step into the fire – kalyanamitra & constructive social change

On 2011 March 12, nineteen Chaplaincy candidates in the Upaya Chaplaincy program received jukai as part of the two-year training.  Along with us, three other spiritual friends received the kai and another took novice priest ordination.  This last is significant for being a ceremony in which two women Zen masters ordained a woman.

I suppose all ceremonies are significant for being a moment in which the dharma is pulled further and further into the future.  It is a turning point in which past and future converge for constructive social change.  But how can we hold this delicate vision in an even more delicate and fleeting instant as it occurs?

As Frank and I sat in our favourite restaurant having brunch, he transmitted a powerful dharma from The Moral Imagination by John Paul Lederach.  Lederach explains Elise Boulding’s concept of a moment as being a “two-hundred-year-present.”  This is how it works: remember the hand of the oldest person you held (your grandmother, great-grandfather) and that of the newest member of your family.  Subtract the date of birth of the oldest person from the potential date of the passing of the youngest.  This is your 200-year present.  My “200-year present” spans from 1899 to 2080.  As Lederach writes, it is the moment “made up of the lives that touched (him) and of those (he) will touch.”

A spiritual community must also take this broad scope of time.  We cannot as spiritual friends hold to the narrowed vision of attraction and repulsion in each moment.  As each cohort of practitioners steps into the fire, this 200-year moment becomes the turning point from which our future is born.  As a practice that is based in a heart-to-heart, hand-to-hand connection we are touched by hands that have touched a lineage of teachers; and we, in turn, touch hands that will be touched as teachers.

We cannot be limited by the moment.  Our practice, to be effective in creating change, must encompass and be the compass of all that has gone before and all that is to come.  To ask for and receive the kai is a commitment to “such a view of time (which) must take place within what we touch and know but never be limited to a fleeting moment that passes us by.” (Lederach)

Thankyou for practising,


Come Together: a Bodhisattva call to action for the Gulf oil disaster


My dharma friend, Maia, at The Jizo Chronicles sent out a call for us to engage fully in helping with the various aspects of the disaster following the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  In her post today, she quotes one of the Upaya Chaplaincy candidates, Penny Alsop, whose words are too powerful to ignore:

Send your love. Take action anywhere that you can. Look at those pictures of oil covered animals and let it break your heart then take the next steps that make sense to you. Just please do not forget.

Look.  And let it break your heart.  Our practice as engaged Buddhists – and there is no other type – is to do just that (in the words of Joanna Macy): look, let it break our hearts, and then go forth with linked arms.  Maia listed many ways to help in her post.  Barry from Ox Herding also listed a number of sites that are involved in rescue and collecting donations.

On the news today, the predictions are that it will take another three months before interventions might stop the flow.  So much will be lost by then.  Please consider reaching out with anything you have, in any way you can.  It’s been a non-stop run of disasters and I know we are all feeling like we’re caught in an unending series of demands.  Yet I think finally we are allowing ourselves to be faced with real life.  Perhaps we are finally growing up and stepping up to the plate.

Let`s not squander this chance to fulfill our vow,


sitting buddha versus jizo

The view out onto the Upaya grounds reminds me of the divisions I create between stillness and activity: sitting Buddha and Jizo in counterpoint.

I want things to be easy.  Show up, laugh, eat, sit, become enlightened, manifest compassion.  Can someone out there write a little program that I can download into my brain as a memory capsule?  I’m sure this balance between contemplation and engagement really is as easy and it seems for everyone else.  Don’t you love those self-revelatory books that make it seem that way?  Compressed into a 100 or 200 pages are all the peak experiences of becoming Buddha.  Do you ever read behind the lines to confirm what you know really happened?  Having lived your own life as an enlightened being, you do know what it takes.  Which means you know the lines on the pages are wonderfully crafted to slide over the boulders and rubble (thank you, Helmut!) left from the earthquakes and aftershocks in your inner landscape.

Maybe I’m being a bit too cynical.  Some time ago, Barry (Ox Herding) and I had a fun exchange about Layman Pang’s whinge about how hard it was to sow the seeds of practice; Pang’s wife responded that it was easy, and their daughter cheekily retorted that it was all there on a blade of grass just for the having.  If I read it again, it seems to me the Layman is addressing the outer form of practice, his wife the inner form, and their daughter points to the 84,000 dharma doors that we can choose from.  Hard, easy, effortless – it’s our choice.

Dogen is uncompromising on the issue of true practice.  It’s easy to chop off arms and fingers, he says, in the way our ancestors chose to prove their commitment.  But harmonizing the body and harmonizing the mind are difficult.

Brilliance is not primary, understanding is not primary, conscious endeavor is not primary, introspection is not primary.  Without using any of these, harmonize body-and-mind and enter the buddha way.

Old man Shakyamuni said, “Avalokiteshvara turns the stream inward and disregards knowing objects.”

That is the meaning.  Separation between two aspects of activity and stillness simply does not arise.  This is harmonizing.

Dogen on Guidelines for Studying the Way from Moon in a Dewdrop edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi

I learned this chopping onions.  A calm mind and fully engaged body goes a long way to keeping the fingers whole.

Thank you for practicing,