UU Sangha

Vol: IV Number: 2
Journal of the Unitarian Universalist Buddhist Fellowship
Winter 2000


Sam Trumbore

On a Friday night at the end of January, Philomena and I went out to see Cider House Rules. The movie was the best pro-choice statement I’ve seen and I recommend it highly. We saw an early showing that permitted us to consider doing something else before we’d have to get home to relieve the baby sitter. On occasion we stop for a drink and talk about the movie. Philomena recommended we stop at Starbucks in the shopping plaza near our home. I don’t drink coffee so coffeehouses don’t interest me much. Philomena doesn’t like bars because they are loud and often smoky. We discussed our options and I agreed to try Starbucks.

The atmosphere was very pleasant and warm on that cold evening. Philomena ordered a coffee drink and I ordered a large herb tea. We found a table in the corner and settled in. There was a fellow playing a guitar. The other patrons sipping on their hot drinks looked like the kind of folks you’d find in a Unitarian Universalist congregation. I felt at home and glad Philomena had suggested this coffee shop as a place to sit and talk.

I find we need to be out of the house to sit and talk. Philomena and I have our routines at home that are hard to break. Philomena enjoys sitting in front of the television set and reading novels. I enjoy sitting in front of the computer cruising the World Wide Web. Since these activities happen at separate ends of our apartment, it is easy for us to disconnect. Without these distractions, when we sit together in a restaurant, bar or coffee shop, we talk. We both appreciate this conversational time together as one of the foundations of the strength of our marriage.

Philomena asked me about my sermon that was coming up titled, "Responsible Consumption." Had I been thinking about the subject as it applies to my life? Indeed I had, I told her, and was thinking about it right now.

Being a former engineer, I’m interested in manufacturing and packaging techniques. The tea I was given was served with a cute little strip of thinly corrugated cardboard around the cup. Back in the bad old days, coffee and tea were served in Styrofoam cups. The problem with Styrofoam is that it doesn’t decompose for hundreds of years, thus becoming a solid waste pollutant. Styrofoam cups discarded at sea continue to float for an extended length of time endangering sea life that may try to eat them.

Starbucks, being a socially responsible company headquartered in Ecotopia, the capital city of which is either Portland or Seattle, switched from Styrofoam to paper cups as many other vendors have done. The problem though with paper cups is that they get very hot. So Starbucks had come up with this clever cup holder. Printed on the cup holder proudly was just what percent, 35% if I remember correctly, composition came from recycled, post-consumer waste. Also, printed on the cup holder was the injunction for use with a single cup only. As I took the lid off my tea, I noticed I’d been given two cups.

I told Philomena about this and my concern that I’d been given two cups when it wasn’t necessary. The server had irresponsibly disregarded the rather strong injunction printed on the cup holder. I asked Philomena whether I should go up to the server and confront him about his wastefulness. Philomena didn’t like the idea saying I was being judgmental and over-reactive. Perhaps the server just made a mistake and pulled out two cups instead of one. I doubted this was the case because pouring hot beverages is what the server does all day long and would know how many cups he was using by the weight and feel of them.

"So," I asked Philomena, "should I just remain silent about this?"

"Yes." She said.

We are confronted every day with choices of whether to speak up or remain silent. We hear an off-color or offensive joke. We see someone violate accepted social habits or conventions. A bigger kid picks on a smaller one. A store clerk is rude or disrespectful. Someone litters or is wasteful in their use of material objects. The pedestrian, bicyclist or driver in front of us makes a dangerous movement. In each moment we have the choice of speaking or remaining silent. What ethic will we call on to govern our actions?

One of the sources I rely on for guidance is the ethics of socially engaged Buddhism. Thinking of Buddhism and social engagement may seem contradictory to some. The image of people chanting in front of a shrine to Buddha or a room full of Zen meditators sitting silently on their cushions staring at a blank wall is what most of us think of when we think of the practice of Buddhism. We don’t usually think of Buddhists out in the streets in their robes protesting social injustice. That image is changing thankfully with places like the Peace Pagodas, teachers like Thich Nhat Hanh and actions like the Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage hosted by Japanese monks and nuns of the Nipponzan Myohoji order. This pilgrimage retraced the journey of slavery through the Eastern and Southern United States, to the Caribbean, then to Brazil, across the ocean to West Africa and down to South Africa. The journey began at the end of May 1998. They were able to complete their odyssey, June 12, 1999. I saw them pass through Newark, Delaware in the summer of 1998.

