“H” is for Heck!…. And Hell


“H” is for Heck!…. And Hell

“H” is for “Heck, but it’s been a long time sense I’ve posted anything!”

Wow! How time does fly!….And, I’m happy to say, perhaps as the saying goes, it’s ’cause I’ve been having FUN! Yeah for summer!  But, enough about me….

When thinking about “H” in context of Buddhism, “Hell” keeps coming up. Maybe ’cause “G” was for “God”….

Hell is one of the 6 realms in the Buddhist cosmology. They are often put in this descending order: Heaven, Titans, Human, Hungry Ghosts, Animal, and Hell.

Yes, Hell is last. It is the realm considered most full of suffering. Here are a few more general details:

Heaven: Where Gods and Devas live. In a realm filled with long life, so full of pleasure and ecstasy that there is no awareness of other’s suffering. And, therefore, do not have the ability for wisdom nor compassion.

Titan: Asura resides here. They are full of the opposite traits of the previous realm so are filled with hate, jealousy,  envy — leading to much anger. These qualities are so all-consuming that there is no room for even the thought of developing and/or accessing other qualities such as compassion or wisdom; nor to think of other people.

Human: Is consider the most auspicious because here there IS suffering and joy. Thought to be in just enough measure to be able for the possibility of a sense of balance of the two and, therefore, the time, room, space for the desire to cultivate and access compassion and wisdom; both for self and for other.

Hungry Ghost (Preta): Here, one is again, so consumed by wanting  that one is obsessed with only how to end such craving. A “hungry ghost” is depicted in many paintings to have a long, skinny neck and a bloated belly.

Animal: In this realm, the need for survival supersedes all other thoughts or aspirations.

Hell: Here, suffering and lamentation is all-consuming, leaving no room for other thoughts or aspirations.

The 6 Realms are not talked about much in the practices I’ve done. Mostly it is brought up as more of mental and emotional states that we can go thru…. often times, in just a few minutes.

For instance: You see someone in a crowd….. (a very, common, Human experience/Realm) You go into papancha, fantasizing about how great that person is; how she/he/they ask you out. it’s  wonderful and, after x-number of dates, the two of you fall in love (Heaven Realm)! …Many more fantasies of  glowing events in your coupled future — perhaps at street fairs through-out the summer; at your favorite ice cream shop or restaurant (at these places, you order all the latest foodie recommendations and before you know it, you leave the shop/restaurant with stomach ache or a hangover the next day! [Animal Realm]), or (back to those future plans!)… on the beach during a sunset or sunrise,.. etc.  etc. (Hungry Ghost Realm). Then, perhaps you wanted to go to the Jazz Festival but they wanted to go to Opera in the Park….or, at one of these events, you catch them checking out another person and, next thing you know, there’s a fight (Titan/Asura Realm). The fight escalates and then they are wanting to “date other people” or “let’s just be friends” …. So now you’re devastated! (Hell Realm)!!!

Oh, and did I mention?……..You’ve been sitting in the Buddha Hall, waiting for the speaker to finish his/her/their bows and do that thing-they-do with their many layers of robes………

“H” is also for Ha!

“G” is for God….and Happy Mother’s Day


“G” is for God

I have a cross-stitched embroidery hanging on the wall in my kitchen which says,


My adoptive mother was an embroiderer. She made this piece years ago and, when she died, I found it among her stuff and kept it. Obviously to remember her by.

Many years ago, when I was 16 and refused to go with her to the weekly Sunday school and service at our local Presbyterian church (over what I thought was hypocritical teachings around the famine in Ethiopia; a story for another post maybe), she’d shared that one of her biggest regret in life was that neither I nor my sister or brother “became Christians”. She was a devout Presbyterian; a Deacon even and taught Bible Study classes.

Soon after her death in 1995, I started to meditate. There was not even the thought of becoming a priest. That came when the Zen bug “bit” me when I went to Tassajara.

Maybe ‘cause it’s Mother’s Day this Sunday but seeing the embroidery again, hanging on my kitchen wall, I was reminded of that conversation. “Causing” regret to another is never a good feeling. Though, with all honesty, I never regretted not returning to the church. There were some years of angst about it but, all in all, it was mild and so the not-returning wasn’t so much active resistance but more of a lack of resonance.

