16 Apr
Posted in: Poems
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We Hold These Truths….

by Tracy K. Smith

He has
………….sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our 
He has plundered our–

……………..ravaged our–

…………………….destroyed the lives of our….

taking away our–

………………………….abolishing our most valuable–

and altering fundamentally the Forms of our–

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for
Redress in the most humble terms:

…………………………….Our repeated
Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.

We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration
and settlement here.

…………………………….–taken Captive
…………………………………..on the high Seas
………………………………………………………………..to bear



“Declaration” is an erasure poem drawn from the text of the Declaration of Independence.

13 Apr
Posted in: Poems
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Now More Than Ever

No Going Back
by Wendell Berry

No, no, there is no going back.
Less and less you are
that possibility you were.
More and more you have become
those lives and deaths
that have belonged to you.
You have become a sort of grave
containing much that was
and is no more in time, beloved
then, now, and always.
And so you have become a sort of tree
standing over a grave.
Now more than ever you can be
generous toward each day
that comes, young, to disappear
forever, and yet remain
unaging in the mind.
Every day you have less reason
not to give yourself away.

12 Apr
Posted in: Practice, Talks
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The “And” Practice

Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of dharma talks that Phillip Moffitt has given at the Marin Sangha because there he’s primarily focused on Dharma Practice in Daily Life (as opposed to most of the talks from Spirit Rock, which are usually in a retreat setting).

At the beginning of the one I listened to last night (Exploring the Many Dimensions of Metta), Phillip took comments from the sangha members about their experience using the Metta phrases. One woman said that her favorite phrase was: May you be at peace. She said she often repeats it to herself as she goes about her day. And then just recently, while she was on her way to the office, someone darted out in front of her car and she blurted out: Oh you asshole! But then right after that, she found herself thinking: May you be at peace.

(Everyone laughed.)

Phillip said, “That’s what I call the ‘And… Practice.’ It’s like: I’m so mad…. or It’s so unfair… then you add the ‘and….

“The ‘And… Practice’ is what connects you back to a wholesome state when you’ve moved to an unwholesome state of mind. You’re already having the unwholesome mind state, so you accept that, and then the ‘and…’ is your intention to go back to the wholesome state. Maybe you go back and maybe you don’t, but that’s your intention. The practice connects you back to your deepest intention.”


I love that!

I don’t think I’ve ever heard it explained quite like that before. I’ve heard of using “and” instead of “but” in conversation, as a way of being inclusive and to keep from being argumentative, but never as a way to re-connect with a deeper intention.

I’m going to try it.


The whole talk is a terrific, by the way. Click here to listen.

11 Apr
Posted in: Retreats
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You’ve Got to Play to Win

The Forest Refuge (which I mentioned in yesterday’s post) has just announced its schedule of teachers for 2019 and I see that Ajahn Sucitto will be teaching the month of May. Because he’s such a popular teacher (rightly so), admission will be by lottery.

I’ve applied three years in a row and I’ve never gotten in. (There are 30 beds at the Forest Refuge. The wait list alone is usually well over 100.)

Guy and Sally Armstrong will also be teaching at the Forest Refuge next year. Their retreat is the month of June. It’s also admission by lottery.

It would be AWESOME to attend those retreats back-to-back. But I’d have to “win” the lottery — twice!

What the heck.

I’m going for it!


Want to join me? Applications for Ajahn Sucitto’s May 2019 retreat are due June 5, 2018. Applications for Guy and Sally Armstrong’s June 2019 retreat are due July 25, 2018. Click here for more information.

10 Apr
Posted in: Books, Retreats
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If You Practice Deeply…

Later this month I’ll be spending a few days with my mentor, Lila Kate Wheeler, and I’m getting ready by reading one of the books she edited: The State of Mind Called Beautiful, a collection of talks given by Sayadaw U Panditata at the Forest Refuge (pictured above, where I sat a 5-week retreat at the beginning of this year).

Here’s an excerpt from the book, which I offer with the hope of encouraging you go on retreat!!!