The prejudice that Buddhism is passive comes, in part, from the history of Buddhist orders in Asia. Often, Buddhist leaders and sects have been cooperative with the rulers in power to support their agenda as the Zen monks did with the Japanese war machine. Many Cha’an Buddhist temples in China are secluded and separate from the masses. Often in the Indic Buddhist texts, the Buddha seems to be encouraging the monks to disengage with the world, retreat from it to a secluded place and practice meditation.

Buddhist philosophy is very critical of civilization and its power to delude the mind. Involvement in the marketplace, the responsibilities of raising a family, and community and social involvement can be very disturbing and distracting to the mind. The environment conducive to extended practice of meditation is rarely found in the midst of the busy lives householders lead and have led for thousands of years. Most of us are caught on the wheel of birth, life, sickness, old age and death that spins forever.

Being on the wheel isn’t so bad except that the ride is at times uncomfortable and often is full of suffering as the wheel turns and grinds us into the ground under its weight. While we live in unmatched luxury compared with the uncounted generations of Homo Sapiens that extend back before the dawn of time, we still experience chronic dissatisfaction in our lives. The Buddha’s insight was seeing that we participate in creating that experience of chronic dissatisfaction through our mental activity. His profound realization was that this experience of chronic dissatisfaction can come to an end. The goal of the eight fold middle path advocated by the Buddha was providing the skillful means for us to wake up and see how we participate in the creation of our own experience of misery.

Directly experiencing the self-created mental component of chronic dissatisfaction is the goal of meditation practice. When we rightfully and skillfully witness the universal human mental processes, we begin to see that we have some level of choice in how we respond to the pleasant and unpleasant stimulations that come our way or spontaneously arise in the mind. When someone steps on our toes, we have a choice of how to respond. Socking him or her in the nose is only one of the choices. Silence is another, sometimes wiser choice.

Reading the Buddhist texts and studying Buddhist ethics, there is a strong value placed on self restraint. Practitioners are urged to guard the "sense doors" to prevent reactivity. They should watch their words carefully and be controlled and calm, endeavoring to always act consciously. The detached mind can better see things as they are without becoming swept up in the passion of the moment. It is the penetrating insights into the nature of existence through the careful witness of moment to moment experience that leads to Nibbana, liberation or more accurately, the cessation of chronic dissatisfaction (also known in Pali as Dukkha).

What seems to be missing from this understanding of reality is the tremendous misery that is not of our own making. The injustice of slavery and human degradation, the cruelty of human thoughtlessness and behavior, the institutional and systemic oppression of racial, ethnic and sexual minorities, the differently abled, the underprivileged and the poor, and the unfairness of fickle fate creates conditions that cause tremendous woe in our world. While the Buddha believed that no one was prevented from working toward liberation by any of these conditions, they certainly can work against the process of awakening and bind one tighter to the wheel.

One of the critically important results of Buddhist meditation practice is the realization that one’s own experience of suffering is universal. The direct experience of our common human condition opens one’s heart to others. The desire to help others and relieve their suffering comes from direct personal experience rather than the understanding and acceptance of intellectual social theory. The practice of meditation, rather than isolating the practitioner, cultivates this open heartedness which becomes the base for social action. It is the current experience of kinship rather than a utopian future vision that motivates the Buddhist to reach out and help.

Beyond describing the conducive conditions for practicing the middle path, the Buddha wasn’t a social idealist. He didn’t spend much energy describing the way the society ought to be organized. There are detailed rules of how the monks practicing together should behave as part of their spiritual community but this isn’t terribly useful for building a pluralistic society. The Buddha’s primary concern was helping people understand and practice the middle path to gain liberation from suffering.

We Westerners come to Buddhism with a different mind set. Our dominant Christian culture has the idea of social improvement through social evolution. Modern theology, inspired by Schleiermacher and others, charges today’s Christian with helping to create the reign of heaven on earth through social improvement. Whether we are secular or religious, the idea of social progress is ingrained in our thinking, particularly here in America.

While Westerners are attracted to using meditation to find release from unhappiness, they also see its potential for social revolution that is compatible with modern thought. Johanna Macy is an example of one such Western Buddhist. She sees in Buddhism a theory of universal interconnectedness, mutual conditioning, or radical interdependence of all phenomena. One aspect of that universal interconnectedness is the relationship of all beings in terms of the modern theory of evolution. By dismantling the fiction of a separate, continuous ego-self, one is led to identification with and responsibility for the whole world, humans as well as all other beings.

