Issue #4, May 1996

All contents remain the copyright of the individual authors

Notes From the Editor's Desk

A full year has passed since the last issue of UU Sangha. However, this does not mean our little band has been uninvolved. We had a very successful time at our last General Assembly. I had the pleasure of, once again, introducing the practices of Zen meditation, while our president Bob Senghas spoke on behalf of the dharma within Unitarian Universalism (or is it Unitarian Universalism within the dharma?) to a packed room.

Since that time Bob and I were able to lead an introduction-to-Zen-for-Unitarian-Universalists workshop at the Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt Tremper, New York. And Dr Jim Casebolt has put us on-line, creating a rather nice UUBF homepage (now at http://www.wp.com/uubf) Currently it can also be accessed through Yahoo and the UUA homepage. Also, we now have our own UUA e-mail address: uubf@uua.org.

We are looking forward to the General Assembly when Arvid Straube and Marni Harmony (our newest UUBF board member) will make a presentation on starting Buddhist study and practice groups within our congregations. And I'll have the honor of sitting on two panels, one addressing "spirituality and reason" and another on "spirituality and writing."

Now that I'm settling into my new life as minister of the Valley UU Church, I sincerely hope we will resume a regular schedule of publication for the UU Sangha. I want to thank everyone who has expressed interest and concern for this great work which we share.

Gassho, James

Two Essays

(These two essays were first delivered at the Michael Servetus UU Fellowship in Vancouver, Washington on 28 January, 1996. The Reverend Mark Gallagher Bell and members of the congregation gave presentations about the influence of Buddhism on their lives. Mark's essay has been published on the UUBF homepage, where it is titled "An Introduction to Buddhism.")

by Lee Burkholder

Looking at my spirituality has made me realize that I have put together my beliefs and practices in much the same way that my grandmother use to bake bread. "You take this much flour..." she'd say to me. She measured the ingredients by what felt right in her hand. It didn't work for me, and what I've put together in my spiritual life may not work for anyone else, but I realize I've done it in the same way; I've measured the ingredients by what feels right.

Threads of Buddhism have been an important part of the mix, and increasingly I see them as holding the direction I want y life to go--toward a simpler, more deliberate, kinder and more peaceful life.

Buddhism knocked on my door many times before I began to let pieces of it in. First, as a high school senior I chose to write my research paper on Buddhism, not because I was on an early spiritual quest but because it seemed stranger and more exotic than the other options. My research was pretty superficial, and Clarston, WA, where I attended school at that time, offered little in the way of live resources, so in the end I knew very little more than I had at the beginning.

Then I hit San Francisco in the summer of 1959, fresh out of college, to find that Jack Kerouac and his crew had just moved on. They left behind them a smatterin of pseudo-beats (some were college students paid to look beat in bar windows) and they left bookstores full of literature on Zen Buddhism. I handled it, browsed it, felt a pull to it, but left it unread and followed other pursuits.

In the late 60's it actually moved into the house. My now ex-husband discovered D.T. Suzuki and regaled me with mystifying anecdotes of Buddhist teachers responding to their students' questions with non-sequiturs. While some of it was absorbing--what is the sound of one hand clapping--it seemed to me in the end to be one more area of exploration that pulled my husband's interest and energy away from his family, and I resented it.

So when did some of these threads begin to connect? I'm not sure. Maybe it was happening all along. In any case there's much that draws me now, but there are three facets of Buddhism that have become central to my spiritual quest: meditation, mindfulness, and an awareness of impermanence that pushes me toward the kinder, simpler, more deliberate life. I need to say here that when I take this much of Buddhism here and add this pinch from over here, I'm fully aware that I'm putting together a loaf that would probably not taste like Buddhism to any other baker.

So be it. It nurtures me.

I think my meditation practice had its roots in my teens when I discovered I could relieve my stress and fall asleep by following my breath. Over the years I've had friends who have shared books on meditation and what they've learned from classes and their own practice, and at some point I started meditating and have continued to do so off and on, for longer and shorter periods.

