Zen 101

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

For those who could not access the newspaper article, here it is, without photo.

Holiday honors sacrifice of Las Cruces residents, veterans
BY STEVE RAMIREZ FOR THE DAILY NEWS
May 30, 2006, 04:30 pm

Harvey So Daiho Hilbert-roshi, a Zen Buddhist priest, sat quietly behind the crowd and meditated Monday at the Las Cruces Veterans Memorial Park.
Hilbert-roshi prayed for peace, but was also at the park to support his fellow veterans. He is a Vietnam veteran who, like many war veterans, has his own inner demons to wrestle with.

Monday was 40 years to the day that Hilbert-roshi was shot in the head when North Vietnamese troops overran the town of Pleiku, in the central highland region. Hilbert-roshi was then serving with U.S. Army's 25th Infantry.
"I lost most the people in my company that day," said Hilbert-roshi, a scar across his head a permanent reminder of the attack. "I'm one of the few people who can say I've reached up, been actually able to touch my brain."
Pleiku was strategically important during the Vietnam War because of the presence of U.S. military air bases. The town is at the junction of several highways, including a northern road to Kontum and a highway west to Harvey So Daiho Hilbert-roshi, of the Zen Center of Las Cruces, practices zazen, sitting meditation, at the Memorial Day services held at the Veterans Memorial Park. (Sun-News photo by Shari Vialpando) Cambodia. Hilbert-roshi suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and he said past Memorial Days have been hard.
"For me, Memorial Day has evolved," he said. "For many years it was one of great pain and suffering. But I would rather look at remembering it now where we must find a way to live peacefully. We must live in all this violence."
Hilbert-roshi said he didn't go to Veterans Memorial Park to create a disturbance or to protest Memorial Day.
"I have no agenda," he said. "I came out here to show my support for my honored friends."
Hilbert-roshi is one of three Zen Buddhist priests at the Zen Center of Las Cruces. He intends to continue attending public ceremonies for veterans as long as he has enough advance notice.
Hundreds of Las Cruces residents attended three Memorial Day ceremonies conducted at the Rio Grande, Hillcrest Memorial Gardens cemetery, and Veterans Memorial Park. From one ceremony to the next, the emphasis was the respect veterans have earned.
"The price for freedom is not free," Mayor Bill Mattiace said at the Veterans Park ceremony. "Our founding fathers prioritized our freedoms -- life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yet, as precious as life is, your liberty and mine was purchased with the blood of patriots. And as we have learned, war is the business of youth and early middle age."
Larry Candelaria, commander of American Legion Post 10 in Las Cruces and State Vice Commander of the American Legion, said Memorial Day is much more than a day off from work, or backyard barbecues.
"Do some non-veterans really recognize the importance of the day honoring their fellow Americans killed in war," Candelaria said in comments he made at Veterans Park. "Judging from what Memorial Day has become -- simply another day off from work -- the answer it seems is sadly no.' Perhaps a reminder is due, then. And it is the duty of each and every veteran and their families to relay the message.
"Sacrifice is meaningless without remembrance. America's collective consciousness demands that all citizens recall and be aware of the deaths of their fellow countrymen during wartime."
Yvonne Lewis a member of the Mississippi National Guard who is originally from Las Cruces, took time Monday to show her love and respect for a highly-decorated U.S. Marine, her father, Juan G. Evaro, who served in the Korean War.
"Services like this are wonderful," Lewis said after she placed a wreath into the Rio Grande in memory of her father. "My dad was a good man. He was one of the most patriotic men I've ever met. My father just loved the military, and taught us to appreciate the military. He would've loved this."
Lewis was among 12 people, mostly women, who placed wreaths into the river during ceremonies there that were sponsored by District III of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Since Memorial Day 1983, riverside services have been conducted on the west bank of the Rio Grande every year.
At Hillcrest, Clara Hoffer and her daughter Peggy Hoffer visited the grave of their husband and father, Army veteran Arthur Hoffer, who died Nov. 13, 2005. Hoffer's grave was among the approximate 400 graves at Hillcrest that were decorated with small American flags.
"I'm leaving (today) to go back to South Dakota for a month, where I'm originally from," Clara Hoffer said as tears began to well in eyes. "This will be the first trip I'll be making without him."
Hoffer said she "had to" visit the side-by-side graves of her husband and daughter, Jacqueline Rae (Hoffer) Smith, who died May 4, 2004. "I was thinking on the way here how they always played spoons. They were always fighting over the last spoon. It made me wonder, are they fighting over that last spoon in heaven."
Arthur Hoffer served in World War II burying Holocaust victims. Peggy Hoffer said her father rarely told his children about his war experiences.
"There were photo albums he hid from us," Peggy Hoffer said. "Whenever we asked him about it all he would say was those pictures tell you everything.'"
Clara Hoffer still has vivid memories of her four brothers serving in World War II.
"My job every Sunday was to write to all four of them," Hoffer said. "I still remember my mother walking the floor all night, praying, praying. She remembered the couple who lived nearby. They had five sons in the Navy and lost them all."
Steve Ramirez can be reached at sramirez@lcsun-news.com