One would have a hard time finding support for this Western view of Buddhism in the ancient texts yet Macy’s understanding is hardly incompatible with the traditional teachings. The Buddha lived at a time when there was no threat to the ecosphere as there is today. Why would he have talked about a problem that didn’t exist? This is of course the problem with all ancient scriptures. While they may have great and wonderful things to teach us, they are locked into a particular time, place, and cultural context. Jesus has a hard time giving us much direct guidance on the ethics of gene splicing. It takes modern interpreters to extend their wisdom and understanding.

We Unitarian Universalists have the privilege of drawing from the wisdom and understanding of all the religious traditions. The Buddhist insights into human psychology rival if not exceed what we inherit from Freud and Jung in Western psychology. The key to wise social action that comes from Buddhism is skills and techniques to understand where the motivation comes to act, and guidance in cultivating effective, non-harming states of mind from which to act.

So what happened at Starbucks? I asked Philomena why she thought I should keep silent and she pointed out my choice of words, "to confront" the server. My words sounded hostile and potentially harming. I was appreciative of her noticing my choice of language for if I had acted from that mind set, I might have gotten a defensive response that was counter-productive to my desire to see the server become less wasteful.

As we were getting ready to leave, I took my cups up to the server at the counter and asked him why he had given me two cups instead of one. He seemed to anticipate my question and pointed out that the water for tea is hotter than the coffee and thus needed two cups. He poured some hot water into two more cups to make his point and gave them to me to hold. I wasn’t convinced. The next time I visit a Starbucks, I intend to be sure I only get one cup for my tea so I can test the effectiveness of the corrugated cardboard cup holder to see if it works with only one cup and share the results with the server. I don’t know if my actions made any difference, but I discharged my felt responsibility to respond to the situation.

Each of us must make up our own minds about whether to speak or remain silent when we witness that which offends our sense of justice, fairness and stewardship of society and the planet. The teaching and techniques of Buddhism can be of aid to us in getting clear in our minds what motivates our desire to do either. Only a few people speaking up can make a difference—and sometimes, it is better to just let the moment go. It is developing that inner clarity of our moral sense and feeling of kinship with all beings that will help us recognize the right action when the moment arises.

Sam Trumbore is the editor of UU Sangha and minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany, New York.


Linda Smith Stowell

There is a story out of the Taoist tradition about the monkey tribe and the grasshopper tribe. It seems that the grasshoppers lived in the valley and the monkeys on the hillside, but the monkeys thought the valley was more desirable. So they told the grasshoppers they would have to leave. The grasshoppers saw no reason why they should – the grass and trees in the valley were very much to their liking. So the monkey chief said, "this means war" The monkey tribe rushed into the valley, clubs in hand, to chase the grasshoppers away. A grasshopper landed on the chief’s nose. "Don’t worry, I’ll get him!" Yelled another monkey, and his club came down on the chief’s nose. The grasshopper had already hopped elsewhere, as grasshoppers are wont to do. But the Chief yelled in pain, dropping his club to rub his nose. Elsewhere in the valley, other grasshoppers landed on other noses, and the same scene repeated itself. Soon, bruised and bewildered, the monkeys returned to the hilltop.

I invite you to take leave of your minds! Your "monkey minds,’ to be more specific. The mind which rushes around, swinging at the moving target of life and causing itself suffering in the process.

Stephen and Ondrea Levine describe it this way:

Like a monkey swinging through the trees, propelled by desire from limb to limb, the unintended mind flits by, reaching out for the next object to grasp – the exquisite beauty of the forest canopy a blur, indistinct, unknown. . . Old mind is monkey mind. Old mind is small mind thinking. Old mind is compulsive reaction to unexplored stimuli. It is the uninvited, the mechanical, the moment as dream, as a blur of confusion and suffering. (Embracing the Beloved: Relationship as a Path of Awakening, p.221)

In the spirit of Buddhism, one is invited into Big mind. The "monkey mind" the "old" mind, the "small" mind are not banished. Rather, the horizons of our awareness are habitually expanded until these anxious, busy mind states float in a large space which puts them into perspective. Eventually, the goal is to experience "No Mind" – the state in which one loses all sense of separateness from the larger interconnected reality of which we are all a part.