Then several years ago I had the good fortune to attend the Nyingma Institute, a Buddhist center in Berkeley, for a week-long meditation retreat, an experience that has had a lasting impact on me. I experienced for the first time the benefits of long periods of silent meditation, chanting and walking meditation, and silent, mindful work.

Since then I've meditated alone, in small groups, and with individual friends. Frankly I find I do better with someone else. I know now that when I start to meditate I will experience a deep settling, like a great physical sigh, followed by a period of internal noise that includes questions like "I wonder what time it is now? How much time has passed? Did I remember to turn off the stove? Shouldn't I make that phone call?" If I can let all this flow through and go on, I'll settle into a deeper meditation. Too often I give in and make the phone call.

While I am at best an inconsistent meditator in this way, I am a dedicated practitioner of what I consider to be another form of meditation--journaling. Like Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist's Way, I believe that journaling is "a valid form of meditation that gives us insight and helps us effect change in our lives." She says of what she calls "Morning pages:" "It is impossible to write morning pages for any extended period of time without coming into contact with an unexpected inner power... the pages are a pathway to a strong and clear sense of self. They are a tail that we follow into our own interior, where we meet both our own creativity and our creator."

At the best of times my journaling leads me into a recording of mindfulness, a journaling of myself in that chair, in that room, in that moment, the sounds moving through, the smells, the morning air touching my skin, breath moving in and through, holding, out again, hand against paper like skin against silk, words flowing out into the morning. I can almost feel roots extend through my feet and connect with the earth, with all of life.

A day that starts this way is generally for me a day of greater mindfulness, and I have to say I love the practice of mindfulness. I had read about it and tried it a bit before I went to the Nyingma Institute, but it was there I first genuinely experienced it. What this practice means to me is this: following my breath as it moves in and out, breathing myself into contact with my body, with the movement or settledness of my body, with whatever it is touching or doing, with the place and the moment.

This practice has made me appreciate the whole concept of slowing down time; that's exactly what it does. In a sense it stops time; all time becomes focused in that moment.

For a lot of years I was a maker of lists of has to's and should's and the better part of my days were spent trying to get through them as I felt a good person should. The measure of my life was in what I accomplished. Now it's beginning to be different; I choose to see my life differently, and my practice of mindfulness is key to that. The list is gone when I can be fully in the moment; the task loses any stress or judgement that may have attended it otherwise; it just is and I am completely there, experiencing the sensations of performing it.

One of the first places I experienced this as home was in my studio, cleaning up after several sessions of messy work. I found such satisfaction in washing the wooden tools, rubbing the smooth wood in the cold water, bending over the bucket, feeling the breeze from the deck. It became as satisfying as the act of creating.

I can't say it enough. I love mindfulness, and one of its properties I love the most is that I can just live it. I don't need to make time for it or stop what I'm doing to practice it. I can practice it anytime and anywhere--except when I'm driving. I did that once recently; I settled in so to the experience of that moment that I totally forgot where I was going. I'm not quite sure how Ram Dass is able to give himself over to the joyful celebrating of his creator through chanting and still navigate the streets of L.A., but then he's in a different league certainly than I am.

There is a peace that comes through the meditation and mindfulness that I practice and that's what pulls me further along the road. Together with an acceptance of the reality of impermanence these threads of what I've drawn from Buddhism--this much here and a pinch from there--have enriched my life and I know I'm only at the trail head.

It seems to me ironic that in moving away from a societal tendency to live for the moment, to have it all right now, I find myself moving to a practice of living in the moment and having it all right there.

Life is short; all that lives will die. Accepting that, as maybe one is more inclined to after 50 or after the loss of loved ones, has moved me to want to live my life more deliberately, with more active love and respect for this beautiful earth that births us, nurtures us and receives us back one day, more tolerance and kindness for others and more sense of the power of each moment. This is a piece of the spiritual loaf I'm preparing. If you're interested in trying it yourself, just remember the basics of my grandmother's recipe. Take this much of whatever feel right to you...

