Happy Year of the Horse!Old Bob, my neighbour says, "May this year bring you horse-fly blankets to cover, a pasture to stretch your legs, abundant feed and water, and opportunities to help the other guys. It could be a good year! Blessings and good fortune."
If you reflect on American men in public lifewhom you admire, from the entertainment world, to politics, to business, and sports, who can you say you truly admire for their character? For their integrity? For their outspoken courage in the face of danger to life and freedom? How many names appear on your list? How many men would you say have lived a life that you would happily emulate, and by imitating them, that you could move the world ahead towards goodness?
First on my list would be the late musician and American humanitarian Pete Seeger. I have never known a time in my life when I wasn’t touched by his moral example. From my early teens when I picked up a guitar I was encouraged and empowered to sing by his music. The first guitar song I learned was one of his: “If I Had A Hammer.” Like most people in the Civil Rights movement I went on to sing “We Shall Overcome,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” and“Turn, Turn, Turn.” Pete’s songs were singable by ordinary folks, and by singing them, our humanity was enhanced, and deepened. His songs showed us a gentle strength, that suffered under but did not retreat from the evils of wrong views. Wounded by but not made bitter by Right-wing paranoia Pete became a champion of the planet. Instead of more fame, he committed himself to water quality; instead of cashing in for money, he cared instead about a river.
He wrote good songs and taught us to sing them, songs about kindness, about inclusion, and more of the stuff in life that people really cared about: fairness, honesty, justice and singing great songs. He performed funny songs about conquoring giants by dancing; he whistled, he taught the world to play the banjo. He has always been there, a steady anchor in the storm of confusion and greed, telling us to sing along, everybody, and making us feel better when we did.
Now he has gone on, and so long Pete, it’s been good to know you, and thank you for letting me have a hero whom I could admire without reservation, whom I could always count on to sing me the truth. You showed me the kind heart of an America that I can be proud of; your America is a country I want to live in, a land worth sacrificing for, a land made for you and me and them and everybody, singing out together, our lives made infinitely better by the songs.
Seeing the joy on Pete's face at the Obama inauguration, as he, Bruce Springsteen, Pete's grandson Tao (playing Pete's 12-string guitar) and a chorus of fifty young people stand in front of Abraham Lincoln's statue to lead the crowd in "This Land is Your Land," is to see a man standing tall on his true roots, a musical American Bodhisattva, demonstrating a life well lived.
Why meditate?When you sit still and watch your thoughts rise and fall, without commenting, without criticizing or editing, gradually your mind, which before was a no-fly zone, becomes your inner neighborhood, a place you like to visit, a clean, well-lit garden, free of fear and tension.
Every morning at Berkeley Monastery and the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas we bow to our lineage of ancestors, to keep their memory fresh in our minds. At the start of the list we bow three times to our teacher's teacher, the late Chan Master Empty Cloud, of True Suchness Monastery. True Suchness Monastery, on Cloud Dwelling Mountain, in Jiangxi Province in China, is a thriving community of meditating monks who keep a 1200 year old meditation tradition alive, who also farm the soil, grow their own tea, eat vegetarian food and live amid a misty landscape that seems to have been lifted from a thousand-year old Chinese landscape painting. Ted Burger's new film, "One Mind" shows the daily life of the monks of True Suchness Monastery in exquisite moving images and sounds. Ted, an indie film-maker who lives in China, took his camera into the monastery, gained the trust of the monks as he meditated and worked with them and with this film has opened a window to the rarified space of the mountain-top. His previous film, "Amongst White Clouds," introduced the world to the hermits of Zhongnan Mountain, where individual Buddhist monks and nuns carry on solitary practice of meditation and reflection as it has been done for centuries. “One Mind” shows us how the Sangha community of monks lives together while sustaining their practices, combining work, meditation, devotion and service into a living spiritual path.
He sat on a broad wicker chair with a curtain of light behind him, looking for all the world like a benevolent, beloved king. The chair was not special, it was his regal bearing that transformed his presence. In fact his father had been king of a tribe; the bloodlines were evident that evening.
There were religious leaders on stage from 300 faiths and sects; Madiba's broad smile and generous dignity brought us all into his light. I felt elevated by his words and ennobled by his spirit and vision.
Like the Obama family pictured above, we religious delegates visited Nelson Mandela's small cell on Robben Island and had been blinded by the sunlight glaring from the rock pit where he chipped away at his 27-year captivity.That he emerged from that soul-breaking prison at age 71 and forgave his captors reminds one that the Bodhisattva-spirit can arise from the darkest of despair.
The inspirational choirs that greeted him on stage and sang his praises sent shivers and tears at the same time.
Thanksgiving is fast approaching! As we gather with family and friends for the holidays, we expect joy and blessings, but sometimes it's hard to avoid friction. The troubles often arise from trivial, but real issues, such as challenging travel conditions over great distances, no space left in the oven to warm up that last dish, and many personalities gathered at the table trying to find safe topics of conversation. How do we skillfully navigate these moments,and how do we resolve them without lingering bad feelings?
Let's talk about how to find "the Dharma in the drama," over the holidays and into the next year.
I'm in Los Angeles for the VegSource.com Healthy Lifestyle Expo and this marks the 10th year of my participation. I gave my first presentation on Buddhist approaches to plant-based nutrition in 1993! My talk tomorrow (9:15 AM at the Warner Center Marriot Hotel in Woodland Hills) is titled, "Deepening Our Connections to All." Hope to see you there! If you can't make it, Jeff and Sabrina Nelson film the events each year and produce outstanding DVDs of all the talks given by the doctors, researchers, nutritionists, athletes and Buddhist monks who attend. Available here!
Truthout.org has a scary article called, "It's Going to Be a Scorcher ... of a Century" that is so worth your while reading. It talks about when climate change will "lock-in" by 2047, and the hottest weather will be the new standard. If I were a couple planning for a family, I would face a major quandry. Kids born this year will be 34 that year. Their kids will be adolescents and they will have to face savage storms, deadly droughts and rising seas. Singapore will reach its temperature "point of no return" in 2028, says the article. The article says,
"Of course, this doesn’t have to happen. The scientists who worked on the Naturestudy estimated that if we cut our CO2 emissions by just a little bit, we can put off that 2047 zero hour by 22 years to 2069. That’s still only 56 years away, but it is a sign that we might be able to avoid permanent damage to the planet if we push for renewable energy right now. If that’s the case, we can avoid passing the climate threshold."