See more articles, reviews, fiction and poetry, including more of my writings, at group blog PLUTO'S REALM.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Another Bad Idea

As spontaneous uprisings around the country to this wonderful admnistration's new proposal to criminalize illegal immigration threaten to shut down business and travel in some areas, I have to wonder whether this might not be the wake-up call for another segment of the population which I had supposed to be hopelessly mired in ignorance. Naive, I know. With V for Vendetta still stuck in my head, the thought of newly created felons trapped behind a wall of genuine terror is not a vision of America I could sleep well with, and I hope that is the same for more of you who might have felt secure until now.

I don't think anyone is this country is pleased with the current situation wherein untold numbers of illegal immigrants, mostly from Mexico, wreak havoc in the US job market and tax support systems intended for citizens and legitimate visitors. Clearly the problem has to be addressed. The people in this country need to be here legally, or not at all. But the pogrom-style response being rushed into law by the Bush Cabal could only appeal to the perverted sense of justice of uneducated Americans who have been fed a false view of US history wherein the country was settled by fat, rich, white Republicans from England.

The legislation proposes making being in the US illegally a felony, and calls for the building of a high-tech wall along the border. Just the visual image reminds me of scenes from Dark Angel. As to making illegal immigrant status a felony, it reminds me of the mindset of those who still support the criminalization of marijuana. Although marijuana is something I personally gave up any use for many, many years ago, the fact remains that it is about as harmless as a drug can get. It is certainly less harmless than alcohol, or the "hillbilly heroin" (oxycontin) and similar prescription drugs that have, according to recent reports, outstripped marijuana as the "gateway to drug use" for America's children. In my opinion, as a people we are fat and stupid enough without pot. Nevertheless, to prosecute marijuana dealers as felons (and to prosecute its users at all) is total hypocrisy as long as the liquor stores remain open and anyone with a prescription pad can pander to people who have neglected their own lives and health so long that they can't touch their toes with a ten-foot pole.

Why does marijuana lead to hard drugs? Simple. You have to go to a drug dealer to get it. And once you're in for a dime, you're in for a dollar. You're already breaking the law. Once you're there, get you some crack. Whereas America's potheads would be unlikely to wind up on skid row from anything they could get in Kroger, if marijuana were for sale there. Unless they still sell beer. And oh yeah, those cleaning supplies....

The same logic, or lack thereof, applies to making illegal immigrants felons. True, the current policy of busing them back to Mexico so they can walk back again tomorrow doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But if an illegal immigrant becomes a felon and subject to lengthy imprisonment just for being here, hell, why not commit a few crimes? Rob a bank? Kill some people? Hell, why not, he says, I'm already a criminal. This was, in the good old days when America had a Constitution that meant something, known as a status offense. Nowadays such fine distinctions don't matter.

And as to the high-tech wall, just remember, you complacent little shits, the wall that's built to keep them out can keep you in. Just remember that when the boot comes down.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Continuing Need to Sit

As you can see, I just broke down and gave the Rufi their own cell phone. HR1 and Deuce can tell you all about it on their own blog (see link to the right) when they get around to it, so I won't give them any more space here.

Actually, I can't give them that cell phone until I get my new one, which is the real point of all this. I just reaffirmed last night the need for continuing zazen, and the fact that any benefit we get therefrom is, like all things, transient.

If you've been following these entries, you know my paired frustration and enormous benefit from the spring retreat sponsored by the Nashville Zen Center a few weeks ago. A number of things have been coming more clear to me on a daily basis since then. That retreat was a lot of work for me and a very few others, and I have come to believe more strongly in the old axiom that the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. I got enormous benefit, of course from the sitting, but more from getting to know Brad and Yuka Warner; I also discovered that I greatly enjoyed introducing new people to something I thought was very important. All this has deepened my commitment to zazen practice. It has also left me greatly frustrated with regard to what is available to me in Nashville. It now seems inevitable that after having spent a good portion of my life in parts of the country where Zen is easy to find (New Mexico, California), I find myself in the Bible Belt with a real hunger for deeping Buddhist understanding. Such is the desperation of which valiant effort must be born.

