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.


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.



“We hang petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.”

Aesop, Greek slave and fable author.

“Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.”

Plato, ancient Greek philosopher.

“Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river.”

Nikita Khrushchev, Russian Soviet politician.

“When I was a boy I was told that anyone could become President; I’m beginning to believe it.”

Quoted in ‘Clarence Darrow for the Defense’ by Irving Stone.

“Politicians are people who, when they see light at the end of the tunnel, go out and buy some more tunnel.”

John Quinton, American actor/writer.

“Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other.”

Oscar Ameringer, ‘the Mark Twain of American Socialism.

“In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.”

George Orwell, English author.
“I offered my opponents a deal: if they stop telling lies about me, I will stop telling the truth about them.”

Adlai Stevenson, campaign speech, 1952.

“A politician is a fellow who will lay down your life for his country.”

Texas Guinan, 19th century American businessman.

“The first panacea for a mismanaged nation is inflation of the currency; the second is war. Both bring a temporary prosperity; both bring a permanent ruin. But both are the refuge of political and economic opportunists.”

Ernest Hemingway, American author and war correspondent.
“I have come to the conclusion that politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.”

Charles de Gaulle, French general and politician.

“Instead of giving a politician the keys to the city, it might be better to change the locks.”

Doug Larson, English middle distance runner who won gold medals at the 1924 Olympics.

“Diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions.”

Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of England, considered by many the greatest statesman of the 20th century.

“What happens if a politician drowns in a river? “

“That is pollution.”

“What happens if all of them drown?”

“That is a solution.”

Anonymous misanthrope.

Thanks due, from Aesop to anonymous.




“To be rooted is perhaps the most important but least understood need of the human soul.”
Simone Weil

“Of all the memberships we identify ourselves by (racial, ethnic, sexual, national, class, age, religious, occupational), the one that is most forgotten, and has the greatest potential for healing, is place. We must learn to know, love and join our place even more than we love our own ideas. People who can agree that they share a commitment to the landscape/cityscape—even if they are otherwise locked in struggle with each other—have at least one deep thing to share.”
Gary Snyder

I have an old friend, now in his 80s, who has lived since he was a child on the same piece of land in a beautiful valley of a western state framed by mountains. I once wrote a letter of congratulations to him “For remaining rooted in place….There are few people in our culture who have this sort of good fortune, and having such deep roots has allowed you to grow in certainty from young agile boy with a smile looking for the next adventure to old, bionic-kneed man with a smile looking for the next adventure.” During the years from childhood when his home was nearly 10 miles outside town to the raising of his children to playing with his grandchildren that town has grown and surrounded and made a cityscape of the landscape of his youth. Still, his sense of place has allowed him to keep his priorities in order, his integrity intact and his sense of humor in operating shape. He has retired from a teaching career and has a sufficient but not extravagant lifestyle, and when a real estate developer offered him $14 million dollars for his property he turned it down. My friend said to me, “What would I do with $14 million? Move to Sun Valley and buy a condo? I like it here. I always have. This is my place.”
My friend’s wisdom is both informative and inspiring, as are Weil’s and Snyder’s.
A person rooted in place has a different experience and understanding of that place and thereby the larger world than one who is passing through to make the next step on the ladder of upward mobility, looking to crash as gently as possible after falling off that ladder, moving to the next job, following the restlessness of disaffection to the next layover or being pushed off place by rising prices. Place as used here is not to be confused with property and it need not be a particular dwelling or tiny or humongous parcel of land within either landscape or cityscape. Roberta McKercher’s place was Hailey, Idaho in the home where Ezra Pound was born. Mary Jane Conger’s is Ketchum, Idaho where her family has lived for three generations. John Muir’s was the Sierra Nevada. Another old friend, writer/photographer Peter Miller’s is Colbyville, Vermont. Jane Goodall’s is Tanzania. Han Shan’s was Cold Mountain. The Dalai Lama’s is the Potala, which he has not seen since 1959. And Gary Snyder wrote of his place, “I set up my library and wrote poems and essays by lantern light, then went out periodically, lecturing and teaching around the country. I thought of my home as a well-concealed base camp from which I raided university treasuries. We named our place Kitkitdizze after the aromatic little shrub.” There are those who are only at home and at peace with themselves (and committed and attuned to place) in the mountains, others on the sea and still others upon the rivers that connect them. For Wilfred Thesiger it was the southern Arabian Desert. In the late 1940s he was one of the first Europeans to even see what was then known as the Empty Quarter, and he titled the book he wrote about his experiences and sense of the place “Arabian Sands.” One description of Thesiger’s work reads, “It is a book of touches, little things—why the Bedouin will never predict the weather (“since to do so would be to claim knowledge that belongs to God”), how they know when the rabbit is in its hole and can be caught. It is written with great respect for these people and with an understanding that acknowledges its limits. With humility.  Fail the humility test, and the desert will surely kill you.” Today the Empty Quarter is filled with oil wells, Land Rovers and people passing through with a notable lack of sense of place or humility.

