THE COURAGE OF THE CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR

Tom was never a close friend and I had not seen him in many years when he died 15 years ago, but he was a friend I admired and enjoyed. Tom lived a long and rich life of his own choosing. I mean, he was his own man, the first conscientious objector I ever knew. Actually, he was the first CO or “conscie” I ever knew of. Before him I had not heard the term or realized that one could honorably oppose the majority’s viewpoint of the day or maintain personal integrity by standing one’s ground against the sycophantic if passionate flow of social conformity.
Tom and his personal integrity are worth remembering in this time of Don and his incompleteness.
Tom had been a CO during World War II, a time and war when that status was accorded little merit or social respectability. During World War II more than 5000 people went to prison for their CO beliefs, though Tom served in a non-combative role. I first met him when I was a high school student in Reno, Nevada in the mid 1950s, a time of Eisenhower blandness, McCarthyism, atomic bombs being detonated in the Nevada desert, uniformity, conformity, consumerism and a national fear of communism not unlike the current fear of terrorism. It was a time, like now, when questioning authority was unlikely to result in rational discourse. Tom was older, an artist by nature, an English teacher in my high school by trade, and a fellow skier. He never talked with me about being a CO, but we all knew he had served in a non-combative role during WWII, and we knew he wasn’t afraid of authority, unpopularity, non-conformity or the dictates of his own conscience, which, it always seemed to me, was both clean and courageous.
Since the time of the Colonies, before there was a Constitution, the conscientious objector has had rights in this country. Subsequent U.S. law does not “require any person to be subject to combatant training and service in the armed forces of the U.S. who, by reason of religious training and belief, is conscientiously opposed to participation in war in any form.” However, the law states that “the term ‘religious training and belief’ does not include essentially political, sociological or philosophical views, or a merely personal moral code.” But in 1965 and in 1970 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the words “religious training and belief” must now be interpreted to include personal moral and ethical beliefs that have the same force in people’s lives as traditional religious beliefs. That is, sincere personal moral and ethical beliefs in opposition to personal participation in war has the same legal standing as does believing in the authority and teachings of an organized and established religion. The operative word in the last sentence is ‘sincere,’ and for a CO to establish such sincerity is not an easy task.
During the Vietnam War the two best known of thousands of American conscientious objectors were Muhammad Ali, the boxer, and David Harris, the political and environmental activist and writer. Harris, who was married to Joan Baez at the time, went to jail for his beliefs. Ali, who was stripped of his world heavyweight boxing title because of his beliefs, fought in the courts for five years until he won in the U.S. Supreme Court. After this victory, Ali returned to the ring and won back his heavyweight title. His 1966 explanation for refusing to be drafted into the U.S. military has been much quoted and said it all: “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.” He also said, “No Viet Cong ever called me ‘nigger.’” While Harris and Ali were well known and received a great deal of publicity in the mainstream media (most of it negative), the courage they exhibited and the price they paid for living according to their beliefs was no greater (and certainly no less) than that of many others. No one who ever saw him fight (much less those who got in the ring with him) could justify questioning Ali’s courage or calling him a coward, the usual knee-jerk reaction to the conscience in action of a conscientious objector.
Some believe they should and would fight in a war for a just cause, but insist that they be allowed to refuse to fight wars they think are wrong. These people are called “selective conscientious objectors,” but under U.S. law one cannot pick and choose between the “just” and “unjust” war. The current statute states that CO claimants must object to “participation in war in any form.” How to differentiate or define a “just” and an “unjust” war is an interesting if probably unanswerable problem, but some selective COs believe that the conditions for a “just war” cannot be met in modern times.
A CO need not believe in the principle of nonviolence or to be opposed to all forms of violence, the use of force, police powers or even the taking of human life. The law requires only that a person be conscientiously opposed to the planned and organized killing of combatant and non-combatant alike that takes place in warfare. One can be a CO and still be willing to use violence against another individual in order to protect self or others.
People don’t like to talk about the CO. The topic raises a myriad of uncomfortable issues, most notably for Christians the fifth commandment, but also such tangential issues as whether the state exists for the sake of the people or the people for the sake of the state (or whether they both exist for the sake of the corporation), the influence of the military-industrial-complex on American economic and foreign policy and individual responsibility for personal conscience.
He was hardly the first, but Tom was the first person I knew who confronted these issues, stood against the impetus to war, and had the courage to abide by his conscience and his conviction that there has to be a better way.

