This edition of Dharma Stream is devoted to the theme of
WAKING UP TO THE DARK
by John Travis
Oh yes, we came to rest in that silence,
knowing somehow that our curious past,
with all its ferocity, was dragging us down
on to this restless seat.
Oh, these teachings of respecting
the power of the night and its long darkness,
that infinite contraction when the fear
grasps our sanity and throws us down
the stairwell into the basement of our minds.
How could this be about liberation?
Struggling with the inevitability of change, and
an aging body;
yet, there are these moments.
Small little cracks, where life begins to know itself.
You are more than your stories,
or even your struggles.
When the stillness of the dark is at its zenith,
the light has slipped under the carpet, giving us
another chance, redemption close at hand.
Questioning identity – these inherited and
Having done some of the work to turn yourself inside out,
turning the mind heart on itself.
Low and behold—that primordial, natural, pure awareness
which has been with ever since birth.
Unblemished—was your home all along.
WHAT'S IN THE WAY, IS THE WAY
by Gavrila Nikhila
We often enter the wheel of the Dharma from a place of suffering. Seeking a life jacket, we long to find a way out of our suffering, or at least a more practical way of dealing with it. We’ve tried everything else, and nothing seems to end the continuous suffering we find in every day life. And what do the teachings of the Buddha tell us to do? To stop running. To look behind us, look into the face of the suffering, get to know it, and through the process we find that we are tightly grasping the suffering. We find that if we ease our grip, even if just for a moment, we don’t feel as suffocated by that which we are suffocating. Perhaps, we even taste tenderness, forgiveness, for the suffering mind, body, heart. Melting into the suffering, heart opening, not as fearful as it was minutes before. Such a simple, yet revelatory practice.
After recently emerging from a month-long Vipassana retreat at Spirit Rock, I felt like my eyes were wide open. I had been given the opportunity to see the grasping and pushing away that arises continuously, and often unconsciously. I sat, watching the Cycle of Becoming play over and over, a repeating track birthed from ignorance, dying into suffering. How subtle it is — that consciousness arises from our sense doors, and so quickly cycles into suffering as feeling tones decide pleasant, unpleasant, neutral, an unconscious craving arising to pull closer or push away. Amazing, how from the outside, I could look like a Buddha meditating, while on the inside, so many reactions were simultaneously taking place. And how as my concentration grew stronger, reaction could turn to response, allowing a cessation of the cycle, a cessation of suffering. Such a simple, yet revelatory practice.
If the Dharma came in a package, it should have a warning label: Beware of Mindfulness. You may become aware of too much. It was only a week ago, this juicy clarity. And as I stepped outside of retreat, it was like a train wreck occurring, inputs upon inputs coming through my sense doors, old reactive patterns excitedly taking their places. I looked behind me, searching for the womb of refuge, realizing that now the advanced retreat was beginning. We look for the cessation of suffering, as the Buddha offers, and yet the incessant chatter of the mind, the endless distraction that exists in day to day life, can seem like the enemy, the thing in the way. I now sit with the words that many teachers have offered before, “What’s in the way, is the way.” Living in the world, staying conscious, this is advanced mindfulness. Such a simple, yet revelatory practice.
TOUCH OF THE DALAI LAMA
by Cindy Shaw
To outstretched arm,
I raised my hand and
he took mine in his,
this Buddha of compassion.
My heart filled with joy
as tears rolled down my cheeks
holding the hand
of His Holiness the Dalai Lama,
who has tirelessly offered Dharma his 83 years
with equanimity to the world:
to refugees, the poor, the sick,
to scientists, world leaders, spiritual leaders,
educators and common folk like me,
leading us to uncover our true nature,
our Buddha nature.
I have been blessed beyond words to see,
to hear and now to touch
this unsurpassable embodiment
of engaged spirituality.
Om Ah Hum!
THE DALAI LAMA WITH DEVOTED PRACTITIONERS   Photo by Cindy Shaw
INTO THE WORLD
by Susan Solinsky
That’s where spiritual practice ultimately leads, I believe, right into the world. Goes right into those uncomfortable places that can hold tension and confusion simultaneously or are fraught with uncertainty and what-ifs. Places that can be physically far away or close by.
Lately I notice I don’t need to go very far to engage with another world and be out of my comfort zone. I can find it in 10 or 15 minutes. Find the place and the discomfort. All I need to get me there is my aging body, already a difficult practice in itself, and an effort to listen and be present.
To encourage myself, I say, It’s not a big deal. Then silently murmur, Just go visit her, soon. Maybe today. When I do go, I find my friend lying in a hospital bed barely breathing, and it suddenly becomes a whole different kind of practice. It calls up all the attention and crazy wisdom I can muster. It could be me lying there, tubes down my throat, monitors on my head and chest, a well-washed cotton sheet covering me. As it was, I recall, on a few occasions.