It might be said, Fail the humility test of sense of place, whether the place be a plot of land, a river, mountain, sea or neighborhood and it will surely kill at the very least some essential part of the soul.
If you have a sense of place, treat it with respect. If you don’t, start looking.


Karma is the universal law of cause and effect. It has been called the law of moral causation and is fundamental to Buddhist thought, practice and understanding of the world. The concept of karma was central to Hinduism long before it was incorporated into what we now know as Buddhism, and it is best understood as an organic process rather than as an imposed system of justice. Karma usually takes longer than justice to manifest, but it is absolutely immune to political/economic/social influences. Unlike justice, karma is inescapable. Karma can be earned or paid for, but it can’t be bought or sold. Karma is neither a bartering system nor “an eye for an eye” transaction.

One way of thinking of karma is that the deed (original action) is the seed of a fruit that will eventually grow and ripen and fall upon the one responsible. It must be morally good or morally bad to produce its fruit, and since the ripening of karmic fruit generally takes longer than a single lifetime the effect of the original cause is not manifested for one or more rebirths…..thus the endless cycle of existence known as samsara which continues until one reaches enlightenment or nirvana. That is, the concept of karma is big mind, long term, universal thinking, not the small mind of I, me, my, mine, individual, separate and personal fate.

An action, or original cause, can be one of body, speech or mind. The karma of just a thought that is not spoken aloud or acted upon is determined by the intention of the act. Intention causes a karmic effect to arise. Intention is cause. Even if never acted upon the intention in itself is enough to create a karmic effect, and while bad deeds produce bad karma good deeds produce good karma or ‘reward.’ In karmic terms, present intention, present thought, present action are in some measure a consequence of past intention and are in a greater measure the determination of future situations.

This is not to say that karma is absolute determinism. It is not. Karma, at least in Zen practice, might best be described as the intention to pay attention without judgment or desire to influence the situation to one’s ‘advantage’ or to avoid pain. Karma determines the manner of rebirth, the situation one is born into, but it does not determine the intention or action and response to that situation. Both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ karma keep one in the cycle of existence—samsara‑‑and the way to end the cycle of rebirth is to refrain from both good and bad deeds. That is, the way out is enlightenment.

So, we are either caught in samsara or we are enlightened. Take your pick.

In some Zen centers morning service begins with a verse: “All the karma ever created by me from the beginningless greed, anger and delusion born through body, speech and thought I now fully avow.” That is, the first step is to acknowledge and accept responsibility for who we are and for the circumstances of our lives. Such acceptance is to be open to the universe and to realize that present conditions determine subsequent conditions. When we deal with our own, personal situation or the violence, ignorance and social/economic injustices of society, our intention is to lessen our own suffering and that of all beings and to encourage others to do the same. It is worth remembering that so long as we are in samsara we are dealing with these matters, with karma, every instant of our lives. The inescapable and ancient law of karma is that positive actions produce positive results and negative actions produce negative results, truths we cannot escape.

In closing, I am reminded and wish to remind you of the words of the Dalai Lama: “My religion is kindness.”


