The Existential Buddhist|dharma without dogma


It’s ended up being commonplace to talk thoughtlessly about 2 American Buddhisms (an expression credited to famous Buddhologist Charles Prebish), one frequently referred to as “convert” or “white” Buddhism, and the other as “heritage,” “birthright,” “immigrant” or“Asian American” Buddhism According to this simple dichotomy, “convert” Buddhists are primarily older, affluent, European- descent Buddhists who matured in non-Buddhist homes. “Heritage” Buddhists, on the other hand, are Asian Americans raised within Buddhist homes. According to this dichotomy, transform Buddhists practice meditation and research study Buddhist viewpoint, whereas heritage Buddhists make offerings and burn incense for the Buddha and their forefathers, and take part in routines and shouting. Heritage sanghas likewise serve essential social and neighborhood functions for immigrant households whose English might be a 2nd language, and involvement within them is frequently a household affair, in manner ins which transform involvement frequently is not. Convert Buddhism all-too-often smugly presumes its Buddhism is “authentic” Buddhism, whereas heritage Buddhists are bogged down in superstitious practices showing their ethnic culture of origin instead of the Buddha’s sutras and suttas.

In her illuminating brand-new book, Be the Refuge: Raising the Voices of Asian American Buddhists (North Atlantic Books, 2021), author Chenxing Han presents us to all the subtleties and intricacies of being a young Asian American Buddhist in America today, and demonstrates how insufficient, deceptive, and hazardous the simple dichotomy of 2 American Buddhisms can be. Han bases her book on her own individual journey in addition to 89 substantial interviews she carried out with a varied group of young Asian American Buddhists about their Buddhist identity and experiences as part of satisfying the requirements for her master’s thesis at the Institute of Buddhist Studies.

The intricacies of the young Asian American Buddhist experience can be overwhelming. While the so-called “convert” Buddhist neighborhoods are frequently extremely white, they likewise have Asian American members who might be converts (having actually matured in Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or atheist households), or who might be practicing a various school of Buddhism than the one they were raised in. They likewise might consist of a smaller sized variety of non-convert European- descent white Buddhists who were raised within Buddhist or mixed-religion households.In the exact same method, numerous so-called “heritage” Buddhist sanghas likewise have white transform members who take part in their churchgoers. In addition, there are numerous Asian Americans who matured in mixed-race, mixed-ethnicity, and/or mixed-religion homes (or wed into them) that defy and go beyond any of these classifications.

Chenxing Han reveals that numerous young Asian American Buddhists discover themselves in a unpleasant and unclear circumstance. Their moms and dads might have participated in Buddhist spiritual practices without discussing their significance, or performed them in a language their kids did not comprehend. Second- and third-generation Asian Americans can be in the ambivalent position of both cheapening their moms and dads’ methods as “old world” and “superstitious,” while all at once experiencing a fond memories for it, and a desire not to break the thread of household custom. Even when attempting to follow household custom, they can be filled with unpredictability and stress and anxiety over potentially not continuing these just partially-transmitted customs in precisely the appropriate method.

Another issue is that numerous heritage Buddhist sanghas might be consisted of primarily “Sunday school” kids and their grandparents and moms and dads, with a lack of young people in their 20s and 30s. These sanghas frequently perform their services in languages second-, 3rd-, and later on generation immigrants can no longer comprehend or speak. This produces barriers that prevent young person Asian Americans from connecting with these sanghas, however the all-or-mostly white transform sanghas likewise do not feel especially inviting. Asian American visitors to all-white sanghas nearly undoubtedly need to handle the bias and incorrect presumptions white sangha members make about them. It is frequently presumed, for instance, that Buddhism is their household of origin faith, or white members will ask “where they are from.” In addition, transform Buddhist publications hardly ever function Asian American instructors, and frequently remove the long existence of Asian American Buddhism in America, as if American Buddhism was the exclusively the item of white leaders (and their Asian instructors) who developed the very first primarily white transform sanghas.

There can likewise be strong pressure on Asian Americans to “become more American,” to mix in, and to not draw in attention by being various. Their Asian physical functions currently mark them as various, and being a “Buddhist” ends up being simply another method they do not fit in with their white American peers at school and at work. Dropping a Buddhist recognition and ending up being Christian is one method to suit much better. In addition, numerous Asian American immigrant neighborhoods concerned America as currently mainly Christian neighborhoods, consisting of numerous Korean, Vietnamese, and Filipino neighborhoods. Within those neighborhoods, ending up being a transform Buddhist brings none of the social prestige that Buddhism brings for numerous white European- descent converts who originate from neighborhoods where their peers may think about Buddhism to be “cool” and “evolved.”

Chenxing Han likewise resolves the fascinating concern of what it indicates to be a “convert” Buddhist in the very first location, as “conversion” is not actually a Buddhist thing. She recommends that “becoming a Buddhist” is a little like soaking a cup of tea. How long does the warm water need to high prior to it is “officially” tea? Becoming “Buddhist” is similar. It can be a progressive procedure over an extended period of time, and is frequently not an all-on-none affair, as numerous American Buddhist specialists, white and Asian American, wind up with hybrid identities.