But when going to visit a friend recently, I paused, wondered what she would like in this moment. Could she hear anything, or is a soft touch enough? Should I wait, pondering life, quietly meditating on my own breath and heartbeat until she opens her eyes? I opt to wait, and in doing so pace my breath with hers. When my friend finally sees me, now what do I say? Is ‘‘Hello” enough, as it was then, while looking at her for what felt like an hour until I could find my voice and sputter, “Don’t be afraid.”
She heard and smiled back at me, nodding. We held each other’s hand — one of hers hadn’t come back to life yet — and my tears started. Me, surprising myself, just standing there beside her, crying wordlessly. Then I began to notice how I felt more alive than I’d been an hour earlier, when trying to find a parking place and the temporary new entrance to that wing of the hospital. I still leaked tears but I was completely present to the room’s harsh light and the antiseptic smells, and could hear voices from the nurses’ station in the hall. All of it mattered suddenly. Enormously.
Over and over, I learn something new. And I know whenever I visit someone who’s ill or comatose or dying, it’s never very easy for me or even brave. It’s something else entirely, and over time, it’s getting better. I’m less thrown by what I’ll find. I’m no longer unnerved to watch the spider veins in their temples beat out a rhythm, or see their loose skin sag around sharp cheekbones or notice a wiry beard stubble, or an arthritic hand tremble when reaching for mine.
I simply see the body of someone I care about lying there or propped up, doing what it can at this stage of healing, or not healing. It never stops from being startling and magnificent at the same time and even miraculous. It’s life being itself fully without artifice or pretense. The magnitude of it is to bear witness and take it all in because it’s me lying there as well.
BRUCE PARDOE IN DHARAMSALA   Photo by Cindy Shaw
BUDDHIST GLOBAL RELIEF   Story and Collage by Mary Helen Fein
Ten years ago, I attended a retreat with Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, one of the most respected monastic teachers in Buddhism today. He is a well-known author and is also one of the great modern translators of the discourses of the Buddha, called the Suttas. I benefitted greatly from this retreat. As the event closed, he asked if anyone had skills as a website developer. I raised my hand, and at that moment my life changed profoundly. Since then I have been privileged to work with Buddhist Global Relief, an organization that Bhikkhu Bodhi founded.
BGR started when the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami happened. Bhikkhu Bodhi was moved to action. He soon raised $160,000, but he was dismayed to discover how few Buddhist charitable organizations existed. A few years later he authored the controversial magazine article “A Challenge to Buddhists.” He urged Buddhists to be more socially engaged, to recognize suffering around the world, and to roll up their sleeves and help. The effects of this article were far reaching. Attitudes towards engaged Buddhism became more accepting. As a result, Buddhists became more engaged, more compassionate and more generous.
BGR’s four primary goals are to provide food aid for the hungry and malnourished, to provide education for children, to help women gain right livelihood, and to promote sustainable agriculture. Their approach is to fund organizations already on the ground, already producing results. They currently fund over 30 projects in more than 15 countries. Examples include nutritional programs for children, scholarships and job training programs for girls and women, and programs for farmers to enhance food production. BGR is active in India, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Kenya, and Haiti, to name just a few countries. They even sponsor an urban farming program in Detroit, MI.
In the past, BGR has funded programs to help women escape from the commercial sex trade into better lives, through education in basic literacy, mathematics, and in starting small businesses to pursue a brighter future. A current program offers food support and scholarships for 50 families with young girls. In many cases, this program has made it possible for families to avoid trafficking their young daughters into sexual slavery.
Buddhist Global Relief shows that Buddhists can engage together to relieve suffering worldwide. It truly represents the Buddha’s great compassion on the stage of global philanthropy.
You can visit Buddhist Global Relief’s website at www.buddhistGlobalRelief.org
HOSPITALITY HOUSE DINNERS AT UTAH'S PLACE
by Betsy Abrams
Mountain Stream Meditation has prepared nutritious dinners, one night each month for the past 12 years, for as long as Utah’s Place/Hospitality House has operated. Even before I began my meditation practice in 2010, I made lunches on my own to offer there on a regular basis. Once I started coming to Mountain Stream, I immediately joined the Mountain Stream dinner group and became a meal organizer as well as a cook. I was happy to collaborate with friends.
When Hospitality House moved to their own building in December 2013, the dinner group dissolved and I became the lead person who organizes cooking and serving teams, and who plans the menu and purchases the food. With that move, everything changed — all of the food needed to be prepared on site. I have learned a lot about staying focused and calm in the face of a large task.
