Melvin Christopher Horton

You asked me to bow.
I couldn’t.
You asked me to kneel.
I couldn’t figure out how.
And it’s not like I didn’t want to.
It’s just not in my nature.

I have the proper amount of respect for the process and the ritual.
And for you and for him.
It’s just a little problematic considering our history.
Our shared history.
And no, I can’t just “get over it.”

I can’t serve food to a random white person in public but I would love to be of service.
I can’t serve.
I can’t bring a white man food.
I’m sorry it doesn’t sit well with me.
I love you but…
Come get it yourself.

I grew up in the 60s and 70s.
I’ve worked many jobs in many cities.
I could never be a waiter.
I am the descendant of recent servants and it is not in my nature to serve food to white people.

Before me there was a long line of people who served and were never paid but beaten.
Never thanked but killed.
Some served by necessity.
Some by duty.
Some by choice.
Some at the tip of a whip or the point of a gun.

I am the one who has been beaten and humiliated by white police officers for years on the street because somehow in their minds I didn’t show them the proper amount of respect for someone of my station and my color.

I watched helplessly as a white man threw a red brick through the window of a tan car with three black children in it.

This hurled piece of brick hit the girl
sitting next to my mom in the back of the head turning that nice woman’s hair from black to red and I shut my five-year-old eyes and prayed to survive the night.

We were black.
The neighbors were not.
And that’s all that needed to be said.
When I was a child.

White men trained “white” dogs to hate people who looked like me.
When I was younger and dogs would bark when I walked by,
I had no idea if they were trained to do that or if it was just their nature.
And I loved dogs.
It made me cry.

My older brother has an irrational fear of man’s best friend.
He once tried to get out of the way of a police dog but bumped into the police man and was severely beaten because in that white man’s mind he hadn’t shown the proper amount of respect.

I remember when my brother told me the story after getting out of the
hospital, he looked me in my eyes, got real serious, and said, “They would’ve killed you.”

And he was right. Because even as they beat him he was still more afraid of the dog, and when they realized it, they began telling the dog to bite him until a grown ass black man cried and pissed his pants, and they laughed.

Everyone who knows me well knows this to be true: Had I been there, they would have had to kill me.

My brother feared “white” dogs even more than white men (with guns) because he grew up in an era where dogs were trained to kill people
who looked like him. Something that still
happens today and it still angers me to tears.

I wanted to apologize because at this present time I still cannot kneel and bow before a white man in a beautifully black or colored robe that has more than earned my legitimate respect.

It took me forever to learn to kneel before a statue of a white Jesus even though it didn’t matter what the skin color of the representation was… it was fucking Jesus.

I couldn’t, when asked to serve a white woman food in front of all the people who had gathered, even though she taught so brilliantly and I had not paid my tuition but I wanted to apologize for that. And I didn’t because I felt the shame. I lied and said I was sick and then I felt more shame for that and then all I felt was your anger.

I can’t explain it but I’m trying to.
It’s an overwhelming feeling inside.
My knees shake.
I can’t kneel.
My heart hurts,
so my back won’t bow.
I feel a discomfort like an anger
misplaced from long ago.
It’s not pride.
Don’t insult me by telling me it’s pride.
I am not proud of it.

I prostrate to the gods
I prostrate to the buddhas
I prostrate to my long dead teachers
I can kneel before small children and the elderly to tie their shoes for them.
And to my guardian angels I prostrate
And of course the very very sexy could have me on my knees in seconds.

But if you put an adult white person in front of me in public, even one who has more than earned my respect…

I cannot prostrate to them.
Not with people watching.
It doesn’t sit well in my stomach.
It doesn’t sit well in my head.
It doesn’t sit well with my ancestors
Considering our pains and our progress.
I cannot bow.
It’s not a part of my character.
It’s not in my nature.

And I know
It’s not their fault.
They did nothing wrong.
And still I find it difficult to kneel before them with the world watching.
And if you don’t understand why that is, then I don’t know what to tell you. (Prostrations of an Angry Black Man)

Daoxin

‘Let it be known: Buddha is the mind.  Outside of the mind there is no Buddha.  In short, this includes the following five things:

First: The ground of the mind is essentially one with the Buddha.

Second: The movement of the mind brings forth the treasure of the Dharma.  The mind moves yet is ever quiet; it becomes turbid and yet remains such as it is.

Third: The mind is awake and never ceasing; the awakened mind is always present; the Dharma of awakened mind is without specific form.

Fourth: The body is always empty and quiet; both within and without, it is one and the same; the body is  located in the Dharma world, yet is unfettered.

Fifth: Maintaining unity without going astray — dwelling at once in movement and rest, one can see the Buddha nature clearly and enter the gate of samadhi.’ (The Five Gates of Daoxin)

Nishiari Bokusan

‘The reason lotus flowers are not stained with mud is that they are free within mud. If they remove themselves from mud and go to a field, they will become dried out. But what would happen if the lotus flowers are stuck in the mud? Then they cannot give forth their fragrance. Now look! Being separate is not good. Being attached is not good. Not being separate and not being attached is called going beyond.’ (Dogen’s Genjo Koan – Three Commentaries)

I just picked up the keys to my new place, so there will be a couple of reposts in the next week or two.

