http://www.UrbanDharma.org ...Buddhism for Urban America


The Urban Dharma Newsletter... September 23, 2003


In This Issue: Buddhism and Ecology

0. Those Dam Builders!
1. Spiritual Approach Urged to Save Earth ...Gazette Staff
2. The Ecology of Buddhism
...by Mushroom Cloud Nine
3. The foundations of ecology in Zen Buddhism
...by Ven. Sunyana Graef
4. Temple/Center/Website- of the Week:
Dharma Rain Zen Center
5. Book/Movie Review: Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism
...by Stephanie Kaza (Editor), Kenneth Kraft (Editor)


0... Those Dam Builders!

* This was an actual letter from and a reply to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The fun stuff really comes in the second letter.



Dear Mr. DeVries:

SUBJECT: DEQ File No. 97-59-0023-1 T11N, R10W, Sec. 20, Montcalm County

It has come to the attention of the Department of Environmental Quality that there has been recent unauthorized activity on the above referenced parcel of property. You have been certified as the legal landowner and/or contractor who did the following unauthorized activity:

Construction and maintenance of two wood debris dams across the outlet stream of Spring Pond. A permit must be issued prior to the start of this type of activity. A review of the Department's files show that no permits have been issued.

Therefore, the Department has determined that this activity is in violation of Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams, of the Natural Resource and Environmental Protection Act, Act 451 of the Public Acts of 1994, being sections 324.30101 to 324.30113 of the Michigan Compiled Laws annotated.

The Department has been informed that one or both of the dams partially failed during a recent rain event causing debris dams and flooding at downstream locations. We find that dams of this nature are inherently hazardous and cannot be permitted. The Department therefore orders you to cease and desist all unauthorized activities at this location, and to restore the stream to a free-flow condition by removing all wood and brush forming the dams from the strewn channel.

All restoration work shall be completed no later than January 31, 1998. Please notify this office when the restoration has been completed so that a follow-up site inspection may be scheduled by our staff.

Failure to comply with this request, or any further unauthorized activity on the site, may result in this case being referred for elevated enforcement action. We anticipate and would appreciate your full cooperation in this matter.

Please feel free to contact me at this office if you have any questions.


David L. Price

District Representative Land and Water Management Division


Reply Letter...

Dear Mr. Price:

Re: DEQ File No. 97-59-0023; T11N, R10W, Sec 20; Montcalm County

Your certified letter dated 12/17/97 has been handed to me to respond to.

You sent out a great deal of carbon copies to a lot of people, but you neglected to include their addresses. You will, therefore, have to send them a copy of my response.

First of all, Mr. Ryan DeVries is not the legal landowner and/or contractor at 2088 Dagget, Pierson, Michigan - I am the legal owner and a couple of beavers are in the (State unauthorized) process of constructing and maintaining two wood "debris" dams across the outlet stream of my Spring Pond. While I did not pay for, nor authorize their dam project, I think they would be highly offended you call their skillful use of natural building materials "debris." I would like to challenge you to attempt to emulate their dam project any dam time and/or any dam place you choose. I believe I can safely state there is no dam way you could ever match their dam skills, their dam resourcefulness, their dam ingenuity, their dam persistence, their dam determination and/or their dam work ethic.

As to your dam request the beavers first must fill out a dam permit prior to the start of this type of dam activity, my first dam question to you is:

Are you trying to discriminate against my Spring Pond Beavers or do you require all dam beavers throughout this State to conform to said dam request? If you are not discriminating against these particular beavers, please send me completed copies of all those other applicable beaver dam permits. Perhaps we will see if there really is a dam violation of Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams, of the Natural Resource and Environmental Protection Act, Act 451 of the Public Acts of 1994, being sections 324.30101 to 324.30113 of the Michigan Compiled Laws annotated.

