Hold It All

Category: Buddhism

Cheer Up!

Dear Simone,

It’s been a pleasure to spend the last seven months reading together Montaigne, Sarah Blakewell, Peter Berger, and, above all, Pierre Hadot! Your fascination with him has deepened my own: The Present Alone Is Our Happiness and Philosophy as  a Way of Life are full of “news we can use,” echoing Pema Chödrön.

In fact, her little book, Always Maintain Only a Joyful Mind  frequently reminds me of Hadot’s work.  Buddhism is a form, a choice, and  a way of life.  We can and must be attentive to this instant, this present moment, only moment.  The 59 mind-training slogans are  spiritual exercises to practice hour by hour, on the spot. They are a call to be aware of our inordinate self-cherishing and egoism, and drop them when we recognize  what we are doing.  One does well to “keep them at hand,” as the Stoics  themselves advised long ago. Like Stephen Batchelor, she has given retreats over the decades, and has responded to innumerable questions of practitioners;  she would remind people that the slogans are not theory, but therapy, in the root sense of the word, healing, for  ourselves and our world.  

This book is a condensed version of Start Where You Are, an extensive commentary on the 59. It would be easy to carry around with one throughout the day. Here are a few slogans with her succinct comments— Read the rest of this entry »

Miracle One-Liners

I pulled the following from Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness


“Look at the cypress tree over there.”

“Washing the dishes to wash the dishes”

“The finger which points at the moon isn’t the moon itself.”

The real miracle is… to walk on earth.”

“Look at all beings with the eyes of compassion.”

“The bell calls me back to my true self.”

“Stop mental dispersion and build up concentration power.”

“Each act is a rite, a ceremony.”

“Recognition without judgment”

“One day of mindfulness each week”

“Keeping one’s consciousness alive to the present reality”

“One is all, all is one.”

“If we cannot live for them, whom else do we think we are living for?”




Stating the Obvious
for Savannah

Thich Nhat Hanh’s poem “The Good News” is good news
Universal Design is good news

Sunday potlucks are good news
Song lyrics dedicated to a friend are good news

Vigiling for Palestine is still good news even with the 24/7 bad news in Gaza
Hand-drawn posters are good news

Bicycling in the city and Forest Park is good news
Pablo Neruda poem is good news

Saying “Yes!” is good news
Serene indifference to texting is good news

Health Literacy is good news
Cheerfulness is very good news

Classmate camaraderie is good news
Knowing what one is meant to do is good news

Not putting your light under a bushel basket is good news
Home sweet home (but not more than two weeks) is good news

Unfinished graph of consciousness poem on Palestine is good news
You (obviously) are good news

Read the rest of this entry »

Dharma Sister


The poet W. H. Auden wrote
“The funniest and kindest of mortals
Are those who are most aware of the baffle of being”
(A friend named Rex used this quotation
In an inscription to me of Thomas Merton’s
New Seeds of Contemplation
circa 1982)

I’d adapt the poet this way:
“The funnest, friendliest, and kindest of mortals
Are those who are most aware
Of the beauty of Inter-being
Because they are this mystery
Because they savor the gift of this mystery
Because they awaken this mystery in others”





Please Bodhisattva

For All Allen Ginsbergs Everywhere

Oh Bodhisattva
I’m a slacker

Ach Bodhisattva
My mind sometimes is so many-pointed

Dear Bodhisattva
I’ve grown weary of always having an angle

Woe is me Bodhisattva
My middle name is “Scattered” Read the rest of this entry »


With the Sangha

I meditate to decelerate my rampaging mind
I meditate to focus on clear image of you smiling in Tahoe
I meditate on words of Hanshan and Wang Yang-ming

I meditate to be able to be present to people in crisis
I meditate (sit still) less than time I spend writing
I meditate in hopes of tastes of joy

I meditate with no big deal expectations
I meditate to save this wrecked up world
I meditate to put together this fragmented Shimmelevsky

I meditate on what would be my good fortune—
You move back to St. Louis and we sit and meditate
On Saturday mornings 9:30 a.m. week after week



Good Citizens

Dear Friends in the Sangha,

I first encountered The Miracle of Being Awake (later published as The Miracle of Mindfulness) in 1982, when a monk from the Abbey of Gethsemani gave me a mimeograph of an English translation of a manual for social workers in Vietnam. In the 30 years since then, Thich Nhat Hanh has applied his simple message of mindfulness to many key areas of our lives: The environment, healthy eating, peacemaking, public service, anger, intimate relationships, among many others. Read the rest of this entry »

Writing Our Own Histories: A Fall Class

This is the second time this year I am facilitating a course on this  do-it-yourself theme, which comes from  Allen Ginsberg, “You have to write your own history, nobody’s going to do it for you.“  

I invite you to become acquainted with authors and works that  I have found engaging, energizing, and intriguing. We will examine the structure and content  of  accessible books by three people who’ve been immersed in the Zen tradition:  Kazuaki Tanahashi and Mayumi Oda, artists who came  to the U.S. from Japan, and Robert Aitken, who lived long stretches of time in Japan.  We will experiment with  creative imitation, for example, writing off of Aitken’s “miniatures,” which could  lead to fresh inspiration for embarking on new work or for reclaiming work we’ve been putting off.    Read the rest of this entry »

“C’mon, You Can’t Really Be Serious with All This Buddhism-Shmuddism!”