I have really come to believe that to get what I want out of Buddhism, I have to have a connection to a genuinely dedicated sangha and an authentic tradition. Perhaps because it was Brad's book Hardcore Zen which brought me back to Zen after more than twenty years of floating in and out of various schools of Buddhism, the tradition I have been most attracted to is the Japanese Soto school of Zen, the tradition of Brad and his teacher Nishijima (see links to Hardcore Zen and the Dogen Sangha). But it's more than that. I have come to believe that one waying of knowing what is true for myself is that truth is recognized rather than learned. Reading Brad's book and following up on his teacher's teachings led me back to the time long ago when I first realized the limits of the human mind and rational thought, and that reality is so much more than can be encompassed by our philosophies and religions. That is the real sense in which Zen is, to be trite, the finger pointing at the moon. So many philosophies and religions, and most Buddhism itself mistake the finger for the moon and can't get beyond it. That is why Soto Zen, with its emphasis on shikantaza (just sitting) appeals to me over the koans and distractions of Rinzai.

Not that Rinzai Zen is bad, mind you. It is very common for modern teachers, many of whom I respect, to combine the two. But I agree with Brad that it's like martial arts; each one takes a lifetime to master, so when you meet someone who claims to have mastered them all, doubt is required. The NZC, being by its nature eclectic, lacks an anchor to a single, authentic school, so I have been seeking a connection to Soto Zen.

I believe I may have found that. Last week I picked up (read, not bought) a copy of Tricycle magazine at the bookstore, and discovered in the directory at the back something called the Atlanta Soto Zen Center. Atlanta is only four hours away and I certainly have time right now, so this weekend I'm going to a Friday-night-through-Sunday retreat with them, in hopes of making contact with an authentic tradition. It looks likely; there will be a couple of attendees and speakers with connections to the San Francisco Zen Center (the place where I first sat zazen in 1981, and a Soto center), and the leader of the ASZC is ordained in the Soto tradition; so we'll see. Wish me luck and check back here next week.

Anway, I'd been having trouble making contact with the ASZC; I'd sent two emails and left two phone messages at different numbers, and as of yesterday morning no one had gotten back to me, so I was beginning to despair at hearing from anyone in time to arrange attending the retreat this weekend. Their three-day retreat is monthly, but I wanted to get there this month because having to travel to Atlanta requires I have Friday off, and I have to go back to work eventually. So I was overjoyed because yesterday I heard back from someone at the ASZC and finalized my arrangements. Needless to say, after reading this post, this is something very important to me; it may also prove to be important for the NZC, if it is to survive and become sincere again, but we'll see about that.

Meanwhile, in a totally unrelated move, I decided to upgrade my cell phone. With Cingular you get to do that every two years or so with a contract extension, so I ordered one. Having worked in sales for Cingular, I knew better than to deal with the internet or phone ordering systems; the best way to get a cell phone is to, well, go to a store and get the phone. But Cingular has screwed up their system even more by jacking the prices in the stores, so the only way to get a good deal is the internet. With misgivings, I did, and my phone is now looking for delivery on its fifth day on "two-day air." Ironically, the fault is not with Cingular; UPS just can't get their act together to deliver the damned thing. I won't bore you with the details. Hopefully I'll get it today.

The point is, I've been working on my equanimity the last few months. At the first of the year I was ready to pop. I had a job working with and for people who exasperated the shit out of me every day, so I quit, and that's one reason you're not seeing as many angry posts on here. I've been taking my time seeking new employment, and working on things meaningful to me that I couldn't attend to because my frustration level was so high, mainly my Zen practice and my health. I 've found a whole new calm and a partial purpose for my existence. So all in all, I've been happier this month than I have been in a long time.

But not yesterday afternoon. After a day of elation, with the contact from the AZSC and the cementing of those plans and a good workout, I got dragged down because my new cell phone sat at the UPS warehouse all day because for some unknown reason it never got on the truck. If it doesn't track as "out for delivery" today, maybe I'll have to go get it. I'm OK now. But last night, I blew up. I called UPS. I sent angry and abusive emails to Cingular and UPS (and got the phone number for the local office). All this about a geegaw that I don't really need and ordered on a whim. But it was mine, damn it, and they'd better get it to me!