Since numerous heritage Buddhist Sanghas came from to fulfill the requirements of ethnic immigrant neighborhoods, there are manner ins which they continue to serve the particular and special requirements of Japanese, Chinese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Filipino, Tibetan, Nepalese, Cambodian, Lao, Thai, Burmese, Sinhalese, and other Asian immigrant neighborhoods. Pan-Asian American sanghas, to the level they exist, are uncommon. Convert Buddhist sanghas, on the other hand, tend to be primarily English- language sanghas that serve the requirements of acculturated (all-too-often significance “white”) Americans in basic, and do not deal with the requirements of any particular ethnic group. As heritage sanghas age without more recent immigrants showing up in multitudes, there is a propensity for these sanghas to diminish in subscription. Heritage sanghas might feel an immediate requirement to cater more to second-, 3rd-, 4th-, 5th-, and sixth-generation Asian Americans whose requirements are rather various from the initial neighborhoods they were developed to serve. There is likewise pressure on these sanghas to connect to members of other ethnic backgrounds, to end up being more universalistic and inclusive, and to use more of their services inEnglish Something is lost and gotten while doing so, and it’s not unusual for more youthful members of these neighborhoods to feel ambivalent about these modifications.

It is amazing reality that while Asian Americans comprise two-thirds of the U.S. Buddhist population, it is difficult for numerous white American Buddhists (and even Asian American Buddhists) to call even a single significant Asian American Buddhist spiritual figure. In reality, it might even be simpler for white American Buddhists to call popular African American Buddhist figures than it is for them to call popular Asian American Buddhist ones. It is difficult to represent this nearly total erasure of the Asian American Buddhist neighborhood in the minds of numerous or most transform white Buddhists without believing in regards to white opportunity and unconscious bigotry. When Asian American Buddhists madly oppose their erasure by “mainstream” Buddhist publications, their grievances have actually frequently been met incomprehension, dismissiveness, defensiveness, and anger. Ann Gleig has actually just recently been explaining there are white, cis-gender, male, conservative online Buddhist neighborhoods that are unsympathetic, if not hostile, to the distress of left out, marginalized, or demeaned neighborhoods. Sometimes, it appears, the bigotry isn’t unconscious at all, however outright and in-one’s- face.

Chenxing Han composes that her manuscript was decreased by mainstream Buddhist publishing homes, in addition to by scholastic presses. We need to be grateful that North Atlantic Books, an independent, non-profit press, acknowledged its worth and ended up being the place for its publication. We need to likewise be grateful that Chenxing Han selected to not compose the type of book that would attract scholastic presses. Her book is easily available to all readers, and her writing is individual, intimate, and immediate. Her informants are not simply research study topics, however frequently end up being individual pals, and essential figures in her own development. She owes a fantastic financial obligation, for instance, to Aaron Lee, AKA, “arunlikati,” the developer of the Angry Asian Buddhist blog site. Aaron’s life, composing, relationship, assistance, and unforeseen death play a significant function in Han’s own individual journey, development, and advancement. We learn more about him as she did, and her writing is a living testimony and homage to his contributions to the Buddhist neighborhood.

As a side note, the stories informed by Chenxing Han’s Asian American informants resonated with my own extremely various story. I plainly fit nicely into the standard transform Buddhist classification. I am an older, white, Ashkenazi Jew, and wasn’t born into a Buddhist household. Nevertheless, my maternal great-grandparents and paternal grandparents were immigrants. They understood what it resembled to deal with discrimination for being immigrants and for beingJewish They frequently spoke to their brother or sisters in Yiddish, a language I just comprehended in pieces and bits. While my maternal grandparents lit shabbat candle lights, went to temple, and kept kosher– my dad was a closet atheist, and after my mom passed, preserved none of the Jewish customs. I might recall at my grandparents’ faith with fond memories, however could not make it my own. My moms and dads took a look at orthodox Jewish faith as primarily bubbe-meises— old partners tales and superstitious notions. When I discovered my method to Buddhism midway through life, it was mainly through instructors from Jewish and half-Jewish origins– instructors like Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg, Larry Rosenberg, Sylvia Boorstein, andToni Packer Their backgrounds made it feel safe for me to roam onto what may have otherwise seemed like alien area. I question if I would have ever found Buddhism if it had not been through instructors I might relate to since they remained in some method “like me.” Representation, in reality, matters. In by doing this, I can relate to the parallel however various battles of Asian American Buddhists to end up being American and “modern” without losing their identities and braking with household customs, and to discover locations of belonging in neighborhoods with a minimum of some members who appear like themselves and comprehend their journeys.