The image of "monkey mind" comes from the Sutra of Mindfulness, one of the scriptures purported to pass on the teachings of the Buddha. Thich Nhat Hanh, teacher and practitioner of engaged Buddhism, explains, "The Sutra sometimes uses the expression ‘Bind the monkey’ to refer to taking hold of the mind. But the monkey image is only a means of expression. Once the mind is directly and continually aware of itself, it is no longer like a monkey. There are not two minds, one which swings from branch to branch and another which follows after to bind it with a piece of rope."

Two primary qualities of monkey come to mind for me: monkeys are constantly grasping onto things – and they are usually in motion – rapid motion – from one gripped branch to another. Over time, I’ve tried to be more aware of when my own mind was playing monkey. Its rather amusing, actually –- at least I find it so. In the grocery store, for example – the physical impulse to reach out and grasp things to put into one’s cart. The inner chatter, often just under awareness – "That looks good – that would taste good – I want it." Then the other voice, the critic’s voice: "That’s too expensive; that’s not good for you. That won’t keep well. You don’t need it. Don’t be so impulsive!" Rather like Thich Nhat Hanh’s two mind metaphor, actually – but the critic wanting to bind the monkey is not "big mind." Big mind is compassionate. Big mind practices loving kindness towards all parts of our complex beings. Big mind does not scold or reject. Big mind simply watches the thought processes with patience and acceptance, rather than identifying itself with those processes.

Sometimes it takes getting outside of our common surroundings to perceive clearly our monkey mind condition. One teacher describes her experience among Aboriginals in the Australian "out-back": "The society I was dealing with was so in contrast to my conceptual world that ‘I’ became totally undermined. . . gradually my mind became apparent to me. It was swirling, distraught, contradictory, a cacophony of ideas, statements, worries, ambitions, fears, hopes, delusions, and so on. And it was constant – no gaps at all. I started to feel desperate and inwardly crazy. I am grateful now."

A rather different metaphor to "monkey mind" comes from the Lay Buddhist movement called "Shambala." That school of Buddhism asserts that each of us lives in a cocoon we have constructed throughout our lives. The cocoon is a:

stale, familiar place patched together with habitual thoughts and emotions. Whenever anything fresh or sharp or unfamiliar threatens our usual way of being, we race back to the cocoon. . . We spend a great deal of time in that place. It is cozy, closed in, ‘safe,’ and protected. It is cozy because it has our own intimate taste – the taste of ‘me’. . The cocoon severs the connection between head and heart, so that we do not have to feel the rawness, subtlety, or unpredictability of our ever-changing world. We dwell in the lifeless masks that our minds have created for us and that cut ourselves off from feeling the response of our hearts to living energy. Ironically, by maintaining the cocoon we are deadening ourselves to our creative energy. By avoiding life, we are starving ourselves to death. (Sacred World: A Guide to Shambhala warriorship in daily life).

Two images – monkey and cocoon. One in constant motion, the other static, "stale." Are they talking about the same thing? In several ways, it seems to me they are fingers pointing to the same moon. Both are states of being which "sever the connection between head and heart." Both are compulsive – the one about grasping and the other about protecting. Buddhism talks about both attachment to pleasure and avoidance of pain being causes of suffering.

That is the crux of the question, is it not? Whether we actually believe that these habits of mind cause suffering, even though they masquerade as ways of avoiding it. Such a belief is the core of Buddhism – and one reason my Unitarian Universalist personal theology has taken on considerable Buddhist tinge.

So what causes the cocoon to fall away, or the monkey to still its frantic, grasping pace?

Woody Allen once quipped that most of life is just showing up. UU minister/Zen priest James Ishmael Ford entitled his recent introduction to Buddhism for UUs "This Very Moment." A common Buddhist aphorism is "Be here, now." Learning to be more fully present each moment of our lives – then letting that moment go for the next – not clinging – not trying to avoid pain – living in mindfulness – floating our small concerns in the sea of Big mind.

My colleague James explains why he, like many others among us, values the discipline of meditation:

I saw how much I desire, how much I want things and people to be permanent and real and always to be with me.

