Razor-Wire Dharma: A Buddhist Life in Prison
1:57PM Nov 26, 2021
Today is October 17, Sunday. And this talk is live from the Zendo at Arnold Park. And it's just great to be back in the zendo. Wayman and I first came here in 1981 for a sesshin. So it's been a long time. And for those of you who, to some extent, maybe enjoy being at home and able to zoom and sit back and move your legs when you want, there is something pretty special about this space, that kind of something we'll touch on about awareness that you find in, in sitting in the space. So I encourage people to once in a while, even though for families being able to zoom is a lifeline, means you can actually participate. So for those of us who have the luxury of being able to come here, I would just like to put in a word for it.
I'll be reading from a book called Razor-Wire Dharma, A Buddhist Life in Prison by Calvin Malone. I chose this because we are now in a time for America that is a bit like a war. And because so much has happened with race and division and hatred, anger. The life of a bodhisattva offers us a life worth living. And so to touch on some of the things that make a life worth living, is what came to mind for this morning. And Calvin's journey through being an incredibly man full of hatred and anger to becoming a real light in in prison, which is one of the most as you would imagine difficult places to really practice and to become aware.
And in that regard, I did want to just talk about the prison work that's been done here in our Zendo. Starting first, I believe with Dwayne and then carried on with great heart by James and and Wayman, going to Attica which is a maximum security prison it looks like a Fairy Castle. But of course, the walls run 30 feet below ground, and nobody gets out and it was the scene of a terrible riot earlier. I can't remember the date. But many many prisoners inmates died during that that thing and it became a really a fortress prison. So very Castle, turn to fortress. And in this pandemic, our brothers and sisters behind bars have suffered in measurably. For a while, Wayman was giving was able to meet with inmates individually and now it's not possible anymore we haven't been able to return to to Attica, but we hope to soon. But in the light of that there is a commitment by our board to uproot racism and we have a group known as Uprooting Racism. And I just wanted to share the mission statement from that for all of us to bring it to into the light if you like. The mission of Uprooting Racism is to gain personal insight into racism in order to abandon it on an individual level. Let's remember that in our Dharma work, we are an individual we are part of the whole but it's an individual responsibility and effort to dismantle racism on an institutional level and uproot it in our Sangha so that we might minimize our separation from others.
And just before we get into Calvin The one thing I didn't want to miss was talking about about awareness. If you ask anybody, do you know what awareness is?
It just is. It's alert, calm, present. That's really what our practice is all about. Being aware. It is our fundamental mind. It's what we might use the word true nature. And it's found, of course, in art, in music and dance. There's an artist that I quite fond of name is Alex Katz. And he was one of the abstract artists but he came through representational art. And he was trying to communicate what it was that he felt was missing, and just painting, just reproducing. And so what he said was, eternity exists in minutes of absolute awareness. Eternity exists. And to communicate and to communicate the condition of this awareness, is what I'm searching for. Rumi poet, we're all found off live in the know where you come from, even though you have an address here. Then to get to the even deeper part of this, the emptiness of it. Wallace Stevens snowman, the listener who listens in the snow, and nothing himself beholds nothing that is not there. And the nothing that is it's beyond language. It's it's not mindfulness, either. Its vast openness, emptiness. And it's also an expression of our fundamental of the fundamental, which is love. And love is expressed in gratitude and gratitude is what service means. And what takes us away from awareness is thought. When we start out in practice, most of us are lost in thought, completely lost in thought, then, as we practice, become aware, that we're thinking, and gradually, gradually, we become to be able to live more and more in awareness when we use thought as we need to. But we're not always churning over the narratives and the stories that give give us life.