“Only by practicing the Buddha’s teachings and training (Dhamma Vinaya) can one fulfill the intent of the Buddha’s compassion. To gain the benefits of Dhamma Vinaya, the Buddhist texts offer the following four guidelines:

  1. Associate with a person who is knowledgeable and can teach the Dhamma.
  2. Hear the correct teachings.
  3. Engage wise attention, which means directing one’s life wisely, as well as maintaining upright behavior in all circumstances.
  4. Practice well in accordance with the Dhamma Vinaya.

“These days many people are not well versed in Buddhist literature; they do not apply the teachings correctly. Such people will slip from the correct path. If you’re careful to fulfill these four requirements, your contact with the Dhamma Vinaya will be worthwhile. If you don’t fulfill them, beware, for you could be wasting an amazing opportunity — a human life.

“Meditation practice leads us to gain insight, the eye of wisdom that understands what the Buddha understood and what he was trying to teach.

Attending intensive meditation retreats fosters maximum depth of practice and exposes you to the guidance of qualified teachers. Retreats, then, support the first, third, and fourth guidelines above.

“On retreat, internal and external purity are easier to achieve than in everyday life. Both of these forms of purity are indispensable for anyone who wants to develop insight…

If you are at all able to set aside time for a retreat, of course you must encourage yourself to choose that option, even if it means giving up something else, like a vacation. And once you have entered an intensive practice period, please, please, do not waste the opportunity in distraction and laziness. Retreat time is precious. You never know when, or whether, you can come back again!

“If you practice deeply you may encounter the experience of nibbana, genuine knowledge of the Dhamma, and the Four Noble Truths.

Mediation practice is the one and only way to gain and experience this. There is no other way.”

9 Apr
Posted in: Books, Groups
By    Comments Off on Beneath the Surface Glitter

Beneath the Surface Glitter

The KM Book Study group meets tonight to continue our discussion of In the Buddha’s Words, by Bhikkhu Bodhi. We’re on Chapter 6: Deepening One’s Perspective on the World.

Here’s an excerpt:
“To follow the Buddha in the direction he wants to lead us, we have to learn to see beneath the surface glitter of pleasure, position, and power that usually enthralls us, and at the same time, to learn to see through the deceptive distortions of perception, thought, and views that habitually cloak our vision.

“Ordinarily, we represent things to ourselves through the refractory prism of subjective biases. These biases are shaped by our craving and attachments, which they in turn reinforce. We see things that we want to see; we blot out things that threaten or disturb us, that shake our complacency, that throw into question our comforting assumptions.

To undo this process involves a commitment to truth that is often unsettling, but in the long run proves exhilarating and liberating.”


Let’s dive in!

6 Apr
Posted in: Poems
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There’s Only Transition

What Gets Learned While Doing Time
by Ajahn Sucitto
from Travels in the Middle Land

At the edge of the river’s mouth,
there’s a boat, still stuck and creaking,
in which we all used to doze the days.
This was before the ocean stretched out its arms;
before I inhaled its tang of homelessness,
like a kid sniffing dad’s whisky.

Half drunk, I can still feel the sea-pull.
It sucks me out on a blessing journey–
to be amazed by narwhals and tritons
and buoyed up by each wave’s eloquence.
For years my juices have been trickling out,
trying to eat the fruit in that mouth.

But isn’t this how we all get formed–
chasing the wake of what’s already past us?
And isn’t it true that, even without my ear,
the shell I picked up was always roaring;
and that, even as I open it, a door squeals:
‘Right here is your non-location’ ?

Doesn’t any sail flapping in desultory winds
yawn: ‘Your passion goes just this far.’ ?
There’s only transition, soft like the snow;
it’s drifting from nowhere to nowhere–
and yet each flake, as it falls on the water,
is quietly kissing our prayer beads.

And everything melts into a blessing.

So I don’t have to hunt for some thing.
No more cabins with spying windows.
No more gripping tides. Even the moon
that’s dogged our lives can take a break–
as, out of the compacted silts of mind,
its endless dream-journey, and its truth,

another intention bubbles up.
And, embarrassed by the touch of light,
rides the roll of an incoming wave.
Says this time there’ll be no drowning.
Who can tell? And anyway,
I always wanted to die in beauty.