A Personal Pilgrimage to UU Buddhism
by Chris Faatz

The year I turned 18, I was living with my mother in Germany. Like most anyone of that age, I was looking for Meaning. There was, apparently, nothing in religion, my family had proven, unfortunately, a sort of domestic Balkans, and an over enthusiastic embrace of drugs and alcohol hadn't really helped much either. About the closest thing I'd found was the dynamic combination of Jimi Hendrix, world's greatest philosopher, and the multi-national community of young folks that I gallivanted about Europe with, distilling hitchhiking and partying and adventures and talking all night into a barely discernable whisper of another way of relating in the world than that represented by the dominant social paradigm, of something more close, more communal, more deeply understanding--something very different from anything my life had brought before.

One day, and I remember it like it was yesterday, I was sitting under a shelter somewhere in Germany. It was rainy and overcast, verging on snow, and I was reading a book that someone had given me. I was sitting against a post, hunkered down in this way-funky old army poncho that I'd acquired somehow, and checking out this guy, Jack Kerouac--eighteen years after Lee's run-in with the Beats in San Francisco.

Yup, it was old, mythic Jack, Beat prophet and travellin' man, who transformed that ephemeral whisper into a mighty bellow. And, to be precise, he only acted as the messenger. The book was The Dharma Bums, in my opinion still Kerouac's best work, which centers around the exploits of one Japhy Ryder, who, in real life, we know as Gary Snyder, Buddhist poet, radical environmentalist, and social activist extraordinaire.

In the book, Japhy comes across as a kind of Scholar of a Different Way, a Seeker, someone who's on the trail of something, and is working at integrating it into his own life. i was bedazzled by this figure, and by his example. But, at first, it was just another book--albeit, a real good one.

Then, suddenly, at the beginning of chapter three, something happened.

During a dialogue between japhy and Jack, they start discussing this T'ang Dynasty Chinese Zen madman, Han Shan, who, sick of the world, had moved far away to live as a hermit in the utter mystery & wildness of Cold Mountain. And he was a poet. And Japhy, off the top of his head, translates the following from the Chinese:

Climbing up Cold Mountain path
Cold Mountain path goes on and on
Long gorge choked with scree and boulders
wide creek and mist-blurred grass
moss is slippery though there's been no rain
pine sings but there's no wind--
who can leap the world's ties, and sit with me among
white clouds?

This, quite literally, blew me away. I had no idea what I was reading. I had no idea what, if anything, it meant. All I knew was the flash of recognition of capital "T" Truth, the intensity of which I had never experienced in my life.

Of course, at eighteen, sitting in the cold, probably more than a bit hungover, most of this was just an unfocused explosion of "Ah ha!!," and the overwhelming emotional rush of discovery. And, it took many long years of searching, thinking, and experimentation before I, as the Quakers put it, was anywhere near "clear" as to the meaning, as to the invitation, of this experience. And, it would be hubris to claim that I'm there even today.

Call it satori, or a flash of enlightenment. Call it an epiphany, a moment when everything becomes suddenly crystal clear. Call it the point at which thesis and antithesis--or the objective idea and the subjective mind--meet within the embrace of a particularly flush conjuncture, and the synthesis is as lightning from a clear sky. Call it dog food in a big blue bowl, but whatever you call it--it was a moment in which a completely different way of being alive leapt into view, illuminating a world of mystery and wonder, filled with intensity, and demanding responsibility as a part of something much greater than my tiny little self alone. It was a moment in which any idea of a boundary, a seam, a borderline between myself and the universe was demolished, and I recognized, however hazily, that we truly are part of one another, and that there are no walls.

In short, this moment of insight was a point in which the true nature of reality, Interbeing--the interconnected web of all existence--, became clear, and that the question of a different way of living in recognition of that interconnection first raised its head. And, it's this notion of interbeing, and of co-responsibility within it, that lies at the heart of my UU Buddhism.