And the good news is that the suffering that we have, is what creates awareness. And living in awareness, in this true nature of hours. helps to eliminate suffering. So now I'm going to move to Calvin. I want to read the introduction, which is by Steven Rockefeller, who started out as a student of Roshi Kapleau and is now moved with Sanjana Roshi to the Vermont center, but he wrote the foreword for this book. In razor wire Dharma, Calvin Malone provides a convincing and moving account of his spiritual awakening, and how it transformed his way of living and relating to others. That his spiritual Odyssey takes place while he is serving an extended sentence in the Washington state prison system makes his story particularly compelling and significant. Raise a wire Dharma also provides a valuable introduction to the nature and purpose of Buddhist practice. And Calvin's commitment and courage will be a challenging inspiration to those who are already following the Buddhist path. Buddhism offers people practical wisdom, and provides them with a practice that promotes growth in many ways. It can change how people think and behave. It's not a magical cure all There are no shortcuts. Serious Buddhist practice is a demanding discipline that requires hard work, courage and perseverance. The rewards are inner freedom and peace and discovery of the joy that can be found in caring relationships, and in the contemplation of things like an apple or a pine tree. I think it's worth noting there that the fruit of practice really is joy. If there's no joy in life, then something is missing. Calvin Calvin's stories are an especially good introduction to Buddhism because they make clear that Buddhist spiritual practice involves much more than sitting meditation important as this is, in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. Meditation is preparation for going forth into the world. Responding to the suffering and needs of others with understanding and compassion is the deeper meaning of practice. I'd like to read that again. Responding to the suffering and needs of others with understanding and compassion is the deeper meaning of practice. At the heart of Buddhist teaching are two guiding principles, help others and if you cannot help others do not harm them. This is the bodhisattva path. And this is our path. The most important factor in Calvin's transformation is his own determined quest for freedom and wholeness. However, he sought guidance and support outside the prison system in the American Buddhist community. And he received it among those Buddhist teachers who responded with Sanjana Graf, and she assisted Calvinists he developed the manuscript for this book, Roshi Graf's teacher was Roshi Phillip Kapleau. He was among the small vanguard of Americans who went to Asia for extended Buddhist training in the 50s and 60s, and then ever introduced authentic Buddhist practice and the Bodhisattva ideal to Americans. Both Roshi Graf's work as a Zen teacher and Calvin's Buddhist life in prison grow from seeds planted by Roshi Kapleau. Somewhere there is a gentle smile on roaches face, and I can hear his harmonica playing. And then Sanjana laughs Roshi has a short, outrageous a short part of her prep, prep her preface to the book. Years ago, I was talking with my teacher Roshi, Philip Kaplow about making the sacrifice that might harm oneself, but would definitely help someone else. I asked him what he would do in such a situation. He had been practicing Zen Buddhism for over 40 years, and I was sure I knew the answer. Before he could say a word I blurted out, oh, you act immediately Roshi without thinking twice. He looked at me, then looked down without saying a word. A minute later, he replied softly, slowly. I'd like to think I would.
Buy by teachers humility has come back to me many times through the years never more so than when I read Calvin's stories. It takes courage and conviction to make choices that place the welfare of others before our own. Those of us practicing a spiritual discipline that emphasizes the Bodhisattva ideal of liberating all sentient beings. Hope our responses under duress will be compassionate and wise, selfless and loving. But we don't honestly know that they will be. Few of us ever find ourselves in the kind of situations that would test us in that way.
Now to Calvin, my father, the grandson of a former slave, was born into a large poor family in rural South Carolina. My mother was born in Munich to a family surrounded by comfort and culture. During World War Two, my mother's family was virtually wiped out, along with all of their possessions. My father had enlisted toward the end of the war, and it was during that time that my parents met and married. My brother Mark and I were born in Munich. While I received a lot of attention in post war Germany, my brother always seemed to lag behind. When our family arrived in America for the first time, it was difficult for our biracial, German speaking family to adjust To the social differences and racial attitudes of a country heralded as a land of opportunity and freedom. School was another world altogether. For me, it was a place to observe other children. The boys in my class never talked or played with me. And when ever I did say a rare word or two, the reaction was UNcontrolled laughter. His first language was actually German. So although his father only spoke English, their meals were kind of a kind of a riot of Mother translating to the kids what dad said, and so forth, and back on so, so this was a boy with a heavy accent and halting English, not to mention that he was also considered black. I was bad to make everyone happy. If I saw someone who looked sad, I would start talking with him. It always caused a reaction. At least they weren't sad anymore. Several children had nicknames and they gave me one too. And that's when I knew I was in. The children in my school were finally getting used to me, they would point at me and laugh. I'd wave back and smile, and that would make them laugh more. At home, my father asked me if I was getting along better. I assured him that all was absolutely perfect. And I was becoming popular, because the kids gave me a new nickname. My father, father asked me what my new name was as he took a bite of cake. I told him that the children called me nigger, which my father choked, and cake went everywhere. I told him that milk helps when eating cake. After high school, I joined the Army and went overseas. And towards the end of my tour, my brother joined the army to he was dismissed. His drug abuse had gotten so bad that even the army rife with drug and alcohol problems in its ranks, could not tolerate it anymore. I too, was having serious problems I had become addicted to drugs and alcohol while in the military. Although I managed to get an honorable discharge the chemical dependency of heroin addiction, and alcoholism. May my success is short live, and my anger explosive, it destroyed my life. I verbally and physically assaulted and abused all those who cared about me. I sought refuge in the feelings I had had as a child, and tried to grasp the illusion of perfection I remembered. Nothing helped. I felt myself becoming harder turning to stone, and in the process, I hurt many people and drove myself from the prison I created to the cinderblock and razor wire one I am now.