So I sat, and I recovered. But it just shows, there is no enlightenment, there is only continuous practice. But things do get better. I am so happy to finally get to the point where I can tell you for a fact that that is true. You do have to work for what you want. Strive with diligence, as Gatauma said.

More soon.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

V for Vendetta

I saw the movie at the I-Max last week, but I wanted to wait until I had finished the original graphic novel before I commented, because I knew that writer Alan Moore had removed his name from the movie at the last moment, and I wanted to see just how much the project had changed. The verdict is that Moore should have kept his name on; although I can empathize with the writer's proprietary attitude about his creation, V for Vendetta is an excellent movie based on an excellent book.

The graphic novel, which originated in comic books in the 1980's, was written by Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd (who wisely kept his name on the movie). It is currently published by Vertigo ( a DC comics entity) and available. Basically, it's 1984 with a hero, except the writers, writing in different time periods, based their totalitarian states on different ideologies. Whereas Orwell's novel depicted a totalitarian Britain based on socialism, so that everyone reading it in the late 40's when it was published thought, "Russia," V for Vendetta was published between 1982 and 1988 (with a long break based on the failure of its original vehicle), in the early Reagan era here, and interestingly was begun before the rise of Thatcher in Britain. So Moore did his work before the current wave of fascism here and in Britain; his prescience is remarkable.

Briefly, if you haven't seen the movie... well, go see it now. But if you'd like to read this blog entry first, let me tell you briefly that in a nightmarish dystopia of Britain a few years from now, fascists have seized control. The country is under a perpetual curfew. Blacks and gays have been eliminated through concentrations camps. The media is under the thumb of the government. But into this Orwellian world comes a man dressed in a Guy Fawkes mask, known only as V, to fight back. He blows up lots of buildings. He rouses the citizenry. He kills a lot of people with swords.

Let me tell you, my initial reaction to the movie was shock. Not so much at the content of the movie, but at the fact that the movie was #1 in America the week before. Because the movie version is so obviously directed at the current situation in America. The changes made from the graphic novel to the movie are of two kinds. Of course there is lots of violence; that's from the book, but there is a lot of Hollywood violence that's been introduced to sell this thoughtful piece as an action-adventure film. The second group of changes here is the updating of the novel; the time period is moved from 1997-98 to probably the decade after ours, for obvious reasons. But whereas most films versions of inflamatory books, in this spineless age of ours, tend to dumb down and diminish any content which would make the story less palatable to the mass market, the Wachowski brothers or whoever initiated the changes in the story line have actually modernized it to make it more applicable to current world affairs. Both the novel and movie are set in the aftermath of wars which destroyed the United States and most of the world; in the novel the war was nuclear, in the movie it appears to have been biological. In both, the complicity of religion in the destruction was essential and the state religion is part of the government structure. In both, fascist have seized power in Britain based on the fear of the population. However, in the movie, it is made clear that it was America's bullying approach to the world that caused the whole mess, and the references to terrorism make it unmistakable.

In other words, America spent $25m for the opening weekend of a movie whose whole point is the need to fight back against a government moving by leaps and bounds, as Sandra Day O'Conner has pointed out, toward dictatorship -- dictatorship initiated and maintained by fanning the flames of fear in the populations What does this mean? With Bush's popularity at a new low, I would like to be cautiously optimistic. I would like to think that America is getting smarter and is ready to throw out the Christian Reich and the Bush Cabal before it's too late. But I've been disappointed too often. Is it possible the moviegoers are missing the point? Do they think it's about someone else's goverment? Are they not thinking at all?

