"Mindfulness Practice isn't just about escaping to some magical inner realm devoid of life's challenges. The Practice is about calming your mind and opening your heart enough to engage Life directly, to be more fully Present in a kind, clear, and helpful way."

Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call:
Musings on Life and Practice
by a Longtime Student of Meditation

Sunday, January 30, 2022

The Passing of Thich Nhat Hanh

As Plumvillage.Org completes their livestream schedule of events memorializing the life of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, I share a recent article by Norm Stockwell, the publisher of the Progressive Magazine.  Norm and I were co-conspirators on a number of projects in the past, and I feel honored that my old friend reached out to me as he wrote the article.     

With a deep bow of appreciation to Thay, to Norm, and to all those who devote their lives to the welfare of this planet and its many beings, here is the article:

 
The Passing of Thich Nhat Hanh

Late monk used engaged Buddhism to build a foundation for a peaceful world.

by

Saturday, January 22, 2022

To Everything There is a Season

 

“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child -- our own two eyes. 
All is a miracle.” 
 ― Thich Nhat Hanh

“Birth and death are a game of hide-and-seek.
So laugh with me, hold my hand,
let us say good-bye,
say good-bye, to meet again soon...”

― Thich Nhat Hanh
No Death. No Fear.
 



Dawn today at St Benedict's Cemetery
The announcement that Thich Nhat Hahn had died today at Tu Hieu Temple, the monastery that he entered as a novice monk at age 16, didn't surprise or sadden me. 
The venerable Zen Master, stricken by a massive stroke in 2014, had obviously chosen to return home to his beloved Vietnam to make this transition.   
 
Instead, when I read my friend's message, a full and deep in-breath emerged naturally.  My heart was filled with an expansive sense of gratitude.  Thay's teachings and his kind, clear, wise, and peaceful presence has graced my life -- and the lives of countless others.    
 
It continues to do so.
 
I was fortunate enough to cross paths with Thich Nhat Hahn twice during the 1980's. I first attended a five day retreat where I took the 14 Training Precepts of the Tien Hiep Order from this wise and gentle soul.  Then I attended a one day retreat at a Thai Buddhist Temple west of Chicago.  There, I sat in the front row, about ten feet from him, as he stood at a chalkboard and displayed the depth of his scholarship with a gentle brilliance.  Yet, I never had a personal conversation with him.  
 
I had asked about meeting him during the five day retreat. 
 
"He's not that kind of teacher, "Arnie Koestler, Thay's disciple and founder of Parallex Press, explained as we chatted during a stroll in the woods of the Catholic retreat center that hosted the retreat.
 
"What kind of a teacher is he then?" I wondered.

I may have been given a hint the next afternoon at the end of the lay ordination ceremony.  There, I was given a folded slip of paper announcing the dharma name that Thay had selected for me.  As a couple of hundred other retreatants there had done, I'd submitted a photograph with my application for membership in the Order.  I was told that Thich Nhat Hanh would meditate for a few moments on the photograph then assign me the "appropriate" dharma name.  
 
Although I can be somewhat skeptical about such things, I was blown away as I opened the slip of paper to read the name he had chosen for me.  At that point in my life, as well as being the Executive Director of the Center for Conflict Resolution, I was an on-again, off-again, folksinger/singer-songwriter.  There, inscribed in both Vietnamese and English was Thay's take on my path: True Heartsong.  When I returned home to Madison, Wisconsin, I took the instruments out of the closet and dusted them off. 
 
Then and Now

If you've been following this blog as I've meandered through the past ten years of Life and Practice, you may have noticed that the teachings and practices of the Lojong tradition of Tibetan Buddhism have often taken center stage in my life after I came across the teachings of Pema Chodron in 2006.  I cast a Lojong slogan each day.  I practice Tonglen often as I encounter the more troubling aspects of the human condition. 
 
During this past decade, I've also continued to integrate the experiences and practices I had in retreat and conversation with the venerable Joanna Macy, and with the late Stephan Levine years ago, as well as the experiences and conversations I've had with other teachers and students while I was in residence at Insight Meditation Society and Zen Mountain Monastery.  
 
Yet, sitting here right now, I realize that for weeks and weeks, the simple and clear mindfulness guidance that Thich Nhat Hanh offered in a 2010 Lion's Roar article that I re-read and shared with a friend in December has become my "go to" practice during each morning's meditation.  
 
It's felt like returning hOMe.
 
Distilling the Anapanasati Sutra to its essence, and adding instruction on walking meditation, Thay provided five basic practices in that article that have readily allowed me to bring my awareness to the sacred miracle of the present moment -- on and off the zafu -- each day.  Sitting here at this moment, breathing in and breathing out, hearing the crows stirring to greet the dawn emerging outside the window, feeling my fingers dance along this keyboard, the teachings that Thich Nhat Hanh presented in No Death. No Fear become self-evident.  There is no boundary between this moment and eternity, no barrier separating nothing and everything.  Who we truly are is nothing more, nothing less. than everything that has ever been, is, or could possibly be.  I know that in my heart.  
 