In prison, you do not stare at another prisoner unless you're looking for trouble. The eyeball someone is to loudly to eyeball someone is to loudly proclaim that you are a badass and challenging to dispute. It's an alpha male testosterone thing that runs rampant whenever a large number of men are contained in a small space with little to do not much to hope for and to not stare back when being stared at is tantamount to a show of submission. I was finishing lunch one day when I looked up and saw another prisoner staring in my direction from across several stable tables. I looked down on what was left of my food hoping that he was not looking at me. A few minutes later, I took another glance and yes, there he was looking at me. My battle instincts kicked in and without thought or hesitation. I stared back. The rest of the man at his table was skinheads and possibly members of the KKK. The next thing that struck me was his appearance. He was hunched over his food tray as if protecting it like a dog. His head was shaved and oddly shaped like a poorly inflated soccer ball that kicked around too much. When he talked his lower lip became pointed and reptilian. There was nothing nice about the way this man looked or about the way he was looking at me. Fortunately, he got up with his friends and left, glancing back in my direction frequently. I never encountered him again while in Walla Walla, but two years later after being transferred to the Airway Heights correction center, newly built for those like me who had lower custody levels I got a close up of the man when I visited the well stocked library for the first time. Harold worked at the checkout counter counter and looked even crazier and meaner than I remembered. He now sported a mohawk haircut that accentuated his lumpy head. When I went to checkout, check out some books. His eyes followed me like a lion looking at a wounded gazelle. I was nervous but tried to act nonchalant. As it turned later, I would get a job working in the library. Over the next year, I had to work closely with Harold. I was chagrined to find that my preconceptions about him were in fact or wrong. He was considerate and helpful, and under the rough exterior was a pleasant person to talk to, and we became good friends. He told me that for a long time, he had been a bitter mean violent and deeply troubled man. After his incarceration in the mid 80s, he escaped from prison. The officers who finally caught him thinking he was armed and dangerous shot him several times. He was severely wounded and almost died. And that's how he ended up the maximum security prison in Walla Walla. While Harold was in Walla Walla, he fell in with the Ariens and spent most of his time lifting weights. At Airway Heights, that kind of prison activity couldn't satisfy Harold, an out of the blue, he asked me about Buddhism. I invited him to attend our practice. And that was all it took. Harold dedicated himself to Buddhism, he did a lot of work to help build the Sangha, and brought in new members who might never have joined and becoming a Buddhist, Harold settled down to such a degree that none of his old friends recognized me him. A few years ago, Harold was transferred yet again. And He is credited with helping establish a Buddhist practice at his new location, and is a role model to all those lucky enough to meet him. Thanks to Harold, I don't attach as much importance to appearances on first encounters, as I used to think this is a really important point for all of us. We make a first impression, oh, oh, I don't Yeah, that person looks weird. I'm not I don't feel comfortable with that. And we stick to the story, we have a narrative about that person. And I think this comes back to awareness again, if you notice that you're having all these critical thoughts and things to just try to be open and look at a question these sometimes these beliefs we have about other people. Questioning is important in practice, but it's also important in looking at our beliefs it's important to say that a melt Calvin actually became a Buddhist by working in the prison chapel and
there is actually a nice Well, anyway, he, he, he becomes he is interviewed by the chaplain who only really hires Christians to be in the chapel in and so he's been questioned about his beliefs and what are you in the army and that was a good thing. You know, all the good things were good until it came to the last question was, are you a Christian? So Calvin looks down and he's actually a confirmed atheist. But he comes up with the thing of, well, I was baptized a Presbyterian. And the chaplain was thrilled with that. And so he became, he became an assistant in the chapel and he that's when he started writing to the Zen centers to get out to get books for the for the library. And that's how he came in touch with Sanjana Roshi. Imagine for a moment living in a 60 foot square room, put in that room, a steel table shelves and coat racks a steel bench bolted to the floor, bunk