Now, there's a miracle here too, because I am firmly convinced that I can trace most of the major events and preoccupations of my ensuing life--my embrace of literature, my religious and ethical quest, my hopeless, absolutists, unashamedly idealistic pacifism, my fevered attempts to come to understand and master my own mind, its rage, and its pain--spring, in one way or another, from that one moment, clear as the sound of a bell in my memory, when the seed of an idea, expressed through a poem, first entered my consciousness.


Anyway. Many, many years after sitting against that pole in Germany, I started to formally practice as a Buddhist, in the Vietnamese Zen tradition. I was caught up in the wonder of it all. The beauty of the scriptures, or sutras, the power of meditation, the richness of the history, myth, and tradition, and the possibility of learning to recognize and navigate the terrain of one's own mind, a terrain that grows out of the pain and pleasure of one's experiences, and to understand the mind's predetermined responses to various stimuli. Anger because of this, sadness because of that--learning to look down, down, way down to see and begin to touch, and come to terms with, the root cause of those emotions. Another adventure, if of a somewhat different sort...

But, once again, how to live "right" within that framework of interbeing, within the recognition of that web of life? How to practice the responsibility that lies within such an understanding of one's place in the world? This remained, and, I suspect, will always remain, the key question.

Interestingly enough--or not surprisingly, depending on how well you know me--my opening to attempt to practice such a "right" way of living came through my study of Buddhist ethics.

To brutally over-generalize, one of the core components of Buddhist practice is the acceptance of a series of moral precepts, and the vow to practice them diligently. In my tradition, there are five precepts, and they go something like this:

I vow to cultivate compassion and non-harming; I vow not to take that which is not freely given, nor to participate in exploitative practices; I vow to practice sexual responsibility and the cultivation of loving and respectful relationships; I vow to practice mindful speech and deep listening; I vow to be mindful as to my consumption, and its effects on myself and the world around me.

Let's be very clear about something here. These five precepts are not something that are carved in stone, nor are they something handed out of a burning bush. They serve, as the Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh has put it, as a North Star towards which one strives. You know you'll never get there, but the ongoing, incremental, moment-by-moment movement towards these high-falutin' ethical goals is what finally matters.

And why is that? Because, in my case at least, it's a part of putting your moral money where you mouth is. As another great ethical teacher from a very different tradition once put it, "by their fruits shall ye know them."

The diligent practice of the precepts, within or outside of a formal meditation practice, help to plant a certain kind of seed that bears a certain kind of fruit in a wounded world. That fruit is one of compassion; of the recognition of our interdependence; of the necessity of dropping our cherished preconceptions about everything imaginable, and really beginning to listen to "the other;" and beginning to close those gaps that have caused so much harm, to the entire community that is "us."

Nhat Hanh writes of the mind as a storehouse. In it there are seeds of good things, and seeds of bad, or even of horrible things that have happened to or because of us. Once we're aware of this, we have the choice, through the practice of paying attention to our actions and their ramifications, of watering either the good seeds in that storehouse of the mind, or of watering those seeds that deepen the agony of our planet, ourselves, and our fellow beings.

The whole idea is eloquently and simply captured in the title of one of Nhat Hanh's books--it's all about our willingness to be peace. Not to make peace, not to preach peace, although all of these are a part of it, but to ardently practice being peace--to live the Kingdom, to use a simultaneously very different and completely identical metaphor--and to take it upon ourselves to hold the whole world in our hands.

So. I'm a UU Buddhist, as well as a UU Humanist. I reside within the interdependent web of all being, and I recognize my responsibility there. And I do my best to follow that North Star, as difficult and as painful as it sometimes is. It has very little to do with bells and incense, with chanting and bowing, or with getting hit on the back with a stick. As the Dali Lama writes, "This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness."

But--one final question: "Who can leap the world's ties, and sit with me among the white clouds?"

