This week was Tesshin’s birthday and after he chanted the Heart Sutra, the entire group broke into a rendition of “Happy Birthday” while holding up birthday signs on the Zoom conference. Tesshin broke into a huge smile as he was completely surprised!!
Tesshin then opened his talk this week to discuss the events going on in the country. He mentioned that the Yorktown clergy issued a statement on this sad situation
(Please see the statement attached at the bottom of this post)
On this past week, Tesshin reached out to two African American colleagues in Boy Scouts about them leading a discussion within scouting about racism in the United States. The reaction from these two scout leaders were interesting. The first person responded with “Sure, I guess so, but I am not sure what to say.” This person is generally regarded as very friendly, into scouts, and generally “laid back” about politics. He exhibited a desire to help, but had great uncertainty about what he could contribute. The other gentleman, who is more active in politics, responded with an unequivocal – “Absolutely NOT!” He asked, “How can I get anyone to understand. How can white upper middle-class people even begin to understand this issue? How can I explain the anger and violence seen on the streets? I can barely make sense of it myself.” Tessin remarked that there was great wisdom in both responses and any student of the path should see something familiar in these responses.
On the following day there was a scout leadership meeting. Tesshin asked the wider group what they thought about a formal discussion on the protests, the reactions, and root causes. According to Tesshin, the one word to describe everyone’s reaction was – discomfort. Most people are just not equipped to abide deeply with complex and uncomfortable problems. Nobody in the group really wanted to touch that “live wire.” Again, students of the path should recognize something here! Discomfort is the point! If we are not uncomfortable, then we are really not working.
Finally, this past Friday night Tesshin participated in the Peekskill Community Prayer– and it was his turn to lead the service. He led the group in a Tibetan guided meditation on the vastness of time and space. The meditation was not heavy on formal Buddhism, rather the idea was to give the group a taste of the power of vastness of reality and to shift people’s perspective. After the ceremony, Tesshin shared his quandary about getting people to discuss the protests with the other members of the clergy. One of the priests, who is African American, chuckled a bit and stated that she was happy to hear the story. Everyone has been calling on her as the “token African American” to inquire as to what they should be thinking about the situation. She was feeling very much like the first scout leader – “I am confused as well! I have no better answer than you do!!” Again, Tesshin is reminding us about great vastness, but great confusion and uncertainty. None of this should surprise us.
Tesshin shared these stories to emphasize a point he has been making over the past few weeks. We practice Zen in order to be present and ready when challenges occur. This is not an intellectual exercise, but rather a preparation to be truly alive. The stories above show people reacting with authenticity, confusion, humor, and, yes, anger. Our existence is not easy – and many problems lack easy answers. So, what are we to do as students? Here Tesshin was clear, we do what we always do. We act in a skillful and mindful way. We have the tools through practice to do this. Tesshin called them the “3 L’s” …
First, Listen. Listen to your inner self, to others, to your family, to nature, to everything. It is like how we are in Zazen. We get out of our own way, so we can see the 10,000 things of suchness. Tesshin remarked that all he learned during his fourteen years in Japan was how to really listen.
Next, Learn. We need to let go of our ego and let the 10,000 things we listen to teach us. Different opinions do not diminish us. We do not have the complete answer and never will. Being open like this is where innovation comes form.
Finally, do the Labor. Don’t just hold the knowledge – put the learnings into action. The important thing is that we don’t try to start here. We MUST do the other steps first if we are going to be any use to anyone.
Attached: Yorktown Clergy statement
We, the clergy and faith leaders of the Interfaith Clergy Council of Yorktown, stand in solidarity with those of you here today. Like all of you, we are heartbroken and outraged by the brutal murder of George Floyd. We further condemn the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the other 1249 Black victims of police violence since 2015. The streets of America are stained with the blood of innocent black men, women and children. The individuals we mourn today are the most recent martyrs in this country’s four-hundred-year history of racist violence and oppression.
We mourn also, the more than a hundred thousand individuals who have died in the Covid-19 pandemic, knowing that the same systems of inequality and injustice mean that communities of color have suffered profoundly and unequally.
As people of faith, we believe that every life is sacred. Though we connect to the Divine through different traditions, we are united in this belief and in our call for justice. We believe that it is our responsibility, as faith leaders, to speak truth and call upon our communities to put into action the ethics and teachings of our traditions. With that virtue in mind, the injustices carried out against our fellow brothers and sisters can only be labeled with one simple, yet clear, word – wrong.
Further, we strongly support not only all of you gathering here today, but protestors across this country. We condemn the violence that has been unleashed on peaceful protestors. Taking to the streets to cry out for justice is an especially brave act in the face of a Pandemic, and we acknowledge that standing against oppression is sacred work. Regardless of town, religious community or heritage, we support your peaceful gathering of solidarity against racial injustice. As exemplified by so many past moments in our faiths, when good people stand together and demand that we, as a nation be better, we have the power to transform the status quo.
Whatever your vision of sacred presence–and by whatever Name you know God–we call upon you, Eternal One, to be with us as we work to rebuild this society into a land of justice, equality and peace. We pray that Rev. King’s dream will become a reality–not someday, but this day. A dream where ALL peoples will be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. And where we will dwell together in a land that holds every breath as sacred– and where we can all breathe the air of freedom.