beds running the width of the room, and a TV stand against one wall and a ladder on the opposite wall. This leaves about 28 square feet of unobstructed floor space. Now add to this two people yourself in a cellmate. In prison jargon, a cellmate is called a Sally, on average a new Sally bringing with him a whole new person personality you have to adjust to arrives once every four months. A great Sally makes for an easy and relaxed time. A good Sally can be interesting but also sometimes challenging. Considering the size of a cell and the amount of time one spends in the company of a Sally. A bad Sally who either constantly steals from you smells bad, sleeps all day and is up all night making noise or breaks rules and brings attention from the authorities can seriously affect the quality of the time one does in prison. The really bad Sally is the nightmare of intimidation or violence, mental illness, or a combination of all the above. I have had 49 Sally's of every description. The really bad Sally's make me appreciate the really good ones. The opportunity to practice loving kindness with Sally is endless. But at the same time when you are kind it is considered a sign of weakness and you can't be taken advantage of. If you are fair and share not just the meager space but the possessions you acquire. Over time, you can end up losing Harned hard earned material items to look past the difficulty of living in such close proximity to a total stranger. You have to come to terms with your karma. Doing so with a sense of humor ensures that you will not end up being the type of person that no one can stand.
This environment of inactivity is fertile soil for the growth of fear, despair and anger. Nourish this with generous amounts of ignorance and the formation of hate groups is inevitable. Sometimes these are loose Federation's of casual friends who look down on those who are mentally ill physically unattractive, or who have committed crimes more shameful than their own. They are your common run of the mill hate mongers, then there are the religious fanatics who believe that their religion alone is the one and only acceptable religion in the world. These people go out of their way to prevent anyone they know from exploring faiths outside of their one truth faith. The most volatile in this group of bored discontent so the racists of every color and background, the most noticeable and most vocal of the skinheads, KKK Aryan Nations white supremacist types with shaved heads, tattoos and blustering personas they posture around the prison preventing harmony and making prison life more miserable than it needs to be. I was brushing my teeth one evening when two skinheads walked into the bathroom, ignoring me, they talked loudly about lifting weights. Smaller younger guy asked the older one if he could borrow a package of noodle soup. Budget cuts had more than half the amount of food we were getting here. And most relied on the purchase of commissary food items to supplement the meager meals. The older man said that he had barely enough soup to get by and could not spare any food. They talked briefly about the food they missed, and they gave each other a variation of the Brotherhood Shante handshake. The oldest skin had left while the hungry one was at the urinal as he was washing his hands. I told him I'd give him a package of soup. He stared at me for a second with disbelief and distrust in his eyes and asked why I was offering him food. Because you said you were hungry and I understand hunger. But but but you're black and I'm I interrupted him and said that the flavor of the soup would be the same. I would fill him just as well. Looking to make sure no one was listening, he accepted my offer. I went to my cell and got to soup some cheese and crackers and peanut butter and topped off the meal with a touch of tang to drink a real gourmet feast by prison standards. Enjoy I said as I gave it to him. A few days later, he sheepishly approached me in the day room when no one was there and thanked me. Then he asked me again why he was kind to someone like him. Why not? You? I said what's the difference between you and a best friend I have yet to meet. An hour later he came up to me again and said no, no, really? Why did you give me the food because you were hungry. As a Buddhist, it was an easy decision for me.
He introduced himself and asked me to explain what Buddhism was. I pause at the complicated question intuitively feeling that my answer could be important. Smiling, I told him to pretend that I had never tasted chocolate. I asked him to describe the taste to me. He concentrates Did for a minute. It tastes sweet and moves. Like whipped creamy sugar. I counted No, he said, Well, rich and nutty, sort of like coffee but different. I smiled at him like I was an idiot. Then it dawned on him that he was attempting the impossible. That's how it is with Buddhism. He said, You can't explain it, you can only practice it, taste it for yourself.