For four and a half years, the generosity of the Mountain Stream community has enabled me to purchase the food we need to feed 80 people. We are also supported with free contributions from various local farms, 3 Forks Restaurant, and Treats Ice Cream — making it an on-going collaborative effort.
There has been a continuous flow of volunteers who cook and serve and express this basic act of kindness to the homeless population of our community. This whole endeavor informs my own personal practice by blending cooperation within the teams along with my own quest for peace and tranquility in myself and in the world.
We get frequent and positive feedback from the guests at Utah’s Place. They feel all the love and kindness that goes into the preparation and serving of each meal. Many of them cheer before eating and it is a joy to watch faces light up as they gaze at the feast of healthy food we prepare each month. Serving and nurturing a population of people who need the support of a loving community brings happiness to my heart.
AM I A GHOST?
by Corey Hitchcock
I woke up in the middle of the night and noticed a bluish light illuminating my other, larger studio room. Oh drat, I thought, I forgot to turn the light off. Unusual for me because I crave the quiet dark here at night. I meant to get up and turn it off, but must have fallen back to sleep because I woke again about an hour later by the clock, and there was no light on in the other room. I got up this time and tried to duplicate the light I had seen, but nothing I turned on was the source.
I couldn't go back to sleep and reviewed the strange events of my day with increasing panic. Everything had seemed ghostly to me including my local koan group which had a strangely unformatted meeting — no one was set up to lead, the host thought it was a week off, we used a small frying pan for the missing bell. Normally I would be able to laugh or shake off this absurdity, but now it was propelling my ghostliness.
I began to feel that perhaps I was the ghost in my own life. I understood Butoh suddenly from the inside out. I was trying to hold on to things that were not alive. Maybe I was the representative of things that were not alive. Or was this just the proximity of ghostly breath that abounds? Our hungry ghost president and congress, my somewhat fractured extended family, the ghost of usual celebrations, the somnambulance of comfortable responses, the strange late winter and group of deer at my door silently asking — is it spring? Maybe they were asking if they were alive. And overall, the replacement of intimate touch and conversation with the ghostly Internet.
Could this be my koan — The stone woman gives birth in the middle of the night — having its way with me? Can I tag it to my re-reading an article on a Zen priest's belated response to the influx of ghosts after the tsunami? I began to see the many places I seek connection and don't find it. And the many places I don't fully respond. I don't have a bow to tie up this ghostly deliberation with. Still in it. I have noticed a release from a confinement I did not know I was perpetuating. So perhaps being a ghost is incredibly liberating.
Meanwhile, I am going out to dig in my neglected garden.
by Cassandra Wahlstrom
Vast Empty Stillness
REFLECTIONS FROM A MOUNTAIN STREAM BOARD MEMBER
by Maeve Hassett
I recently reconnected and joined the Mountain Stream Board of Directors after a hiatus of about 12 years. I remember when the original board was assembling back in the mid 1990s, during the time Mountain Stream was becoming a nonprofit organization. I was at an early point in my meditation practice and joining the organizing team didn’t have much meaning for me. My focus was on becoming a better meditator.
After many years of developing a personal practice and devoting time to Dharma study, my appreciation and participation in building community grew more important as a part of my practice and being on a spiritual path. I joined and completed the Dedicated Practitioner Program (2002-04) and Community Dharma Leadership Program (2005-08) at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. Both programs opened my mind and heart to being part of an international network of practitioners. Then, after completing those trainings, I began co-leading, with my dear friend and dharma sister Mary Helen Fein, a weekly meditation group in Auburn. We also co-teach an introductory meditation class twice a year and host an annual daylong retreat. In addition, Mary Helen and I co-founded and teach at the Rocklin Sangha once a month and are both on the Monday night teaching rotation in Nevada City.
For almost 20 years, the Mountain Stream Board of Directors and founding teacher John Travis have provided inspiration and leadership for organizing and maintaining the various facets of Mountain Stream. At first there was simply a vision for a community dharma center, but what transpired was a powerful shared intention of deeply committed people to actually build a community center where Insight Meditation would flourish for generations to come.
Though I’ve only served on the board for a few of the 20 + years it has existed, I‘ve come to respect and appreciate the commitment and work that Board members take on. It’s an ongoing process to address obstacles that arise, build systems to ensure a sustainable organization, and further Mountain Stream’s mission, purpose, vision and values. In large part, due to the continuing efforts of the Board and many others, the outcome is the rich spiritual community and the welcoming center we enjoy today. No matter what concerns and differences the board faces, it is the path of wisdom and compassion that prevails in creating a sanctuary and refuge which serves the community of practitioners. I attribute this not only to the dedication of Board members and the community, but also to the path of practice.