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Stolen Buddha is a Lesson

With palms together,
Good Morning Sangha,

There was a story in the local newspaper this morning about a statue of the Buddha being recovered after it was stolen. The last paragraph reads "...Buddhists also believe in karma, which says a person's actions in this life determine the quality of their existence in the next."

Yes and no.

This is an example of how language and culturally infused meanings become problematic. Buddhists also "believe" that there is no soul, no substance, that transmigrates from one life to another. Thus, a contradiction.

Buddhists also "believe" there is no birth and no death. Therefore no this life, no next life. Another contradiction.

What are we to do? A Zen Teacher would shout:

Practice Zazen. See your true nature for yourself. Look deeply into the heart of the matter!

We Americans hate this sort of thing! We want to *know* and we want to know NOW!

Otherwise the Teacher is not teaching and the whole thing is just tooooo mysterious! (Or better still, *esoteric*)

To borrow a short, but succinct word from another tradition, "Oy!"

Here's the thing. Lives are constant, there are no breaks between them. I am "born" from cells developed in my mother's uterus, my cells merge with another's cells to form another being that individuates and is "born" and so on. There is no point where I am or was not. We get stuck when we use "I" as a point of reference rather than the universe at large. When seen from the larger, universal perspective, life is organically rising and falling and rising again: always at all times. In this process of rising and falling, the parts have roles to play.

As parts of this universal process we can make our universe a better place or a worse place for all of the other parts. Since we are all constant parts of this one vast universal process, parts past and parts present, we are rendering karma.

We are way too egocentric to see this without much practice. Those living in the Far East on the other hand have grown up with a more universal and collective understanding of their existence with much less emphasis on the individual "part."

Isn't life interesting?

Be well.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day

With palms together,
Good Morning Sangha,

Do those killed in battle need company? Is it our way to honor soldiers killed in combat to send more in after them? How should we best make homage to those who defend us? Do we need defending? When? At what point?

As you go through your day today, off from work, perhaps, please pay attention to these questions. They are central to this day in the United States.

Cooking on a grill does nothing for this; drinking beer does nothing for this; waving a flag and watching a parade does nothing for this.

We Americans are not very good at reflection, nor are we particularly good thinkers. We are far too emotional for that. We live with the hash marks of real or imagined injury on our sleeves and use them to justify our knee-jerk responses to complex problems. Sad.

We should be ashamed of ourselves.

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance. What we should be focusing on is the complete and total waste of lives war offers us. Rather than rallying around the troops, giving the government carte blanche to spend our future to support corporations making huge profits on the lives of others, I would suggest we consider alternatives.

Today I plan to sit Zazen at the veteran's park on Roadrunner. I will be there at 10:00AM. Please join me if you can.

Be well.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Nothing Holy

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Throughout most of the day yesterday I burnt incense. I sat Zazen off and on throughout the day and late last night.

My mother is in the hospital and was told she does not have long to live.