Be the Refuge exposes the surprise stories of young Asian American Buddhists, enabling them to inform their stories in their own voices. It makes a significant contribution to the long-lasting task of weakening the folklore of 2 Buddhisms, blazing a trail to an inclusive and pluralistic American Buddhism that appreciates the variety of our methods of practice while likewise acknowledging their basic underlying commonness.


David Arnott obituary|Myanmar


My buddy David Arnott, who has actually passed away aged 77, made a crucial contribution to the battle for human rights in Burma (Myanmar) through starting and running the Online Burma/Myanmar Library and the Burma Peace Foundation.

Born in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, he went to Wakefield grade school and studied languages atReading University He invested the 70s and 1960s immersed in parts of the counterculture: driving a van-load of children to the Soviet Union; signing up with CND marches; living alone for months on meagre ways in Ibiza, while broadening his interest in Buddhism.

In London in the 80s he established or co-founded a number of primarily Buddhist or Burma- associated organisations, consisting of the Tibet Support Group and Burma Campaign UK.

From 1991 up until 1996 he operated in New York, providing documents to the UN human being rights systems, presenting Burma democracy activists to the UN scene, and supporting their lobbying. He then played a comparable function in Geneva, where I co-operated with him, together with members of theEuropean Burma Network Projects there consisted of a conference on the effect of tourist on native individuals.

His life’s work culminated in the Online Burma/Myanmar Library, a database including more than 60,000 files in numerous languages. David led his time in promoting complimentary details gain access to as being an essential to Burma’s future.

From 2004 up until his death he resided in the Mae Sot district in Thailand, a crucial centre for Burmese exiles. Over the last couple of years he had a hard time to raise financing for the library and to organize an acceptable succession. It is now run by a more youthful group of individuals inside Myanmar.

His publications consist of deal with the social measurements of Buddhism and numerous Burma instructions for the UN and other organisations, consisting of Caveats, Cautions and Stringent Conditions (1995 ), Once the Ricebowl of Asia (1997) and China-Burma Relations (2000 ).

David was an eager professional photographer and it is hoped that his images can be archived and an exhibit organized.

Colleagues valued his dedication and his kindness to scholars and activists, and keep in mind in specific his vegetarian Thai red curry.

David’s sibling predeceased him.


Sleeping, Dreaming, Waking and Awakening


Photo by Penny Hollick on Unsplash

When we are in a state of deep sleep we are not aware of anything. For most, if not all, of us we are only aware that we have ‘slept deeply’ (or well) when we awake and find ourselves refreshed by our sleep. But in dreaming and in waking we are conscious, albeit that the worlds that we inhabit in those two states can be vastly different. Thus, momentary consciousness (or successive states of consciousness) characterises both waking and dreaming, even if we cannot always recall what it is that we have been conscious of.

These are the familiar three states of consciousness. But in ancient Indian thought and philosophy there is said to be a fourth state, one which contains the other three within it. It is sometimes described as a state in which one is in deep sleep but is nonetheless conscious, a state that can sometimes be experienced in meditation. But in this state there are no objects of, or within, consciousness. One is awake, and conscious, but not conscious of thoughts or sensations. Some of the ancient texts that first described this state referred to it as ‘Brahman’, claiming it to be the origin of all that exists.

Ever since Buddhism as a system of thought and practice emerged in the middle of the first millennium BCE, there has been a debate about the nature of human consciousness. Many exponents of early Buddhism accepted the wider system of Vedic thought from which it had emerged, and therefore regarded consciousness as the fundamental principle of the universe. So much so that in mind or consciousness lay the origins of matter. The Buddha himself, however, appears to have been unconcerned with these weighty matters of philosophy and cosmology, confining his teachings to this ‘fathom-length’ carcass, the human brain and body.

Today many of us are likely to be sceptical about whether mind takes precedence over matter. We tend to prefer the notion that consciousness, at least in the sense of human and animal consciousness, is a product of brain functioning and that the brain, like the body of which it is a part, is the biological product of physical forces. As far as Buddhist dharma practice is concerned I don’t think it matters which perspective you prefer. The culture of awakening, as referred to in the previous blog, is worth cultivating whichever perspective you adopt.

But I also think it is significant that you can approach dharma practice from either an objective or subjective viewpoint and still arrive at the same place. Objectively, if consciousness is a primordial and universal principle, one which is inherent in human experience, but also in everything else, then the human route to our understanding of it must lie in an exploration of the mind. If on the other hand consciousness is more simply a product of physical, evolutionary, forces it is nonetheless the means through which our experience comes about; and what concerns each one of us more deeply than anything else is the nature and quality of that experience.

In practice Buddhism is not primarily concerned with objective truth. Of course, it evolved within the mindset of the Vedic religion, one in which it was thought that the human mind could be trained to uncover the deepest mysteries of the cosmos. But the Buddha himself seems to have made no such claim. Although it adopted aspects of the Vedic system (such as karma and reincarnation), Buddhism does not require one to adhere to these beliefs or assumptions. It merely requires you to want to reduce the extent of your suffering.