THE WISDOM OF A TEN YEAR OLD

My wonderful grandson Japhy Carpenter-Dorworth was 10 years old in 2006 when he wrote the following essay for a school assignment. It is filled with wisdom, compassion, care, insight, kindness and the responsible acknowledgement that all things are connected. Current world events and the actions and words of some of its leaders inspires me to put Japhy’s words here as reminder to those leaders and each of us to listen to the clarity of our children. Thanks, Japhy.

IF I COULD CHANGE ANYTHING I WOULD CHANGE THE WAR IN IRAQ

If I could change anything I would change the war in Iraq. I would change it because all the war has caused us is death and destruction. Sometimes in war teenagers are forced to go in the war and die. Animals die from bombs and starvation. Women and children die from bombs hitting them.
Uranium bombs destroy and pollute cites for hundreds of years. They also poison the people who live in the cities. Everything around the war zones is destroyed, like forests, schools and hospitals.
This war makes most Americans look like bad people, because they think all Americans are like the government. I don’t think this war makes us safer because more people want to kill us now. Also the leaders of countries lie about war being safe and having a war as a good thing.
I could change it by getting all the kids around to protest against the war.
My plan would be to get all the kids to stop school and not do any work to attract attention. Then I would try to get enough attention to get an interviewer to get me on television and ask every kid from other schools to help me. After that I would tell all the kids to get any friends or siblings to help.
Finally I would try to get on TV again. Then tell everybody we will not do work until we stop the war. Finally they would stop and all the surviving soldiers would come home. Then give some supplies and pay for all the damage we made. Then Bush should apologize to the Iraqi president and get fired.

