Rev. angel Kyodo williams

‘I interpret the November 2016 election as a moment of reckoning that we’ve needed for a long time in this country, but we’ve put it off because that’s easier. Until humans are forced to look at something and reckon with it, we don’t. But it was our country’s entire history, built on a foundation of slavery, Native American genocide, and capitalist exploitation—which converts everything into a commodity for maximum commercialization—that ultimately gave us the November election results. We’re a people deeply divided on who, or what, we think this country is; and what we want it to be. Some people say this election gave a platform to hate, but I think there are deeper historical forces at work that we’ve never acknowledged—even those of us who think we’re better than “the haters.” From my perspective, the election made perfectly clear what has always been the case in this country: It was founded to favor—to make central—white, wealthy, heterosexual males.
That’s not surprising: white, heterosexual males were the founding fathers. They didn’t consider women their equals. They didn’t consider African-Americans or Native Americans full human beings. Yes, the history of the country also includes the effort to expand who the country is for—women, former slaves, and in just the last few years, the LGBTQ community. Progressives have called this progress, but there’s obviously a large segment of the population who think differently. You can’t “make America great again” unless you think there was something great about America in the past that has been lost through all these years of what some of us think of as progress.
“The reckoning” is how we come to terms with that fact. I don’t think it’s something we can do politically. It’s something that has to be done spiritually because it’s actually an identity crisis. Politics is concerned with expediency; with winning; with “winner take all.” To do that, we too often demonize our opponents—say those very same, white heterosexual males. We can’t keep doing that and expect to shift things. We have to recognize our underlying unity. We have to viscerally understand that we’re all in the same boat.’

There is a debate going on in the Buddhist blogosphere about whether we are supposed to be apolitical or not (if you are interested, I am sure you can find the posts). I came across this interview in The Moon with Rev. angel, and she takes a deeper stance that, once again, I find helpful and inspiring. There were several sections I could have pulled out to quote;  initially I had chosen a tamer section, but then I changed my mind. I encourage you to read the whole thing for her clear spiritual perspective on where we are, how we got here, and how we can move forward together.


‘Stopping the mind and contemplating quietude is pathological; it is not Ch’an. Sitting all the time constricts the body – how does it help towards truth?’ (The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch)

I remember reading this in my first winter at Tassajara, and feeling vindicated that I was not enjoying the amount of zazen I was sitting. Of course, it was because my body was being constricted! To be fair, as an active person since childhood, sitting still never came naturally to me, and it took that whole winter to gain the flexibility needed to sit as much as we were doing (six periods and three meals in a standard day). These days I read it a little differently: it is easy to set this against Dogen insisting that zazen is the only practice, but, with typical zen slipperiness, I would say that they are not mutually exclusive. And everyone agrees that it is not about stopping the mind.

What I think about when I am running

In a couple of my earliest posts, I alluded to the difficulties I have sometimes had crossing the Golden Gate Bridge when a sense of vertigo kicks in. This is rarer now, perhaps since the worst incident is already few years ago, and I am not crossing the bridge quite as often as I used to. I have come across the equivalent scenario in my runs about the city, though. Not from being on the highest points, or on the steepest slopes; rather It is a similar situation to being on the bridge: at the upper end of Market, where it turns into Portola, there is a stretch of viaduct. The road rises over a bowl of land, what I assume to be a watershed, on the slopes of Twin Peaks, and is at times three storeys above the houses on adjacent Grand View – which I assume was the old route through the area. To the east, wonderful views across the steep slopes into Noe Valley, over to Bernal Heights, downtown, Mission Bay, and across the water.
The first time I did this route, there was a typically strong westerly wind blowing over the saddle that Portola follows, and I felt very panicky with such a drop just the other side of the railing. If I had fixed ideas about things, I would not have taken that route again; instead, I have allowed myself to meet each time as it comes. I have tried it downhill, and there has been no problem. I tried it after dark and found the lack of visual distraction a help. On Monday I tried it on a beautiful clear and still afternoon, and had no problem.
I take that route because it leads to the head of Glen Canyon, which is a lovely long stretch of quiet unpaved running.
On the run in the dark, since it had been raining, I paid great attention to the possibility of slipping in the mud, and hitting my head on the various tree limbs that lie across the trail alongside the creek. On the return part of the run though, I forgot another zen lesson (one that I wrote about a few years ago, from a bike ride to Green Gulch): keep paying attention in each moment. I had decided to cut across Dolores Park, and barely a few yards in, I slipped on the wet grass in a way that I imagined looked like a cartoon banana skin incident, landing flat on my back with my head taking a whack, though luckily my backside took most of the weight of my landing, and I don’t seem to have suffered any cognitive impairment this time…

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The route I was on also takes me down Billy Goat Hill, which is turning into one of my favourite corners of the city.