What matters in Buddhism is the quality of the experience that we have, and the way in which our self-centred approach to so much of what we find in the world limits our capacity to enjoy that experience. One has to stand back for a moment and consider how radical this approach was, and indeed still is. For five millennia philosophers and religious teachers in India have debated the meaning of truth and the origins of the universe. A similar debate has taken place in the West over roughly a half of that period. But Buddhism, at least in that original iteration of the dharma in Northern India, tells nothing about such weighty matters. It simply asks us to examine our own experience and the quality of that experience. Is it everything we would wish it to be? Is there anything that we can do to improve it? If there is, what would this improvement look like?

I think one of the key issues about the day-to-day experience of our lives is the way in which we often spend our time not in the present but in the past or future. The curious thing though is that the body and the emotions are always located in the present moment. I, in the sense of my body, am here, right here now. Sensation and emotion can be experienced only in the current moment. But I find that my mind is often located not ‘here’, where my body is, but ‘there’, in some recollected past or imagined future. We are very probably the only animal that lives in this way.

Of course, we might conclude that this fact is indicative of our ‘special’ status as being something more than ‘mere animals’. Are we not distinguished from our fellow mammals by being able to learn from the past and imagine possible futures? But learning from the past and planning for the future are not the real issue; they are valuable human traits and no doubt deserve to be consciously cultivated from time to time. But what is not of evident value is the constant inability to focus on the present moment when it is clearly in our interest to do so; or in our tendency to think about our needy selves at moments when there is no purpose to, or advantage in, doing so. To avoid the unnecessary suffering that this causes we need to bring our minds and bodies back together, to reunite them, to experience each passing moment as a coherent, unified human being.

This reuniting of body and mind is the essence of the Buddhist culture of awakening. Dharma practice is a series of techniques and approaches that assist with this project. And because it applies to each and every one of us it is both an individual project and a collective one.

But these are not practices which come easily to us. Rather, the thrust of our evolutionary heritage has been to locate selective advantage in worry, anxiety, fear, flight, conflict and frustration; to regret the past or worry about the future when we would be more content to simply abide in each moment that passes. In this way the survival of the species is enhanced at the expense of the individual human being whose experience is diminished and degraded.

This is why we need to foster a culture that promotes awakening, one that enables us to turn away from evolutionary habit, from a mechanical response to our ever-changing experience, to the reality of that experience. If we can learn to allow our experience to simply unfold, we will find that it is, and we are, already inherently perfect. The very nature of experience is to change, and the intelligent response, the response which minimises our suffering, is for us to be fully present, united in body and mind, as those changes arise, continue for a moment, and then fall away.


Everyone You Didn’t Meet Could Be Your Teacher Funkadelic Style


T his is sort of a follow up to a post I composed in August of 2017. I was born at the very end of the 60’s, the Summer of 69 to be specific. A time of shift I’m distinguished the days of peace and love hippie motion to the Funk of the 70’s, LOL.

This previous week I have actually been re-reading an actually terrific book about Jarvis Jay Masters, A Buddhist onDeath Row A lot more on that terrific book to come in the future. If you have not bought it yet, I extremely suggest it.

So in this book, among the lots of lessonsMr Masters discovers has to do with finding out to see his mind and releasing it from the preconditioned restraints that life itself had actually placed on him. As he is pondering this a tune that would be played typically in his youth entered your mind by the Funkadelic’s, “Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow.”

Everyone you didn’t meet could be your teacher.

Funkadelic’s, “Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow.”

Funkadelic’s “Good Thoughts, Bad Thoughts”

Have you discover anybody or anything in your course that has opened your eyes to assist you understand a mentor that you have been pondering?

Have several of those mind-blowing minutes originate from an anticipated source?

Trance End


The Existential Buddhist | dharma without dogma


About seven years ago, my wife and I visited the Kit Carson Home and Museum in Taos, New Mexico. We hadn’t gone to Taos intending to visit the museum.  We had gone there to see the famed Taos Pueblo, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site— but when we saw the museum in town, we thought we would drop by. At that point, Kit Carson was just a name to me like Bat Masterson, Davy Crocket, Billy the Kid, and Wyatt Earp—one of the legends of the wild west one might read about in a dime novels or see in old black-and-white Saturday matinee movies. His story, however, is a bit more complicated.

While at the museum I bought a copy of Hampton Sides’ Blood and Thunder—a biography of Carson.  What I learned is that Carson was one of those astonishing 19th Century American figures who were larger than life.  You get the same feeling when you read the biographies of Ulysses Simpson Grant, or Theodore Roosevelt, or Frederick Douglass—how could people such as these have really walked the earth?  It seems we have no one quite like them today. At any rate, Carson’s courage, endurance, competence, and steadfastness could have qualified him, like Achilles, to be the hero of his own Homeric epic.