COMPASSION IN ACTION

William Mawhinney is a fine northwest poet. One of his poems touches on the practice of Zen monks going into the streets each morning on their begging rounds, holding their begging bowls. The poem includes these lines about their return to the monastery:
“Monks return through the gate
Nourished by the compassionate, attached to no harvest.”
Nourished by the compassionate, attached to no harvest. Buddhism in action.
‘Compassion’ is defined as a word used to describe one person’s “…deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it.” That, at any rate, is as good a definition as I’ve found….a deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it.
A deep awareness of anything is hard enough, but if we put some effort into it we can gain some degree of awareness and appreciation of another’s suffering. To be aware is a first step and it is not in the beginning all that difficult because everyone is suffering. Everyone. In this room. In this town. In this world. Just look around. Just look inside. The First Noble Truth is everywhere, and it seems to me that human nature is such that the deeper our awareness of suffering, the stronger will be our wish to relieve it.
The most common definition of ‘wish’ is ‘desire’ and The Second Noble Truth is that desire is the cause of suffering. That is, the wish, the desire to relieve suffering causes suffering. Every human being inherently has some level of compassion. Animals have compassion, at least for their own offspring. But humans have the capacity to cultivate and expand their own compassion beyond self-interest to include all of life. One Tibetan Buddhist teaching reads: “When a dog sees her puppies in pain she develops the wish to protect them and free them from pain, and this compassionate wish is her Buddha seed. Unfortunately, however, animals have no ability to train in compassion, and so their Buddha seed cannot ripen. Human beings, though, have a great opportunity to develop their Buddha nature. Through meditation we can extend and deepen our compassion until it transforms into the mind of great compassion – the wish to protect all living beings without exception from their suffering. Through improving this mind of great, or universal, compassion it will eventually transform into the compassion of a Buddha, which actually has the power to protect all living beings. Therefore the way to become a Buddha is to awaken our compassionate Buddha nature and complete the training in universal compassion. Only human beings can do this.”
Compassion, then, is the effort in the present moment to be aware of the world as it is, to accept responsibility for it and to do whatever is within one’s power to alleviate its suffering without attachment to the outcome. Compassion is not warm and fuzzy as some might think and like to feel. Compassion is first of all awareness of suffering. Each individual response to one’s awareness of that suffering in the world is a step in the cultivation and expansion of compassion. The less attachment the bigger the step. This Zen story from Japan is one of my favorites and illustrates compassionate Buddha nature:
A beautiful girl in the village was pregnant. Her angry parents demanded to know who was the father. At first resistant to confess, the anxious and embarrassed girl finally pointed to Hakuin, the Zen master whom everyone previously revered for living such a pure life. When the outraged parents confronted Hakuin with their daughter’s accusation, he simply replied, “Is that so?”
When the child was born, the parents brought it to Hakuin, who now was viewed as a pariah by the whole village. They demanded that he take care of the child since it was his responsibility. “Is that so?” Hakuin said calmly as he accepted the child.
For many months he took very good care of the child until the daughter could no longer withstand the lie she had told. She confessed that the real father was a young man in the village whom she had tried to protect. The parents immediately went to Hakuin to see if he would return the baby. With profuse apologies they explained what had happened. “Is that so?” Hakuin said as he handed them the child.
That’s compassion in action.
Hakuin’s was not the reaction of denial, the avoidance of an unwanted responsibility or the blaming of others for an injustice, a dishonesty and more suffering. Just the question, “Is that so?” and taking care of that which needed care (the baby) while compassionate Buddha nature began to awaken in the beautiful girl and her parents and, we can hope, the young man in the village.
Hakuin, by turning the situation around with three words used as a mirror, “Is that so?” helped the girl, her parents, the young man and the entire village transform small mind into the large mind of universal compassion.
In closing, I want to include this funny little aside that just won’t go away whenever I think about compassion:
Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes.
That way, when you criticize them, you’re a mile away and you have their shoes.

