Thursday, October 4, 2018


Emmy winner Merritt Weaver in a still from "Godless"

Let me start by reassuring you that this post isn't about religion, or the lack of it in modern times.  I recently watched and deeply enjoyed the limited streaming series "Godless" on Netflix, set in the late 19th century in the American west, written and directed by Scott Frank.  And I want to warn you,  if this review leads you to watch the program, please make sure you have the stomach for viewing hundreds of extras (humans and horses) posing as blood-covered corpses, in not one, but three major massacres and a number of smaller ones thrown in.  Personally, I have an odd capacity to handle seeing violence in a work of fiction, where I know everyone is an actor and there are cameras and lots of film crew members just out of range, much better than I can watch the television news, or even football.  Luckily, I can still tell the difference between real and imagined carnage, but I expect to lose this talent any day now, as my exposure to real (filmed) violence in the actual world increases.

Two of the actors in the series, Jeff Daniels and Merritt Wever, rightly won Emmy awards for their portrayals of a ruthless killer/preacher and a fearless trouser-wearing and gun-toting widow, respectively.  A second trouser-wearing, gun-toting widow, brilliantly played by Michelle Dockery, best known for her role as Lady Mary in "Downton Abbey," was nominated but sadly didn't win.  Daniels, the comic star of movies like "Dumb and Dumber," with his rubbery face smiling broadly,  spouting cock-eyed religious philosophy, and his eyes completely dead, is beautifully cast against type as the worst kind of sociopath.  He is the character who speaks the lines about the world being godless, as he indiscriminately slaughters the vast majority of the people he encounters.  Wever and Dockery join forces against him, along with a whole crew of colorful characters, many of them women, people of color (former slaves and Indians), and poor white folks.  And (spoiler alert) even though the story is terrifyingly dark, the series closes with a number of happy endings, some of them expected to the point of cliché and some surprising. 

What kept me watching, besides the quality of the acting and writing, was the beautiful cinematography and the gorgeous music, composed by the Guatemalan composer Carlos Rafael Rivera.  The story unfolds slowly, and touches on many themes relevant to modern times: racism, sexism, the lasting effects of trauma,  and most of all, the tyranny and magnetism of insane people in power.  If you are prepared to watch a dream world filled with terror, love, redemption, and lots of horses, you'll enjoy "Godless."

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Ian White Mayer interviews me

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by the Zen practitioner Ian White Mayer.  You can find our discussion here:


Monday, September 10, 2018

The wonder and mystery of Zen koan practice

Check out this latest post on Lion's Roar, guest edited by yours truly, with the super helpful assistance of Sam Littlefair, who had the idea and did most of the work.  Thanks Sam!

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Summer Sesshin Talks

photo by Mark Brown

The Dharma talks (teisho and encouragement talks) from our July Boundless Way Zen sesshin are now available for your listening pleasure.  Our topic was Case 13 in the Gateless Gate collection, about Hui Neng and monk Ming.  Talks were given by 9 of our Boundless Way teachers and senior students:  David Rynick, Roshi, Dharma Holders Bob Waldinger, Mike Fieleke and Laura Wallace, Senior Dharma Teachers Alan Richardson, Jean Erlbaum,  Carolyn Morley and Julie Nelson, and me.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Time after Time

A dear friend pointed me to this version of Cyndi Lauper's wonderful song "Time After Time" by the late Eva Cassidy.  (Thanks Anita!)  A moving performance in every way, and it speaks to my heart as loved ones in my life leave and return, return and leave. 

"If you're lost you can look and you will find me,
Time after time.
If you fall I will catch you, I'll be waiting,
Time after time."