I was at my mother’s side for the last week and minutes of her life. And for my father’s. It seems to me that my mother’s dying process was smoother because she had God and her faith to draw upon. It really seemed to comfort her.

And so, I’d like to think that if my mother was alive today she would be happy that I “had religion”/spirituality, no matter what version it is. I’d like to think that the sense of wonder and awe that comes with knowing there’s MORE than what one thinks and believes (be it about oneself, others, the world, or “the unknown”) and a real felt sense of connection we both have (hers to her God and mine to something-beyond-words/concepts) is something we would have resonance together.

I miss my mother. Here’s a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh which I think reflects Christian and Buddhist ideas which could be a basis for this shared resonance:

“The kingdom of God is available to you in the here and the now. But the question is whether you are available to the kingdom. Our practice is to make ourselves ready for the kingdom so that it can manifest in the here and the now. You don’t need to die in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. In fact, you have to be truly alive in order to do so.”

photo: “G” created by Netsui. Thank you! Go to “Netsui Arts” for her great works!  https://www.flickr.com/photos/netsui/

“F” is for Freedom

Freedom blurry

“F” is for Freedom

Yes, this picture of “Freedom” is blurry. It’s intentional as I think that Freedom should be blurry. It should be not quite clearly known; it should be vague and we should be just a little uncomfortable with it. Like this picture, it should be a little hard to look at.

Here’s what I’m thinking….

We United Statesians believe that it’s our right to be “free”. This “freedom” we think of is basically freedom TO*: freedom TO do whatever I want; go wherever I want; buy whatever I want; eat/drink whatever I want— essentially, freedom to have CHOICE. This IS what “the American Way” is about we think and believe, wouldn’t you agree?

In Buddhist, freedom FROM* is what’s more valued. Perhaps, you could even say what our practice is about. Very specifically: freedom from hate, greed, and delusion/ignorance. To be free from our clinging; our obsessiveness with these three poisons.

More and more, I think that mostly my practice is to become aware of HOW hate, greed and delusion are a constant force in my life. They’re like a divining rod that I carry in front of me….waving over and around everything and everyone I come into contact with….to evaluate whether I should get closer, turn away/run from, or be confused about.

It’s the noticing this force that is a major key in practice.

Otherwise, I’m waving my stick and evaluating from these forces to react to the world…. All the while, thinking I’m “making choices”— getting/gaining/living my “inalienable” right to choose!

How silly. How useless. And how tiring…. All this grasping and clinging at, running from, or being confused by it all is tiring!

STOPPING this force — or, probably more correctly/often being able to PAUSE in the MIDST of these forces — is the key. When we practice, we build capacity to be able to know, be in the midst of, and then to have the ability to let go — to not engage!— in this force.

“Freedom” to choose flavors of coffee, colors of skinny jeans, and what I do or don’t do is fun; even useful and necessary at times to function on a daily basis. However, when the coffee shop is out of Sumatra, the store doesn’t have the “latest” bright color I want in my jeans this week, or I “can’t” go out ‘cause it’s raining or because my child is sick, the ability to be “free” to choose how I respond is the key.

This is liberation/freedom.

Would you agree?

I think so….. At least for now. It’s an idea which I’m turning and being with these days. I don’t know for sure. Especially as I’m not isolated in this world. The impact of how I choose affects much.

Therefore, I’m willing to be ok that my view of “Freedom” is blurry; unclear. Since looking fully on to it can be disconcerting, perhaps it’s enough to just look at it out of the side of my eyes….


* This distinction between to/from is an idea I heard from Gil Fronsdal on a web talk several years ago. I don’t remember the specifics of what he said further on this topic. I do want to acknowledge how impactful hearing this distinction was for me. However, any ideas (or mistakes) expressed here are my own.

“E” is for Earth Day…..and Enlightenment. These are not separate


“E” is for Earth Day…..and Enlightenment

Happy Earth Day! I didn’t know the history of Earth Day until I gave a Dharma talk at the San Francisco LGBTQ Sangha* on this date last year. Did you know that the first Earth Day led to the establishment of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and then the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts? Check it out at  http://www.earthday.org/

“E” does also bring up the Buddhist word probably most searched: “Enlightenment

Dogen, the founder of Soto Zen, said,

“Enlightenment is intimacy with all things.” 