There are other differences between the book and the movie. My advice is, go see the movie, and if you like it, and want to see what underlies it, read the book. Please note I have avoided spoilers here as much as possible. There are other differences in the movie and the book; whereas in both, V is a victim of past government oppression (including medical experimentation) who seeks both redress for personal wrongs and an overthrow of the system that victimized him and everyone else, in the novel he is an explicit anarchist. By that I mean he is an anarchist in the strictest philosophical sense, in that we wants to build a Utopia built on anarchy. But that, like most of the literary and philosophical references in the book and the movie, have to be lost on the audience, or at least the movie audience. Do most Americans even know what Guy Fawkes day is? Go get you some of that education. A lot of the dialogue is Shakespeare and quotes from other literary sources, by the way. And Natalie Portman gives what has to be the performance of her career.

Will this movie actually succeed in its effort to make the masses of America think? So many have tried, so many have failed. But I hope it does. Then again, it's been a long time since my evaluation of the intelligence and perception of the American public has gone anywhere but down. Surprise me, please.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Back to Living-and-Dying

That's the boneyard at Penuel Ridge. Bones of dead animals. New Age Christianity meets Corpse Bride. Go figure.

I just had the strangest thing happen to me during zazen. This past weekend at our retreat (see previous post) I discovered that I could sit zazen for 45 minutes just as easily as for 30, so I've been trying to do that in the mornings when I have the opportunity. This morning for the first time in my limited practice I achieved for the first time an absolutely effortless state of sitting. I sit in kind of a loose half-lotus; I can get into full lotus but my top foot keeps slipping off. I can also do a good half-lotus with the top foot up on top of my hip bone, but same problem. Anyway, I try to keep my spine straight, etc., and by the way the best way to learn the lotus or half-lotus for zazen is from a good yoga class. Normally sitting zazen for me is a continuous process of self-correction, as I understand it is supposed to be.

But this morning suddenly I found myself upright in as close as I can get to a perfect zazen posture, without the exertion of any effort at all. I mean to say, I was sitting there with a straight spine without any muscle effort at all. I could not have been any more relaxed in bed or in a recliner; I was more relaxed in fact. Once I hit the position I did not move out of it, or even want to move out of it, until my alarm went off to signal the end of zazen. At that point I did not want to come out of the position, and in fact it took an effort to do so. I'm not sure if my mental state was any different from usual. I know that I was amazed at my physical state. I don't know if I'll be able to find that position again, but it took an effort (not a big one, but an intentional act) to come out of it. Normally if you totally relax during zazen, I imagine you would fall over. This was the opposite. If anyone else has had this experience, please let me know. Or maybe everyone has this experience eventually and just never told me about it.

I don't know if the foregoing has anything to do with the real topic of this post or not, that topic being the differences I notice in my perception and feelings since last weekend's Zen retreat. When I wrote The Empty Well I was exhausted, frustrated and venting. Even at that time I realized that my Buddhist practice had probably been changed for all time, in one way or another. Now, four days later, some of the effects of the retreat have had a chance to settle out, and I am able to state with some certainty that the change was for the better. Now I am totally and completely and permanently enlightened. Hehe. Just kidding folks; I forget some of you don't know me, and sudden enlightenment is not something I believe in. I just think that maybe I learned something that is helping me be more comfortable with my life at the moment. I don't know how long it will last, nor do I think that such a thing is knowable.

It's not just the retreat. In part it's just getting older and going through more experiences and getting perspective. Lately I've been surrounded by death and sickness. My father has been diagnosed with prostrate cancer which the doctors and he have decided not to treat but just to watch since he is 83 and the cancer is small and slow-growing (he'll probably be killed by a jealous husband at 90). One of my aunts is dying and her immediate family have decided to turn off her pacemaker to allow her to die with her remaining dignity rather than languish in a sad state. An uncle just took my dad with him shopping to buy the uncle a new suit, which my dad assumes is for the uncle's own funeral. These older people have acceptance for the most part. But what of my generation? At the job I left in January, I have seen a man not much older than I brought down by his bad habits and failure to face reality, failing to do what he needs to do to live meaningfully, gulping down prescription drugs by the handful and ranting about pot-smokers and queers. Another "sober" drug addict is willing to go on prescription psychotropic drugs (always a good idea) to avoid facing the consequence of her mother's death. So we aren't doing so well. And what about me? I'm 48. Is the cyst on my shoulder a cancer that will metastatize and eat me alive? Stay tuned for the next episode of living-and-dying.