COYOTE/coyote: TRICKSTER, TEACHER, SURVIVOR, FOOL

It is always good to remember coyote and Old Man Coyote.
Trickster, teacher, survivor and fool, coyote has inhabited this land we call America much longer than the later arriving humans from Asia, who have only been here about 10,000 years. European refugees started arriving around 500 years ago. Their descendants have forgotten their refugee ancestry, act as if they own the place and do not pay as much attention to Coyote as do their indigenous predecessors. The small prairie wolf known as coyote mostly attracts their interest in a long standing, unsuccessful effort at extermination; but this creature with a perpetual bounty on its hide resembling a medium-size dog with a narrow face, tawny fur and a bushy tail, is only one aspect of what native American peoples have called Coyote, Coyote Man and Old Man Coyote.
In some Native American traditions, Coyote impersonates the Creator, making humans out of mud and bringing into being the buffalo, elk, deer, antelope and bear. In these myths, Coyote-Creator is never mentioned as an animal, though he can and does meet his animal counterpart, coyote. They walk and talk together, addressing the other as “elder brother” and “younger brother.” In these traditions the spiritual and corporeal are brothers who always walk and talk together.
While coyotes (the animal) are certainly responsible for destroying some domestic livestock, they are important to the larger environment as scavengers and destroyers of rodents. Omnivorous feeders, they prey on small animals, eat plant matter, carrion and garbage, and sometimes though not regularly team up to hunt larger animals. They are an invaluable part of a healthy ecology and environment, which sustains all life, including that of domestic livestock. That the livestock industry has waged a brutal and environmentally irresponsible slaughter (most of it at taxpayers, not industry, expense) of coyote for more than 100 years is shameful, scandalous, unsuccessful, unnecessary and expensive. That coyote has persisted, prospered and expanded in both numbers and range since the livestock industry put a price on his head is an indication of why Old Man Coyote continues to live in the mythology and dreams of native Americans and in the literature and imagination of its more recent arrivals. Coyote Man is the primordial trickster/teacher of American lore.
The creature coyote has managed to survive and thrive in the same (murderous) American West environment that drove wolf to the edge of extinction. The coyote learned quickly not to eat the strychnine-laced cow carcasses that ranchers put out to kill predators, but the wolf did not learn. The wolf, despite its recent re-introduction in small populations and limited areas, is mostly gone from the vast territory over which it roamed 200 years ago. The coyote, equally persecuted and slaughtered in that same time period, has expanded its territory from the plains of central and western America. Coyote now lives as far north as Alaska, as far south as central America, and from the Pacific Coast to New England, including New York City’s Central Park and Los Angeles’ metropolitan area. Coyote/coyote is ubiquitous.
There are many stories of Old Man Coyote—trickster, teacher, survivor and fool: he is a hero, always traveling, stupid and awful, outrageous and cunning, foolish and wise, mischievous and often doing well, despite himself.
In many ways, Old Man Coyote as well as the flesh and blood coyote act remarkably like human beings. American cultures, both native and European derived, have created mythologies and literature, murdered, admired, learned from and made of Coyote/coyote a villain and a fool, just as humans tend to do with each other.
There are many stories told by humans of Old Man Coyote’s sheer foolishness, all of them anthropocentric projections when one thinks about them. For instance, once Coyote Man was struck by the beauty of the gold colored cottonwood leaves as they floated to the ground. Instead of appreciating them for what they are, Coyote Man wanted to be beautiful like them. “Now, how do you do that?” he asked the leaves. “That’s so pretty the way you come down.”
“That’s easy,” the leaves replied, “all you have to do is get up in a tree and fall off.” Coyote Man climbed up the nearest tree and jumped off, filled with the vain and impossible desire to be as lovely as a falling cottonwood leaf. Of course he isn’t a cottonwood leaf. Coyote Man is killed, crashing to the ground just like a coyote falling out of a tree. The sight is neither beautiful nor inspiring. It is grotesque and really, really foolish.
In myth and lore, Coyote Man never dies; he just gets back up and comes to life again. In real present time life coyote still dies in traps, from poison and being run over and shot by humans, but coyote continues to flourish. Sometimes you can hear the song of coyote howling in the night. The sound of this song is as lovely and full of lessons about the world and how to live in it as the sight of cottonwood leaves falling to the ground.
Only a fool would jump out of a tree hoping to look like a cottonwood leaf.
Coyote Man/coyote and man have a lot in common. It is a mystery how they continue to survive and thrive.

WITNESS

Earth bears witness to Buddha
Buddha bears witness to Dharma
Dharma bears witness to Sangha
Of all sentient beings
Awakening
Bearing witness
Sleeping
Awakening
Sleeping
Awakening
To Earth
Over and over and over
Sentient beings
Sleeping
Awakening
Eye ear nose tongue body mind
To the subtle/siren alarm
Of Earth
Awakening
Sight sound smell taste touch and consciousness
With each breath
Witnessing
Earth
Suffering

TIME

“We say that time is money, meaning both are valuable. Both are a form of power. Usually, there is a reciprocal relationship between them; that is, abundance of money seems to go along with a shortage of time, and abundance of time with shortage of money. Money is the wealth of the materialist, and works miracles in the realm of the physical. Time is the wealth of the pilgrim, and works miracles in all realms.”
Ed Buryn