I wanted to put something here this week before the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States changes the world in so many unimaginable, unbelievable, unsavory ways. I wanted to express how embarrassed and ashamed I am that my country allowed this to happen, and how determined most citizens are to unite in opposition, prevail against and overcome the man who is neither my president nor representative of my values. My old friend Lito Tejada Flores recently composed two poems that speak for the best and, since Hillary Clinton won the democratic vote, majority of Americans. Thanks, Lito.


(Un)happy Holidays
No one’s ready, no one’s eager,
In fact, we’re all a little afraid.
It’s happened before, that’s the problem,
A would-be strongman, & crazy promises,
& crowds of believers, blind believers.
Christmas cards at the post office,
Every day, same as always—
But it isn’t the same, is it?
Merry Christmas? Maybe, why not?
But we can’t say: Happy New Year
With a straight face. We shake our heads
In disbelief, knowing it’s true.
It isn’t *Kristallnacht* either, not yet,
But it isn’t over. It’s up to us . . .
Must be that ill wind blows nobody no good,
Must be what somebody wanted, so many wanted,
Must be too late now to change their minds,
Must be a plan B somewhere, another option . . .
No, there isn’t. Must be what we deserve.
So where’d we go wrong? What did we do? What
Didn’t we do? Didn’t help, bailed out the banks
Not the little guys who believed those banks.
Weren’t kind enough, generous enough, didn’t care,
Because we were okay, not really, but just enough,
Not our brothers’ keeper, or sisters’. Too busy to care.
And what did we learn? Nothing compared to what
We’re about to learn. No one gets a pass this time.
Must be what we needed to wake up. Can we?

DHARMA TALK: Which comes first, spiritual practice or spiritual experience?

It is a chicken/egg question, but one worth asking because it provides insight into the path of each individual practitioner. It is, in my view, a private question that may or may not have a clear, definitive answer and which the individual may or may not choose to share with others. In this talk I choose to share some of my answer with you. Both question and answer will lead to further questions (and answers) and will inform and illuminate each person’s practice.

For instance, is watching a spectacular sunrise a spiritual experience? Why? Is being taken to church against your will as a child spiritual practice? Why?

What has led so many of us, whose entire western culture spiritual tradition is Judeo-Christian based, to the spiritual practice of Buddhism? Spirituality is an inherent aspect of every human being, but each person’s concept of spirituality, spiritual practice and spiritual experience is different.

Religion was not part of my upbringing. My father was an atheist, my mother an agnostic who was baptized a Catholic on her deathbed, though so far as I know she never set foot in a church except to attend weddings and funerals. My religion was the outdoors, but as an English major I studied several religious traditions from a literary perspective and my college advisor taught a great course entitled “The Bible as Literature” which I did not take because at the time I associated it with the Elmer Gantry, evangelical type of hucksterism.

Fortunately the ‘60s happened, and like many others I embraced psychedelics and the consciousness expanding ideas of Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass) as if they were the path and guides to Nirvana. They weren’t, but they were a first step to spiritual experience and I am eternally grateful to them. For a few years after that introduction to spiritual experience I studied the ideas of Meher Baba and then practiced Transcendental Meditation for a couple of years before becoming, spiritually speaking, aimless, rootless and disconnected.

Though I read many books about spiritual matters and was particularly interested in Buddhism from an intellectual perspective, for all those years after the ‘60s I didn’t have a practice until I became a Zen student and took my vows of refuge in Buddhism through the Jukai ceremony in 1988. When I took those vows I was acutely aware that an experience I had in China eight years earlier, one I can only call spiritual, had directly led me to Jukai.

In one of my old journals from that time I wrote about that experience.

From my journal: “June 30, 1980. Peking (Beijing), China….Each day here has magic in it. Yesterday at the Temple of the Azure Clouds something very strange and special happened. The Hall of the Luo Han has a group of 508 five foot statues made of gilded wood. Each is a different face and character, and I think but do not know for sure that each represents a different aspect of Buddha nature. As soon as I went in there I felt something beginning to happen and as I walked around in there I found myself separating from the others. I wanted to be alone, for my mind and awareness was shifting into that plane I sometimes reach in special moments. Difficult to describe that place, but it’s something like being stoned on a heavy dose of acid, having x-ray vision into time. It started with one of the statues who caught my eye, and the eye that caught mine was not dead, not wood, not paint. It contained the living spirit and it did not frighten me. And then as I looked around all the statues began to radiate the soft gold color of holiness. The whole room was alive. Each statue has its own spirit and living presence and message and reason, and yet they are all one and the same. I was filled with energy and deep and abiding peace. I was home. I could have stayed there forever, except that is not my path in this life. I walked the aisles and enjoyed my vision and learned all I could and only left when I felt I might be hanging up my mates. I would like to go there again in my life. It is a place of power.”