I find this clinging consciousness raging throughout my being. Indeed, the great burning desire that rises from deep within the neediest parts of myself is a raging, consuming fire. I want. I desire. I cling. This fire burns through everything, consuming all. Over the years, as I sit, I notice this clinging consciousness. I watch it rise. And miracle of miracles, I watch it fall. The fire may return, indeed it will. But it also burns out. And over the years as my practice continues, I discover my clinging dies for a while, to be reborn in new ways, but also a little less fierce. As I sit I even come to understand the clinging. Gradually I’ve come to know something of what it comes from. I find myself forgiving it and forgiving myself. In my sitting, knowing and forgiving become part of who I am.

For me, avoidance of pain has been a stronger motivator most of my life than desire. From an early age, I learned to be pretty philosophical about not getting what I thought I wanted. It is rarely difficult for me to let go of one direction if it proves unworkable, and to refocus upon another. But it is far harder to enter into pain. I’ve had to learn again and again that attempts to avoid pain create unnecessary suffering. At this point in my life, I’ve made some progress towards not taking pain so personally, but there is a ways to go. Big mind and large heart open to our pain. They help us to understand and let go of old personal griefs locked up in small mind.

There are many ways to help ourselves become more mindful in our everyday lives. Sitting meditation, walking meditation, journaling, gardening, intentional relationship -- According to Buddhism, the only way out of the cocoon and the only way to calm the monkey mind – is to pay attention to the details of our most ordinary experiences. All the more formal disciplines have the purpose of strengthening our ability to do this. But one can also dedicate a part of each day, or one day a week, to practice intentional mindfulness as one goes about the tasks of ordinary life. The Sabbath of old was really not a bad idea!

For me at present, sitting down to savor at least one meal a day is a small awareness goal. I tend to eat too often on the run, without tasting or savoring – and often not digesting all that well. And this season, anyway, gardening has become an important path of awareness. Monkey mind seems to settle down to a state of contentment while I am working with the soil.

Our culture teaches us to cultivate mindlessness rather than mindfulness – loud rock music, television, constant over-stimulation and activity – often competitive activity. What one Tibetan teacher refers to as "busy laziness." I worry particularly about our young people. It seems they rarely find time to roam along the river, nor the place to reflect upon their lives in a larger, Big mind frame. If we cocoon ourselves, as adults, we often cocoon our children even more – all in the name of good, protective parenting. Exactly what the Buddha’s father tried to do! But like the Buddha, all children will someday find out that pain and death are real. What tools have we offered them to handle such discoveries, when we do our best to cocoon away from them ourselves?

It sounds so simple: "Be here, Now." But there are costs. Surrendering certain aspects of ego is one. Another, less talked about, is the quality the Shambhalas call "outrageousness." Shambhala warriors are not supposed to be "caught up in fear or in hoping for any particular result. To accomplish what is needed, they are not afraid to go beyond conventional responses or the limits set by their habitual patterns of thinking or behaving." If one is responding with freshness, spontaneity and creativity to the present moment, what happens may not be conventional.

D.H. Lawrence catches something of that spirit in his poem called "Escape:"

When we get out of the glass bottle of our ego,
and when we escape
like squirrels in the cage of our personality
and get into the forest again, we shall shiver
with cold and fright.
But things will happen to us
so that we don’t know ourselves.
Cool, unlying life will rush in,
and passion will make our
bodies taut with power.
We shall laugh, and
institutions will curl up
like burnt paper.

Revolutionary stuff, this being truly mindful! "We shall laugh" – The fourth core quality of a Shambhala warrior – in addition to mindfulness, meekness and outrageousness –is what is called "perkiness." Playfulness is considered a necessity if one is to "get out of the glass bottle of ego" and live outrageously creative lives. Zen Buddhism is rife with it, and many other writers stress the importance of having a sense of humor about the human condition – our own especially!

If we patiently return to mindfulness, humility, and playfulness – if we are willing to appear outrageous – then we can be out of our "monkey minds" more and more of the time. I like how the Levine’s describe it:

It’s not that an old tune won’t play from time to time, but that these latent tendencies no longer feel driven to dance. The Top 40 is still playing in the back room – there is still some fear, anger, distrust, doubt, longing – but one does not feel compelled to react in wild gyration. Tapping the toe now and again will do. Fear may still arise out of old momentum, but it is responded to with such mercy and awareness that one is not afraid. Though fear floats through the mind, the inner experience is a fascination and even joy in not being caught in the same old ways, of not even being frightened of fear, of living life anew, of being fully alive in the moment.

Living life anew –- being fully alive in the moment.

