a child's immune system.

Then those stories disappeared. One reason was that study after study showed that these concerns were ill-founded. Another was that the famous 1998 report claiming to show a link between vaccinations and autism was retracted by The Lancet, the medical journal that had published it. The study was not only spectacularly wrong, as more than a dozen studies have shown, but also fraudulent. The author, British surgeon Andrew Wakefield, has since been stripped of his medical license.

But the damage was done. Countless parents became afraid of vaccines. As a consequence, many parents now choose to delay, withhold, separate or space out vaccines. Some don't vaccinate their children at all. A 2006 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that between 1991 and 2004, the percentage of children whose parents had chosen to opt out of vaccines increased by 6% a year, resulting in a more than twofold increase.

Today the media are covering the next part of this story, the inevitable outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, mostly among children who have not been vaccinated. Some of the parents who chose not to vaccinate were influenced by the original, inaccurate media coverage..."

The rest of this piece is here:  

And here is a discussion by an author of a recent book on "vaccination and those who resist vaccinations":  

And here is a good interview: 

Bamiyan Buddha

Here is an interesting news report you may have missed. What forces are at play here? Who supports and who resists?

"A pair of brick pillars, with an uncanny resemblance to feet, appeared late last year where a giant Buddha stood here.

The pillars were meant to hold a platform that would prevent rocks from falling on the heads of visitors to the Bamiyan site, where the Taliban destroyed two ancient Buddhas in 2001, horrifying the world. 

The pillars' construction had an important consequence: it sparked a global debate on whether the two sandstone Buddha statues, cut out of a mountain face dominating this central Afghan city, should rise again.

Until now, the prevailing view among cultural experts was that the sites of the ancient Buddhas should be kept as they are: empty, a reminder of their tragic history. Islamist radicals blew up the statues as they tried to stamp out the reminders of Afghanistan's pre-Islamic past.

A pair of brick pillars, resembling feet, were built last year where one of the giant Buddhas stood. Photo by Paula Bronstein
But now, the United Nations' cultural agency, the Afghan government and heritage experts are increasingly open to reassembling at least one of the Buddhas, which once towered 174 and 115 feet over the Bamiyan valley.

"We want one of the Buddhas rebuilt," said Abdul Ahad Abassi, who heads the Afghan government's department for the preservation of monuments. "Buddhism doesn't exist here, but the people of Bamiyan and the Afghan government want to revive our historical heritage."

What Unesco officials didn't expect was that the platform's pillars would resemble the Buddha's giant feet. Shocked, Unesco officials stopped the work in progress in December. 

"Fortunately or unfortunately this happened," said Masanori Nagaoka, who is in charge of cultural affairs at Unesco in Afghanistan. "And it opened a box. I wouldn't quite call it a Pandora's box, but it opened a box."

To the surprise of many, calls to rebuild the mutilated monuments have grown louder in recent months. The Afghan government has asked the World Heritage Committee, which is responsible for the site's listing, for feedback on whether restoring one of the Buddhas is possible.

Civil-society activists already plan to raise money for the statues' reconstruction through public donations once it is approved.

A girl watches her flock of sheep and goats grazing in front of the site where one of the Buddhas of Bamiyan once stood. Paula Bronstein for The Wall Street Journal"

For the full article by see


Saturday, September 20, 2014

What is skillfull and appropriate action in the face of climate change ?

This is a week when many people are reflecting on climate change. As not-knowing is our life of practice, the following interesting article seems to combine a thorough exploration of the scientific, political and economic issues involved without falling into the extremes of ideological biases which often mar other reflections and proposal I have read. Below is an extended excerpt of some of the issues and a link to the full article.

As noted the article seems to me to broadly explore many specifics of scientific issues, and political, social and economic ramifications. The author is Dr. Steven E. Koonin, who was undersecretary for science in the Energy Department during President Barack Obama's first term and is currently director of the Center for Urban Science and Progress at New York University.