I do know that in the last couple of months, especially in the last week, my perspective on life has changed in a way that makes it much easier for me to deal with. First, I take the whole thing less seriously, and more seriously at the same time. We are here for our limited time. We don't go on after we die. What you see is what you get. So you'd better make the most of it. It is what it is. Go on, live the best life you can, but it's not what you do, it's how you do it. You know what's right; you know what's wrong. Doing what's wrong won't take you to hell but it can sure as hell make life more complicated. You won't be able to avoid suffering for it, right here and right now. Nothing can be avoided. Better to face it head on. A fastball has just been pitched at your face; you can try to catch it, or you can run and get hit in the back of the head. Your choice.

I don't worry about what other people's beliefs are, as much. If people need illusions to get through life, let 'em have 'em. If they are happy that way, if they die with their illusions intact, good for them. They won't be thrown into hell at death for picking the wrong religion; they won't get 10,000 virgins for picking the right one. I do zazen because I feel a need to confront reality, and because it makes my life better and works for me. Zazen is not in some instruction manual from God. It is something that someone figured out that worked for him, and it works for me and for a lot of other people who are similarly inclined. Just because it works for me, and because I felt good about helping some other people this last week, I am willing to share if anyone asks. But if you don't ask, I won't suggest it. You have to find your own path.

As for the Christians, don't try to convert me and I won't try to convert you. That's the polite way of saying it, isn't it?

So thanks to Brad and Yuka Warner, to the Nashville Zen Center, to my dad and his extended family (and by further extension, mine), and to all my friends who have, by positive and negative examples and inputs, brought me to where I am at this moment. And to Ms. Johnson who insists that she has achieved satori. Here's blogging at you.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Empty Well

I just got back from a three-day retreat at Penuel Ridge Retreat Center near Ashland City, Tennessee, with Brad Warner, Zen teacher and priest, and his wife Yuka. The event was sponsored by the Nashville Zen Center; whether the retreat was actually a NZC event is open to question, but for me it was a deeply meaningful weekend which brought some personal demons to the fore, so I am resuming writing here after a hiatus of over two weeks, to try to exorcize some of those nastly little critters and try to deal with minor league PTS.

For those of you who don't know, I have been seeking and rejecting philosophies, mostly centered around Buddhism, for most of my life. I was a philosophy major as an undergraduate, and I discovered Zen through books at that time; I first got a chance to practice at the San Francisco Zen Center in 1980 or '81. I was way too dissipated and entranced with becoming a lawyer to actually practice at that time, although my fiancee did so and lived at the Zen Center for a while. Anyway, to reiterate previous posts on this blog, I went through everything from an extensive stint with Nichiren Shoshu in the late 80's to a brief dalliance with Tibetan Buddhism in 2004. In between, I was always looking for something, although I had pretty much abandoned academic philosophy as intellectual masturbation and found religions blatantly absurd and pathetic. I had decided that truth was more likely to be found in art, and to this day I still believe that, to some extent.

I will say that although it appears to me that to most churchgoers and practitioners of every persuasion, spiritual practice appears to be some sort of social activity or reaffirmation of identity, and philosophy even to most philosophers is just a game, I was always serious in that the focus of my life has been to find some reason to be here, as misguided as that search has become at times. In other words, my intentions have always been good. It was in an attempt to get my life going in the right direction again that I decided in 2004 that although I had rejected the beliefs of Nichiren Shoshu and would never go back, the daily practice was an integral part of all the positive results I had achieved in my psyche and my life at that time, and was something that I needed. So I was searching for a daily practice that produced benefits in my life yet did not require me to believe in absurdities.

I had largely given up on reading about philosophies, so it was a in a kind of desperation that I picked up Hardcore Zen by Brad Warner, and found in that book an intimation of what I was looking for. I say intimation, because of course the benefits of Zen practice, as I am now coming to know, cannot be found in a book. But it was the book that led me to believe that in zazen I could find what I needed, and I have not been disappointed.