Not long ago, despite many years of practice, I unexpectedly became embroiled in a wave of hatred and anger. A group of people had it seemed going out of their way to make my life more difficult. And I began to entertain ideas of what I could do to them for retaliation. The more I played this out, the angrier I became, until I realized that I was consumed by this mental process and spiraling deeper into negativity. I folded my blankets and sat before my altar, focusing on my breathing. The act of doing this of moving away from the angry stories we tell ourselves in our minds, and just returning over and over to the practice of breathing can be called letting go. And it's extraordinarily powerful. Letting go is difficult, because our natural response is to cling to things. We've become so emotionally invested in them that even the thought of letting go is disturbing. Letting go is like cleaning out the garage, there's stuff there that you think you want to keep. But once you get rid of it, you forget you ever had it in the first place. And not only that, you feel a sense of relief and satisfaction. Even during meditation people bring concepts to the cushion about what should or should not be happening, if rarely, if ever turns out the way we expect. And attachment to our ideas, just causes dissatisfaction. Learning to flow with whatever presents itself without rigidly holding on to a set viewpoint or idea enables us to be open to others in an altogether different way.
I think that's a really important thing, you know, how many of us hold on to our beliefs without really ever questioning them, you know, I don't like this person, or I'm in this bad situation, and it's never going to change and I'm, we get stuck in this round and round and soul circular thoughts going round and round and round, we don't know how to, how to break them how to, you know, and that's when our practice can really allow us to do just that. Responding to conditions is really I guess it's because we it's really hard to accept impermanence, that things are changing, that nothing. Nothing is there that will exist, the we can hold on to. And there's a biological reason, actually, why we don't accept impermanence. It's actually natural selection. Because if you get your shot of dopamine, when you satisfy yourself if, if that satisfaction was absolutely permanent, you would never, you know, move on, you just stay in that moment of, of satisfaction. So we are actually primed to have our moments of satisfaction be very fleeting, it's just a short little shot of dopamine, and then it's gone. And that keeps us on the treadmill going to keep going on to the next thing. So impermanence is something we're kind of primed not to, not to pay much attention to. And not paying attention to it not being comfortable with it causes us to deny things and so rather than going with the flow Responding to conditions, we get stuck. I think stuckness is a huge part of the hindrances to practice actually.
Bodhidharma actually had something to say about this too, he said adapting to conditions. As, as humans were ruled by conditions, not by ourselves, all the suffering and joy we experienced depend on conditions. While success and failure depend on conditions, the true mind never waxes or wanes. Those who remain unmoved by the wind of joy, silently follow the path. That's bringing us back to this fundamental awareness, the true mind.
And actually, you could say that Buddha, the word Buddha in Sanskrit actually means aware, miraculously aware. And you could say that love is its essence.
Those who experienced deep awakening would say that out of the origin, the emptiness of the beginning as the eternal experience. There is this essence of love shining forth. And that's what operates in us if we are not tied up always in our thoughts, if we can stay in this aware mind, because actually, as Bodhidharma says, This miraculously where our mind is responding, perceiving, raising your eyebrows, blinking your eyes, moving your hands and feet, it's all miraculously aware nature. And this nature is the true mind. And the mind is the Buddha and the Buddha is the path and the path is seeing your nature is Zen. And it is sublime and can't be expressed in words. So what Calvin was doing was learning to be present with everything.