There was, alas, also an ironic aspect to his life. As a frontiersman, fur trapper, mountain man, and scout, he loved the wilderness, and was more at home with the ways of the Native American peoples than he was with the white settlers who brought the corruption of their civilization along with them.  His first wife was an Arapaho woman named Singing Grass who died in childbirth. His second wife was a Cheyenne woman named Making Out Road who divorced him the Cheyenne way by dumping his belongings outside their tent. Despite his sympathy for Native American life, however, he was a military man who believed in following orders, and he became the general who brutally defeated the Navajo and Apache nations, herding them off their ancestral lands to an area no white man could possibly want at Bosque Redondo Reservation. Unlike the vainglorious General George Custer, Kit Carson was humble and competent. If you gave him a job to do, he did it. Many Navajo starved during his brutal roundup at Canyon de Chelly, or died on the long walk to Bosco Redondo, or sickened and starved after arriving at the barren reservation. Carson was put in charge of managing Bosque Redondo, but eventually quit in disgust.  He did not approve of the way the United States government was handling its responsibilities to these defeated peoples.

History’s judgment of Carson has been mixed. He is both a hero and a villain—perhaps a bit of both. Carson himself seemed cannily aware of how history might judge him. On the wall of the museum is a sign with a saying of his—he couldn’t have written it because he couldn’t read or write—a saying which best summarizes his life.  The sign reads, “I don’t know if I did right or wrong, but I always did my best.”

I’ve thought of that sign often over the past seven years.  There is something very Zen about it.  We never know all the long term and broader consequences of our actions in advance. We might succeed in helping someone, but in the process  inadvertently end up hurting someone else. We might do something that helps in the short run, but ends up hurting in the long run. Every solution to a problem ends up creating new problems. Look how the Internet, which was supposed to bring us all together has ended up dividing us worse than ever. We can’t ultimately know whether things will, everything considered, turn out right or wrong. We can only do our best.  It’s a real accomplishment if we can say that, no matter what, we always did our best as we understood it at the time.

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi said something similar about Zen. He said, “Zen is making your best effort on each moment, forever.” Anyone else might have said “in the moment,” but Suzuki Roshi’s Japanese-inflected English made it “on the moment”— the way a singer lands “on a note,” neither flat nor sharp.  Being “on the moment” seems different from being “in the moment,” a phrase that suggests something improvisatory and on the fly. “On the moment,” is more like Aristotle’s “hitting the mark,” that is, doing the right thing in the right way at the right time.

So, what does it mean to make our best effort on each moment during sesshin?

Should we sit as if our hair was on fire—or is zazen “the Dharma gate of bliss and repose?”

Dogen Zenji said both.

That reminds me of an old joke about a rabbi who listens to the complaints of a squabbling marital couple. He listens first to the husband’s side and says, “You’re right.”  He listens next to the wife, and says “you’re right.”  The rabbi’s student, who has been sitting in the corner listening to all this, turns to the rabbi and says, “but Rabbi, they both can’t be right.”  The rabbi replies, “You know what? You’re right too!”

So, do we practice with our hair on fire, or do we enjoy the Dharma gate of bliss and repose?  It seems to me, there are moments during every sesshin when one or the other seem to be  appropriate.  But how do we know on any given moment whether we ought to be striving harder, or relaxing into way things are?

The sayings of the great teachers can illuminate certain moments, but we can’t allow ourselves to be limited by them. They can only take us so far. We must always be the ones who decide for ourselves what practice is for us on each moment.  Suzuki Roshi said, “You cannot say Buddhism was completed by Dogen Zenji. If you think it was, the Shobogenzo becomes like a coffee shop on the freeway. Dogen will be very angry if you stay there.”

Toni Packer’s The Light of Discovery contains an illuminating conversation with Joan Tollifson. Joan, as you may know, is a non-dual teacher who is not affiliated with any tradition.  She spent several years residing at Toni Packer’s Springwater Center for Meditative Inquiry.  Toni, as you may know, was a Dharma heir to Phillip Kapleau Roshi, who, inspired by Krishnamurti, eventually dropped the designation “Zen Buddhist teacher,” to become just a “Zen teacher,” and then later dropped both the “Zen” and the “teacher” to become just “Toni.”  I had the good fortune to be on a number of retreats with Toni, and consider her one of my most important teachers.

Anyway, in that illuminating conversation, Joan asks Toni, “If I want to see through these ideas that I’m creating and arrive at this more open and spacious place, what should I do?”

And Toni replies, “Can we start where we are and not attempt to get someplace? That is another idea, the idea of “an open space.” What is going on right now? Does wanting to be in an open place arise because one has heard about an open place and is feeling closed up inside? Can there be an immediate listening to where we are now—wanting open spaces—and also hear the birds singing at the same time, the breathing that is going on? We get caught up with the idea of where we want to be and are oblivious to what is actually going on right now.”

What we should be doing in sesshin is just that.

Being aware of what is actually happening right now.