So, for me, I can say with certainty that spiritual experience comes before spiritual practice.


The first noble truth of Buddhism is that life is suffering. By that measure, as well as others less agonizing — including high adventure, the burning fires of passion as well as the healing waters of compassion, humility, kindness and seeking Kim Schmitz, a longtime Buddhist, lived life to its limits and, sometimes, a bit over.

Schmitz, who was born June 26, 1946, in Oakland, California and died September 19, 2016 in northern Idaho spent most of his early life in Portland, Oregon.

He was one of the finest climbers in history. After graduating from Lincoln High School he spent a couple of semesters at the University of Oregon in Eugene. But though he was a voracious reader with a keen intellect and curiosity about the world, classrooms and academia were too confining for Kim Schmitz. He lived to climb and ski in the classic tradition of mountaineers for whom mountains are the defining relationship of their lives.

By the time he was a teenager he had climbed Canada’s Mount Robson and Mount Waddington and gained a reputation for first ascents on some of the hardest technical climbing routes of the Northwest. He climbed a lot at Smith Rocks in Oregon.

“Without rival, Kim Schmitz emerged as the top all-around Smith climber during the first half of the ’60s,” guidebook author Alan Watts opined,

Schmitz and climbing partner Jim Madsen arrived in Yosemite in the mid ’60s and quickly raised the local standards of the valley’s big wall and hard free climbing. Schmitz never lived full time in the Northwest again, spending his summers climbing in Yosemite and winters working as a ski patrolman in Squaw Valley. After his friend Madsen was killed rappelling off the end of his rope on El Capitan in October 1968, Schmitz teamed up with Yosemite climbing icon Jim Bridwell and, among many other things, pioneered new routes on both El Capitan and Half Dome.

By the 1970s Schmitz was climbing and skiing in Asia. His 1977 first ascent of Pakistan’s 20,623-foot Great Trango Tower in the Karakoram range, a 4,300-foot wall, was the first big wall, hard technical climb in a high-altitude alpine setting and became know as “the biggest big wall.” In 1979 Schmitz returned to the Karakorum to be the first to climb 20,043-foot Uli Biaho Tower, 34 pitches of difficult technical climbing that took 12 days and became the first Grade VII climb in the world.

In 1980 Kim joined trip organizer Galen Rowell, Ned Gillette and Dan Asay for a nearly 300-mile ski tour called the American Karakoram Traverse Expedition across northern Pakistan. The trip started March 27 and ended May 8, and each man’s pack weighed approximately 120 pounds. Toward the end of the tour food ran low, their energies followed, and their pace had slowed from 4 miles an hour to 4 miles a day. Schmitz devised a solution that Rowell described in a fine essay about the trip: “Kim was our medical officer. Although not a doctor, he had a strongly developed historical sense of medication for mountaineering. He knew of a drug that had been developed precisely for this purpose by native people who found it necessary to carry tremendous loads at high elevations with low caloric intakes. Small amounts of this extract from a South American leaf were at one time the main active ingredient of the most successful multinational soft drink until the potential for abuse made it illegal. Propitiously, Kim had been able to purchase an ounce of this material at the Khyber Pass to add to our medical kit.”

In October of that year Schmitz was part of an American expedition to 24,790-foot Minya Konka, the tallest mountain in China’s Sichuan Province. High on the mountain Schmitz was roped up with Yvon Chouinard, Rick Ridgeway and Jonathan Wright when an avalanche took them on a 2,000-vertical-foot ride. The accident killed Wright, broke Schmitz’s back and some ribs and pummeled Chouinard and Ridgeway without seriously injuring them. The broken back was the beginning of the decline of Schmitz’s climbing career.

