Dolly Parton’s Dharma



Tesshin opened his talk by recounting a few events from the past week.  First there was the two day Soto Zen teachers conference which was held via a Zoom conference this year due to Covid.  There were lots of interesting conversations among the teachers and Tesshin promised to organize some of the most salient issues and share them with the group over the next few weeks.  


Tesshin also talked about his vacation.  This year his family camped at NY state parks with which required a lot of time driving.  During these drives, Tesshin used the time to catch up on some podcasts.  One in particular was called “Dolly Parton’s America” produced by Radio Lab and NPR.   This is a nine part series exploring the question of the “culture” of a Parton concert.  It appears to be a real cross section of Americana.  One will see truckers next to gay couples next to church groups.  Why is this?  How is she able to pull this off in our polarized country?


One of the conclusions of the podcast investigation is that when one enters the “Dollyverse” everyone feels safe and accepted.  You become part of a family of fans.  Fans do not care about your political stance, or your job, or anything else.  Everyone is united in the love of the music, history, and gestalt of the Parton concert.  This is why it has such a draw across so many different groups.  There is a very simple but profound teaching here!  


Tesshin noted that this teaching can be extended to Buddhism.  First, the Buddha taught that at the core we are all the same thing both in the absolute and relative sense.  At the core, all people are united in the desire for safety and happiness.  We all want to belong and feel accepted.  People are social by nature.  This is why we gain so much more by practicing as a group rather than alone.  In the past, safety in the sangha focused on psychological safety, but now, in the Covid era, it even extends to physical safety as well.  Tesshin reminded us that we all play a part.  Our actions and feeling telegraph to others even when we are not in direct contact.  Our mission is to emit confidence and inclusion.  Others pick up our mental state whether positive or negative.


How do we create the sense of safety and acceptance into our sangha, communities, and families?  To illustrate how this can be done, Tessin brought up two examples from this week’s news.  First, there was the magician David Blane who floated high in the Arizona sky with balloons.  Second, there was the rescue in New York of a woman trapped in a high-rise fire by a risky “rope rescue.”  How do the magician and the firefighters perform these dangerous high-altitude feats – safely??  They do it through years of practice and training.  How do we do this in the Sangha? Training and practice, of course!  How does Dolly Parton do it?  – through repetition and consistency.  See, we are all the same thing!  The techniques work across a number of disparate activities.  It should not come as a surprise that something as different as a country-western concert, a magic illusion, and Zen mediation are all teaching the same lesson.  Tesshin wrapped up by reminding us that the Buddha always said that the truth is all around you – you just need slow down just enough to actually observe it.