What is it to be “intimate” with all things? From his Self-receiving and Employing Samadi:

“Because earth, grass, trees, walls, tiles, and pebbles all engage in Buddha activity, those who receive the benefit of wind and water caused by them are inconceivably helped by the Buddha’s guidance, splendid and unthinkable, and awaken intimately to themselves.”

ALL things are “engaged in buddha activity” — alive in and of itself and alive in and of all. Those who understand this — know we’re connected — and then act from such knowledge awaken. We awaken — are enlightened — by knowing the living of our lives is not separate from our experiencing of it in each moment; nor are we separate from all of life. Intimacy is being in the midst of life fully.

From Buddhadasa Bhikkhu:

“The entire cosmos is a cooperative. The sun, the moon, and the stars live together as a cooperative. The same is true for humans and animals, trees, and the earth. When we realize that the world is a mutual, interdependent, cooperative enterprise… then we can build a noble environment. If our lives are not based on this truth, then we shall perish.”


* San Francisco LGBTQ Sangha: http://www.maxkelly.info/sangha.html

photo: “E” taken by Emma Lindsay. Thanks!


“D” is for Not-Knowing


“D,” * is for Not-Knowing

When I was in elementary school, we used to say, “Duh!!” when someone said something obvious; to mean, “Everyone knows that already!”

It isn’t just the saying which lingers; it’s the tone it came in….The one which activates shame; the shame of not-knowing already….And, in that, to mean, “You are STUPID because you don’t already know!”

When I was first adopted, I barely understood English and knew almost nothing about “American culture”. 1973 was before the term “multiculturalism” was part of mainstream thought or lexicon. Therefore, for my well-intended but unaware Caucasians parents, the understanding in adopting me was that I had to be “Americanized.” This meant my being thrown into Western culture was a privilege and, therefore, a wanted-outcome. Thus, any inability to adapt or conform to its rules, both implicitly and explicitly, was due to “not trying hard enough” or “pure willfulness”….Which needed being punished and forcefully removed.

Needless to say, many lessons in pain and, consequently, resulting suffering which came from not understanding what I had done wrong when I just wasn’t able ….With “wrong” and its accompanied punishments, a groove was carved for the correlation of not-knowing with stupidity and shame.

My version is inter-racial adoption. You will have your own. In any of them, it isn’t hard to see how not-knowing becomes a really scary and dis-easeful place to be. And,  consequently, how most of us then will do anything to get away from it — including variations such as denying its existence or ridiculing others when it seems like they don’t know (due, likely, to thinking that their not-knowing is somehow contagious and/or reflects onto oneself as also not-knowing.)

Then, we come into contact with Zen — where not-knowing is talked about a lot. I would go so far as to say it’s valued and cultivated. Perhaps we could even say the ability to be able to be with not-knowing is “a Zen state”? To be able to hold a question…..not necessarily for an answer (though there’s no need to reject one if it arises) but to be right there in the midst of not-knowing; which means to be comfortable in the uncertainty of not-knowing. When we can access and know this, then the deep silence inside of it all is where we can rest.

And where, possibly, the stories of our lives, having lost none of their historical importance, don’t weigh us down anymore.

May all beings be free from harm and the causes of harm.

* Yes, “D,” (with a comma). When I took the “B” and that HK quote for the earlier post, I saw the “D” with the comma and “Duh!!” was the correlation which arose; so yes, “D,” is intentional.


“C” is for Chinese Buddhists (aka “When Buddhism Came to America”)


“C” is for Chinese Buddhists in North America             (aka, “Beyond Entitled Mainstream Views”)

Recently I was at a Dharma talk and this is what I heard, more than once, “Buddhism came to America 49 (or 50-some) years ago.”

There are no “C’s” to “appropriation” but there are 2 “C’s” to ACCESS. Even when I was writing the HOME page I was asking myself what/when I would talk about how ACCESS is about speaking truths from outside of the mainstream? At the time it didn’t seem right for what I wanted to say. AND, I’m glad for this opportunity to talk about how ACCESS to Zen is about naming when instances of appropriation of Buddhism in North America (perhaps elsewhere but “North America” ["Bay Area" one could even say] is what I have experienced).

