One of Those Moments: Another of Zen’s Small Intimations

I was at a retreat with my teacher John Tarrant, one of many held at St Dorothy’s Rest, a somewhat run down Episcopalian retreat facility in Camp Meeker, up in the redwoods of Sonoma county. We were in the interview room each sitting on pillows in the interview room, knee to knee.It was a period after I’d “clicked” with koans. And, I was responding to his questions, one after another. Like the old line “two arrows meeting in mid-air.” Then he paused, looked at me, and smiled wickedly. John le … [Read more...]

Holy, Holy, Holy: Recalling Ginsberg’s Howl

It was on this day in 1957 that US Customs seized a shipment of Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems.The title poem Howl was purportedly largely written at the Caffe Mediterranean in Berkeley. A coffee house of some importance to me, the Mediterranean. In my teen years it offered me my first latte. and later when I worked across the street at Moe's Books, it was a comfortable place for a break and a cuppa and some very interesting conversations.The poem took shape over several years. … [Read more...]

A Zen Priest Watches as Kali Swallows the World

Until I’d discovered Ramakrishna through the writings of Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood and their associates, my idea of what gods looked like was informed by my conservative Baptist upbringing modified by my father’s bare and no doubt reductionist atheism. Anyway, Ramakrishna prayed constantly for a vision of his goddess, Kali, the Divine Mother. He wanted to know her as she was, desperately. I personally understood this prayer. It was my own longing from some aching place in the pit of … [Read more...]

Zen Teacher David Loy Points to the Intimate Universe

The Universe is not a place where evolution happens, it is the evolution. It is not a stage on which dramas unfold, it is the unfolding drama itself. Loyal Rue, in Everybody's StoryIf the universe is not something that is evolving but is the evolutionary process itself, then another word to describe that development, in all its cosmological, biological, and cultural aspects, is creativity. Are the cosmic formation of galaxies, the biological ramification of spectating life forms, and the … [Read more...]

San Francisco Buddhism: Passing Memories of Convert Buddhists From Before the 1960s

It was 1969. I threw my lot in with the English Zen priest Houn Jiyu Kennett, who'd just arrived in the San Francisco Bay area and after a brief stay at the Zen Center in San Francisco opened a small "temple" in a flat on Potrero Hill.That was when I first became aware of an earlier generation of convert Buddhists. There is almost nothing written about these people, and I think its a shame they seem to be passing from memory. Their credentials were often confusing, some coming out of brief … [Read more...]

In This Moment: A Passing Thought on the Necessary Contours of Modernist Buddhisms

The Christian theologian Karl Barth said that one needs to preach holding the Bible in one hand, and a newspaper in the other. That reminds me of a recent flurry of thoughts and comments on various contemporary Buddhisms in the West, increasingly called Buddhist modernism.The knock on this contemporary and mostly, although certainly not exclusively Western Buddhism, what was at one time called a Protestant Buddhism, is that it claims to offer a stripped down and spare form of the Dharma, … [Read more...]

The Zen of You & Me: A Review

I've just finished reading Diane Musho Hamilton's The Zen of You & Me.The subtitle is "a Guide to Getting Along with Just About Anyone." Me, I'm not really a fan of self-help literature. So, not exactly a book I'd naturally be attracted to. However, I am glad I read it.This book offers a simple straight forward analysis of how we exist in this world and offers an invitation into how we can reorient and actually live in the world. It is not precisely a Zen book. But, there's no way in … [Read more...]

A SMALL MEDITATION ON SPIRITUALITY AFTER RELIGIONS Or, Mark Twain’s Large Dream

A MEDITATION ON SPIRITUALITY AFTER RELIGIONS Or, Mark Twain’s Large Dream19 March 2017James Ishmael FordUnitarian Universalist Church Long Beach, CaliforniaI love Mark Twain. I just love Mark Twain. In fact Jan and I have made Mark Twain pilgrimages twice in our lives. The first time was a tad more than twenty years ago when we lived in Wisconsin, and I served a suburban Milwaukee congregation. During the summer hiatus in our regular services, we took US 90 to La Crosse, and t … [Read more...]

And the Irish Became White: A Small Meditation for St Patrick’s Day

Despite having been here from before the beginning of the Republic, with the great waves of immigration in the nineteenth century the story of the Irish in America is also very much an immigrant’s story, with all the beauty and sadness that comes with being immigrants. I believe there are few who would be reading this who are unaware of the broad outlines. Prejudice against the Irish as immigrants raged in the middle of the nineteenth century, and actually continued in various ways right to the m … [Read more...]

What Rough Beast? A Small Meditation on Book Smugglers

Jurgis Bielinis was born on this day, the 16th of March, 1846, in Purviskiai, Lithuania.During the long Russian occupation of Lithuania, books written in Latin-Alphabet Lithuanian were banned. It was a part of Russia's assimilation program, which necessitated the destruction of historic Lithuanian culture, or at least the extreme attenuation of it. And, of course, at the heart of such things books must be banned. And so they were.These were heady and lethal dangerous years. In the face … [Read more...]