But perhaps she’s right:
clear reflection has no weight.
As the days discreetly move out,
let the muttering questions go comb the shore.
To get off this boat, one step is enough–
and I float on an ocean of deepening.

5 Apr
Posted in: Books, Dharma Friends, Racism
By    Comments Off on At the Threshold

At the Threshold

From In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History, by Mitch Landrieu, which my CDL “White Awake” group will be discussing next month:

“Unlike the cursing anonymous voice on a telephone, or the menacing face, or the billy club that split John Lewis’s head in Selma, Alabama at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965, implicit bias is hard to see; implicit bias is a silent snake that slinks around in ways we don’t notice.

“Questions gather at the threshold of transformative awareness. Whom do we sit with at lunch? Who are the kids we invite to our children’s parties? Or look at for honors programs at school? Who do we think of as smart, with good moral fiber, God-loving and patriotic? To whom do we give the benefit of the doubt, and why? Who are the people we condemn most quickly?

“As questions multiply about the consequences of race, it forces you to look in the mirror and see yourself as you really are, not who you’ve been told you are, not who society has made you to be, and not the image you want others to perceive.

“That’s when you start noticing things about yourself you never thought about before. The sight is not always pretty.”

4 Apr
Posted in: Books
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Deliberately More Colloquial

I’d like to share this wonderfully straight-forward translation of the Four Noble Truths from Turning the Wheel of Truth: Commentary on the Buddha’s First Teaching, by Ajahn Sucitto (pictured here).

“There is a noble truth with regard to suffering. Birth is difficult; aging is hard; dying is painful. Sorrow, grieving, pain, anguish, and despair are all painful. Being stuck with what you don’t like is stressful; being separated from what you do like is stressful; not getting what you want is stressful. In brief, the five aggregates that are affected by clinging bring no satisfaction.

“There is a noble truth concerning the arising of suffering: it arises with craving, a thirst for more that’s bound up with relish and passion and is always running here and there. That is: thirst for sense-input, thirst to be something, thirst to not be something.

“There is a noble truth about the cessation of suffering. It is the complete fading away and cessation of this craving; its abandonment and relinquishment; getting free from and being independent of it.

“There is a noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering. It is the noble eightfold path: namely, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.”


In the introduction, Sucitto explains: “…since the teaching was given so long ago in a culture different from our own, its wording and allusions can cause us modern readers to stumble. For starters, it’s written in the Pali language, which is an amalgam of various ancient, vernacular Indian dialects. This language of the text is similar to Sanskrit, but is deliberately more colloquial.

“This is because the Buddha chose to teach in the spoken dialects of ordinary people in order to get his message across more readily–not that this helps the modern Westerner. Sanskrit was the literary language, reserved for the upper caste, so by using ordinary language, the Buddha was making the point that his teaching wasn’t philosophical or only for the learned. Instead, it is supposed to reach ordinary people, be matter-of-fact, and accessible.”


I think Ajahn Sucitto’s translation goes a long way toward doing just that.

3 Apr
Posted in: Poems
By    Comments Off on Love in the Water

Love in the Water

Wade in the Water
for the Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters
by Tracy K. Smith, U.S. Poet Laureate

One of the women greeted me.
I love you, she said. She didn’t
Know me, but I believed her,
And a terrible new ache
Rolled over in my chest,
Like in a room where the drapes
Have been swept back. I love you,
I love you, as she continued
Down the hall past other strangers,
Each feeling pierced suddenly
By pillars of heavy light.
I love you, throughout
The performance, in every
Handclap, every stomp.

I love you in the rusted iron
Chains someone was made
To drag until love let them be
Unclasped and left empty
In the center of the ring.
I love you in the water
Where they pretended to wade,
Singing that old blood-deep song
That dragged us to those banks
And cast us in. I love you,
The angles of it scraping at
Each throat, shouldering past
The swirling dust motes
In those beams of light
That whatever we now know
We could let ourselves feel, knew
To climb. O Woods–O Dogs–
O Tree–O Gun–O Girl, run
O Miraculous Many Gone–
O Lord–O Lord–O Lord–
Is this love the trouble you promised?