(Lee Burkholder and Chris Faatz are both members of the Michael Servetus Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Vancouver, Washington.)

John Johnson

For me, Buddhism is a form of practice. It is something, or rather, a set of somethings I now do each day, to remind myself of who I am and what the purpose of my life is. It is a form of practice which keeps me centered for the day. It is a form of practice which reminds me to keep first things first in my day. Yes, I am very much aware that there are various branches, lineages, orders & schools of Buddhism, and that these are in part defined by their differences in beliefs, texts, sutras, or other cognitive differences. But all this is decidedly secondary for me personally. The meaning of Buddhist practice keeps me focused on the fact that we are in our essence spiritual beings who have been sent here to have a human experience.

For me, Buddhist practice has been a process of change, development and growth in my awareness. My forms of Buddhist practice have changed as I have changed. When I began to meditate, about ten years ago, I did so very infrequently, by sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of my prayer table. Sometimes I brought a small dish of water, to propitiate the Buddha or Christ-like nature within. And I commonly found it impossible to completely quiet my mind, which means I often wondered if I "did it right" or "got it right." But I only rarely do these kinds of things today....sometimes, but not always. Because today I can now access the universe within from a wider range of mundane settings, attitudes or situations in my daily life.

Buddhist practice is one way to keep centered on the here and now of our existence, of being fully alive and fully aware to the moment and its possibilities, of not collapsing the past into the present....which is usually done in the form of nostalgia, melancholy, guilt or depression....nor of collapsing the future into the present, which is usually done in the form of worry, anxiety or concern....but seeing that all of our past has led up to the present moment, and that we shall experience eternal life to the extent we can experience a connection to all that is in this moment. Our physical bodies may well die....but a spiritual perspective, any spiritual perspective....teaches us that our essence is in our thoughts, not our bodies. And thought itself does not die....and it is surely possible through our growing and developing spiritual awareness to gain access to this eternal essence of our human experience.

Buddhist practice makes me aware that we are in our essence what we feel and think about all day. One's ideas and one's feelings represent choices which one makes, choices of how to process the world. Anger or guilt or anxiety....these are not inherent properties of the external events, persons, or experiences in our world....but rather, these are best seen as our choices about how we elect to process our world of human experience. Buddhist practice leads one to see our emotions as our teachers, and that we can surely change our world of emotional experiences by making different choices about how we elect to process our human, emotional experience. But, again let me emphasize, we can make these changes only by changing our practices.

Buddhist practice has led me to discover and gain access to another universe, the universe within. There is most assuredly another universe, another universe which lies beyond the universe of the five senses. Disbelievers will scoff at this idea, just as earlier disbelievers scoffed at the possibility of the microscopic or subatomic worlds, presumably because these worlds "couldn't be seen." Indeed, it has been my experience that there are quite a few sophisticated and highly educated secularists who express this conceit of human reason. It is the "I'll believe it when I see it" frame of mind, the assumption which privileges empirical observation over that which makes empirical observation possible. Buddhist practice has led me to reverse the polarity on this assumption, and to understand that what one sees is often determined by and limited to one's beliefs....and further, that one's human or emotional experiences are similarly structured by what one believes or is prepared to believe about them. Once one is able to reverse the polarity on this I'll-believe-it-when-I-see-it conceit, then a new world appears....and a new and exciting and uncharted universe emerges into one's consciousness and awareness. One is then prepared to take on a new journey, a new path, a new sojourn, a new life beyond the world of the taken for granted. My Buddhist practice has given me access to this other universe....and I will feel glad and appreciated to devote the remainder of my physical life to express my gratitude for this discovery.

(John Johnson is president of the Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, in Chandler, Arizona. He is a professor of Justice Studies at Arizona State University. John is an initiate of the Karma Kagyu tradition of Vajrayana Buddhism.


Spiritual Retreats for
Unitarian Universalists
Marni Harmony
Arvid Straube
Friday, 21 June, 1pm
Westin Hotel
Grand Ballroom 3
free & open to all