"Policy makers and the public may wish for the comfort of certainty in their climate science. But I fear that rigidly promulgating the idea that climate science is "settled" (or is a "hoax") demeans and chills the scientific enterprise, retarding its progress in these important matters. Uncertainty is a prime mover and motivator of science and must be faced head-on. It should not be confined to hushed sidebar conversations at academic conferences. 

Society's choices in the years ahead will necessarily be based on uncertain knowledge of future climates. That uncertainty need not be an excuse for inaction. There is well-justified prudence in accelerating the development of low-emissions technologies and in cost-effective energy-efficiency measures. 

But climate strategies beyond such "no regrets" efforts carry costs, risks and questions of effectiveness, so nonscientific factors inevitably enter the decision. These include our tolerance for risk and the priorities that we assign to economic development, poverty reduction, environmental quality, and intergenerational and geographical equity.

Individuals and countries can legitimately disagree about these matters, so the discussion should not be about "believing" or "denying" the science. Despite the statements of numerous scientific societies, the scientific community cannot claim any special expertise in addressing issues related to humanity's deepest goals and values. The political and diplomatic spheres are best suited to debating and resolving such questions, and misrepresenting the current state of climate science does nothing to advance that effort.

Any serious discussion of the changing climate must begin by acknowledging not only the scientific certainties but also the uncertainties, especially in projecting the future. Recognizing those limits, rather than ignoring them, will lead to a more sober and ultimately more productive discussion of climate change and climate policies. To do otherwise is a great disservice to climate science itself."

The full article is here:

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Inheriting karma - our ancestors' lives and behaviors effect the traits that their genetics transmit - and our behavior and lives effect the genes we transmit.

There is new research which shows that how our parents live effects and changes how the genes we inherit are manifested (or not manifested). This means that our ancestors environment, reactions and experience alter what will become our genes, and our behavior alters what will become the genes we pass on to our descendents.

A review of recent research found that "you also can inherit ways in which regulation of her (mother's) genes has been altered by experience and the environment. Such influences can freeze the on-off switch for some gene in one position. Moreover, environmental influences can permanently silence genes, either by destroying transcription factors that activate them or, indirectly, through these still-mysterious micro-RNAs.

In other words, while environment rarely changes the DNA sequence of a gene (i.e., a "mutation"), it can cause epigenetic changes in the gene's regulation. And if that occurs in an egg, such epigenetic markers can be passed to offspring, resulting in "nongenetic transmission of traits." There can be mother-to-child nongenetic transmission of traits related to the normal workings of the body, behavior and propensities toward certain diseases...."

But that is not all!

Older theories held that "epigenetic markers appeared to be erased in sperm, precluding them from transmitting anything except genes. Naturally, this is turning out to be wrong...stressful upbringing caused epigenetic changes (due to those micro-RNAs) in sperm...(research in mice) demonstrates further how the environment can alter biology with multigenerational influences. But more specifically, sperm, and the lifestyles of the organisms that make them, play a larger role in these processes than previously thought."

For the full review article and citations see:

So, extending these beginning research findings, if we needed it, we may someday find scientific evidence which clarifies how even our biological inheritance includes the karmic activity of our ancestors and those they interact with.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Linked Dharma Talks

There is a new group of linked Dhama talks from the August - Sept. 2014 sesshin:

Monday, September 1, 2014

Another itteration of Quis custodiet ipsos custodes - Who guards the guardians? Abuses by government agencies that considers themselves above the people and above the law.

"Pan-American Berry Growers, B&G Ditchen and E&S Farms,... were accused in 2012 of suspected wage-law violations. The Labor Department threatened to seize the farmers' blueberry crops until they settled and signed away their right to appeal ("Labor's Blueberry Police," March 18). With crops rotting, the farmers settled, agreeing to pay Labor more than $240,000. Then two of them sued...."

"...Judge Thomas Coffin ruled Labor had prevented defendants from having "their day in court." The growers weren't challenging the hot goods power itself; they were challenging the way it was implemented.