I am not going to to discuss here what Brad is all about or what it is the book; if you are interested and don't know, just follow the permanent links on this blog to either the Hardcore Zen web page or Brad's blog, which is in remission, or to the Dogen Sangha page, which I will be adding shortly. I will be talking a lot more about Buddhism in future blog entries very soon, I think.

Anyway. In late 2004, inspired by Hardcore Zen, I began sitting regularly and then attending meetings of the Nashville Zen Center. The NZC, I understand, was founded by some academics about 25 years ago. Although some members of the NZC will probably, hopefully, be reading this entry, I beg their tolerance if I am inaccurate with their history. My understanding is that the NZC began as a leaderless group, merely to sit together and share their understanding of Zen, above and beyond what their consideral intellectual accomplishments could provide. At some point the NZC formed and then ended ties to a Korean Kuam Um group, leaving a residue of ritual. In the whole year and a half I have been with them, I have seen their longtime members and leaders falling away at an increasing pace, for the most part to be replaced by earnest newer practitioners.

The NZC is a very loose group; it is organized as a non-profit corporation, but beyond the requirements of officers and directors of such, it is pretty much a cooperative effort of the sort one would expect from academics; for the most part, everyone pitches in and helps with events and does what they feel they should. The major activity of the NZC is a Saturday session of zazen, kinhin, readings and coffee, usually attended by 8 - 12 people. It is a laid-back, tolerant, comfortable atmosphere of the sort fostered by well-meaning and mature academics, and several of these people have become my friends.

The other activity of the NZC is semi-annual three-day retreats, held Friday through Sunday at varied locations, most recently at Penuel Ridge. Because the sangha is eclectic and has no leader, various Buddhist priests and teachers have been invited in to lead the retreats. Sandy Stewart, the abbott of the North Carolina Zen Center, has been leading the fall retreats. Sandy is an eminently qualified Buddhist teacher and a very fine human being, with whom I have had the pleasure to attend one retreat, and I certainly hope to have the opportunity to attend a second.

A problem, however, had arisen with regard to the spring retreat. The person who had been leading the spring retreats had become unavailable, Mr. Stewart (I'm sorry, I don't know his correct title) was not available in the spring, and no options were forthcoming. I should note at this point that an electic organization like the NZC has both the benefits and drawbacks of diversity; not only does it not have a defined spiritual leader, it appears to me that the present members of the sangha would probably be unable to agree on one. This has probably led to the recent splintering-off of the longtime members and leaders noted above. For this reason, it can at times be demonstrative of the maxim of that horrible country song that says (and I paraphrase) that if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything. In my brief time with the NZC we have been treated to a counsellor posing as a Buddhist teacher; a war veteran trying to work out his own anguished and very major PTS; and a friendly little experienced monk who just couldn't shut up.

I don't know if there would have been a spring retreat this year if I hadn't been exchanging emails with Brad occasionally, and happened to mention that if he were ever to be coming to Nashville, we would love to sit with him. To my surprise, Brad indicated that he was very willing to come to Nashville; to my further surprise, when I forwarded that email and info to my friend Nat who is the retreat committee chairman for the NZC, he indicated that not only would we be willing to sit with Brad, we wanted to discuss his leading the spring retreat. When Brad agreed and the date was picked, the seeds of this past weekend were sown.

The meaningful weekend which just passed was both a stress nightmare and a wonderful experience for me. It was a wonderful experience because I got the opportunity to meet, talk with, and come to know the man who brought me back to Zen, and his amazing wife. My dedication to Zen practice has been affirmed and refocused. The stress nightmare came because I found my place in the organization of the whole affair to be undefined, and I dropped the ball in more than one way. Nat had been pretty much running and organizing the retreats during my duration with the sangha; as the date neared, it appeared that personal and business pressures would keep him from fulfilling his usual function, leaving those functions up to me and the other members of the sangha. What I didn't realize is that the rest of the sangha had largely opted out of the retreat and for reasons to be discussed failed to tell anyone. Had I known this, I would have taken a much more hands-on approach to organizing and promoting the retreat. I certainly had the time. In my defense, being new, I was reluctant to assume authority in the way that I would have had someone said, "Bob, this is all yours. We are not going to attend nor promote the retreat. We will provide the financial backing and the physical implements for practice; you need to provide the attendees and set the schedule."