By then Schmitz was a Jackson Hole resident for much of the year, making his living guiding for Exum Mountain Guides, skiing in winter and climbing as much and wherever possible. Al Read, longtime owner and president of Exum and leader of the Minya Konka expedition, who invited Schmitz to work for Exum, knew him for most of his life and recalls him as “an imposing species of human who was intimidating because of his goodness, his physical presence and his unbelievable strength and skill in the mountains. Just knowing Kim made me a better man.”

On Aug. 4, 1983, while guiding a client on the Jensen Ridge of Symmetry Spire in the Tetons, Schmitz fell 80 feet, landing feet first on a ledge, shattering both legs in numerous compound fractures and sustaining a major head laceration. It is safe to say that Schmitz never experienced a pain-free moment from that time to the end of his life 33 years later.

“I was amazed on Minya Konka at how strong Kim was climbing at altitude, and then after the avalanche, at how stoic he was,” Chouinard said. “He had to ride a horse off the mountain with a broken back. After his accident on Symmetry Spire I visited him in the hospital. Kim pulled back the covers on his bed to show me his legs. The sight of them caused me to pass out on the spot.”

Schmitz endured numerous major surgeries over the years as a consequence of that fall and, later, intestinal cancer. Those who knew him best considered his return to climbing, guiding, skiing and as normal a life as one can have in constant pain, both miraculous and a testament to his inner strength (and stubbornness) as a human being.

By the time he got serious about zen practice, he was 44, and his glory days as a climber had ended. His leg injuries made it impossible to sit either cross-legged or kneeling, but he didn’t want to get up on a chair, so he usually did zazen with both legs straight out in front of him.

In the early ’90s Schmitz joined Jack Turner, Thekla von Hagke, Jeff Foott, Susan Stone, Rod Dornan and others in the Jackson Hole community in founding the Cold Mountain Zendo.

Schmitz’s life and his practice were complicated by repeated health challenges: numerous hospitalizations and surgeries, ongoing pain, recurring abuse of alcohol and painkillers, DUI convictions and incarceration and losing his job at Exum. The loss of his job also meant financial problems and forfeiting his place in the world literally (his cabin) and figuratively (his identity as a climbing guide).

Schmitz was preceded in death by his father, Alfred “Alla,” who immigrated to the U.S. from Germany in 1929 and was himself a climber and outdoorsman and a leader of Sierra Club and Mountain Travel trips on which he introduced Kim as a boy to his destiny. Kim’s mother, Virginia “Ginny,” and his sister, Dede, also passed before him. He never married and had no immediate family, but he leaves a large extended family of friends and cohorts, none more devoted than Dr. Bruce Hayse, Jim Williams, Andy Carson and Thekla von Hagke.



“To study the Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things. To be enlightened by all things is to remove the barriers between one’s self and others.”

Dogen Zenji, 13th century

Dogen is the founder of Soto Zen and he considered zazen to be the heart of the practice of Buddhism. It is definitely the heart of Soto Zen practice, and Zen Buddhists are sometimes known as the “meditation Buddhists.” Without going into the history of Buddhism, when Dogen returned to Japan from his studies in China the first thing he wrote was the Fukanzazengi, the universal recommendation for the practice of zazen. That is, zazen is not just for monks; it is for all people, men and women, old and young, rich and poor. In referring to zazen, Dōgen is referring specifically to shikantaza roughly translatable as “nothing but precisely sitting”, which is a kind of sitting meditation in which the meditator sits “in a state of brightly alert attention that is free of thoughts, directed to no object, and attached to no particular content.”

The importance Dogen attached to zazen is encapsulated in these quotes from his writings: “Therefore even if only one person sits for a short time, because this zazen is one with all existence and completely permeates all time, it performs everlasting Buddha guidance within the inexhaustible dharma world in the past, present and future. Zazen is equally the same practice and same enlightenment for both the person sitting and all dharmas.”


“You should know that even if all the Buddhas in the ten directions, as numerous as the sands of the Ganges River, together engage the full power of the Buddha wisdom, they could never reach the limit or measure or comprehension or virtue of one person’s zazen.”