My first concern is - aren't the dam beavers entitled to dam legal representation? The Spring Pond Beavers are financially destitute and are unable to pay for said dam representation - so the State will have to provide them with a dam lawyer. The Department's dam concern that either one or both of the dams failed during a recent rain event causing dam flooding is proof we should leave the dam Spring Pond Beavers alone rather than harassing them and calling them dam names. If you want the dam stream "restored" to a dam free-flow condition - contact the dam beavers - but if you are going to arrest them (they obviously did not pay any dam attention to your dam letter-being unable to read English) - be sure you read them their dam Miranda rights first. As for me, I am not going to cause more dam flooding or dam debris jams by interfering with these dam builders.

If you want to hurt these dam beavers - be aware I am sending a copy of your dam letter and this response to PETA. If your dam Department seriously finds all dams of this nature inherently hazardous and truly will not permit their existence in this dam State - I seriously hope you are not selectively enforcing this dam policy - or once again both I and the Spring Pond Beavers will scream prejudice!

In my humble opinion, the Spring Pond Beavers have a right to build their dam unauthorized dams as long as the sky is blue, the grass is green and water flows down stream. They have more dam right than I to live and enjoy Spring Pond. So, as far as I and the beavers are concerned, this dam case can be referred for more dam elevated enforcement action now. Why wait until 1/31/98? The Spring Pond Beavers may be under the dam ice then, and there will be no dam way for you or your dam staff to contact/harass them then.

In conclusion, I would like to bring to your attention a real environmental quality (health) problem. Bears are actually defecating in our woods. I definitely believe you should be persecuting the defecating bears and leave the dam beavers alone. If you are going to investigate the beaver dam, watch your step! (The bears are not careful where they dump!)

Being unable to comply with your dam request, and being unable to contact you on your dam answering machine, I am sending this response to your dam office.


Stephen L.Tvedten

1. Spiritual Approach Urged to Save Earth ...Gazette Staff


Society is committing "ecological suicide," and only a massive change in action will prevent the planet's collapse, warned retired MSU-Billings political science professor, Daniel Henning, who spoke Tuesday as part of the university's Distinguished Lecture series.

"Nothing is working today," he said, speaking to a nearly full lecture hall. "We're like fools heading over the side of a cliff. Something has got to change."

Henning, an author, international environmental activist, United Nations consultant, Fulbright scholar and former Buddhist monk, said science and technology will never be able to address the current woes of the planet. The only hope is through a spiritual approach. Buddhism, with its emphasis on compassion and love for all forms of life, offers a particularly good model, he said.

Buddha was born and found enlightenment in a forest, Henning said in the lecture, which was titled, "Buddhism and deep ecology."

After retiring early from his position at MSU-Billings -- he taught for 25 years there -- Henning traveled the world working on environmental causes, especially those involving national parks in Scandinavia and Southeast Asia. Among his other accomplishments, he helped write the management plan for the Angor Wat temple complex in Cambodia. During a sabbatical, he took up Buddhism and lived in monasteries in Vietnam, Nepal, Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, India, Indonesia and Cambodia. Henning is also the author of "Buddhism and Deep Ecology" and "Tree Talk and Tales."

Henning took questions from the audience and dispensed tidbits of wisdom picked up from his days in Asia.

"If you look into an elephant eye, it's just filled with wisdom and compassion," he said.

Henning also warned, "If you don't do good in this life, you'll be reborn as a cockroach."

Slides of Henning from his monk days were projected onto the wall of the large auditorium. The images of him with his head shaved, barefoot and wearing a cranberry-colored monk robe prompted giggles from some of the students.

"It was basically a good life," he said, as he delivered the lecture wearing a jacket, tie and a full head of hair.

Monks helped Henning understand the beauty and inter-connectedness of nature. They also made him feel humble about his own role in the world. Humans, he said, occupy a privileged position on he planet, but are increasingly abusing their power. Ancient tropical rain forests are on the verge of disappearing and unknown thousands of plants and animal species are lost each year. With each loss, our own extinction comes closer, he said.

"We are not being good ancestors," Henning said. "We are letting the world be destroyed right in front of us. ... We must go with a more spiritual approach. For centuries, we've been thinking this way. Look what's happened to our planet."

2. The Ecology of Buddhism ...by Mushroom Cloud Nine ...Mushroom Cloud Nine is a human, a student, and a few other things.


