Mar 26 2010



Teacher and Student in 1996

This is a picture of my teacher and I. It’s an interesting thing to think of myself as so intimately connected to one person. There is something healing and nurturing about my relationship with Haller Roshi, and yet it is just like all human interactions. We have had our share of falling outs and miscommunications, and difficulties, but instead of my usual responses to the ups and downs, Paul and I continue to sit with each other amidst it all. This has taught me much about the world according to me in regards to relationships.

IN 1995 when I started to practice, I didn’t want a teacher. I didn’t trust anyone to be sure, but it also was very clear that all I wanted was to understand and study the dharma, and you didn’t need “a teacher” to do that. Books, and sitting, occasional retreats, and lectures would be all the teacher I needed. I had been a bit burned by my religious history so I might have had a bit of a delusion going on at that time. The thing is, that I did follow that path for a long time. It was in 2003 that I met Paul and I slowly was able to recover. Eventually I started to allow myself to enter the sangha at San Francisco Zen Center, and that’s how I ended up here. Paul didn’t try to force the issue, he just kept inviting me to sit down and study what was going on. It’s really all he does now. It’s all he ever really does actually.

When my Step-father was dying, someone I thought of as my best friend hurt me deeply. Her treatment of my feelings at a time I was extremely vulnerable was damaging to say the least. What’s interesting is that I can sit here and say I have no resentment. I certainly am not inviting her into my life, but I don’t feel any animosity about it. I don’t feel thrown off my seat by it. I am not finding myself shutting down to love or relationships or friendships. This is growth for me.

The family I was born into isn’t particularly close. Partly because of my inability to be what they expected, and their not knowing how to relate to what they got in the person I call me, and partly because of my inability for a long time to just let them be who they were, and relate to that instead of what I wanted them to be. We spent a lot of years looking at each other from opposite sides of a vast divide. Sometimes it feels like that hasn’t changed much, except in reality it has changed enormously. My family gets to be who they are more than I ever imagined possible. I try very hard not to demand they conform to my idea about how they should be, although I have clear boundaries in regards to acceptable treatment of me. They get to be who they are, so when my mother de-friends me on Facebook, I don’t have to get upset (okay it hurt for a bit at first) but instead I get to realize my Mother and I have very different lives, and mine might be a bit upsetting to her. It can’t be easy being the Mother of a loud, opinionated, queer activist, Buddhist Monk. Especially if you are a quiet, conservative republican. She tries, and I try and for me, that makes all the difference. I can honestly say with a full heart I adore and respect my Mother beyond words, and think she is an amazing woman in so many ways. I am proud to say some of the best of who I am comes from her inspiration. I can also admit that wasn’t always the case for me. I wanted her to be something else, I demanded she shape herself into some vision I had of how a “mother” should be. As I am sure you can imagine, this didn’t work so well.

Relationships are difficult, but what I learn from all of them is to sit quietly amidst the bustling chaos that is their normal course. The ups and downs and all arounds that is the natural way when two people interact is normal, and it’s nothing I need to get so worked up over. For the longest time it “meant something”. The course of relationships and interactions gave me permission to write some kind of story, and this in turn verified some old tape in my head, which then got reified into “the world according to me”. What’s interesting is that “the world according to me” left me either the villain or the victim, and never anything else.

By sitting down, and watching this process hundreds of thousands of times, I still can’t always catch it before it starts, but the good news is that those moments, those stories don’t last nearly as long. I have lots of dear friends who help me find my way out of them, and help me see that each moment is just an experience, neither good nor bad, neither victim nor villain, and that there is no reason to allow all that mash to solidify into some kind of “self”.

Perhaps that’s the key. To sit there in it, and see what happens. To stop the story long enough to really examine what is going on here, and then to respond to the actual situation instead of my story about it.

Mar 19 2010

Random Ramble No.1


So I have been thinking about vow a lot lately. What is it to live in vow? What is it to live in a vow you are never going to accomplish?