In other words, zazen is where it’s at in the practice of Soto Zen Buddhism. It is at the heart of the study of the way and of the self. It brings together what sometimes seem to be the separate entities of the body, breath and mind into one reality. Since the body has a way of communicating outwardly to the world and inwardly to the self, the position of the body while sitting zazen has a lot to do with what happens to the breath and mind. There are very specific techniques of sitting zazen that are integral to Soto Zen tradition handed down from Dogen 800 years ago. Whether one sits zazen in a full lotus, half lotus, seiza position or in a chair, it is crucial that the back is straight so that the diaphragm can move freely while breathing. In zazen we focus on the breath. Breath is life. Breath is the vital force, the central activity of our bodies, and mind and breath are one reality. When a person is agitated, breathing is agitated. When a person is nervous breathing is quick and shallow. When the mind is at rest the breath is deep, easy and effortless. Zazen gives the mind a rest from its incessant chatter, movement and attachment to the self.

One zazen instruction reads: “In the process of working with the breath, the thoughts that come up, for the most part, will be just noise, just random thoughts. Sometimes, however, when you’re in a crisis or involved in something important in your life, you’ll find that the thought, when you let it go, will recur. You let it go, but it comes back……Sometimes that needs to happen. Don’t treat it as a failure; treat it as another way to practice. Don’t use zazen to suppress thoughts or issues that need to come up…..Just be with the breath. Just be the breath. Let the breath breathe itself. That’s the beginning of the falling away of body and mind…..And it’s that power of concentration that ultimately leads to what we call samadhi, or single-pointedness of mind”

And it is there that one can begin to study the Way and study the self.



“Marriage is a gamble, let’s be honest.”
Yoko Ono

“A divorce is like an amputation; you survive it, but there’s less of you.”
Margaret Atwood

“’E.T.’ began with me trying to write a story about my parents’ divorce.”
Steven Spielberg


A marriage is frequently among the most happy, celebratory and festive of social gatherings, an event in which two people formally join their lives into one unit in which to live happily ever after. Wedding ceremonies, whether grandiose or humble, are infused with hope for the well being of those being wedded as well as for the larger society.

Every day in America approximately 5800 couples are married. That’s a lot of happiness, celebration, festivity and gatherings of clans and friends. Not surprisingly, most people love to talk about weddings and how happy the newlyweds look and act. Whether the ceremony involves the couple being married by a Justice of the Peace in a City Hall with a couple of strangers called in as witnesses, a ‘proper’ wedding in a church before a man of the cloth, a gathering of the tribe in a mountain meadow presided over by a relative or close friend or a lavish formal procedure costing hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more) at a posh resort, marriage is big business.

As, of course, is divorce, but, not surprisingly, most people don’t love talking about divorces and how miserable recent divorcees look and, sometimes, act. Statistics reveal that every day in America approximately 2400 divorces take place. That’s an average of 100 an hour. Nearly 50 percent of all marriages in America end in divorce. 41 percent of first marriages end in divorce. 60 percent of second marriages end in divorce. 73 percent of third marriages end in divorce. After the third marriage, even statisticians no longer bother to keep track, turning away from Einstein’s observation that “The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.” Einstein is best known for his theory of special relativity expressed as E=MC2, but before giving the world that description of itself he won the Nobel Prize for physics for his theory of general relativity. Despite his many outrageous accomplishments and his assurance that the world is comprehensible, so far as is known, he did not leave us with a comprehensible theory of marriage and divorce. Einstein was married twice and part of the agreement of divorcing his first wife was that he gave her all the money he received for winning the Nobel Prize for physics in 1921.

That is, divorce, too, is big business.

In all cultures and societies the rite of marriage is the culmination of the emotional/practical/legal obligations the two people involved intend (or at least are rolling the dice) to honor, enjoy, share and live happily ever after within. When it doesn’t work out, as it doesn’t about half the time, the rite of divorce is the culmination of a different set of emotional/practical/legal obligations, and we all know people who have been enriched by marriage and impoverished by divorce, and, of course, vice-versa. If Einstein had left us a formula it likely would show that it all balances out in the end.