In weekday morning traffic anywhere in America it is possible to observe and be wary of drivers talking and texting on their cell phones, tailgating those observing speed limits and passing at every available space in the bumper to bumper traffic as if the 30 seconds sooner they will reach their destinations are the most important moments in the history of time.
As if time has a history.
Or a future.
From one perspective such timeless observations of our fellow traffic-bound humans are hilarious, from another alarming. From any perspective they are worthy of contemplation and self-reflection. As a practical matter, clocks and calendars regulate the everyday life of most of mankind around the sequence of events we call time; but practicality and essential reality are not always on the same schedule, as the old adage “Timing is everything” points out. Time is a concept, not a fixed reality, as relativity theory describes. Time is conceived by many as a commodity to be bartered and traded and consumed like pork bellies, or a storehouse to be filled to the rafters with the toys of experience or the juicy fruits of labor. I prefer the perspective of Henry David Thoreau who said both, “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in,” and “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”
There are natural regulators called ‘biological clocks’ that govern aging and the rhythms of behavior, circadian cycles governing daily temperature and metabolism, and electrical rhythms in the human brain including the most prominent known as ‘alpha rhythms. But scientific efforts to locate a specific area of the brain that controls man’s sense of time have been unsuccessful. The concept of measured time is, thus, a human construct, a nifty piece of conceptual engineering.
The work of Einstein and others show that time is relative to the observer, causing the view of time as an independent entity to give way to the concept that space and time are intertwined and inseparable. Ultimately, it seems to me, the human concept of time is a mystery like life itself, best and most nutritiously experienced by slowing down and appreciating the moment rather than missing it in a race to reach a future destination 30 seconds sooner.
Eckhart Tolle perhaps expressed it best: “Most people treat the present moment as if it were an obstacle that they need to overcome. Since the present moment is life itself, it is an insane way to live.”

CLIMATE CHANGE DENIERS IN SKIING

The following appeared as a letter to the editor in Powder Magazine last spring, in support of an article Porter Fox wrote in the online Powder Magazine at http://www.powder.com/stories/news/campaign-donations-link-ski-industry-leaders-climate-change-deniers

November 15, 2016
Bozeman, Montana

To the editor:

Re: Those who support deniers of human caused climate change.

The world of skiing is a microcosm of the larger world. I am one of those fortunate enough to have spent my life in this privileged, tiny, dependent on snow sphere. My gratitude for a life in skiing includes some awareness that all things are connected, no matter how large or small one’s world of experience and attention, and that each of us are responsible for how the world is faring. That is, our actions and thoughts matter.

Snow is the literal foundation of skiing and, as reservoir for the waters of spring and summer, the foundation of much larger spheres of life than are found in the corporate properties and offices of Vail Resorts, Jackson Hole, Mammoth Mountain, Squaw Valley, Sugarloaf and others. Human caused climate change is and has been and will continue to decimate the world’s environment and ecology, including the foundation of the world of skiing. It is a crisis of unprecedented danger to all life on Earth, and its menace will be immeasurably compounded for our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Skiers and other human beings who attempt to deny human caused climate change are absurd and shameful, and their futile attempts to deny reality are based on stupidity, ignorance or purposeful ignorance. Stupidity can sometimes be alleviated by experience. Ignorance can be cured by well-intentioned and thorough education. Purposeful ignorance—which afflicts those who are neither stupid nor ignorant but whose compassion, personal ethics and morality have been stunted and deformed into deception by greed, ideology, laziness or the illusion of disconnection from all things not serving their self-interest—can be coaxed into reality by honest, courageous journalism.

Thank you, Porter Fox and Powder Magazine, for being the first major skiing writer and publication to address this issue and shine some light on the dark deniers. Don’t stop now.