What does one do with such news. Her lungs and heart are very weak and not functioning very well. She has decided against heroic measures, claiming she is ready to die. We talked a couple of times at length about everything. She has made her peace.

We are neither born nor do we die. We neither come nor do we go. In truth, there is no "we" in such matters. These are all just constructs of a mind hardwired to see linear events discreetly. Yet, as Master Bodhidharma once answered, "Vast emptiness. Nothing holy."

We should add, nothing profane.

Profane and sacred are one, just as life and death are one. In this sense, the ancient Hebrews had it dead-on:

Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echud! (The Lord our God, the Lord is One).

What we do with such news is we live.

Be well.


Saturday, May 27, 2006

Stay Small

With palms together,
Good Morning Sangha,

Simple tasks make all the difference. Sip coffee. Sit quietly. Water a plant. Avoid stepping on an ant. When we stay small we stay awake.

Keep this in mind.

Be well.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Show and Tell

With palms together,
Good Morning Sangha,

There is a phrase a Korean Zen Master used frequently: Open mouth already a mistake!

This is so true. Language and the workings of our minds to produce language and the thought behind it, is essentially dualistic. There is no getting around it. This is why many koans have no literal, verbal answer and why so often the Master asks the student to "show" him rather than "tell" him.

Even in literature this is true, oddly enough. We are asked to show something in our stories and poems, rather than tell something. Pictures, painted or spoken, are better than a thousand words spewed out.

Moreover, the moment we open our mouths to speak we are out of the moment and into our thoughts about the moment. Yet we struggle so with this, I know I do.

I want to tell you!

Yet in doing so, I make a big mistake.

You must teach yourself!

You must experience yourself!

There is no telling that is worth anything. From whence does this desire to tell come?

Be well.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Just do

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

So, you are busy. Too busy to take good care of yourselves. And then you die. Whatever you were busy with no longer matters a whole lot.

The most important thing?

In the meantime life happens. Between the tasks, at the stoplight, during a break, sipping a cup of water, just before you speak, these are the moments we are most awake these days. The rest of the time life seems not to be our own. We place ourselves on autopilot and just get through.

This is no way to live.

Stop it. Live in every moment, as you do your task, do it completely; as you drive, drive mindfully; as you speak, speak with care. This is not difficult, but it does take practice. Sometimes you will be there, sometimes not. Its OK, just do.

Be well.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Karma

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

If you, me, and the universe are one then what is the real teaching of karma?

To address this question you must really enter it.You, me, and the universe are products of dualistic thought, convenient and necessary for survival, but weights on the rope of liberation. Karma is nothing other than an understanding of the deep and continuous connections of everything. Often thought of as cause and effect, we understand karma when we mentally step away and see that streams flow in all directions at once.

This is because that is. Very precise. Very exacting. Nothing is individual or seperate or unnecessary. When you are this teaching, karma is just another useless notion, like heaven and hell, nirvana and samsara, you and me, or the many other rafts along the shore.

Be well.


Monday, May 22, 2006

Rich Beyond Measure

With palms together,
Good Afternoon All,

Over this last few days I have been practicing mindfullness in motion. Practices this as a participant-witness through my day, moving, sitting, eating, talking, listening with full attention. This full attention is special, however, as it is attention without effort. Just witnessing the breath, the sound, the smell, the sight, the mental imaginings, all the while knowing that they are unreal is the truest sense.

I listen now to the baby giggle, then cry, and the delicate chopping and slicing sounds of my son's knife as it expertly cuts through myriad fresh vegetables and herbs as he prepares our evening meal. The conditioned air flows across my face and through the hair of my newly growing beard on my face.

In each moment a lifetime of experiences.

We are so rich each of us. The whole world of experience is ours for the willingness to touch it. It is such a shame that we withdraw so often, blunt our senses, and cloud our minds with the clippity-clap of notions.

Live awake.

Be well.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Happiness


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Defining the Spiritual Situation, 2

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

So, we hae a continuum of understanding of God from "No God" on one side to "God" on the other with a thousand shades of gray in between. Each shade presents its own unique hue, its own understanding of the role of the "believer" and the "clergy." Each contains its own "domain assumptions."