On any moment, we are doing one of two things—thinking or being aware. Thinking includes every project you think you are doing here. Becoming concentrated, becoming enlightened, becoming peaceful.  These are all just thoughts. These are all ego-centered plans.  Is it possible to just see them? This doesn’t mean the ego-centered plans disappear.  It means that when they appear, we see them as “thought,” and see them occurring in a larger space.  And if that larger space isn’t here, we see the yearning for that larger space that isn’t present.

Let me say a word about that larger space. A few weeks ago I heard Jon Kabat-Zinn suggest that we envision thinking as the waves on top of the ocean, but the ocean itself is vast, deep, and still and undisturbed by the waves. Our motives to be someplace other than where we are now are like tiny trails of bubbles appearing and disappearing in the ocean’s depths. They aren’t a problem. They are just there, along with everything else.

Jon’s ocean metaphor is like Dogen’s idea of enlightenment occurring together with delusion—delusion isn’t excluded from enlightenment—enlightenment contains both enlightenment and non-enlightenment—they are not two. Jon’s ocean metaphor is a lovely metaphor for the kind of vast openness we may at times experience. But don’t be fooled into thinking that’s where you should try to be, or where you should be. We are always just where we are. The hardest part of sesshin is being just where you are, even if you wish it otherwise.

We are invited to stay here with what is, whatever appears.

Sometimes this is openness, spaciousness, and clarity. Sometimes it is lifelessness and boredom. Sometimes it is agony and despair.

We endlessly abandon all of our plans and projects and open to what life is for us right now.

But, there is one plan and project we do not abandon. We give ourselves over completely to the form of sesshin.  Just do it, just follow it.  Or we fight the form every inch of the way.  Whatever we do, we are giving ourselves over to the form or fighting the form.  Everything is grist for the mill. We each get through sesshin however we can.  As Dogen said in his Extensive Record, “There is the principle of the Way that we must make one mistake after another.” So we do our zazen wrong.  Is there any other way to do it?

The most fundamental element of sesshin is trust. Trust in the process. Trust that you don’t do zazen, zazen does you. Trust that if you give yourself over fully to the form, there will be benefit. Trust that, paraphrasing the Rolling Stones, you may not be able to get the sesshin you want, you will get the sesshin you need.

Every sesshin I have been on has been different.  Some have been filled with moments of blissful illumination, some have not.  Some have been relentless struggle. I know what it is like to be greedy for blissful moments, but being greedy for them only shows you your own greed.  Blissful moments either come, or they don’t. That’s all we can say.

But I think it’s fair to say that the sesshins that have proved most valuable have not necessarily been the ones marked by great openings, but one’s in which I have more clearly seen my own crap. Because, that’s much of what goes on, isn’t it?  My wants, my fantasies, my plans, my strivings, my hopes, my greed, my anger, my doubts, my anxieties, my pain, my deficiencies, my ignorance, my monkey mind?  The whole melodrama of me-ness.  We want so much to get to that other shore—the place of attainment, enlightenment, bliss, wisdom, and compassion.  We think that shore is some other place, and not this place right here. We think that when we finally arrive there, we will no longer have any stink about us.

And here and there, there are moments that come—or they don’t. One’s in which we intuit a wholeness that includes everything we have been trying so hard to rid ourselves of but never quite can. A place of great openness, acceptance, equanimity, and love.

And then its gone. But it’s never really gone. That experience has already changed you. You are already different for having experienced it. Not greatly different. Not entirely different. But different still.  And how can something be gone when it’s always right here?

So, I don’t know If you are doing your practice right or wrong, but I encourage you, like Kit Carson, to do your best, however you understand the word “best,” on each moment, knowing also that the meaning of “best” changes from moment to moment.

I will leave you with a story about a former patient of mine from a long time ago when I was teaching meditation to patients in a psychiatric hospital. The patient was in hospital because she was struggling with many significant problems we needn’t go into here. She came regularly to my weekly meditation group. The meditation group was open to inpatients, partial hospital patients, and intensive outpatients, so people could potentially attend over a long periods of time—and this was especially true for patients like her who cycled through several inpatient admissions interspersed with partial hospitalizations and intensive outpatient treatment. At any rate, while the patient was hospitalized, the patient’s adult daughter was murdered. The patient asked, at the beginning of the meditation group, whether she ought to focus on her breath to keep the pain of the loss of her daughter at bay, or whether she should she open to the pain and just be present with it.  She already knew from past meditation experience that “just being present with it” did not mean ruminating about it and making it worse.

I asked her, “If you could imagine you had an inner wise friend, what would that wise friend advise you to do?” She replied, “focus on my breath,” and did so for the next few meditation sessions.  After a few weeks she said, “now I am ready to be with my pain,” and she was able to do so in a way that turned out productive for her.

Each of us has this same capacity to be our own wise friend. Maybe that is what we mean by saying we each have Buddha-nature.  It is the mental capacity psychologist Marsha Linehan calls, “wise mind.”

Whenever you are unsure of how you ought to be doing zazen, consult your wise friend. You won’t necessarily make the right or the wrong choice, but you will be doing your best.