Sincerely,

Dick Dorworth

ON WRITERS AND WRITING

The writing life is filled with satisfaction and pitfalls, success and failure, public and private scrutiny, the contemplation of considered thought and research as well as the writer’s conviction expressed in the word itself. Every writer has critics and advocates and learns to pay attention to both in equal measure without melting before the ardor of either criticism or praise. Both enthusiasts and detractors raise temperatures and, as one of my favorite American politicians Harry Truman famously said, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Writing is a private, solitary endeavor first (and, perhaps, foremost) and only if/when it gets published or read to an audience of one or more does it become public. It seems likely that far more writing is seen only by its author than makes its way to a larger audience, whether in a weekly newspaper, a national magazine or a best seller list. Either way its value, utility and intellectual/emotional nutrition are in the eye of the beholder, including but not limited to that of the author.
Wallace Stegner, in my view one of America’s finest writers, wrote (in a work of fiction): “Are writers reporters, prophets, crazies, entertainers, preachers, judges, what? Who appoints them as mouthpieces? If they appoint themselves, as they clearly do, how valid is the commission? If time alone makes masterpieces, as Anatole France thought, then great writing is just trial and error tested by time, and if it’s that, then above all it has to be free, it has to flow from the gift, not from outside pressures. The gift is its own justification, and there is no way of telling for sure, short of the appeal to posterity, whether it’s really worth something or whether it’s only the ephemeral expression of a fad or tendency, the articulation of a stereotype.”
The commission is assumed to be valid for the writer unless its source flows from outside pressures, in which case what Stegner refers to as “the gift” is not its own justification. It is just another hired gun in the service of the highest bidder. That is not “writing” in the sense indicated here as what Stegner terms a “gift” to the community, but, rather, is closer aligned with advertising, public relations, political campaigning or promoting a particular religious/social/economic dogma. The gift is organic (even wild) and in all ways nutritious to human thought and discourse, sustainable in the world community and beneficial to that world’s mental/emotional/physical environment. Outside pressures genetically modify some writing and spray poisonous pesticides upon the writer’s imagination and integrity. And they are seldom labeled. While that is, in my view, unfortunate for writer, reader and the larger community, both writer and reader have choices in what to write and read and why, and those choices affect the larger community. In all things it’s worth the time and effort to discern what is organic and what genetically modified.
Whether it’s nourishment for the mind, the emotions, the body or the environment, organic, to quote Ernest Hemingway, is the just right word.

MERCHANTS OF DOUBT

The highest profile people in Washington, D.C., particularly those who (sometimes) inhabit the White House, constantly bring to mind the fine documentary film “Merchants of Doubt,” a story about how scientific misinformation makes its way into the media and then the minds of the general public. In some ways it is an old story, best summarized in the inimitable words of Deep Throat (Mark Felt), “Follow the money.” In other ways it is an entirely new story because the stakes and consequences of a public filled with scientific misinformation are unprecedented in all history.

A couple of years ago an opinion piece by the Denver Post Editorial Board caught my eye. It epitomizes Deep Throat’s wisdom. It begins: “One of the stock charges used by those who campaign to ban hydraulic fracturing in oil and gas drilling is that it endangers groundwater supplies. And yet the pile of studies largely refuting this fear-mongering keeps growing by the year.” One study mentioned refuting “this fear-mongering” was conducted by Colorado State University’s Warner College of Natural Resources. Yes, and, according to High Country News, Exxon Mobile in 2010 “…gave the university $5 million to study energy development impacts on western Colorado’s sage grouse, mule deer and other wildlife, spawning 20 new research contracts. Shell, BP and others have also recently poured millions of dollars into CSU’s research. Warner College is named for alum Ed Warner, who donated $30 million in 2005 after making a fortune pioneering hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which has opened hard-to-reach oil and gas reserves worldwide.”

A press release from Physicians for Social Responsibility at that time reads: “A partnership of prominent health organizations encompassing nationwide medical and public health experts and scientists released the third edition of their ‘Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking’ on Wednesday. The Compendium compiles and summarizes hundreds of peer-reviewed studies and other important findings on fracking, showing the significance and extent of the evidence demonstrating risks to public health, air and water quality, birth and infant health, the environment, and climate change.”

Who would you rather have as sources of scientific information about public health, Physicians for Social Responsibility or Exxon Mobil, Shell and BP? It seems obvious to me, but “Merchants of Doubt” is a stunning and disturbing documentary of the history and current practice of how public relation firms working for large businesses pervert truth and deceive the public for profit. “Merchants of Doubt” director Robert Kenner says, all of today’s “doubtmeisters” learned at the feet of the old masters from the Marlboro days.