As I learn more in school, I can't help but become aware that there are amazing similarities between the fundamentals of ecology and the fundamentals of certain religions. More specifically, my knowledge of Buddhism reflects many direct comparisons between it and the concepts in ecology. These similarities are of major importance because religion is one of the most important fundamental determinants of culture. If Buddhism is recognized as being an ecologically aware religion, then I could hypothesize that the health of the entire globe could benefit from adhering to Buddhist principles, or at an extreme, from widespread religious conversion to Buddhism.

My understanding of Buddhism includes the following principles. Prince Siddhartha, or the Buddha (enlightened one), spoke out against the inequalities of the caste system in India. According to him, salvation was attainable by everyone not just those in the more important castes. Salvation comes in the form of knowledge, especially self-knowledge through the elimination of covetousness, craving and desire. The principle of complete honesty and the determination to not hurt another person or animal is also a major tenet in Buddhism. Important too, was the concept of karma. All of these principles are an acknowledgement of "oneness" in the universe. Buddha also spoke of pursuing balance, rather than extremes.

Buddha's concerns about the inequalities of the caste system can be seen in a number of ways to relate to ecology. This same concept can be related in many ways to the wealth of the world and how a small portion of the world holds all of that wealth and consumes the majority of its' resources while the poorer (or lower caste) people starve or are seemingly denied resources based on the "natural order" inherent in a caste system. The fact that Nike shoes are produced cheaply in South East Asia for about a $1.50 and sold to us in North America for over a $100 is a sign that Nike profits significantly by farming out work, that would be expensive by North American standards, to poorer countries.

Salvation, according to Buddha, is attainable by everyone. From an ecological perspective, I think that redemption is the closest conceptually that we can get to the idea of Buddha's spiritual "salvation". Yes, everyone can be redeemed. Those who are rich can be saved from spending their life thinking they are the center of the universe, thinking they are the only one's who ever get hungry or sick. Those who are poor can be saved by the rich finding their redemption by feeding and healing those in need.

Salvation comes in the form of knowledge especially self knowledge through the elimination of covetousness, craving and desire. This sounds surprisingly like will power, which us obese North Americans know nothing about.

The Buddhist principle of complete honesty and the determination to not hurt another person or animal, fits into the principles of ecology with amazing ease. Complete honesty is needed in ecology so that we do not overlook or downplay the importance of any one part in an ecosystem as complex as the earth. So too is the determination to not hurt another person or animal. This principle is an important tenet of ecology. By destroying or possibly causing irreversible harm to a species we may be hurting our own future chances for survival. Presently the predominantly non-buddhist world is in a bind. Without military spending or military sales to foreign countries, what would the economies of these countries be based upon? Without war more money would be available to help the sick or starving people in the world, thus supporting the Buddhist principles further.

Inherent in these fundamentals of Buddhism are the fact that Buddha realized the connectedness of all living things. This in itself is probably the most compelling evidence of the connection between ecology and Buddhism.

Prince Siddhartha, as a young man, went through many extremes to find enlightenment. He fasted for long periods, meditated for long periods, took vows of silence and studied things for extreme lengths of time. When he was through, he felt no closer to enlightenment. After a careful review of his path to enlightenment, he discovered the problem with his approach. Instead of these extremes, he thought, perhaps enlightenment lies at the middle most place of all of these extremes, within an absolute balance of everything. This, according to Buddhism is when Prince Siddhartha became the enlightened one, or Buddha. His evolution to Buddha, is one that ecologists wish the whole world could make.

Some other ways that Ecology is related to Buddhism are that they have both been persecuted. Many cultures that openly enjoy the unbridled benefits of a capitalist (extreme) economy are lead to embrace principles that are not ecologically sound (balanced) only because they are more economically expedient. So too has Buddhism fallen prey to criticism by those who consider its principles to be too moderate. Those with more extreme beliefs or ideals can not understand the moderation inherent in Buddhism.

A second way that Buddhism is like ecology is in their apparent coinciding revivals. Ecology is experienced a year or two of their lives to an ecological stewardship, which was actively supported by the rest of the world, we would have greater ecological success living on earth. Despite good ideas, it is clear that much work needs to be done worldwide before such a program could begin.