Manuel argues that we Buddhists are above and beyond a notion of God. This might be one side of the continuum. Understanding the issue, of course, from the subject's point of view. Do I want to even acknowledge the possibility of an object, subject asks? The Buddha himself seemed to want to avoid these discussions because he felt they were not useful to the goal of the Buddha Way.They are of the sort that philosophers often get to: how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

Yet, my commentary is not so metaphysical. It is quite practical.

Our understanding of the universe guides us. Our willingness to drop away self and be enfolded by all is an important ingredient to our daily practice. The idea of God is clearly a human invention, and in primitive cultures this idea was anthropomorphised so that we could either better understand our conception of God or control him through supplication.

Some have argued that God is none other than a reflection of ourselves and so has evolved as have we through the centuries. No doubt this is true. And if true, where are we today?

To dismiss God dismisses entire cultures and their very powerful beliefs. Dismissing this means not understanding those cultures and such a lack of understanding can be deadly, especially in the contempory climate. Jihad is, afterall, a "holy war."

None of my discussion was intended to argue for or against a personal belief or point of view, only that we use a frame of reference within which we might understand how various peoples use God or a notion of God in their lives. Even atheists have a God they rail against, otherwise they would be mute. Often their understanding of such a God is of the Judeo-Christian variety, often punitive and primitive in conception. Such a notion becomes a straw man in an argument and suggests a simplistic examination of the whole thing.

God, however, is a universal phenomenon, not constrained by the human mind, not created in the human mind. God as the universe, the intricate processes, the outside and the inside, the very fabric of existence, is hardly an anthropomorphism. We in Zen might understand God as shunyata itself. Or not.

Be well.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Fences

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Ever since I was a little kid I wondered how borders existed. I often looked at maps of the world, scouring the continents looking at the lines separating one country from another and wondering what they looked like on the ground. As a kid I thought maybe there were actual lines and that it must be some body's job to go around painting them, like they do on roads. As an adult I still wonder about these lines dividing us as a species. I wonder about how these divisions divide us rather than bring us together. I wonder about the fear that is created through groupings, the discrimination that develops, and often think about the world as a place without boundary as a place without limits.

When we drop our boundaries, in one sense, we create possibilities for expansion. Companies know this. International corporations see boundaries as impediments and actively work within them to make them non-existent. Would it not be wise to eventually find a way to live on this planet as if we are all part of the same family of man?

Creating fences, putting armed soldiers along our borders, seems unwise to me. It creates a police state of sorts, and further divides us. True security, it seems to me, comes with friendship and intermarriage, where all people see themselves as family.

Threats to the family will always exist, well at least as long as there are both vast differences between haves and have-nots and as long as groups of people suffer and die while others live and thrive.Increasing the height of the fence will not stop that.

Be well.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Charity

With palms together,
Good Afternoon All,

The first of the Six Paramitas is Dana, or Genersoity. I enjoy this paramita very much as it reminds me that to be generous means to be so without self. Any reminder to drop away self is a good thing. We spend so much of our day wrapped up in ourselves, that to get out of the wrapper is actually quite liberating.

In the Diamond Sutra, the Buddha taught that a man should "bestow alms, uninfluenced by any pre-conceived thoughts as to self and other selves..." and if in "practicing charity, conceives within his mind...conceptions discriminating himself from other selves, he will be like a man walking in darkness and seeing nothing." (Goddard translation, p.90-91).

This has some very specific meaning and teaching. Similar to the Christian notion that if a man asks for a coat, you should also give him your cloak. Thought to self, and judgement as to the worthiness of others has no place in these teachings.

The moment self enters, judgement and discernment enters, we are in the darkness and delusion of dualism. The heart of the Buddha's teaching is compassion for others as a starting point and an end in itself. In this sense, then, we enter charity and become charity, within this charity there is no me, no you, no beggar or almsgiver. Being generosity is being Buddha.