Letting Go, he says, helps us understand that misery comes in many forms much of itself manufacturing. I have a friend who is a genius at this at least twice a week in the communal bathroom. He asks my opinion about his appearance, he is seldom happy with the way he looks. We can relate to this. Either his goatee is crooked or his hair's too short or too long. And while I was brushing my teeth one morning, he came up, looked into the mirror next to me, and exclaimed how much he hated the way his hair curled a certain way. Exasperated, I asked if he would be happy if his hair was perfect, but if he had only one arm, he looked at me as if I was stupid, and said no, of course not. I looked into the mirror and smiled saying to his reflection that there were a lot of people without limbs who would love to have his hair problem. My friend punched me on the shoulder and laughingly said that I made him think all the time. The next day he asked me if I thought he had too many freckles. A Buddhist in prison can develop a solid practice only by changing his or her thinking and perspective. This is a really important one. One way to do this is to let go of personal feelings of hurt, betrayal, confusion, and fear and view each person as a potential teacher taking things personally is something we're all really really good at right? I mean, without questioning Oh, he meant he meant to hurt me or oh she Why did she say that? You know that's that's so unkind. I don't think that person likes me Oh, Roshi thinks that I'm stupid or Roshi thinks I don't try I mean go on and on and on we have all of these kinds of taking personal thoughts without even questioning them. I mean that, you know, we don't ever question them to see if they're true or not. And then this life of inquiry is really important we have to meet our thoughts with understanding. So it's not a bad thing to stick on the fridge don't take things personally. At least not with inquiry, inquiring whether they're real or not. He goes on the guards the hate mongers, the racists people you like people you don't people who don't like you all have something to offer, all have the ability to teach valuable lessons which can enhance your practice. I have seen that with their help. A prisoner can learn to cease dwelling in aversion, hatred, anger, and other harmful emotional habit patterns. He can gain deep insight and learn to have loving kindness for others and for himself, he can learn to let go.
Meditating in prison is challenging slamming gates loudspeakers throughout the day piercing screams random violence, cellmates and inquisitive guards are not conducive to finding a time and place for silent introspection. Although it might seem that only accomplished meditators could overcome these obstacles. The fact is that 1000s of people have learned how to meditate in prison throughout the world. In fact, it is precisely because of the difficulties and challenges that Buddhist practice and incarceration are an ideal combination, everyday distractions and temptations of fewer in prison. There is abundance of time available, the stress and pressure of prison can act as teachings and an impetus for change as well. But make no mistake, Buddhism requires diligent practice. People who achieve lofty aims in life do not attain them by sitting in front of a TV or playing card games all day. Likewise, people who wish to transform their lives need to make a dedicated effort to do so. We are conditioned in this society to expect an instant fix, while not bothering to contemplate that our flaws and manner of thinking took all our lives to develop and will take years of practice to change. When inmates attend Buddhist practice for the first time, they are alarmed at having to be quiet without being able to pinball from one activity to another. But those who return over and over again, are eventually transformed. They find what others say they want most of all, peace of mind and happiness.
So this just gives you a small taste of Calvin's life in prison and actually his transformation through practice, through meeting every obstacle as a teaching, not being stuck with conditions, having enormous faith and actually a life of service. So so let's talk about a life of service. What is that
Wayman and I were lucky enough actually to be given that opportunity. I, I was a physical therapist, which I fell into by mistake really, I didn't really want to be one at all. I preferred I wanted to be a teacher. But the way circumstances fell out, I became a PT. So I had this opportunity to the Vietnam War was raging at that time and the American Friends Service Committee had a program for providing artificial limbs and rehab to more injured civilians in central Vietnam, and so with great reluctance I have to say, you don't go to war with any joy. I think I went because I was a coward. In the end, I couldn't find a good reason to say why I wouldn't actually be winning. to go and work in a warzone. So, like many others, you make choices that are not necessarily virtuous, but just do them because you don't want to shame yourself. So, but working there in, in the rehab center, seeing, seeing the incredible suffering in that part of the country, mostly children, because children were sent out in the mornings to get firewood and they would trip trip grenade wires and end up losing limbs. And the courage and the beauty of the way people responded to their circumstances adapted. This is one of the great human things is our adaptability. This was a actually a place where they there was the meal I massacre occurred I had patients who had survived that although they never told me so. It's such an opportunity you you are it doesn't mean you have to go to war to do to do service if you're lucky enough that it comes your way you know, you take it there are people in this Sangha who have devoted themselves to service James Martha we don't even know half of the people and what that what they're doing. So, I just would like to say that the life of a bodhisattva a life worth living however, one finds it is in a life of, of service. Now somebody at our sound of living and dying raised a really good question What is the difference really between do Gooding and service in the in the Buddhist in the Buddhist thing? You know, what about what is that? Well, it's service without self reference, ref without self reference, really. And there are so many examples of this in in life, someone sent me some little snippets of acts of great kindness, and I'll read one of them. This is a woman writing. I saw the most incredible display of humanity on the skytrain. A six foot men suffering from drug abuse and mental health issues, was being very aggressive on the bus with erratic movements, cursing, shouting, etc. While everyone was scared, this 170 year old woman reached out her hand, tightly gripping his until he calmed down, sat down silently with eventual tears in his eyes. I spoke to the woman after this incident incident, and she simply said, I'm a mother, and he needed someone to touch and she started to cry. Don't fear or judge the stranger on the bus life does not provide equal welfare for all its residents.