3. The foundations of ecology in Zen Buddhism ...by Ven. Sunyana Graef ...Religious Education ...Vol. 85 Issue 1 Winter.1990 ...Pp.42-48 ...Copyright by Religious Education ...Vermont Zen Center Shelburne, VT 05482


If you yourself, who are the valley streams and mountains, cannot develop the power which illuminates the true reality of the mountains and valley streams, who else is going to be able to convince you that you and the streams and mountains are one and the same? --Zen Master Dogen (n1)

Perhaps it is part of being human to question who and what we are. Unfortunately, because we rely almost exclusively on our senses, the hard we look, the more we misinterpret what we see. We believe on the one hand that we are an insignificant dot in the universe, separate from all other humans, much less the natural world. But we also believe that we are the most highly evolved organism in creation, entitled to use whatever we can grasp for our own ends.

Buddhists have a different view of humanity. In terms of theirpsycho-spiritual development people stand about midway between Buddhas and amoebas. However, on an absolute level, people, Buddhas, amoebas, dogs,streams, and mountains are one and the same. Buddhism addresses the apparent disparity between what we see and what we actually are. And it does so by delving into the roots of what it means to be human. What does this have to do with Buddhist ecology? It is inseparable from it. For Buddhist ecology can no more be sundered from knowing the nature of our true self than mountains and streams can be sundered from our true self. The premise of Zen Buddhist ecology is this: When we understand what we really are, we will be at peace with ourselves and our environment. We will cease trying to enlarge ourselves through possessions and power, take responsibility for our universal self -- the world -- and start living to give, rather than get.

A life of wisdom is a life in harmony with the natural world. In an age where filthy refuse washes up on shorelines, where we raze vast forests by the minute, where we pollute the air and water with chemicals, the thought of living in harmony with the natural world seems a long-forgotten dream. Like a sand castle swept away by waves we are eroding the very foundation of our existence. Still, we can return to a simpler, more careful, watchful way of life -- if we know the path.

There is a story that senior Zen practitioners often tell novices. It is about a monk in search of a teacher, but of course, it is about much more than that. Like many such tales it seems inscrutable at first, then unattainable, and finally inspiring. It has relevance here because it betokens a manner of living which embodies the essence of Zen ecology. It was the custom in ancient China for Zen monks to refine and deepen their spiritual understanding by traveling through out the country to study with respected teachers. One such monk had heard that a renowned Zen master lived in seclusion near a river, and he was determined to find him and train with him. After many weeks of travel he found the master's dwelling. Gazing at the river before the master's hut, the monk was filled with joy at the thought of soon meeting his teacher. Just then he saw a cabbage leaf slip into the water and float downstream. Disillusioned and greatly disappointed, the monk immediately turned to leave. As he did, out of the corner of his eye he saw the venerable teacher running to the river, his robe flapping wildly in the wind. The old man chased the cabbage leaf,fished it from the water, and brought it back to his hut. The monk smile and turned back. He had found his master.

To understand why the monk would abandon his teacher before even meeting him is to know the foundations of Zen Buddhist ecology. Why would a single discarded cabbage leaf provoke such intense disillusionment? Was the monk a fanatical environmentalist who found even this minor bit of pollution from his master-to-be untenable? Or was there something else he perceived? After all, most people would think nothing of scrapping one leaf of cabbage. Surely few would consider it wasteful. And if it happened to fall into a stream . . . well. With the land and sea so clogged with the detritus of civilization, a cabbage leaf drifting downstream would seem an insignificant, perhaps even pleasant sight. To the monk, however, the errant leaf signified much more. Litter, waste, yes, but also a window to his would-be teacher's spiritual attainment. For the perceptive monk, it was, for a moment, persuasive proof that the master had not yet penetrated the last barrier of Zen.

The way we relate to and interact with the environment says more about us than our awards, Ph.D., and business successes. It says more about us than our Chagalls, diamond rings, and three-bedroom homes. For it is not what we have, but the way we live that reveals the inner person. To be indifferent to even a leaf of cabbage exposes a dualistic view of the world: I exist there, and the world and all it contains is out there --for me to do with as I please. Such carelessness betrays an unawareness of the singular value of each aspect of creation. This awareness, the soul of Zen Buddhist ecology,is not something most people are born with; it grows through years of religious education, training, and practice.