Another definition of Mutual Aid.

Be well.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The News and the Spirit

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

The morning news is bothersome, as always. People killed. Expolsions. Domestic spying. Lawsuits. Sometimes it is good practice to avoid the newspaper and internet news services. The type and level of information, speed of delivery, and tone is poisonous to the spirit.

Yet, we don't really want to live as ostriches.

It is important to know your world and the happenings within it. It is important to know what your government is doing, how it is doing it, and the goals it claims in the process. Our government does not seem to be as forthcoming as it might be. We are fighting a war, it claims.

Remember the works of fiction that warned us in school? 1984, Brave New World, Player Piano (the first Kurt Vonnegut jr. book which was quite interesting in light of today's world)?

Here we are. Of course its not the same. The threats are real. And so are the psychological processes of leading through fear. Like lemmings, we are willingly giving up our rights to privacy. We are giving up our money and many of our freedoms to wage wars of peace and end fear and intimidation by Third World sets of people wanting to bring back the Middle Ages.

I am one who believes terror wins when we decide to become fearful, hiding, and secret. A brave society is a society that remains free and above board even when threatened. A compassionate society cares about our enemies, nurtures the poor and the weak regardless of race, creed, or national origin. A smart society lives beyond superstition and the fear of fundamentalists and their devil.

When your heart is closed, you die regardless of whether you are safe. When your heart is open, you live even if you are in danger.

Be well.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Alive

With palms together,
Good Morning all,

We have recently moved a small cafe table and two chairs into my home Zendo, along with my handweights, a small library of books, and the orchid My Little Honey gave to me for our anniversary.

The orchid sits just beyond this laptop computer and as I type it draws my attention. It is a sort of mindfullness bell. We all have such small, but important objects in our lives. A flower, a photograph, a key: something that captures us for just a moment and in thsat moment enables us to settle down, draw in our breath and center ourselves.

It is so easy to overlook these small treasures. Our world is full of large distractions, noisy, glitsy, sexy, important. Yet, as anyone who has lived awhile understands, these are all passing. Yesterdays headlines are yesterday, with all that implies.

The small treasures, on the otherhand, are constant. Though the flower may lose its bloom, and the lock for the key be no more, the treasure is in the moment we take ro draw our breath. The moment we become aware we are alive.

Be well.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Unbearable!

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

The sun has once again risen and warmed the desert air. The coolness of the night evaporates quickly and we are left with hot, dry air. Where can we go to escape the heat?

What is the nature of unbearability? When we suffer and say "this is unbearable!" what do we mean? Our mind is intruding, demanding an alternative to the feelings experienced by our bodies or hearts. In some ways this is a good thing. Pain is an flag that causes us to look and act to be safe or well.

Yet all of these are mental formations, constructs that have no independent existence. They come and go like the breeze or the sun. We suffer in direct proportion to our desire not to suffer. The more we imagine non-suffering and compare that imagined state to that which we abide, we suffer.

When it is hot we wish to be cool. When we are cold, we wish to be warm. All of this wishing separates us from our present moment experience. It creates a gulf between us and reality.

Our practice is to not rant against the heat, but simply be. We can move to the shade, without thinking about escaping the heat. We can enjoy the heat. We can recognize that heat and cold are relative states to us, the subject. We can join the heat and in so doing allow it to lose its power.

And so it is with life.

Be well.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Stillness

With palms together,
Good Afternoon All,

Some of you have asked me to elaborate on the teaching of stillness. Let's try this: Create stillness right now. You are obviously at your computer just now.

Notice your breath. Where does it come from? Where does it go? Feel it as it enters and leaves your body.

Notice your eyes. Watch them as they move across the monitor.

Notice your mind. What it is up to? Questioning? Yawning?

Notice sound. Can you hear your computer? The sound of the refrigerator or air conditioner? Do you hear yourself swallow?

Notice what your mouth feels like inside. Is it moist? Dry? Where is your tongue? How do your teeth feel?

Notice your eyes blinking. Just witness them open and close.