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

A Zen priest visits the Relic of the Holy Blood

Derrick receiving the Relic of the Holy Blood, 

On the last full day that David and I were visiting the lovely Belgian medieval city of Bruges, we encountered a miracle.  Well, sort of.  I am allergic to shellfish, and after feasting on some Belgian friet (the origin of what we call french fries, although Belgians are quick to point out that they should be called Belgian fries), I had a mild reaction, probably because shrimp and clams had been fried in the same oil.   As hives began appearing around my mouth and various other parts of my sensitive body, we started to make our way back to our AirBnB for some anti-histamines, when we passed the Basilica of the Holy Blood, a Roman Catholic church that contains the Relic of the Holy Blood.  The Basilica had been closed the last time we passed by, but now it was open, and there was a big crowd going up the stairs to the second floor of the church.  We made our way up the stairs to see what was going on, and found ourselves in front of an altar, presided over by a priest, and towards the front of a line that was about to be allowed to process by the relic itself.

According to the legend, Derrick of Alsace, Count of Flanders, was a crusader.  He received the relic of the Holy Blood in 1150 from his brother-in-law, Baldwin III of Anjou, who was the King of Jerusalem.  It's a piece of cloth, stained brown, in a small crystal vial, housed in a gold and glass casket.  Derrick built the Basilica in Bruges to house the relic, and for a few hundred years, the blood became liquid every Friday.  Once a year, it's paraded around Bruges, protected by 31 righteous men.

We got in line, and when it was our turn, put some euros in the donation box, bowed to the priest, and placed our hands on the transparent box housing the relic.  Although I am not a Christian, my eyes filled with tears.  Perhaps it was the saturated feeling of hundreds of years of worshippers, devoted to a belief in miracles and the spiritual guidance of a man who died two millennia ago.  I don't want to explain it away, but I was touched deeply.

David and I sat with the other worshippers, meditating in front of lit candles.  When a couple of them got put out accidentally, we stood to relight them.  And then we walked back out to the square to continue on our journey around the city.  My hives were gone.  Perhaps I had been healed by the Holy Blood?  Or by sitting quietly in a beautiful and silent devotional space?  Or by the miraculous human body that detected a problem and made its own anti-histamines?  David informed me that they had already started to fade by the time we entered the church.   I only know that I had a rare opportunity to experience something holy. 

As we teach in Zen, everything is holy.  Everything demonstrates the wondrous Dharma, the teachings, reality.  Everything shines with its own light.  There are no exceptions.  The green bottle glistening in the sun, discarded by someone passing in a car on Pleasant Street this morning; the flowers in the garden; the noise of the traffic.  Pay attention -- the Holy Blood is right here, now...please don't miss it!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Don't be deceived by others

Beach in Costa Rica

This morning I was reminded by a student of this lovely koan case from the Gateless Gate collection by Wumen, number 12.  It was a special favorite of my first Zen teacher, and I have come to love it as well.  This wonderful teacher, Ruiyan, calls out to himself and answers himself.  Who is calling, and who is responding? 

Every day Zen Master Ruiyan called to himself:
“Master!” and answered,
“Yes!” then he would say,
“Be aware!” and answer,
"Don't be deceived by others!"
"No! No!"

Each human being is complex and made up of so many parts.  Not one of us resembles anyone else who has ever existed in the universe.  And yet, we find commonality in the patterns of response we have to life coming forward.  Ruiyan reminds us that we can be humble about everything, including being a Zen teacher.  Who is the master to whom he calls out?  And every one of us, no matter where we are on the path, needs to remember to be aware.  Being deceived by others is the follow-up:  who are those others?  Could they be all of the voices of praise and blame we are subjected to on a daily basis?  The folks who adore us and the folks who are so irritated that even hearing our voice is grating?  And even more, perhaps, the internalized voices of judgment that arise endlessly.  Don't be deceived, Ruiyan tells himself, and us, in words that echo through the centuries.  Every voice of judgment is caught up in right and wrong.  Going beyond this, there is only what is arising right now in this moment -- which may, of course, be thoughts of right or wrong!  Everything shines with the light of Dharma.  We can be comforted by this teaching, and go on our way doing the best we can in every moment.  Are you aware?  Don't be deceived by others!