And another example of you know, that's that's the true nature and operation, completely responding because that is, you know, like, what Bodhidharma would say beads on a tray, rolling with whatever is coming. And then another one of two twin, a pair of twins, one of whom was doing quite well, they were both in the intensive care unit, but one twin was doing quite well. Her brother was not doing quite so well. And they were afraid that he would not make it his heart was weak. And a nurse thinking outside the box, which is another good aspect of our practice to think outside the box, you know, and so this nurse decided to put the other twin in with the twin who was more more seriously ill and the little twin that was put in Put, put her arm around the other twin. Instinctively, I mean, nobody placed the arm there that just instinctively put his arm out. And the lady the other twin, picked up heart rate steadied, and they both survived. So You know this that's what and that awareness I mean that little baby had hijk It's original it's it's what we have what we come in with it's part of the whole from the very out of nowhere comes this great love this this instinctive caring and then the maybe the last one is the elephant. You know animals have this awareness you know? We know that we don't it's only been in the last maybe 15 years that the idea that element animals couldn't have feelings. It's been completely debunked. Of course animals have feelings. But there's this elephant walking through the savanna the elephants only enemy is the lion actually. So the elephants walking through meets this lion with his little cub, the cub is having a really hard time so obviously dehydrated can barely can barely walk. So the elephant picks up the curb holds him in his trunk and carries him to a nearby water and the lion walks beside him there's a photo of it and it's it's just so touching this responding out of this awareness this true nature this thing that we all have, it's not you know, we spend our lives you look for all awakening, okay, whoo, great awakening. No. Just being aware just don't uncover it. It's under so many opportunities for people who go into burning houses and we've seen so many examples people you know, another example was a mother sending out a plea for I don't know what it was that she she needed some organ or something and 5000 people lined up to have a DNA test but if we're not open to it if we're not Yeah, we're not just open seeing things as they are you know, that's I mean, sometimes it sounds harsh to say things as they are but looking at life as it is as as the reality that is there then we can respond to it
so I think that's you know, and even in in AA what is the 12 step? Well, I'm not in a and so I should not even speak of it but the 12 step is about service helping others helping another alcoholic you haven't you haven't even begun in your recovery unless you can do that
but with our identification so often with our thoughts and our stories and our we made life so complicated
so I have no idea what the time is, and I'm quite sure I have gone on long enough. So I think if anybody has a question or two, I'm happy to offer some answers and others who have something to offer could also do so.
Arrow just one thing about that, someone does ask the question, if you could repeat it and then answer
Okay. Okay. Online, okay. And maybe there are no questions.
Fear, fear you mentioned it's difficult to, to respond to someone if you're afraid and there was a man who had a little fear of in my neighborhood because he lived in a house with a lot of fear People who hung out and played loud music and everything at night. I was doing a community garden across the street. And he said, I spoke he owned the house fair. And he did he, although he didn't live there. And he said, What are you going to? I said, I'd really like to have folks get on board with his garden, should we just have that come over there and I'm on board with it, have them have them, have her guys come over and help you. And it just made me realize that I was judging him by his his bigness is by the people who lived out there and sometimes say hello with everything. But um fear is something that it only seems like a requires desire to, to behold to change. Just came up without fear.
For the sake of the Zoomers, James is recounting a story or not a story but an event around fear. He's doing a community garden. And he there's a neighbor who's presumably a big guy and lives in a house with a lot of noise and a kind of a, you know, scary kind of situation. And and it's how James responded to him. And very well, you did it. James, you just dropped your you just were there with him.
And he was there, and he was
there with you. And that's the thing, because, you know, we're not to this the whole Yeah,
we live in a time today though, when people are really crazy.
We live in? Yes,
it's difficult. It's difficult to get on the bus and give somebody your hand, because some people will chop it off.
