3/14/11  P.S.

If all the tumult in the world today inclines you toward looking at the really big picture, consider this, posted on Facebook by Tassajara Summer 09 pal Justin Snider:


Monday, 3/14/11

In the aftermath of the Japan earthquake and tsunami, we are overcome with horror, grief, and a profound sense of helplessness.  There really isn’t much we can do to effectively help with the situation in Japan.  However, good friend Rev. Florence Caplow of Everyday Zen posted an obvious suggestion on Facebook:

“I really think that Zen students and Zen centers across the country should consider fund-raising for Japan at this time. Think of all the gifts that have come our way from them – here’s a way we can give back just a little. This organization seems like a good place to start – please pass on.”

Japan Earthquake Relief Fund | Japan Society

> Japan Society has created a disaster relief fund to aid victims of the Tohoku earthquake in Japan. Over the years, Japan Society has partnered with several Japanese and American non-profits working on the frontlines of disaster relief and recovery. 100% of your generous tax-deductible contributions will go to organization(s) that directly help victims recover from the devastating effects of the earthquake and tsunamis that struck Japan on March 11, 2011.

Japan Society extends its heartfelt sympathy and deepest condolences to the people of Japan who lost loved ones in Friday’s earthquake and tsunami . . . Japan Society will keep its members and the public updated on the situation through our website, www.japansociety.org/earthquake.  <


It isn’t much, but this is one quick, easy way to help out a little bit.  It seems like the least we can do.

Monday, March 7th, 2011

Ordinarily I would have been in the zendo right now.  Ordinarily it would have been my turn to give the little dharma talkette tonight, and I intended to commemorate International Women’s Day (which is tomorrow) by talking about American women in Zen.  However, I was not able to be in the zendo this evening, so Joe’s talk was about Vimalakirti  —  a far-out Buddhist teacher dude from back in the Buddha’s day.

So here is my online offering for tonight:

Beginner’s Mind Baby

8-month-old boy laughs hysterically while at-home daddy rips up a job rejection letter.

Thank you, My Healing Sanctuary on Facebook!

:D   Russ

” . . . [S]erious Zen students make their best effort to be mindful of the trap of self-orientation, guided instead by a world view that puts emphasis on the well-being of others, rather than on themselves. They aspire to live authentically, according to their true nature and to Buddhist teaching, which emphasizes a high moral standard in the conduct of daily affairs . . . ”

–  Les Keido Kaye, Roshi


On September 19th of last year, I posted a blog comment about a then-breaking Zen news story concerning decades-long sexual and financial misconduct on the part of the abbot of a prominent Zen training temple on the east coast.  That story is ongoing.  The teacher in question has never really acknowledged or atoned for his deplorable betrayals of his students’ trust.  In fact, in at least a significant portion of his life, he has consistently conducted himself in a way that is exactly 180 degrees opposite from what we as Buddhist priests vow.  Clearly, the man is in need of professional help, and it’s already too late to prevent the irreparable harm his actions have caused to many of his sangha members.  And — by failing to recognize and name the pattern, confront the teacher, and protect the community from exploitation — many of the senior students surrounding this teacher have come to be seen as somehow complicit in the teacher’s sociopathic behavior.  The ripple effects of both the teacher’s gross abuses of power and the senior sangha’s failure to respond effectively and in a timely way will continue to be felt — both in the directly affected sangha and in the greater American Zen community — for probably decades.

Now, this week, news is emerging about yet another prominent Zen teacher’s long-time sexual misconduct, and the efforts now being made by his sangha to limit the damage going forward.

Both of these cases raise questions about the teacher-student relationship, about how to assess the behavior of allegedly enlightened individuals and their methods, about how much accountability senior students have for their teachers’ actions.  Even about the level of legal, civil liability a board of directors has for the conduct of its nonprofit organization director.  There are so many variables and grey areas — so many cultural aspects, personalities and subjective view points — that it can seem almost impossible to generalize about such situations.  And all the many first-order questions are only further complicated by our Buddhist recognition of dependent arising, and by our right-speech reluctance to speak publicly about matters in which we are not directly involved.

But one thing is clear:  Both the current generation of well-established Zen teachers and we novice, next-generation Zen priests and teachers have a lot of work ahead of us.  To begin with, we need to initiate a formal, consensus-building dialogue that will lead to our establishing more concrete professional standards of behavior and “best practices” for American Zen teachers and practice centers.  And then I believe we should devise easily-understood behavioral criteria that sanghas both large and small can use to measure their own communities’ and teachers’ religious health and well-being.  These two sets of skillful means deliverables seem like pretty obvious first steps in what should be an ongoing, comprehensive process of macro-level reflection and professional self-development.

–  Russ

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

(Groundhog Day)

It’s 3 degrees outside in Albuquerque right now (that’s right, three degrees – not thirty – it’s not a typo), and it’s projected to get down to minus 11 degrees tonight.  Jeeminy Christmas!  That seems a bit excessive for Albuquerque, doesn’t it?!   Holy schimoly!

One of my oldest and dearest friends, Lesa Soderlund Behling, sent me an Oprah Magazine article today, about a former police captain who became a Buddhist teacher.  I’m really looking forward to reading it.  Thank you, Lesa!