Do nothing with anything you notice. Just let whatever is there be there and feel the stillness in your body. You do not have to immediately hit the delete key or the reply key or any other key.

When you are in the presence of others, you can do this as well. There is no law that says you must reply immediately. Take a few moments and witness yourself.

The most important aspect of this practice is attentive non-engagement.

When we practice this way, we should notice the need we seem to have to "do" something. Be careful of this need, it will usually lead to no good.

Be well.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

What's to fear?

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

How many of us can make a mistake without fear? Do we feel comfortable out of our comfort zone? Can we hear criticism and allow it to just lay there?

Most of us, perhaps all of us, cannot. We each have a strong need to be valued, appreciated, esteemed. Interaction with others (and sometimes even ourselves) makes this a challenge. Our culture is habituated toward critique.

Valuation is our livelihood. Discrimination our currency.

A statement suggesting what we say is off base or inaccurate invite rebuttal. If the rebuttal comes from fear, big problem. Fer creates defensive posturing. Fear closes us off from even looking at the merits of the suggestion: so strong is our need not to be wrong.

Why?

I am wrong often. I speak before I have the facts. I believe I know what someone is thinking or saying as they are speaking and formulate replies before they have finished their thought. I guess I think I'm a mind-reader or something. My father always charged me with being stupid and incompetent. I filter through his judgment. And just as surely as he is dead, so am I if I continue in this way.

Our practice is to be in this moment. Being in this moment requires courage as it demands we are open. Being open is a challenge when we are afraid. Yet our practice teaches us there is nothing to fear. There is no self to be abused, no feeling that will last forever (unless we keep it tightly stored and ready to use, and even then, it will die with us sometime).

It is a good practice to just be present without acting. In this practice allow yourself the luxury of not responding. Make a concerted effort to free your thoughts and let them float away. Those around you might be mystified, this behavior will be a small challenge for them, but I believe at some point this practice will bear fruit.

Be well.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Morning Light

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

So it is morning once again. I count on morning light. It is a blessing we should each savor. Some years ago, when I was 19 and just shot in the head in the middle of the night in the middle of the jungle, I lay in muddy water waiting for the morning light. In the morning the light streamed in through the canopy of trees revealing a smokey mess of human beings in great pain or dead in grotesque positions.

I pray none of you ever suffer mornings like that, nor that your sons or daughters do.

Each morning I recite a short prayer, "As I open my eyes I vow to see the universe clearly and not forsake a single being." In Jewish thought, we are happy to see that our soul has been returned to us by God. In each case we see that we are able to take a fresh step, essentially born new in the world. What was is no more. What is is here just now. It is our choice exactly how we meet this moment.

What is your choice today? I hope you choose peace.

Be well.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Like Ash

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Multi-tasking is the great illness of the contemporary world. This disease is a result of attempting to do more with less and not being aware of doing any specific thing at all. It is a prescription for automated sleepwalking.

As workplaces demand more, people rise to the task, or so they believe. They pride themselves in being able to work on several operations at once, believing this will increase productivity and bear fruit in their lives. At home we multitask and fail to be present, not enjoying, just doing more for less.

The value of multitasking is a lie just as sure as the one told by Willie Loman in Death of a Salesman.

In fact, people who multitask do not task at all. They are non sentient robots going through a set of motions and sometime they wake up to discover their lives have all but disappeared, their children are grown and their spouses have found love and comfort elsewhere. Just as Willie Loman did.

Multitasking kills awareness. It anesthetizes the present moment. We do not truly live in this world of splintered attention. We splinter with our attention and become fragments of the human beings we are capable of being.

An old Zen teaching: There is wood, there is combustion, there is ash. It is a mistake to think of these as the same thing or part of a process. Wood is not turned into ash. Wood is wood. Ash is ash. Fire is fire. When we see process, we fail to see what is there before us, just as when we balance a checkbook while washing the dishes and attending to the children fails us from each: we are doing neither of these.

Choose to do less and accomplish more. Be present in your meeting, attend to your child, wash the dish: in each case establish a full presence in the situation. If this requires you to adjust your life, then perhaps less is more again.