Oh, how easily it has been to forget/block-out/omit that many Asian Buddhist teachers did NOT come to “start” various Convert-Mainstream-Buddhist centers/organizations. MOST were brought by their ethnic (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, to name the ones I personally have some knowledge of) to lead these specific congregations. Mainstream, mostly Caucasian, practitioners came after, often at a loss to these ethnic communities as these teachers were drawn away by the needs of these later students.

From The Faces of Buddhism in America
Edited by Charles S. Prebish and Kenneth K. Tanaka, 1998
In the Chapter entitled “Chinese Buddhism in America, ” some details I’ve pulled out:

Buddhist monk landed on western coast of Mexico in 458 CE! Debated in European scholarly community since 1761, having to do with using the word for horse….Did they really come to “the New World” with the Spaniards? While the various texts on this are hazy, it IS recorded that the first ship of Chinese came to North America in 1849 because of the Gold Rush;  increasing to 63, 199 by 1870.

I will say that I’m disappointed ’cause then Prebish and Tanaka talk about maybe these immigrants did not have “truly Buddhist” communities because the places of worship they created did not last. My thought is that they were “Buddhist” in faith and culturally; which, when evaluated from outside their own communities, were often labeled as “not-really-Buddhist.”

Read for yourself in the book.

A main aim of this site is to bring MORE perspectives to the mainstream, entitled sense of what constitute “Buddhism in America.” Ignorance is another way Buddhism describes Delusion.

May we all be freed from our narrow thoughts and perspectives.  I invite you to show me when I’m stuck in such perspectives.

May ALL beings KNOW that their point of views, especially from outside the mainstream, IS seen and validated. May we not engage in stealing of history through our promotion of ignorance and entitled perspectives.

** Related video:Not taking what is not freely given” – a project for Buddhist Peace Fellowship.

photo: “C” created by Netsui. Go to “Netsui Arts” for her great works!


“B” is for Buddha

A traditional way, and I think very useful place, to begin practice is to take refuge; in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

“B” is for Buddha.

better B

BUDDHA:  Realization of Truth

  • Historically, there was an actual person: Gautama, a human being who did attain Awakening,  and, was able to show us all how to access our awakened qualities also.
  • Thich Nhat Hanh writes,

When we say, “I take refuge in the Buddha” we should also understand that “The Buddha takes refuge in me,” because without the second part the first part is not complete. The Buddha needs us for awakening, understanding, and love to be real things and not just concepts. They must be real things that have real effects on life. Whenever I say, “I take refuge in the Buddha,” I hear “Buddha takes refuge in me.”

To take refuge in Buddha is to know that we are whole, complete; filled completely; integral and full of integrity:

integrity    –noun

  1. adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.
  2. the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished
  3. a sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition

That’s what we’re looking for. A safe place in which we can feel accepted, WHOLE, entire, and undiminished

  • just the way we are
  • not divided into parts

We can look to, take refuge, in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha to help us feel safe. And, in feeling safe, to fully know our experience for what it is. To experience ourselves and our lives fully.

Do we really know we are? Do I really know who I am? Who am I? That’s the question.

HK quote

Pictures from this past Saturday, CC celebrated Buddha’s Birthday in Koshland Park:

“a” is for here

An “at” symbol for our first letter in the alphabet. In our contemporary world, it’s used to locate; especially a location in the digital world. Seems appropriate for the beginning of the launch of a webpage.

“At” means “Here”; right here; exactly here.

Dogen Zenji, the Japanese founder of Soto Zen, in his Genjo Koan(“The Actualization of Reality”) writes:

Here is the place; here the way unfolds.

We begin where we are….and it’s is right here in the midst of our lives. Nowhere else.  We may think of past or future but we physically are always here. It’s the literal or figurative acts of running from or turning away from what exactly is happening in each moment that causes us dukkha — dis-ease; suffering; dissatisfaction.

We can stop the running and the turning away. This is the first (and yet continual) step in practicing: to stop; to pause if a full stop isn’t possible yet. Stop/pause to investigate with curiosity and open interest in whatever is going on right here, right now.

“At” is to arrive. In the front entrance of my apartment I have a print of a Thich Nhat Hanh calligraphy which says:

I have arrived. I am home.

Welcome Home.    @ this very place, your/our/the way unfolds.


A talk related to this theme:

Welcome Home
SFZC Buddha Hall, Saturday, May 21, 2011