Just as John Travis is a guiding teacher in offering the dharma and vision, the Board is the key factor in manifesting the direction of the organization. Applying the Noble Eightfold Path as ethical guidance allows us to practice being mindful and kind while working together toward a common purpose. Wise understanding, wise intention, wise speech, wise action, and wise effort in particular, are the guiding lights.
Today, Mountain Stream has found its home in the beautiful “Village Temple” on Zion Street in Nevada City, officially called the Nevada City Insight Center. It is supported by a small dedicated staff and by the generosity of many. Financial donations and gifts of service are the backbone of support. To acknowledge a few who freely offer themselves are the Residential Teachers, Community Dharma Leaders, an engaged group of Volunteers, and various Sister Sanghas scattered throughout the Sierras. All contribute to the blossoming community of practitioners both near and far. As the Board of Directors continues on its path, the efforts put forth are made lighter by the flowering of the community we serve.
by Jennifer India Scott
Favorite black mug—not broken yet
Smoky dark tea
Rain drumming on the roof
Here is comfort
Time on cushion
Wind chimes approve
Escorting a zebra spider outside
Escorting a zebra spider inside again
We each can be peace
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
by Lew Sitzer
At our Monday night meditation sessions, questions arise about how to cope with living in a world with so much suffering. We each find ways to answer this question. As an example, a recent article in The Union newspaper was about Sangha member Dr. Annie Looby who provides help to disaster victims worldwide. Another path I have found is looking at our local community issues and finding creative ways to help.
I can remember giving my high school graduation speech almost 60 years ago. We were experiencing stressful times. Since then, we have experienced the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, the Women’s Movement, and moved into the present with daily news of conflicts, tweets, and media blasts. Truth is harder to find now and trust is difficult to establish.
My conclusion after living this long is that both truth and trust are easier to establish at the local level where we are able to know one another, where opinions can be offered and facts agreed upon. Still, once we understand one another better, can we agree to take the next steps?
I have begun producing a local TV series that takes a “think globally, act locally” approach. Entitled Where Do We Go From Here?, the program features interviews I conduct to create a body of knowledge that can be shared.
We’ll tackle the important issues like homelessness, the Centennial Dam, climate change, gun control, racism, immigration, women and men in the workplace, farm to garden, and the list goes on. The point is to share understandings and develop local solutions that can provide examples for other communities and develop momentum with the hope that we can make a difference.
The episodes will air each Monday night at 7pm on local Government Channel Comcast 17 and Suddenlink 17, cable TV. They will be streamed on the Internet each week from the Nevada County Digital Media Center’s website and also will be available on demand from YouTube at Nevada County Digital Media Center/NCTV.
Each of us can find ways to approach our daily lives knowing we are doing our best, providing compassion and joy while exerting a positive influence in the lives of people here and elsewhere.
WHAT IT IS WE NEED TO KNOW
by Steve Solinsky
Now our world’s in confusion, even best friends disagree;
our country’s warring, and our families disconnected,
With so much chaos, truth’s hard to see.
Where’s one to look, beyond agendas and the lies?
Cries come for action, to march, or make a stand,
but can this bring us closer? And impacts, do we understand?
Perhaps I’m not ready, ‘til my mind and heart are clear
to move into action, or find a proper faction to cheer.
It’s time for calm within this paper storm, a return to the core,
for releasing what I clutch, and of all I may be sure.
I leave my center empty, but opened to receive,
with hopes for waking wisdom, my wholeness to retrieve.
Time to ply my perception, to enrich this thirsty soul.
As an artist there’s a trick I’ve learned:
To discard preconception,
to question clearly, for what it is I’ve yearned, and
to greet all who appear, those subtle visitors at the door,
and trust something divine who welcomes them all.
For code and culture condition our lot as miserly host,
rejecting many the traveler at the door,
with preference, and with judgment,
leaving us lonely and poor.
I look to Nature’s humility — her moldering charms,
composting the random, moist genius without goal.
Are we to credit microbes for this life-giving art?
Who’s that in Love’s kitchen, stirring form into my soul,
Stewing up destinies in silence, working away in the dark?
Some call this force Nature; but for me she’s The Light!
Yet, never showing face, she informs my life.
She is life, she is wisdom. I’m blessed by her every move.
And that’s made all the difference, as joy in my life may prove.
Having no use for blueprint, with no outcome in mind,
each contact rising, she breaks the status quo.
Through blessings of grace, she brings beauty to life,
and for us — the gift of knowing, what it is we need to know.