In February, Labor asked U.S. District Judge Michael McShane to review Judge Coffin's decision. Judge McShane agreed with the original ruling, noting the growers had challenged "unique circumstances" involving "a highly perishable product at peak harvest." Labor then asked Judge McShane for permission to appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Last week he denied that request, calling Labor's actions "fraud."
Despite these legal knockdowns, Labor isn't apologizing..."

For the full editorial and links to further news items see:

Regular Mind, Regular Functioning

                                                By Elihu Genmyo Smith

Our life is not about us; my life is not about me, your life is not about you. And yet we often insist that it is about “us”.

No problem, except as we hold to self. Life is very simple - and yet it seems so natural to us to go to a default position of “my” life being about me – so that even though we might agree with life’s simplicity, it is very difficult for us to live thus.

We may even turn practice into being about me, about my likes and dislikes, what I want and need. Zazen is not about me, practice is not about me. Practice is not about what I want or do not want, what I like or do not like, agree with or do not agree with. If zazen, practice, is about me, especially if this is unstated and unacknowledged, then this will entangle, make trouble and difficulties in the habits and reactions we are caught up in. This will result in harm and suffering even as we might continue to “call” it practice.

Life is simple and straightforward, this moment, experiencing this moment; but as soon as this is held to in terms of self and not-self, (in body-mind, emotion-thought reactions and all the ways we feel, sense, react, think or talk about it) then this is carrying self forward in encountering the universe, to paraphrase Dogen – and all sorts of difficulties and delusions multiply and entangle. And we miss this joyous life we are. We can almost say, the more we hold to me the less joy.

Mazu (Baso in Japanese) says, “Truth is not something that needs to be cultivated,” - the truth that is life, being this truth of life, is not something that needs cultivation - because we can’t be other than. Life is the truth, is the way, the whole universe. “It’s just that you must not defile it.” Defile what? Defile this moment that we are.

It is easy to hear the bird singing or the sound of the traffic. Most of the time, we hear sound, we are the sound, are the universe sounding, speaking. And yet, if that sound is the words of people that we know, or even people that we don’t know, saying things that we agree with or disagree with, all of a sudden we find our self entangled in agreeing, disagreeing, correcting, being troubled by, reacting. Of course, we can be troubled by birds and traffic too. Or tune them out to attend to chatter of all sorts, so-called internal, so-called external, trouble our self about it, trouble others about it.

This is what Mazu is referring to as defiling. “Defiling is the tendency of the mind preoccupied by life and death, continuously making up things. By that, it is defiled.” When he says “it,” he means this; spelling it out, mind-body-being. Mazu is in 8th century China, a very different culture, using a very different language. When we use some of these words in English, we bring along our preconceptions and dualism, all sorts of other ideas and preconceptions about body-mind, body-mind-soul, self-world, and so on, without even knowing that we carry those along, except that we live out of those.

“If you want to straightforward understand the Way, Truth, then you should understand that it is your regular mind. What is meant by regular mind? It does not make up things, is without assenting and dissenting, accepting and rejecting, without considering anything as either permanent or impermanent, without discriminating between ordinary and sacred.” Or other discriminations that we get caught up in, hold on to.
And yet we make up all sorts of things – and so practice requires us to notice when and how we are making things up, believing, holding to and acting out of that. Does this occur in your life? If so, how - and how do you practice in the midst of these habit reactions?  We may accept, reject, in all sorts of ways – hindering and defiling this moment, this functioning. In believing, holding to and acting on discriminating, we miss this life, miss this moment, miss this joyous life we are. Earlier I said, the more holding me the less joy, now I say the less allowing this joy, the more holding “me.”

Of course, Mazu’s expressions aren’t all-inclusive. But he is encouraging us to be this moment, this mind, this mind-body-world that is our regular functioning. Not something special that requires special abilities. Just responding to all beings right now is the entirety of the way, the truth. Way and truth are both English translations of the Chinese word he is using.

Sayjng it differently, his teacher, Nanyue (Nangaku in Japanese), states “It is the Dharma eye of the mind-ground that sees the way/truth.” The mind-ground is the ground of our very being. It is our functioning from morning to night. This is truth, this sees the truth. So, “turning”, so to speak, from holding to the agreeing and disagreeing and all the other forms of self that we impose, “turning” from that to the mind-ground of the regular functioning, or being just this moment, allows us to see, to awaken to this very way, truth, that is our life. It is nothing else. Our life is nothing but this.