You see, the both the capacity of Penuel Ridge and our supply of cushions are limited. The place really won't hold more than about thirteen people, which at the fall retreat was what we had at the peak on Saturday night. I knew that I could fill the place and more just by publicizing Brad's appearance, but in deference to the sangha members, I did not. After all, it was their retreat. So the only notices of the appearance were a notice on the NZC website (which at this point can still be viewed here:, and a notice on Brad's blog. What was lacking of course was a notice to Brad's fans in the Nashville area.

I could go on in detail ad infinitum, because I am still thinking about those details. In short, what happened was, the retreat was attended by only maybe four sangha members, only three of whom were there pretty much the whole time. In addition, we had a couple of guests from the local vipassana group, and a couple of amazing new practitioners from Bowling Green who were fans of Brad's and happened to run across the above web notice with a search engine. So we peaked out at eight people all day Saturday, which to me was one of the most rewarding retreat days I have ever had. But Friday and Sunday were affairs of Brad, Yuka, and three sangha members. Had I not been an, or the, organizer of this thing, I wouldn't have cared. But the failure to produce more students for the man who brought me back to zen left me feeling incompetent at a period in my life when those feelings were already prevalent. These are issues to be dealt with in my life and in zazen; their exorcism here is part of the process.

I don't want to leave the readers of this lengthy and anguished entry with the feeling that I was the only one who did a lot of work here. Nat came to the retreat after what appears to have been hell week at his work out of town and worked tirelessly. Our friend Jennye, a member even newer than me, found herself in the undesired role of running the kitchen. Since the sangha members hemmed and hawed until the last minute about attending, Jennye shopped and prepared menu's for up to twenty people, and wound up cooking almost every meal. Brad and Yuka, although brought in as a teacher and his helper only, wound up participating tirelessly in all the cooking and cleaning, as did all the guests who appeared on Saturday. The problem was that four five people were doing the work of eight to twelve people in preparations for up to twenty. In the end, even Jennye disappeared into the wild, unexpectedly, and could not be reached, leaving Nat, myself, Brad and Yuka to clean up and pack a huge amount of food which had been bought on the false promises of those who failed to attend, and Nat and I to transport a truckload of equipment with no truck. Jennye's disappearance was truly a gonzo event; in the middle of kinhin, she whispered something to Brad about either her daughter or her dog, grabbed her cushions, and fled the zendo. I hope she is OK.

To be honest, there were several things about this retreat which were extremely rewarding for me. Brad's schedule provided more free time that we were used to at retreats, as a result of which, especially Saturday, I came to know some very good and intesting people much better. Special thanks to visitors Eric and friend who helped me affirm to myself the value of the effort I had put out here in bringing Brad to Nashville, and to Yang, who gave me the most interesting intellectual conversation after one of Brad's lectures that I have had in a long time. And of course getting to know Brad and Yuka was not an experience I would have missed for anything. Because of their inspiration, not promoting but providing the opportunity to learn about real Zen practice, as inspired by Brad's teacher, Gudo Nishijima, even in the face of apparent indifference and misunderstanding, I will resolve to try to do the same, within the context of my limited experience. I certainly hope to continue the relationship with them, and to work with them whenever possible.

My relationship with the Nashville Zen Center is not so certain. It is not only that except for the valiant and exceptional members set forth above, no one did anything to support the retreat (although of course they did pay for it, at least in part; and one leader did initially come up and drop off most of our equipment from our usual spot, never to be heard from again). I accept that people's interests and availability may differ from mine. The problem is that by silence and affirmation, in mixed doses, they pledged their support and then withheld it, which bothers me a lot more. And that undermines my faith in the sangha, which is an issue I will have to deal with. Me and Ms. Johnson and the Rufi and the wall.