The poet Rumi implores us:

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth
across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

Raised Unitarian Universalist in San Diego, CA, Linda Smith Stowell became fascinated with the life of the Buddha as a result of her UU church school experience. Currently, she belongs to a Buddhist Study Group and is minister to the Unitarian Congregation in Saskatoon, SK, where there is as strong "Bu-UU" contingent. She holds a D.Min. degree with a specialization in "Religion and Society."

Smaller Tragedies

Richelle Carmichael Russell

A woman is enjoying herself in a boat on a river one early morning. She sees another boat coming down the river toward her. At first it seems so nice to her, that someone else is enjoying the river on a nice, spring morning. Then she realizes that the boat is coming right toward her, faster and faster. She begins to get upset and starts to yell, "Hey, HEY–watch out! For goodness sake, turn aside!" But the boat just comes faster and faster, right toward her. By this time, she's standing up in the boat, causing it to pitch violently side to side, yelling at the top of her lungs and waving her arms in the air. The other boat crashes right into her. Then she sees that it's an empty boat.

There are a lot of empty boats that we get ourselves all worked up about. They are things small or imagined that cause us to sweat, yell, and brace ourselves for their terrible impact. They are the empty boats that are the smaller tragedies of our lives. Tragic, because, small or imagined dangers begin to take up a big part of precious thought and energy–away from the more important things. What a waste of the present moment that can be.

Smaller tragedies are feelings of jealousy, regret and boredom. Everyone feels them at one time or another. But when they come to dominate your thoughts, feelings and relationships they have grown into tragic proportions.

Jealousy is the green dragon of relationships. Jealousy is similar to envy, but not the same. Envy craves something it does not have, whereas jealousy fears to loose something, or more accurately, someone, that it already has. The green dragon of jealousy is the smaller tragedy that can become great if allowed to run rampant in our relationships. It grows out of personal insecurity, or a past experience of betrayal. It is often completely imagined. Because jealousy is such a common dragon there are many great stories on it: the jealousy between brothers or sisters; and, of course, the jealousy between lovers.

A great example is in Shakespeare's Othello:

But jealous souls will not be answer'd so;
They are not ever jealous for the cause,
But jealous for they are jealous; 'tis a monster
Begot upon itself, born on itself.

Jealousy in jealous souls turns into a monster in our personal relationships, a dragon, born on itself. In Othello, jealousy takes on truly tragic proportions. In real life, jealousy is something imagined or blown out of proportion by us. The tragedy is that if left unchecked it can consume your thoughts and feelings, potentially destroying good relationships and preventing you from enjoying what you have.

Jealousy rarely gives us accurate information about betrayal. But it can tell us what we value. The lesson of jealousy is always about ourselves. It is a reminder of how precious certain relationships really are. Similarly, jealousy toward another tells us about our personal dreams and ambitions–some of which we might work toward. Unexamined, jealousy is just an empty boat careening into your relationships.

There is regret, or what I call the "if onlies." If only I could (fill in the blank) then I would be happy, comfortable, whole and so forth. We all have the "if onlies." They are regretful feelings about past decisions and present commitments. Since regrets are rooted in the past they are circumstances we cannot alter. I have known people, who, tragically, are so completely consumed with regret related to the past that they are completely unable to enjoy any of the abundance of what they now have.

The character, Eeyore, in the Winnie the Pooh stories is the epitome of regret. We love these stories, in part, because there is a little Eeyore in each of us. Eeyore wallows in and is virtually paralyzed by his regrets. "How are you?" said Winnie-the-Pooh. Eeyore shook his head from side to side. "Not very how," he said. "I don't seem to have felt at all how for a long time." Sadly, Eeyore was missing his tail, and he didn't even remember when he lost it, but the feeling that something bad had happened making Eeyore never feel quite right, was now explained. "If only I had a tail," he thought.

Hearing Eeyore's despair, Winnie-the-Pooh set out to find Eeyore's tail. After an energetic search, he did find one and reattached it to Eeyore. Unlike Eeyore, who was practically drowning in his feelings of regret, Pooh lived perfectly in the present with present solutions. He gave Eeyore a tail that Eeyore now knew he had. And the truth is, we don't really know whether Eeyore ever lost his tail in the first place, but that he was so consumed with regrets that he was not able to presently enjoy even his own tail.

The one upside of regrets is the opportunity to pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off and to learn from our mistakes. The other is to allow ourselves to feel genuine regret in a way that allows us to bring some closure and to move on.