Dzogchen Ponlop

‘Because we are making this journey to discover who and what we are, we have to start where we are. On the Buddhist path, starting where we are involves a certain degree of courage and fearlessness. It takes fearlessness to look in the mirror and see one’s own face. We might have to look in the mirror in the early morning when we first get up, before we have taken a shower; or we might have to look at ourselves after an accident. Nevertheless, we have to cut through any fear of looking at that reality. Whatever is reflected in the mirror, whatever is reflected in our experience, we can be courageous enough to explore that reality further, accept it, and start the journey from that very spot. In Buddhism, that is the beginning. We cut through all our conceptualizations, expectations, projections, and fantasies, such as, “Oh, if I were that person, I could do much better on the path.” This is not a healthy way to begin the journey. The main requirement is to be who we are and start where we are. That is the simplest way to begin our journey, and it is the most direct way to discover our mind and its nature.’ (Wild Awakening)

This is a book I picked up at a Zen Center book sale a year or two ago; I thought it would be helpful since I know very little about Tibetan Buddhism, and I am frequently asked how different styles compare. From the opening pages, much of what is written, especially about Mahamudra, resonates with my experience of practising in the zen style. There are, as I have thought before, more clear instructions about the path and its stages – and ultimately the letting go of stages – the lack of which can cause difficulties in our school. In the end, everything is pointing at the same thing.

Sawaki Roshi

‘There’s always something clotted in a human’s mind. To follow any “ism” is to be bigoted. If you are bigoted, you cannot see the buddha-dharma, no matter how closely you are facing it.
A thought is nothing but a made-up story. Buddha-dharma is everything before we make up stories.’  (The Zen Teaching of “Homeless” Kodo)

The word bigot probably gets much more traffic now than it did fifty or sixty years ago when Sawaki Roshi was speaking, but what he say is only more true – another great mic drop moment from an old teacher.

Chia Tao

Your heart knows
the way to Heng Mountain;
you are not afraid
few people go there.

Inside the boat,
you still hear birds and temple chimes;
at the river’s source,
you dry your monk’s robe in the sun.

You had a family,
but left it when young;
now there is no temple
that would not welcome you.

Managing to find
a shelter in the cold,
you do your usual zazen
as snow fills up your door.


‘For a pine by the blue mountain torrent, and for a crane in its cold nest, the nature of sadness is calm and peaceful, and its entire body is eminent. The deep valley stream embraces the bright moonlight; the broad mountains cherish the colorfully glowing clouds. Each single spot is distinct; the ten directions are clear and open. At this very time, do you understand this point or not?’ (Extensive Record, discourse 468)


‘Not a single one of you people at this meeting is unenlightened. Right now, you’re all sitting before me as Buddhas. Each of you received the Buddha-mind from your mothers when you were born, and nothing else. This inherited Buddha-mind is beyond any doubt unborn, with a marvelously bright illuminative wisdom. In the Unborn, all things are perfectly resolved. I can give you proof that they are. While you’re facing me listening to me speak like this, if a crow cawed, or a sparrow chirped, or some other sound occurred somewhere behind you, you would have no difficulty knowing it was a crow or a sparrow, or whatever, even without giving a thought to listening to it, because you were listening by means of the Unborn.’ (The Unborn)

This is yet another book I have taken down from my bookshelves to read on my commute. I am not sure I ever got very far into it before, to be honest, but I know people who are fans of Bankei, so I thought I would give it  a try. I am not completely convinced about his claims of proof yet, but I will keep working on it.

Roaming Zen

Considering how much rain has fallen on the city since the turn of the year, it seems optimistic to be planning this, but Sunday is supposed to be sunny, so there will be a roam.

We will meet at the Stow Lake Boathouse – right by the water – at 1:30 on Sunday 15th, to take in some of the lesser-known lakes and meadows of the western side of the park, to complement our trip around the eastern side before Christmas. Do come if you are nearby and free.

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Long shadows in Hellman Hollow – I was on my way back from the Ocean Beach roam that time.