Hold It All


Category: Reflections

Short, Savory, and Sound: Aitken’s Miniatures

In fall 2000 I first encountered Robert Aitken Roshi with his book, The Dragon Who Never Sleeps, a collection of scores of four-line poems, or gathas.  Nine years later, I read his Miniatures of a Zen Master, which served me as a model text —compressed, no excess verbiage, just the pith.  Among Aitken’s inspirations were Thoreau’s journals, and  Bashō and Kenkō’s prose works. In my journal, I wrote “Merge Aitken  with Galeano.  This is the path.  Write one book, 130 chapter titles….His table of contents is an inspiration, for a terse, spare next book.”

The result  several years later was  Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine.  While Aitken wrote in short paragraphs, I typically  composed in short stanzas: transfigured recollections, meditations, lists, stories I carried around for thirty years.  He was a beneficent influence in the generation and shaping of the novel.

Here are some of my favorite Aitken miniatures …


A lot of us start out on the practice because we don’t accept ourselves fully. Under good tutelage we find ourselves in a process of forgetting ourselves, and realize that this is really the way to uncover the unique one that has been there all along. Give the Tao a chance. Give yourself a chance. [17] Read the rest of this entry »


After Reading a 2002 Book by Arundhati Roy

What is happening to our world is almost too colossal for human comprehension to contain. But it is a terrible, terrible thing. To contemplate its girth and circumference, to attempt to define it, to try and fight it all at once, is impossible. The only way to combat it is by fighting specific wars in specific ways. A good place to begin would be the Narmada Valley. In the present circumstances, the only thing in the world worth globalizing, is dissent.

–Arundhati Roy, Power Politics, 86


What Roy Teaches Me:

You have to do research, as the neo-liberal devil is in the details.

You have to walk with people struggling and accompany and risk with them.

You have to incarnate your freedoms, lest they fall into rhetoric that is debased from desuetude.

You have to ask the fundamental questions—who benefits, who pays, who get marginalized?

You have to be SMART, with goals and targets, and relentlessness. Read the rest of this entry »

The Good News of Giving and Receiving Books, 6.26.2017

Ten years ago, because of a Social Justice theology class, I got to know Melissa Banerjee, a Bengali-American.  It made sense to me to give her a hardback edition of the The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.  Later on, after staying several weeks in India, she brought back to me Letters of Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna’s foremost disciple. Melissa inscribed the book this way: “Dr C., Hope this brings  you a small ‘piece’ of the peace I experienced at Sri Ramakrishna’s Mission and Math at Belur, Kolkata.”

This selection of Vivekananda’s letters  range from 1888 to 1902, and address members of his community as well as  Westerners eager to learn more about Indian spirituality.   The following is a small sample  of passages I noted of the swami’s observations, advice, exhortation, and insight…

On the Buddha: His greatness lies in his unrivaled sympathy. 18

Have faith in yourselves, great convictions are the mothers of great deeds.  64

Every soul is a sun covered over with clouds of ignorance, the difference between soul and soul is due to the difference in density of these layers of clouds.  69 Read the rest of this entry »

The Good News, 3.8.2017

I once asked Mayuko and Minami (both in my fall 8 a.m. MWF Humanities class) if they had heard of Sei Shōnagon (清少納言). Of course they had!  They had read her years ago in school.  I only recently made acquaintance with SS through Meredith  McKinney’s translation for Penguin.

Reading her renowned Pillow Book, I thought of Allen Ginsberg’s maxim, “If we don’t show anyone, we’re free to write anything”:  

At times I am beside myself with exasperation at everything, and temporarily inclined to feel I’d simply be better off dead, or am longing to just go away somewhere, anywhere, then if I happen to come by some lovely white paper for everyday use and a good writing brush, or white decorated paper or Michinoku paper, I’m immensely cheered, and find myself thinking I might perhaps be able to go on living for a while longer after all.  212 Read the rest of this entry »

Modus Operandi

I am always doing that which I cannot do
In order that may learn how to do it

–Pablo Picasso