Geshe Rabten & Geshe Dhargyey,  Advice from a Spiritual Friend


The faults we criticize in others are only our own projected onto them; if they were not, they would not bother us, and we would not even notice them. [13]

Should we have studied two hundred volumes only for intellectual stimulation and gain, they will never be of ultimate benefit to us. The assimilation of two pages of essential instructions with pure motivation is more valuable than years of studying texts for selfish reasons. [15] 

Adverse circumstances test our courage, our strength of mind, and the depth of our conviction in the Dharma. [19]

Letting ourselves be blown about by the winds of negativities indicates that we have a completely misguided approach to life. Instead, we should savor the lasting delight that arises from skillful behavior and meditation. [29]

We must recognize that all our faults and problems are actually within us. The principal cause of them is the ignorant self-cherishing attitude that narrows our attention to only one person: our own self.  [88]

Yet our self-cherishing attitude—the true enemy—allows us time for only brief and comparatively unsympathetic thoughts for the numberless beings who have greater misfortunes than we.  [89]

To act in reprisal is an endless process and serves only to prolong our difficulties. On the other hand, if we react with patience and love, then our would-be enemy has no object for anger and will gradually clam down. [101]

The Dharma is like food: we gain no benefit from merely looking at it. To receive its full value we must digest it through meditation and integration into our lives.[ 108]

In order to abandon this self-cherishing attitude completely, we should constantly keep the vow of cherishing others. [123]

We should unhesitatingly give ourselves to any beneficial task, no matter what it might be. We should be like warriors and face any task without a trace of fear or reticence.  [127]

Totally Alive

A book I am most looking forward to reading is not due to be published until November 10th of this year.  The title:  Sarasvati’s Gift: The Autobiography of Mayumi Oda–Artist, Activist, and Modern Buddhist Revolutionary.  Although I had been exposed to her artistic work back in the late 80s in some of Nhat Hanh’s earliest books with Parallax Press, I was reminded of her at the turn of this year when reading Kazauaki Tanahashi’s Painting Peace: Art in a Time of Global Crisis. (Some of you have received excerpts of this from me via the mail.)  He dedicated his inspiring book to Mayumi.  Eager to learn more about her, I  then read  Divine Gardens: Mayumi Oda  and the San Francisco Zen Center.  To provoke your interest in her forthcoming  autobiography —I’d like to bring together people to read her book and Kaz’s—here are a few testimonies from  people associated with the Zen Center about Mayumi…

 I think that her Buddhist practice and having grown up under very difficult circumstances in Japan greatly influence the work. She has always had a deep commitment to the peace movement, having experienced the ramifications of nuclear warfare—the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—and the firebombing of Tokyo and the Japanese cities. Those images never leave you. Buddhist practice gives one a way of putting some of these experiences in a  deeper context.  —Renee Des Tombe

… I understood how modern and original Mayumi’s work was in contrast to traditional Buddhist images. I realized how rebellious she must have been to paint the goddess in this way—it was such  big step away from traditional subjects and methods of painting. There’s such a vibrancy and playfulness to her work that goes against the formal tradition. —Audrey Halle Read the rest of this entry »

Reminder to Self

When you encounter those who are wicked, unrighteous, foolish, dim-witted, deformed, vicious, chronically ill, lonely, unfortunate, or handicapped, you should think: “How can I save them?” And even if there is nothing you can do, at least you must not indulge in feelings of arrogance, superiority, derision, scorn, or abhorrence, but you should immediately manifest sympathy and compassion. If you fail to do so, you should feel ashamed and deeply reproach yourself: “How far I have strayed from the Way! How can I betray the old sages?” I take these words as an admonition to myself.


Making the Best of Tough Situations

Three summers ago, some friends came to our Chouteau home for two months of Wednesday evenings to reflect on Thich Nhat Hanh’s autobiography, At Home in the World. Just today a chapter from that book came back to me, and I am happy to share it here.

I know a Buddhist nun who had graduated from Indiana University in the US and who was practicing in Vietnam. She was arrested by the police and put into prison because of her actions for peace and reconciliation. She tried her best to practice in her prison cell. It was difficult, because during the daytime if they saw her practice sitting meditation in her cell, they considered it an act of provocation and defiance to be sitting like that, experiencing peace. So they forbade her from sitting in meditation. She would have to wait until they turned off the light in order to sit up and practice. They tried to steal from her even the opportunity to practice. Yet she was able to continue. She did walking meditation, although the space she had was very small. She was also able to talk with kindness and gentleness to the people who were locked in the same cell. Thanks to her practice, she was able to hep them suffer less.

I have another Vietnamese friend who was put into a “re-education” camp in North Vietnam, in a remote jungle area. During his four years there, he practiced meditation and was able to live in peace. By the time he was released, his mind was as sharp as a sword. He knew that he had not lost anything during those four years. On the contrary, he knew he had “re-educated himself in meditation.”

Many things can be taken from us, but no one can ever steal our determination or our freedom. No one can ever steal our practice. Even in extreme cases, it is possible to maintain our happiness, our peace, and our inner freedom. As long as we are able to breathe and walk and smile, we can be at peace, and we can be happy.

–from the chapter, “Prisoner of Conscience,” page 74.


Ayesha and Ashaki enjoying the present moment, summer 2017.