My wise friend usually asks a question rather than providing me with an answer.  It asks, “what does ‘being fully present’ mean for you right now?”

Please do your best!
















Tina Turner: ‘When I was in the zone, it was like I was flying’ | Music


The first time I experienced Tina Turner in the flesh, I was a 16-year-old hippy chick doused in patchouli oil. I didn’t just see and hear Ms Turner sing Proud Mary at the Fillmore East in New York City – I felt her in every cell of my teenage body. I was transfixed by the ecstasy of her thunderous hips and legs, the vibrating canopy of her shaking fringe, the irrefutable bidding of her sultry, raw voice.

She was female sexuality fully embodied and unleashed. She catalysed the same in me and in multitudes across the planet, selling more than 200m records in her lifetime. The queen of rock’n’roll seemed as much shaman as singer. I knew instinctively that she had suffered abuse and pain. We survivors have a kind of radar.

‘I would never have written The Vagina Monologues without the event of Tina Turner’ … V.
‘I would never have written The Vagina Monologues without the event of Tina Turner’ … V. Photograph: Paula Allen

But what was shocking, healing, astonishing was her ability to publicly transform that pain into power. I saw what the female body and spirit could do – and I wanted to do it too. It was as if every portal in my young being suddenly snapped open. Looking back, I know I would never have written The Vagina Monologues without the event of Tina Turner.

So I was not surprised to learn that – after a career as one of the most successful rock’n’roll stars ever, lighting up the world with What’s Love Got to Do With It, Private Dancer and so many more hits – she has now, in her retirement in Switzerland, written a book about her Buddhist spiritual practice.

I had a ton of questions for Tina but she was clear that, in her last years, she wants to focus only on her spiritual life. We discuss the book, Happiness Becomes You. From each line of it, I felt her life force, an indestructible happiness that not only allowed her to leave her abusive first husband Ike, but propelled her to make an extraordinary comeback on her own. It was this life force that brought true love into her life and moved her through the suicide of her eldest son, as well as her own cancer, strokes and other difficult health conditions.

I realised that, in the 50 years since I first heard her sing Proud Mary, she had alchemised the energy that made her such a great performer into grace and radiant wisdom – and that she is now, in fact, the queen of light.

V Your new book is very encouraging and discusses some tough times in which you transformed negativity to positivity – or “changed poison into medicine” as you say. Does that mean you don’t hold resentments?

Tina Turner I suppose it might seem natural to resent bad situations or other people’s bad behaviour, but it’s just not in my nature. I’ve always felt the most important thing isn’t what happens to us, it’s how we choose to respond. I release negative feelings by taking to heart the importance of forgiveness and self-reflection rather than blame. That’s how I broke the cycles of negativity in my life.

Simply the best … Turner chanting her appreciation when Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome became a hit in 1985.
Simply the best … Turner chanting her appreciation when Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome became a hit in 1985. Photograph: Brian Lanker Archive

V Among the tough times you’ve been through recently have been all sorts of medical challenges – cancer, high blood pressure, kidney failure, stroke and vertigo. How did you use your spiritual practice to overcome these physical difficulties? Has illness been a teacher?

TT There is a passage from the Buddhist philosopher Nichiren that I love: “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is like the roar of a lion. What illness can therefore be an obstacle?” Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is another name for the enlightened nature that exists within each of us, which is far more powerful than any obstacle we may face. As I’ve learned over and over, there’s great value in never giving up. Drawing on my years of spiritual discipline, I summoned up my inner lion and overcame each health problem that came along. Illness has given me a greater appreciation for health and reminds me to enjoy each day to its fullest.

V You also speak in the book about the concept of “polishing your life’s mirror” to help you see things clearly. What did you do to change your view of yourself and how did that change your life?

TT I came to realise that the way I saw myself had a strong influence on the way everyone else saw me. When I was young, my perception of myself was quite negative. I didn’t really care for the way I looked, especially how my legs looked, which is funny now because I became almost as famous for my legs as for my talent! [Laughs.] But once I decided that my personal standard of beauty would be my own, and that I’d never compare myself to others, I could finally appreciate myself fully. Then, if a negative thought ever came to mind, I’d replace it by repeating a positive one many times over, which worked wonders.

Turner sharing a laugh with sons Craig (left) and Ronnie.
Sharing a laugh with sons Craig (left) and Ronnie. Photograph: Johnson Publishing Company Archive. Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Trust

V I’ve also chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for many years, so I’m familiar with this Buddhist tradition. How did you find it? What made you stay with it? How did it help you find the courage to break away from an abusive ex and become independent?

TT Actually, Buddhism found me. The abuse I endured in my 20s and 30s had become obvious to people around me, and at different times a number of them suggested that I learn about Buddhism. They said it would help me change my life. I figured I had nothing to lose, so finally I tried it. I stayed with it because it worked. It took some time to develop the confidence and courage to finally stand up for myself. But once I did, I left that unhealthy environment on my own terms and with no regrets.