“I spoke to Peter Sparber, who was masterful at working for tobacco,” says Kenner. “He helped slow down legislation on a slow burning cigarette. He was able to convince people it was not cigarettes that cause house fires, it was couches. He was able to make a law that (requires) chemicals to be put in these couches. It turned out it didn’t prevent fires and it also caused cancer.” Sparber, who was interviewed for the film, told Kenner that if a person can successfully create doubt around tobacco products, they can do it with just about anything. He said, “You could take James Hansen, the leading climate scientist, and I could take a garbage man and I could get America to believe that the garbage man knows more about climate change than Hansen does.”

“Merchants of Doubt” will help the public differentiate between garbage and science. Don’t miss it.

Keep it in mind every time you watch/read about and/or listen to the high profile doubtmeisters of Washington—Donald, Sean, Mike, Betsy, Kellyanne, Jared, Reince, Rex, Jeff, Ryan, Scott and so many others—peddle garbage instead of cleaning it up.

ON PERFECTION

A priest was in charge of a Zen temple garden because he loved the flowers, shrubs, and trees. Next to the temple was another, smaller temple where there lived an old Zen master. One day, when the priest was expecting some special guests, he took extra care in tending to the garden. As he pulled the weeds, trimmed the shrubs, combed the moss and meticulously raked up and carefully arranged all the dry autumn leaves the old master watched with interest from across the wall that separated the temples.

When he had finished, the priest stood back to admire his work. “Isn’t it beautiful,” he called out to the old master. “Yes,” replied the old man, “but there is something missing. Help me over this wall and I’ll put it right for you.”

After hesitating, the priest lifted the old fellow over and set him down. Slowly, the master walked to the tree near the center of the garden, grabbed it by the trunk, and shook it. Leaves showered down all over the garden. “There,” said the old man, “you can put me back now.”

A Zen story

 

I like this story. It reminds me of Gertrude Stein’s famous observation that “There are no straight lines in nature,” and of what nature is and is not and of how mankind’s idea of perfection destroys nature’s own. It’s an illustration of several things, among them the priest’s narrow (unpriestly?) pride in the beauty and order of his own work juxtaposed with the master’s more expansive appreciation of the inherent beauty of a larger, older and more inclusive edict. The word ‘respect’ comes to mind.

Thank nature for the master.

It is a much older story than this Zen version of it.

Man versus nature. Man in nature. Man in harmony with nature. Man in conflict with nature. Man and nature. Man as a part—and a small one at that—of nature. Man’s obsessive need to make order out of chaos. Man’s neurotic need to control—everything, including nature.

Keeping care of one’s garden is admirable, honorable work, and, depending on the garden, it may provide sustenance for a few people. Tending the garden is the work of survival, and man and nature as equal partners will keep man flourishing and alive. The scientific study of the natural world, the common observations of the common man, the escalating rate of species extinction and the high temperatures of summer are but a few of the plentiful indications that modern man’s partnership with nature is completely out of balance. Despite the moronic ramblings of people in high places who have every opportunity and obligation to know better—people like Donald Trump and most of his administration, George Bush, James Inhofe and others who take an unpriestly pride in answering to a higher father who goes by many names including ExxonMobil—man caused global warming is real, and it is changing the garden of earth in unknowable and irreversible ways. And there is something missing in their concept of perfection and beauty.

The Zen priest who stood back to admire his work and calling it beautiful was, as the old master pointed out, missing something in his own garden that he had made every effort to make perfect. And he was missing something as well in his own self. Though he hesitated at first, the priest had respect and took the effort to lift the old master over the wall so he could shake the tree in the middle of the garden. At the end of the Zen story there is nothing missing from the garden, the priest or the master.

May we all have such respect and do as well and lift the old masters over all the walls so they can shake those trees in the center of every garden until the leaves fall down like nature’s own.