In the end, how do you wish to be remembered? The person who was really there or the blur that could not be still?

Be well.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Responsibility

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

The morning newspaper reports that the investigation of the drowning of a child in our apartment complex will be ruled an accident. This stops any criminal procedings. Eyes now shift from criminal prosecution to civil responsibilities and compensatory damages.

An event such as this can create an opportunity for reflection on the many aspects of living and dying, as well as our sense of ethics, its extent and limits.

I believe we are a responsibility-adverse culture. No one willingly assumes responsibility for much of anything from war to peace, from love to hate, from conspicuous consumption to poverty. And I have often wondered why.

My sense is that we have created this situation by refusing to use a balanced and broad enough understanding of cause and effect. Moreover, we have a primitive need to punish those responsible for their part in whatever. So, which turkey wants to raise their head at the turkey shoot?

One of the most valuable teachings I received in graduate school and in life as a social worker was the lesson that all things are connected within systems all interacting in some way and on some level with each other. Complexity is the very essence of life. Zen Buddhists understand this complexity on an experiential level through our practice.

Correction should not be synonomous with punishment. A punitive attitude coupled with a punitive course of action causes us not to accept, enables us to put up a wall, protecting ourselves from further assault. Rather than building more courthouses, more prisons, more armies and weapons, wouldn't it make more sense to invest in treating the conditions which give rise to the problems we face in the universe?

As a priest and former therapist my work is to assist people in coming to terms with their responsibilty in life's choices. Overcoming an individual's fear of punishment is the first and most challenging task. The walls must come down in order for the mind and heart to do its work.

Fear is not a healthy emotion.

Be well.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Good People, Bad Things

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Yesterday afternoon there were several police cars and emergency vehicles practically blocking the place. People were milling around talking and watching and waiting.

A five year old boy was found dead at the bottom of our complexes hot tub. There were lots of people swimmming in the pool adjacent to it. Attempts by several residents failed to recuscitate him and he was pronounced dead 45 minutes later at the hospital just a couple of minutes away.

The morning newspaper reports that there is a criminal investigation in progress.

My sense is that this investigation will focus on parental neglect as the mother was heard asking if anyone had seen her child and she was at the pool with him. We must, it seems, have someone to blame when such things happen.

My heart goes out to this family. Not only have they suffered the loss of a child, but now will suffer an investigation, public opinion, and possible criminal prosecution.

On one hand, this was a senseless and preventable death. Hot tubs are dangerous as the shift blood pressure and people can suffer injury in them as a result. Young children should not be allowed to "play" in them, and certainly not without close and immediate supervision.

On the other hand, holding a parent responsible for not watching a child every moment, or an apartment complex responsible for not having fences and signs and all manner of safeguards, is also a dangerous matter. Both create situations where someone must be held responsible always. Our legal system is flooded with such actions, both civil and criminal.

Left out of the equation often is the indivdual within situation, as well as a good and balanced sense of what the limitations are for us all in protecting each other from ourselves. Children are by their very nature curious and playful. They do not understand risk and have limited capacities for evaluating dangers. Many adults suffer the same or similar limitations. We do things without reading the labels, climb ladders with tons of stuff attached to out bodies, act as if we were flying squirrels and die, then our families sue. There should have been a warning about carrying two six packs, a hammer, a box of nails, a four 2x4s up an unopened step ladder braced against the wall of a house.

As faith based people, inclined toward a moral and spiritual path in life, we must focus our compassion on all concerned. Blame can be, but is not always, compassionate, although action to prevent further harm is. Shoulds and oughts are fine for the sake of discovering ways to prevent another injury, but do no real good in terms of correcting what has already happened. Judgement will not help us here. Good sense and an open heart will.

Our belief is, as insane as it is, that we should somehow be able to prevent every mis-step imaginable and if we don't then somehow we are remiss to the point of criminal culpability. When bad things happen to good people, and we are all good people, we must embrace each other with loving kindness and work hard at letting the judgements go.

Be well.