I have started using one of the Dharma names Haller Roshi gave me when I first received the precepts from him. Daigan means great vow. Whats interesting is that when I asked if I could use my name he didn’t insist I use the second name which is the traditional form. It’s also interesting that he totally understood when I told him that I wanted to use my name because I wanted the support of always remembering that I live in vow. He sometimes asks me about my “great vow”.. Sometimes I can articulate what it feels like other times I can’t.

See that’s the thing. My vow is constantly changing. Sometimes it’s to live wide open. To be authentic, to be seen and available. Other times it’s to be totally present with each moment. To offer my whole self to this moment, no matter what. Sometimes the great vow is to just settle into the muddy water and not seek answers or to not try to end my confusion. It’s an amazing thing. I don’t think that my vow is some static thing that I keep trying to live up to. It’s elusive and transcends the bounds of the world according to me.

Today, I lectured in an intro class for my friend Jim. I talked about the Buddhist Philosophy of Mind. It’s an amazing thing to speak to a class about this stuff. I am never sure if I am “doing it right”. I mean I have notes which sort of lists the facts as they are known to me, but it’s the filling out of the facts that always scares me.

It also sort of cracks me up to be in this role of teacher. First because I haven’t been shuso (head student) and so I am not really considered a teacher in the strictest sense of this tradition. At the same time, I speak at so many dharma things, and teach regularly at school, and for some reason I actually believe I am good at it. I manage to get my ego out of the way for the time I need to, I can build a decent framework and allow the audience to co-create this talk with me. I think those are the things I look for in someone giving a lecture. I just never saw myself this way. I prefer life at the bedside. I like the intimacy of one on one interaction. Allowing my warm heart to meet your warm heart, and co-creating moments of intimacy together. So how is it that I stand in front of 75 students or so on a regular basis and manage to feel so rewarded by it?

Mar 15 2010

Great Read


Scott Lively demonstrates how to throw gasoline on an anti-gay brush fire.

Mar 14 2010

Social Constructs


As I continue to study the self, continue to look at the ways in which I try to reify the world into “things”, I am constantly surprised at how deeply ingrained my socialization is. My opinions about gender, race, identity, orientation, as well as many other ideas about our relationships to each other, are really simply social constructions that have been imparted, and I have picked up, sometimes without even being aware of it. So what are the implications of “giving up” these social constructs? Giving up my ideas about how things and people and myself, creating the world into a bunch of “things” that are mostly influenced by my ideas or conceptions about them. Rarely do I see things as they are without some kind of addition by me.

The real difficulty comes when I have been working on these things for awhile. The constructions get more subtle and less clear. My distinctions between you and me and my ideas about those distinctions are no longer so gross and glaring that I can’t help but notice them. I have to be more intentional in my vow to root out and uncover my reifications, my clinging to a world I have created, and now wish to be clear of.

The other side of this coin for me, the real point of contact for me, is not when I then have to acknowledge and admit my own shortcomings. Self criticism (actually pretty much any type of criticism really) is one of my strong suits. Nope, for me, I get hung up when I move from discovery of some lasting vestige of my ideas about the world according to me, to discarding or letting go of them, but then I have to turn around and let go of my idea about what comes next. What the result of this purification is or should be.

When I was first began to move towards a life of renunciation, of considering priesthood and what it meant to be a monk, I was first immediately hit upon by my ideas about what that meant. “A priest does X” I would say to myself, and I would talk to my teacher or a more senior practitioner, and they usually would say something like “Who says so”? “Why do you think that?” and I would see where I was clinging to some ideal which isn’t really what it means to be anything.

Last night I said something in passing to a friend, but it’s ringing in my ears this AM over and over again. “When do we ever see ourselves in a clear way? What makes you think you can be fair and just with yourself, when you haven’t been able to do it in the past?” And that’s the rub here. That’s the hook I currently am dangling from. What is it to truly and clearly see myself? What do I have to give up in order to live in the world as it is, not as I would have it be? What is it to clearly see how things are, and live in them?

Suzuki Roshi once said, “Our way is to accept what is, as it is, and help it to be it’s best.” After 15 years of practice, I am but a beginner in this effort.

Mar 10 2010

More on Racism


White people embarrass me – The Scavenger.

I will comment on this later.. but I wanted to save the article.. it’s a great read.