If you get too caught up in your regrets you, too, can "feel not very how." And you feel not very now. So, regret is the smaller tragedy, that empty boat that can prevent you from living in the present.

The third smaller tragedy is boredom. A man named George Sheehan wrote about his experience of boredom at age 59:

The fight, then, is never with age, it is with boredom, with routine, with the danger of not living at all. Then life will stop, growth will cease, learning will come to an end. You no longer become who you are.

You begin to kill time or live it without thought or purpose. Everything that is happiness, all that is excitement, whatever you know of joy and delight, will evaporate. Life will be reduced to a slow progression of days and weeks and months. Time will become an enemy instead of [a friend].

As it turns out, George Sheehan's fear of the creeping affect of boredom moved him to take on a new activity. He became an avid long-distance runner. He says that as a result of boredom, you "no longer become who you are." Boredom is something that actually reduces us. If you are routinely bored, you are living a lesser version of yourself.

A potential benefit of small doses of boredom is that it can be a state of creative gestation, quiet preparation for taking action or new ideas. It can also prevent you from taking meaningless action by slowing you down into a greater mindfulness.

Boredom begins to surface in the listless couch dwelling of adolescence but comes to full force in many of us when we are middle-aged and older–when the learning curve of life begins to flatten out a bit. Of the three smaller tragedies, boredom in a prolonged state is the quietest, but no less tragic.

Jealousy, boredom, and regret: they are feelings we all have. They become a problem when they start to dominate our thoughts and feelings. Part of how you become unencumbered by these smaller tragedies is to simply lighten up. This is particularly true with feelings of jealousy and regret. By taking a more gentle and appreciative attitude toward oneself and others, the burden begins to lessen.

Get acquainted with those empty boats, those pesky and even harmful feelings of jealousy, regret, and boredom. Let them become your friend. No person or event can totally take away your sense of joy in this present life without your consent. And when you're done with getting to know your own jealousy, regrets and boredom, un-tether those boats and let them drift away. You can choose to live fully and joyfully in the present.

That woman who I mentioned earlier, she is back in her boat on the river early one morning. Again, she sees another boat coming down the river toward her. This time, feeling neither happy, nor sad, but simple contentment, she is mindful of the other boat on this nice spring morning. She observes that the boat seems to be coming toward her. She is alert and watchful to respond whichever way the situation unfolds. The boat comes quickly, in her direction. She calls out, "Hello my friend, have you come to see me?" She is curious that there is no answer. As the other boat nudges right into her boat, she sees that it is empty and she laughs aloud.

Nothing to Point to,Nothing to Grasp

Andrew Agacki

Cold: the air; the sun.
Chewing tingling gibberish -
A leaf blowing by!

Early in the morning, the day before last Thanksgiving, I involuntarily started to 'fall', very slowly; a strange pulling on my right side, as if I had 'wanted' to. Forcing myself up, I wondered if I was just tired. No bother, I was soon fine. Then, in the afternoon, as I was getting into my car with my youngest son, the right side of my tongue 'tingled', as if I had just left the dentist. I couldn't reach the buckle for my seatbelt, and I couldn't remember how it worked. When I spoke to my son, it took a bit of concentration to find the words, and more, to say them. Curious, I thought. In about 15 minutes, this, too, went away. In the evening, my family and I went out for dinner. It happened again. I concentrated very hard on forming the words that I would say to my wife; calm, but telling her, nonetheless, that I thought I had had a stroke. I was in the hospital for 3 days, and in the end found, contrary to the seriousness of the TIA (Transient Ischemic Attacks), nothing out of the ordinary. No damage on the Brain Scan, the Echo-Cardiogram and Ultrasound of my Carotids showed all to be perfectly clear, and my cholesterol 'not quite up to border-line' … and NO after-affects. Currently, my only prescribed treatment: 1 aspirin per day. Why so long before I decided to go to the hospital? I wasn't sure what I was experiencing until the 3rd (and last) incident.

I still have no sense of urgency, or worry, about it, two-weeks later. Nothing to point to, nothing to grasp. If only I had had something show up on the tests in the hospital. Then there would be a 'thing' I could point to and say, 'That's it! There's my answer'! But it never seems to be like that, with me; it would be too easy (though 'easy' I wouldn't mind ONCE in a while!). No; I don't suppose I want easy answers, when all is said and done. I would rather be mildly uncomfortable with the thought that I don't have the 'answer', then trust in someone else's words, someone ELSE'S answer. Something to grasp, something to hold on to: nice for the moment, but transient. Tomorrow's another day, if it comes … another moment for the cushion.