“The way, truth, itself is the Dharmadhatu, the Dharma world, the world that we are. None of its numberless, excellent, manifestations goes beyond the Dharmadhatu. Where it not so how could we speak of the teaching of mind-ground? How could we speak of inexhaustible light?”

Sometimes we say that sitting, practice, involves turning the light on itself. Or, being the mind-ground that is the light; a nice practice is turning this very light to see who/what is. Not by figuring it out but by allowing awakening in the midst of ordinary functioning, ordinary mind/body.

It is only missed when we add on and are caught up in attachment to the flavors of self in all the many forms, (though this is not done consciously most of the time). We do it out of the habits of cause and effect – and miss simply being this moment. So, zazen is this opportunity, this experiencing moment.

Being this moment, and seeing skillfully, appropriately, what is called for, if anything. If we are sitting upright, there is nothing called for to be just sitting. Or there might be something called for depending on your particular practice and life. This is what we explore individually and clarify as we settle “in” this world revealing us, allowing the world to encounter this moment, and allowing our self to be, to reveal, this moment encountering, awakening. This intimacy of “not-two.”

Some might think that the ways that we have of entangling are more complicated in modern culture. Maybe that is so. But Mazu and Nanyue are pointing out the difficult that humans have. It doesn’t make a difference where and when because this is a human tendency - as soon as we hold self, as soon as we carry self forward in all our activities.

It is neither good nor otherwise - except that attaching to and holding to defiles our life. And by defiles, Mazu means it creates stress, suffering and harm. How we do it is important, yes. It is different if you are riding a horse, or a motorcycle or a car, or flying a plane. But fundamentally, they are all the same. Of course it is different in different languages and different cultures, some things generate more self-addiction, if I say it that way.

Here is an extreme example. It is one thing if you like to have a coffee every morning. It is another thing if you shoot up heroin every morning. The entanglements involved are different. And the consequences are different. And the consequences in terms of harm and suffering are different.

But the fundamental point is about what we do, in all the various ways, each moment, to entangle and defile this truth, the regular mind functioning that we are. And what we do in our encounters that result in harm and stress.

Even to add labels like perfect gets us in trouble. Mazu made a point…”Without discriminating between ordinary and sacred. The bodhisattva’s practice is neither the practice of the common person nor the practice of the saint.”

This is really our practice, being ordinary, being everyday, and yes, forgetting self. Just in ordinary things. Everyone eats and drinks -and we have the opportunity of forgetting self which arises in the midst of this or of being caught up.

Everyone uses the bathroom, dresses, washes, and yet we can be this moment, be awake, be the dharma eye of the mind-ground of washing, pissing, shitting - manifesting the truth. Or we can miss it.

One of my teachers’ teacher, Soen Roshi’s teacher Gempo Yamamoto Roshi, had eye problems and poor eyesight. As his practice he did pilgrimage in Japan going from temple to temple. Once he was at the side of the road, pissing into the side of the road, and at the sight-sound of bubbling urine, he awakened in this ordinary activity.

Soen Roshi said “Most important sitting is when you are shitting.” I don’t say it to be scatological but to point out that our everyday activities are the opportunity - just this moment.

Mazu says, “To understand the truth, simply understand that it is your regular mind, mind-ground functioning. And the dharma eye of the mind-ground is the inexhaustible light.”

Since I cited Nanyue, who was Mazu’s teacher, let me end with a brief dialogue. Mazu asks his teacher, “Can this seeing (of the Dharma eye that sees the truth) be attained by becoming something or losing something?” He’s asking for all of us when he asks this. Is there something we need to become or is there something we need to lose?

Nanyue says, “If the way is seen in terms of becoming or losing, in terms of putting together or dispersing, it is not truly seeing, being the way, the truth.” There is nothing lacking this moment.

© 2014 Elihu Genmyo Smith