And that's the whole point. It's not about I mean, heaven forbid that we would go out here say, Oh, I've got to do good. No, no, no, you it's living in your awareness will tell you the response will come or not. It might be very important not to respond to do nothing. Absolutely. It's a tall order, you know, only the I mean, people who are deeply enlightened like Byron, Katie, I mean, some guy comes up to her with a gun, she looks down the barrel, and she's okay with it. But that's because in her view, they're not to. And that's, you know, that's all practice is that. But a big part of this also is self compassion, too, because, you know, you can get into, oh, I should be helping everybody else. But what about the what about this being? This is part of, if this being is all screwed up and in pain and so forth? How can it resonate with the other so, so the work of self compassion, the work of loving yourself, we don't talk about love in Zen, but we really should, because it's on every knows what the word means. But it has different of course, flavors, but this very important to have self care in this practice, too. Especially in machine, you know, there's a lot of encouragement to, you know, make effort, which is a vital, but the self care the loving of yourself, because that's, that's, that is his true nature. Others can speak up I, you know, I'm, I'm on the appetites of life. Now. I'm 80 years old, and I've been lucky to, as I said, have a life of opportunity of service. But those were the teachers were all there. You know, those were the people. The woman who wanted to give me her child because she couldn't raise it In the rice paddies of thing, Wayman almost adopted a mountain yard kid, the Friends Service Committee wouldn't let him I think he probably would have done it, it'd be good. You know, so. So it's just there are opportunities that you have, and you're lucky if you if you get them. America is in, in a war zone right now. It's racism as ugly ugliness, but it's been exacerbated by by by the pandemic, but how we respond within this war is a test of our practice is a test of our of our faith. So, you know, Buck up, just just, you know, okay, piss and moan but but back up, and, you know, be joyful look at the tree. I mean, just don't. Yeah. So you'll be at the ebb tides before you know it. And some of us add very young. You know, who knows? People come down with people get serious illnesses, there are people, you know, Sangha young. So, this is why encouragement is relaxation, getting in touch with that thing that we know. Anybody else? Thank you, James, so much for sharing that. Yeah, Luca.
During the last session, I was really pleasantly surprised to notice that I have way fewer sort of self critical thoughts and feelings, not only around just general stuff, but also around gender. And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the relationship between shame and the stories we tell ourselves
well, I ain't no psychiatrist. shame and humiliation are really we're all afraid of them, you know. And the way we try to work with them is to produce a persona that hides it, you know, you lie to yourself, or you lie to other people, which is much more likely, you know, you, you make yourself to be a little more interesting or a little more skillful, or a little more something else, you know, under that often is to hide shame. So, I really don't have an answer, but I think to just be aware of when you're looking at what the shame really means, and then just feeling it and not. Not trying to avoid it. We have to acknowledge your feelings. I mean, that's something that is often misunderstood in Zen people don't accept, oh, I shouldn't be having any feelings. Of course you are what is awareness? It's it's a presence. It's not you know, it's not got words on it. There's no language. So I don't know Luca, I don't really have anything other than that to offer does anybody else Wayman?
No, we're gonna say something about awareness. Yeah. This is a great gift to have the ability to be aware. And to close off awareness is a huge mistake. But to accept awareness as our as our true nature, we then begin to be able to respond to every situation in ways that work for us and, and love others. And work for others. I think that awareness is where we want to be and sometimes it involves pain. And, but that's, that's what helps with growth, no pain, no growth
and I mean sesshin is an absolute fertile bed for self criticism and failure and that's why and that's because when there's what is hope to be encouragement can become a feeling of failure for people. And so that's when you just want to go back into the rootedness of before all of this before all this stuff, you know, the ground the ground of being and I mean, the movement, Luca of people coming out is that is the courage to, to not hide anymore you know that is that just that very act of being who you are, is is is I think it's painful but it's enough. Our son I need to stop going on and on. But our son is an actor and one of the most Mark Rylance is very well known British actor. He's very deep. He can just portray things so deeply, but he came and gave a talk at there at the Stella Adler school and Dave was a he was a student there. And David, that he said he'd take questions afterwards and Dave being kind of a you're not really a pushy guy. He thought oh, there's so many people want to talk to him. I shouldn't go up but then he just felt compelled because you know, this is a man have some kind of emptiness he he's not got an agenda. He just is there. And he just said Dave was having trouble on a set with people being critical and you know, shaming him and so forth. And Mark said, just remember he said you are enough so, we are enough. Okay, we'll stop now and recite the for us