And I’m thinking of taking the article’s pull quote, from 1st century Greek philosopher Epictetus, and adding it to the sig file on my emails.  I think maybe this quote pretty much sums up all the teachings from Buddhism and Integral Life Coaching in a succinct, pithy sound bite (or whatever they call the reading equivalent).  See what you think:

“No great thing is created suddenly.  There must be time.  Give your best and always be kind.”

–  Epictetus

:D  Love, Russ

Monday, January 31, 2011

Lou Hartman’s San Francisco Chronicle obituary:


Thursday, January 20th, 2011

In the past ten days, three people connected to the Desert Mirror Sangha have died:  Zen teacher Darlene Cohen of the Russian River Zendo; Roberta Learner, the mother of devoted DMZ practitioner Andrea Bliss; and our venerable dharma uncle, Lou Hartman of San Francisco Zen Center, husband of senior dharma teacher and former co-abbess Blanche Hartman.

Lou and Blanche Hartman

Yet at the same time, less than a month into official winter, the first bulbs of spring are already poking their little green heads up above the ground.

So it’s obvious that both birth and death are all around us in each moment, whether direct personal experience brings them forcefully to our attention or not.

What does this mean?  What are we to do with this information?  What would be an appropriate response to this unfathomable reality?  These are the questions we attempt to answer through our Zen practice and our lives together.

I don’t think it’s possible to come to any definitive, final answers, at least not if we’re really paying attention.  But the ongoing challenge of forming and testing provisional, working hypotheses about what is most important — and why, and how to express that in our lives – is this sangha’s reason for existence.

Thank you, dear dharma family members, both close in and far away, for your shining practices.  Thank you, Roberta, for giving to your darling daughter and to all of us an amazing life lesson in your graceful passing.  Thank you, Darlene and Lou, for being the funny, quirky, completely original and authentic selves and dharma teachers that you were.

Here is a little poem that Lou Hartman wrote after his first sesshin (meditation retreat) with Suzuki Roshi.


What a laugh!

The actor serving tea in the zendo

thinks he’s me!


We will greatly miss our departed sangha family members and friends.  Joe and I deeply pine to be with our San Francisco Zen Center family at this time of Lou’s passing – a major milestone in the community.  But circumstances do not permit our physical presence, so we will have to somehow try to be satisfied with just sending our safe travels wishes from afar.

Our eyes are brimming with tears.  And the tips of the new, little tulip leaves are so beautiful.

Love, Russ

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

This starts slowly, but it builds.  (Like practice.)


Wednesday, 1/12/11

“To practice is to fully confront and embrace the problem of being human.”                                – Norman Fischer

In the wee hours of the morning today, our great, abiding friend, Zen teacher Darlene Cohen of the Russian River Zendo, died.  She was 69 years old.

According to her student, priest Lisa Hoffman, Darlene’s death was seamless. Husband Tony said that one moment Darlene was breathing, and the next moment, she wasn’t.  She was in no pain, and the family had been with her for many hours.

Darlene’s body — washed, bathed in yerba santa tea from Tassajara, and dressed in her priest robes — is lying in state in the Russian River Zendo, covered with fragrant flowers.  Her sangha is sitting with her now, and numerous ceremonies and rituals will be performed both before and after her cremation on Friday.

After zazen this Monday evening, the 17th of January, Desert Mirror Sangha will hold a memorial service for Darlene.  In the dharma discussion after service, we will talk about her teachings, and anyone who would like to share a story or two is welcome to participate.

We wish safe passage to Su Rei Ken Po (Great Spirit Manifesting Dharma), and we send blessings and equanimity to her husband, Tony Patchell, and to all of Darlene’s family, friends and loved ones.  As Lisa says, “May we all find comfort in sangha, and in the wisdom of Darlene’s teachings and the joy of her essence.”

“I think most people practice zazen when they don’t have many problems, when they feel very good. But actually, you should practice zazen when you don’t feel so good. Then you will know how to live with your problems, how to take care of your problems without escaping from them, without fighting. You should practice zazen when you have problems, when you have bad feelings—anxiety, confusion or hatred. And when you have good feelings, you may think it is not necessary to practice zazen, but that is also a mistake. The reason you have good feelings is because of your dualistic mind. A very good feeling is very dangerous because it is the other side of the bad feeling. So when you have good feelings, you must also practice zazen. When you have neutral feelings, it may not be so dualistic, so it may not be necessary to practice zazen. Sometimes we practice zazen with neutral feelings, but that is not real zazen.”

–Suzuki Roshi, from a lecture at Reed College on 3/12/1971

Most people begin a meditation practice with the idea that they have some problems, and that meditation will help them to get rid of those problems, or at least be able to deal with them more effectively.  We have this idea that if we practice correctly, we will get rid of our problems.  But it turns out that our problems are actually what makes practice possible.  In the same way that a tire can’t gain any traction on slick ice and needs some roughness to be able to move forward, our practice requires the roughness of our lives to be able to gain traction.  Practice is only possible because of our problems.  If we didn’t have any problems, that would be a real problem!

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