The goal of Buddhist ecology is much more than an unpolluted environment. It is a life of simplicity, conservation, and self-restraint. Ultimately this ecology is a manifestation of the spiritual realization of the individual. It is born in the individual, and comes to fruition through the individual's religious understanding and practice. Rooted in action, not intellectual understanding, in the end it is actualized and expressed through the deeds of one's daily life. Such mundane chores as taking out the garbage, cooking a meal, cleaning the toilet, and working in the garden are all occasions for the cultivation of spiritual awareness. For the monk, the discarded leaf testified that the master lacked this awareness. It indicated that he had not entirely purged himself of an egocentric view of creation. Misconstruing the actual nature of phenomena,he still had the outlook of an ordinary person. Certainly this was not what one would expect from a deeply enlightened Zen Master.

Buddhist ecology, then, must emanate from spiritual education and discipline. For a Zen practitioner this discipline begins with a type of meditation called zazen. The practice of Zen meditation allows one to center, focus, and quiet the mind. The word "zazen" means sitting with the mind focused or totally absorbed in one thing. Ordinarily the mind is so clouded with irrelevant thoughts, fantasies, worries, judgments, and desires that we are unable to see things as they truly are. We live in a dream, spending our days in vain regrets and denials of the past, while anticipating the future with worries and hopes. And so, the present escape us before we have even taken note of it.

The object of Zen training is to learn how to live in the here and now --to take this instant just as it is. The practice of Zen demands consummate attention to the task at hand: full awareness and total involvement ate very moment. For example, the position of head cook in the Zen monastery is traditionally held by the most spiritually advanced monk or nun, for only such a person can accord food the respect and care it demands. Zen Master Dogen said that a cook must treat rice and vegetables as if they were his own eyes. He admonished the monastery cook about the proper attitude toward the preparation of food in these words:

Keep your eyes open. Do not allow even one grain of rice to be lost. Wash the rice thoroughly, put it in the pot, light the fire, and cook it. There is an old saying that goes, "See the pot as your own head, see the water as your lifeblood."(n2)

The practice of unremitting attentiveness and awareness enables --actually forces -- one to face every moment without the cloak of judgments. Having mastered this discipline, one is able to confront the most fundamental pollution of all, the pollution of the Mind -- our pure or Buddha nature --with the mind -- our discursive intellect grounded in ego. From a Zen Buddhist standpoint the intellect and its henchman, the ego, are the primary causes of all pollution. Nevertheless it is not by the elimination of intellect, but by understanding its proper function, that we eradicate the source of pollution. The intellect's primary role is to assess the phenomenal world through categorization, analysis, and judgment. Because we ordinarily view everything through this faculty, we divide our environment into that which we perceive as being either internal or external. In so doing, we invent a "me" bounded by "my" sensations, "my"thoughts, "my"needs, "my" desires. This "me," called in Buddhism the ego-I,so dominates the personality that it eventually becomes an omnipresent dictator, affecting not only oneself but one's associates are well. Despite our blind belief in the verity of this small self or ego, in truth it does not exist. The practice of Zen points out a way to free oneself from the clench of ego by delineating clearly the nature of the essential self. Once we discover the unreality of the ego-I, we no longer relate to the world from an individual, self-centered perspective, but rather from a universal perspective. This is the weltanschauung of a true ecologist.

Virtually no one is born with this unitive world-view. How does one acquire it? Actually, many people experience glimmerings of the interconnectedness of life at one time or another. Such insights often change the way they seethe world, making them feel more a part of it and therefore more responsible for its welfare. A student told me he first became convinced of the unity of all existence while swimming:

For a moment, everything dropped away. There was no beach, no ocean, no sound, no movement, no me. Everything was joined in perfect harmony, a nothingness bursting with all things. I was filled with indescribable joy and wonder. The feeling lasted just a fraction of a second, but I have never forgotten it. Years later, it was the memory of this experience that led me to Zen practice.