Currently a member of the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, Andrew Agacki has been practicing for 10 years, and took Precepts in the Kwan Um School of Zen in 1998.

A Buddhist Bibliography for UU’s

General Introductions

Smith, Huston

The world's religions : our great wisdom traditions. HarperSanFrancisco, 1991. (Rev. and updated ed. of: The religions of man. 1958.) Chapter on "Buddhism." pages 82-153.

A clear and brief overview. Shortcomings are pointed out in a review by UU minister Robert Senghas in his review (http://www.wp.com/ uubf/sangha2.htm#review)

Bercholz , Samuel & Sherab Chödzin Kohn,

Entering the stream : an introduction to the Buddha and his teachings. Boston : Shambhala, 1993.

An anthology introducing Buddhism to Westerners, with selections from traditional Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and Tibetan sources and also contemporary Buddhist teachers.

Hesse, Hermann

Siddhartha. New York, New Directions, 1951.

The classic fictionalized biography of the Buddha.

Nhât Hanh, Thích

Old path, white clouds : walking in the footsteps of the Buddha. Berkeley. : Parallax Press, 1991.

A lovely, but long, compilation of the life and teaching (sutras) of the Buddha.

Kabat-Zinn, Jon

Wherever you go, there you are : mindfulness meditation in everyday life. Hyperion, 1994.

An introduction to mindfulness meditation, a practice common to almost all types of Buddhism.

Full catastrophe living : using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness New York : Delacorte Press, 1990.

A general practice book geared to those facing serious health problems.

Unitarian-Universalists and Buddhism

Ford, James Ishmael

This very moment : a brief introduction to Buddhism and Zen for Unitarian Universalists. Skinner House Books, 1996.


Suzuki, Shunryu

Zen mind, beginner's mind. New York, Walker/Weatherhill, 1970.

A classic introduction to the spirit of Zen.

Kapleau, Philip

The three pillars of Zen: teaching, practice, and enlightenment. New York, Harper & Row,1966.

Another classic, this is a comprehensive and practical overview of Zen.

Nhât Hanh, Thích

The miracle of mindfulness! : a manual of meditation. Boston : Beacon Press, 1976.

A highly recommended introduction to the practice of mindfulness, based on the author’s training as a monk.

Peace is every step : the path of mindfulness in everyday life. New York: Bantam Books, 1991.

How to adapt simple Zen principles for daily living.

Beck, Charlotte Joko

Everyday Zen : love and work. San Francisco : Harper & Row, 1989.

Daily living for modern Americans.

Look for more listings in the next issue! Have a favorite book? Email or write to your editor.

This bibliography is based on the recommendations of Rev. Mary Katherine Morn, Phil Chanin, Alan Leiserson and Anna Belle Leiserson.


Editorial Insights

Looking Forward to General Assembly

General Assembly will be in Nashville, Tennessee this year and the UU Buddhist Fellowship will be presenting a program as we have in the past. Our President, Dorrie Senghas writes:

We will present a panel discussion lead by our own James Ford. The Title is Returning to the World with Bliss-Bestowing Hands. . Here is the description, written by James, of the event as it will appear in the UUA Progam: "James Ford, a Zen sensei and a UU minister, will lead a panel discussion on Buddhist practices and how they shape our lives as Unitarian Universalists. Other panelists will be the Unitarian Universalist Rev. Joel Baehr, senior practitioner of Tibetan Dzog-chen and Dorrie Seishu Senghas, long-time Zen student." Our event is tentatively scheduled for Friday, June 23rd.

In addition and for the first time the UUBF will have a table in the exhibit hall–and I hope also a banner for the banner parade and to decorate our display table. We need suggestions for the table, and we’ll need you devoted members to help staff it! One idea is to have available books on Buddhism for sale. I have already talked with Helen Atwan at Beacon Press, and she has agreed to give us Beacon Press titles on consignment. This would include James’ This Very Moment and titles by Sandy Boucher and Thich Nhat Hahn. I also talked with the director of the bookstore at Zen Mountain Monastery, where I am a student; he also agreed to provide books on consignment. We need input as to whether this is a good idea and also to what others uses we can put our table. Let’s hear from you!