Death? What's to fear?
 
OMG!  You just can't make this stuff up.  Although Lion's Roar has published many articles over the years on Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings, I surfed over to their website just now to include a link to that particular article.  Guess what?  They've re-posted that very same article today with the announcement of his death.  Here's the link.  
 
Coincidence? Synchronicity? The Master playing hide and seek?
 
Maybe, Thich Nhat Hanh is that sort of teacher!
 
Perhaps, it's time to dust off the instruments again?

Monday, January 17, 2022

A Time to Break Silence

Yesterday, I spent much of the day in silence.  Today, in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I'd like to share a piece my identical twin Brother Lefty posted at Rambling On with Brother Lefty Smith, S.O.B.* If you haven't heard Dr King's "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence" -- delivered at Riverside Church, exactly one year to the day before his assassination, you can listen to it at the bottom of the page.

 
"When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, 
are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, 
extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered."
-- Dr. Martin King Jr.
Speech at Riverside Church, April 4, 1967


"It is my firm belief that Europe of today represents not the spirit of God or Christianity but the spirit of Satan.  
And Satan's successes are the greatest when he appears with the name of God on his lips.  
Europe today is only nominally Christian.  
In reality, it is worshiping Mammon."
-- Mahatma Gandhi, 
Young India, August 9, 1920.
 
The Truth, The Whole Truth, and....


For decades now, the corporate media has celebrated Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech -- and assiduously buried Dr. King's views on economic justice, materialism, and militarism.  Like Mahatma Gandhi, King's message was essentially Spiritual.  They each saw clearly that Mammon worship, the soul-sucking evil of materialism/consumerism, was alive and unwell, lurking in the belly of capitalism.

Throughout history, racism and economic exploitation have always walked hand in hand.  The prosperity of the capitalist English Empire and that of it's rebellious offspring, the USA, were built squarely on the horrors of genocide and slavery.  Sadly, although its current forms (cultural genocide, systemic poverty, and jailhouse slavery) are widely ignored or explained away, this continues today.

Like my identical twin brother, Lance, I usually tend to be more Buddhist than Christian in my lingo.  Yet, I just gotta say it out loud:  Capitalism is the work of the freakin' DEVIL!  I agree with Mahatma Gandhi. Capitalism the dark side of the force.  It is built on exploitation, and it fosters greed.  It is capitalism that drives climate change -- and it is taking aim on the survival of the planet.

The Bottom Line

Dr. King, like Gandhi, was a Holy Man.  He sought to alleviate the suffering created by a political and economic system that feeds on greed, hatred, and delusion.  Like many other prophets throughout history, both King and Gandhi threatened the ruling order  -- and were martyred. 

Although Dr. King focused on the evil of racism in his "I Have a Dream" speech that late summer day in Washington DC, his words were delivered to the throng that had assembled for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  This effort, which he had helped organize, challenged economic exploitation and suggested bold governmental action to alleviate poverty. The FBI claimed the event was inspired by Communists and lobbied to prevent it from happening.

King continued to march.  He continued to preach love and championed a non-violent response to a system that has always used violence.  Like Jesus of Nazareth, and a myriad other martyrs, Dr. King knew full well that he would most likely be killed for challenging the ruling order -- and he chose Love instead.

Dr. King's assassination, five years after the "I Have a Dream" speech, occurred when he traveled to Memphis to support striking Afro-American municipal sanitation workers as the leader of the National Poor People's campaign.  That campaign demanded an Economic Bill of Rights which included five planks:

1. "A meaningful job at a living wage"
2. "A secure and adequate income" for all those unable to find or do a job
3. "Access to land" for economic uses
4. "Access to capital" for poor people and minorities to promote their own businesses
5. The ability for ordinary people to "play a truly significant role" in the government


When's the last time you saw the Economic Bill of Rights highlighted in the corporate media coverage of Dr.  King's life? 

A Time to Break Silence

These are unsettling times.  There is no doubt that Trump's legion of misanthropes, materialists, and military men waiting in the wings to reclaim power.  Now, more than ever, it is a time to break silence.  Dr. King did so, dramatically, on April 4, 1967, at the Riverside Church in New York City.   

On that day, Dr. King proclaimed, "these too are our brothers," and came out against the US involvement in the Vietnam War with a passion and an eloquence that many believe caused his assassination exactly one year to the day later.

The corporate media today ignores this speech and remains silent.  I hope you don't.  Please listen and pass this along.  Then join some folks and speak out -- with love in your heart!

It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it!  

(More Rambling on with Brother Lefty )

Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break Silence