V You once said endurance was your legacy. Do you still feel that way?

TT Now that I’m in my 80s, resilience and endurance are still my strongest assets. I’ll tell you a secret to joyful endurance. It’s to never complain, no matter what challenges life sends your way. Many years ago, when I was going through my toughest times, some very wise older women in my neighbourhood chanting group told me to never complain because “complaints erase good fortune”. I agree. Complaining is a waste of precious time, doesn’t solve anything, and only brings you down. We can transform any situation by changing ourselves first, opening our hearts ever wider and increasing our compassion.

V You grew up in a small, rural Tennessee town in the 1940s and 50s. What was the most lasting influence of that experience?

‘I have all the time in the world’ … Turner strolling through the garden before her evening prayers.
‘I have all the time in the world’ … Turner strolling through the garden before her evening prayers. Photograph: Xaver Walser/Taro Gold

TT Spending time in nature was my favourite refuge as a child. It was a healthy influence in shaping my inner world and helped me to listen to my heart. I cherish good memories from those days, especially my joy in singing at school and church. That helped prepare me for my career. I’m really a country girl at heart, which is why I’ve always loved where I live in Switzerland, surrounded by Mother Nature.

V You’ve written about being the daughter of a woman who didn’t want you. I was also not loved by my mother, and I know what the long-term impact can be. What would you say about how you overcame this to people who may have a similar situation?

TT The healing that came from my spiritual practice taught me that, whether or not we received the nurturing love of a mother or father, we can still become that source of love for ourselves and others. My mother’s rejection led me later in life to seek love in places that weren’t good for me. But over time, I learned how to love myself and reveal my inner light, which we all have. That’s how I’ve been able to fully embrace all the flaws and imperfections of my life, to appreciate both the hard times and the good, and let go of past hurts. That’s true freedom.

V If you could go back to your childhood and tell yourself one thing, what would it be?

TT It would be the same thing I’d like to share with everyone: “You, exactly as you are, are worthy of all the love, kindness and joy in the world.”

V In the book, you refer to 2020 as “the year of seeing clearly”. Please elaborate.

TT In many ways, 2020 has been a year of discarding what’s superficial in order to reveal true realities. The pandemic and other things that have caused suffering for a long time have become very clear to all. And that clarity has value, in that it serves our growth. So when I talk about seeing clearly, I mean recognising the value of all our experiences, positive and negative, throughout our lives because there is always something to be learned from them. There is always a piece of fortune in misfortune. I’m optimistic that we human beings, particularly young people, will use the things we’ve learned this year as a springboard to help heal the world.

‘My rock career was a dream come true’ … Turner with Cher on her 1977 TV show.
‘My rock career was a dream come true’ … Turner with Cher on her 1977 TV show. Photograph: Carol Holladay

V The end of the book talks about forgiveness. You make a distinction between forgiving and excusing or condoning actions. Can you speak some more about that?

TT I wanted to make clear the importance of forgiveness and self-reflection rather than blame. It is so important for mental health. Forgiving people doesn’t mean you’re condoning their bad behaviour. I believe that the law of cause and effect is strict and no one can escape the effects of their actions, whether or not we forgive people. But we don’t have to carry the burden of pain, anger and resentment – we can let it go. Holding on to those toxic feelings only harms us and keeps the negativity bound to us. I choose the freeing mindset of forgiveness, which is so healing and helps me to be whole.

V The final chapter is called Homecoming and paints a lovely picture of the years since you retired. Please share more of what that homecoming means to you.

TT Now, in my retirement, I have all the time in the world to be at home. Time to relax, reflect and appreciate just being. I’ve loved creating new projects that I can do at my own pace, like recording for the Beyond interfaith albums, writing my books, and working on my musical [new productions of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical continue to open around the world]. I’ve also had time to reflect on so many beautiful memories from touring around the world. Before each show, I chanted and prayed for the happiness of all the people who came to see me. When I was in the zone on stage, it felt like flying. My rock career was really a dream come true. It didn’t just happen, of course, it took a lot of hard work! [Laughs.] I did what I wanted to do, and I’m very proud that I did it my way. I can see that even more clearly in retrospect, so it’s been a glorious homecoming.

V How is your daily life these days?

TT I enjoy the here and now, focusing on the present moment, whether I’m strolling through my garden, reading, chanting, or late-night movie-watching. I appreciate every day of life as a gift.

V What does your version of ideal happiness look like? What is your heart’s desire?

TT My life over the past 10 years has been my ideal version of happiness. That may come as a surprise to some, since I had serious health challenges. But real joy doesn’t mean having a problem-free life. True and lasting happiness comes from having an unshakeable, hopeful spirit that can shine, no matter what. That’s what I’ve achieved, and it is my greatest wish to help others become truly happy as well.

Happiness Becomes You: A Guide to Changing Your Life for Good by Tina Turner is published by Harper Thorsons, £16.99.