Trust

‘“One could tell the story of human civilization as a story of how we learned to trust one another,” (Benjamin) Ho writes. “We learned first to share the spoils of a group hunt instead of hunting and eating (or not eating) alone.” He cites the British evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar, who noticed that natural community size for primates seemed directly related to brain size—the greater the relative size of the neocortex, the larger the tribe. For large-brained Homo sapiens, the predicted maximal group size, also called Dunbar’s number, was a hundred and fifty. (The number, Dunbar says, recurs in the estimated average sizes of the Bronze Age communities that built stone circles, of Anglo-Saxon villages listed in the Domesday Book, and of contemporary Facebook communities.) The concept has its critics, but the basic idea—that there are probably capacity constraints on the number of personal connections we can make with our fellow-humans—seems hard to dispute…

E. O. Wilson, the eminent biologist, once remarked that “the real problem of humanity is the following: we have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions, and god-like technology.” Digital technology has shredded the putative infallibility of once vaunted institutions: the holiest figures, the grandest politicians, the greatest newspapermen. “Whatever the headlines say, this isn’t the age of distrust—far from it,” (Rachel) Botsman writes. The ambit of trust has merely shifted. “Trust and influence now lie more with individuals than they do with institutions…”

In the end, though, trust isn’t a property that can be measured in the abstract, like some sort of social ether. It characterizes a relationship.’ (from the New Yorker)

As I got on the ferry on Tuedsay, the skies were spectacular. It was warm and humid, and I had started to wonder if it was going to be the one day that it rains in the summer – there always seems to be one. The clouds reminded me rather of the storms that rolled through last summer, whose lightning strikes wreaked fiery havoc in the forests. And then I thought, ‘Every day is a good day.’ I was reminded, in Baizhang’s memorable phrase, that we trust we can find something wonderful in any circumstance, even as other things might be terrible. 

When I read this article later the same day, I enjoyed the reminder of the Dunbar number, as that seemed to fit well with how I feel about sangha, especially as it coalesced around Zen Center. Then I thought, ‘I trust that everyone I meet has the potential to be Buddha, even if their current behaviour is not manifesting that.’

Annie Murphy Paul

‘The thing about the outdoors and the way that the human species evolved in the outdoors, all the information that we encounter, the sensory information that we encounter in nature, is processed really easily and effortlessly and efficiently by the brain. Our sensory faculties are kind of tuned to the kind of information and stimuli that we encounter in nature. And so this is, again, this is the scientific reason behind what everybody knows, which is that you feel more relaxed and more at ease when you take a walk outside and when you spend time in nature.

But what that has to do with attention is that that kind of diffuse attention that we’re able to spend in nature, where we’re not focusing very intently on anything but we’re just kind of allowing the gentle movements and the sort of soft contours of the things that we see outside just entertain our attention but in this very diffuse way, and the phrase psychologists use that I like is called soft fascination. It’s not a hard edged concentration. It’s a kind of soft fascination that you might experience when you’re looking at leaves rustling in the wind or watching waves on the ocean.

That state restores our attention. It kind of refills the tank in a sense. And so then we can return to our desk and we can return to that hard edged kind of concentration that we have to do to complete our studies or do our work. So I would say in your example that if you need to concentrate but you’re feeling frazzled, even a brief look out the window can have this kind of restorative effect. But ideally, a longer walk in nature would be good.’ (from the New York Times)

To which I can only add, the next roam is on Saturday!

Kobun Chino

‘Continuously I suggest that you have good posture, because posture is a sort of proof of the mind situation, a reflection of your invisible life which penetrates the body. Let your mind ride on good breathing, smooth, deep, even breathing, coming in and going out, which keeps you from slipping out of the present moment. As soon as you forget the breath, mind phenomena color your breath and all sorts of movies go on in that breath. Your body continuously reflects whatever is going on in those personal movies.’ (Embracing Mind)

This is a wonderful subtle observation of the sitting process.

Transitions

For many years, I have thought of September as more of a month of transition than January. From new school and college years, to starting the monastic winter at Tassajara, this turning of seasons has been more resonant. This year I am getting a head start. As the weather continues to fluctuate between San Francisco summer and other people’s idea of summer, changes are afoot.

At the end of the week I should be picking up the keys to my new place. I find myself thinking about it a lot, imagining how it will be to live there; all I have in terms of visuals is a shaky video I took walking around the space when I viewed it a couple of weeks ago. Some boxes have been packed, ready to transport over once we have access. I want to meaure everything to see what will fit where, though we have already off-loaded a few pieces of furniture and a box of old clothes. 

In the meantime we have been saying goodbye to our current neighbourhood, frequenting bars and restaurants that have mostly felt off-limits during the pandemic. There are a number of really lovely places to eat and drink within walking distance, and we have had a great time doing it. Once I move, I will have the Divisadero corridor and the Lower Haight, both of which I know a little, to explore. I will be glad to be in a quieter building (at least, fingers crossed for quieter neighbours than we have here), and to be closer to some green spaces.

Another shift to report is, with roams under way (and another one scheduled for Saturday), Zachary and I agreed it was time to try sitting in person again, so if you are local and able to get to the Embarcadero in the middle of the day, please come and join us for some open-air lunch-time meditation by the water. It may even be sunnny.

It was foggy down by Ocean Beach on Saturday when we went over for a social call.
And it was gorgeously sunny at Crane Cove on Sunday.
And at Alamo Square, we were just about at the fog line.

Yunju

‘Yunju once saw a monk silently reading a sutra in his room. He asked the monk through the window, “Reverend, what sutra are you reading?”

The monk said, “The Vimalakirti Sutra.

Yunju said, “I am not asking you about the Vimalakirti Sutra. What sutra are you reading?”

At this the monk entered realization.’ (quoted in Shobogenzo Kankin)

How much of reality is reading in any one moment?

Suzuki Roshi

‘Student: When does my life express the Dharma and when does it not?

Suzuki Roshi: When it does not? There is no time when it doesn’t. It always expresses the Dharma.

Student: But sometimes better than others?

Suzuki Roshi: Don’t think in that way. Always expressing. You are always expressing the buddha-nature. That is you who thinks you are expressing “better” or “not so good.”’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)