The Teachings Are Infinite…

I vow to learn them all.
–from Bodhisattva Vows

“You Are That Person”

A student asked Soen Nakagawa
During a meditation retreat:

“I am very discouraged. What should I do?”
Soen replied, “Encourage others.”

At the beginning of this year, I read Kazuaki Tanahashi’s autobiography, Painting Peace: Art in a Time of Global Crisis. He dedicated it to his dharma sister Mayumi Oda. Recently, I’ve read her books, and the experience reminded me of first becoming acquainted with her in the late 1980s and early 90s. Parallax Press out of Berkeley had begun publishing works by Thich Nhat Hanh such as Being Peace, Touching Peace, and Interbeing; Mayumi contributed her drawings to these now classic books.

Given the tsuris [Yiddish, translated by Allen Ginsberg as “serious difficulty”] in recent weeks, I returned to Nhat Hanh’s Being Peace in search of a passage I read decades ago. It’s from a talk he gave to peace activists and meditators, and while the issues and references of the mid-80s may seem distant to us, I hope his words speak to the heart….

“Many of us worry about the world situation. We don’t know when the bombs will explode. We feel that we are on the edge of time. As individuals, we feel helpless, despairing. The situation is so dangerous, injustice is so widespread, the danger is so close. In this kind of situation, if we panic, things will only become worse. We need to remain calm, to see clearly. Meditation is to be aware, and to try to help.

“I like to use the example of a small boat crossing the Gulf of Siam. In Vietnam, there are many people, called boat people, who leave the country in small boats. Often the boats are caught in rough seas or storms, the people may panic, and boats can sink. But if even one person aboard can remain calm, lucid, knowing what to do and what not to do, he or she can help the boat survive. His or her expression–face, voice–communicates clarity and calmness, and people have trust in that person. They will listen to what he or she says. One such person can save the lives of many.

“Our world is something like a small boat. Compared with the cosmos, our planet is a very small boat. We are about to panic because our situation is no better than the situation of the small boat in the sea. You know that we have more than 5o,ooo nuclear weapons. Humankind has become a very dangerous species. We need people who can sit still and be able to smile, who can walk peacefully. We need people like that in order to save us. Mahayana Buddhism says that you are that person, that each of you is that person.”


Shunryu Suzuki Roshi was the first person I ever met for whom I felt immediate and total trust. It was something which I had never expected to experience. Every sense, every brain cell and nerve fiber in me suddenly woke up. I felt alert, and watchful, and euphoric, all at once. … It was that he was so simple and utterly there, standing in that dim room, looking at us. There was a nakedness about it. No cover-up, no attitude at all. His gaze was flat, and extraordinarily deep. I felt he saw into and through me, and in spite of, or perhaps because of that seeing, he was totally kind.
—Diane diPrima

One Thought Away

In his book Paths to God:
Living the Bhagavad Gita

Ram Dass writes
“It’s always just one thought away

The living spirit
The community of our consciousness

The guru within—
Whatever you want to call it

Is always just one thought away—
One thought!”

Gadgetry distractions abound
Joy in the present moment is just one thought away

Anger about to explode in the parking lot
Equanimity is just one thought away

Tempted to beat up on yourself
“You’re a Genius all the Time” is just one thought away

Tallying up someone else’s character defects
Loving-kindness is just one thought away

Negative habit energy comes knocking at the door
Conscious breathing is just one thought away

Tempest-tossed on the ocean of Samsara
“Gaté, gaté, paragaté, parasamgaté, Bodhi svaha!” is just one thought away

A cloudy drowsy day for zoning out
Sri Anandamayi Ma is just one thought away

Gathas Written at Northwest Coffee


Breathing in, all this toxicity
Breathing out, compassion is available


Breathing in, noticing this state of being stunned
Breathing out, realizing this state is impermanent


Breathing in my friends’ despair
Breathing out: May their vigor return


Surely he had been been tested in hell
The Tibetan offered a song with these lines:

Lack of mindfulness will allow the negative forces to overcome you
Without mindfulness and presence of mind, nothing can be accomplished


Breathing in, I remember Nhat Chi Mai
Breathing out, I regain my balance

Going and Returning
Receiving and Giving

for Linsey Dieckmeyer

Richard Alpert went to India.
He entered a whole other world.
Grace came knocking at the door,
And was looking for Richard.
Neem Karoli Baba met him face to face.
He was welcomed by a community
Devoted to sadhana.
He was given the key:
Love means be here now,
In calm and in storm.
He returned to America to share the wealth.
How does Ram Dass smile like that?

Mev Puleo went to Brazil.
She entered a whole other world.
Heartache came knocking at the door,
And was looking for Mev.
Maria Goreth and Toinha met Mev face to face.
She was welcomed by a community
Committed to struggle.
She was given a key:
Love means solidarity,
In weakness and in strength.
She returned to America to share the wealth.
How did Mev Puleo smile like that?

You went to South Grand.
You entered a whole other world.
Truth came knocking at the door,
and was looking for you.
Januka, her children, and their Nepalese family met you face to face.
You’ve been welcomed by a community
Intent on survival.
You’ve been given a key:
Love means accompaniment,
At sunrise and at sunset.
You return to SLU to share the wealth.
May more of us smile like you….

This page is part of my book, Dear Love of Comrades, which you can read here.

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