News From the Land

News from the Land: Gold, Bronze, and Brass

27 January 2018

It’s a new year. We’ve come through the darkness that December holds, and the frigid air of January. But it’s a Saturday morning and I’m just back from the town dump, reveling in the golden light of the drive. No snow on the fields at the moment so the early sun is reflecting off the brass, bronze, golden colors of dried crop stubble. Makes a man look ahead with a smile on his face.

We started last year with a goal of becoming much more public in our work. You’ve seen some of the random ways in which that took place in previous letters from me. Now we’re starting to settle into a rhythm and a focus. Here are some examples:

  • Kushner Roshi continues to deepen his work to introduce hara to the world. He defines the word better than I do but to me, it is the natural neuromuscular state of a human being who has resolved duality. It is what you see and feel when a man or woman is resting at ease in the world. Of note, Ken has written an article on hara that will be published in the Fall 2018 issue of the Buddhist magazine Tricycle and we are preparing to meet the inquiries that will most likely follow publication. He continues to collect his various forms of work on hara in his blog.


  • Whitelaw Roshi’s work in Vietnam has ripened into a cohort of thirty young leaders, committed to participation in a three-year program that includes various forms of leadership training along with sesshin twice a year. They are a group that values structure, pushing us to produce training manuals and instructor training so that they can take what they learn out into the world. Ginny’s capacity to withstand jetlag is mind boggling.


  • My focus this year will be on bringing about more public discussion of ways to face suffering. A common perception of Buddhism in America is that it presents a way to end suffering. Hard to hear that. In most descriptions of Buddhism here, either the focus is on ending one’s own suffering, or there is a pretense that ending the suffering of others can be done without deeply facing your own. What is missing is that “deeply.” The work isn’t to end your own suffering; the work is to face that of others. How to stand and breath, how to be in the face of all that is painful in people’s lives. I’ll have a chance to ripen this work during two visits to the University of San Francisco where I will be a visiting scholar with a chance to teach, talk, and write about this perspective on suffering. I’ll be working with faculty member Geoff Ashton there and colleagues from medicine and philosophy in the Bay Area. Inspired by Ken’s blogging, I’ve started one of my one with a focus on suffering. Not much there yet but you can find the beginnings at


Another element of looking ahead this year is watching how our sister organization, the Institute for Zen Leadership, has formed a strong management team. Andy Robins, the new managing director, is working with Beth Anderson and Emily Ferguson to coordinate programs, websites, communication, and membership. Board Chair Rebecca Ryan is focused on new ways of raising money, with support of the board and professional consultant, Robynn James. All of this team building is a bit like watching a rocket being assembled. I see the power and I’m ready to feel it.

IZL is important to us on the Zen training side of things, both because its programs have brought many people into Zen training and because it is a major funding source for Dojo programs. In this regard you’ll be hearing more from Rebecca and Robynn as they create our spring fundraising campaign.

And finally, hard to predict all of the ways in which our ceramics program will unfold this year but we keep having exciting encounters with clay. A few days ago a friend showed me a hikidashi (“pulled out” from the fire) sake cup formed by Tsujimura Shiro, a Zen monk turned potter. He is self-taught in ceramics – something highly unusual in Japan – and yet his work is highly prized there.

I’ve been watching the lunar eclipse this morning and the experience of picking up his cup was somehow equally mysterious. How can something black give off such light? How can something inert keep moving in my hand? Finding ways to express something so alive will be a never-ending challenge. That too, brings a smile to my face.


From the woods,



Spring Green Dojo