Others tell of similar experiences while walking in the woods, listening to music, skiing, sitting quietly, baking, and doing just about anything else imaginable. For most, the insight soon fades, leaving a evanescent sense of the oneness of all life. The desire to relive and harness this experience often galvanizes people to undertake a spiritual journey.

Self-realization or awakening brings the unshakable conviction that everything is intrinsically one, whole, and complete. In time, feelings that had arisen from an intellectual acceptance or a nebulous impression of oneness become a sure knowledge of the unity of all life. With spiritual awakening comes the realization that we are not just a tiny speck in the universe, two hands, two legs, a face, and a mind, but that we embrace all existence. In other words, awakening brings the realization that we are no less than the universe itself. This the Buddha affirmed in these words:Verily, I declare unto you that within this very body, mortal though it be and only a fathom high, but conscious and endowed with mind, is the world and the waxing thereof and the waning thereof, and the way that leads to the passing away thereof.(n3)

The Buddhist does not believe that the trees, the water, the stars, and the great wide earth possess a divinity obtained through God's process of creation. Rather, he or she is convinced that the essence of the universe is none other than divine perfection itself, in a word, Buddha. This understanding, grounded in an awareness of the interdependent relationship of all existence, spontaneously gives rise to feelings of profound intimacy, universal compassion, and responsibility for the natural world.

Zen Master Eisai expressed it this way: Because I am, heaven overhangs and earth is upheld. Because I am, the sun and the moon go round. The four seasons come in succession, all things are born, because I am, that is, because of Mind.(n4)

If at a deep level we accept that all phenomena are in essence one with our own body, we will treat everything, animate and inanimate, with reverence. Since we are not separate entities, what happens to the universe happens to us as well. Buddhist ecology, therefore, encompasses not just this planet, but the whole cosmos.

A person of the deepest spirituality will also have a tender concern for every aspect of creation. Such an individual could no more harm a living creature than he or she could harm himself or herself. Buddhist scriptures contend that a bodhisattva(n5) will not even walk on grass lest it be harmed. Indeed, the first Buddhist precept is the admonition not to kill,but to cherish all life. This attitude is especially important with respect to food, since anything we eat must die to sustain us. Still, it is less destructive, on a relative level, to take the life of a carrot or an apple than to take that of a more highly evolved form of life, such as a cow, a chicken, or a lobster. Too, from a purely ecological point of view, it is less detrimental to the environment to eat as low as possible on the food chain. All this explains why many Buddhists are vegetarians.

There is another important aspect of Buddhism that bears upon ecology. Buddhism teaches the doctrine of karma, which is the law of cause and effect relating to our actions. Karma means that whatever one sows, one reaps, be it good or evil. The consequences of meritorious acts are always good. Evil acts, on the other hand, ensure painful retribution. Buddhists are aware that we are constantly creating new karma by our actions. One who believes in the law of causation, therefore, will be careful not to cause pain to people, animals, plants, or the earth itself, for harming them is simultaneously harming oneself.

This takes place on two levels. From the view of spiritual realization, we harm ourselves each time we harm the environment because we are the environment. From the view of the law of causation, we harm ourselves because we create negative karma from which we will suffer sooner or later. A devout Buddhist could never, for example, dump toxic chemicals into a river, for he or she would unequivocally know that he or she is poisoning himself or herself in both an immediate and future sense. That is, he or she is poisoning his or her absolute body -- the world -- and poisoning his or her future, through acquiring bad karma.

Of course, it takes many years before some Zen practitioners are able to accept the notion of karmic retribution. Besides, karma serves more as a deterrent to wrong action than an encouragement for ecologically responsible behavior. How, then, does the novice Zen practitioner who lacks the motivating experience of enlightenment cultivate a reverential attitude toward the earth and all its inhabitants?

At first, the primary means of acquiring ecological awareness is education and example. Novices are taught, for instance, that water must not be wasted, but conserved. At retreats and other times teachers remind them not to let the water run when brushing teeth. Likewise, during a shower they must turn off the water when soaping the body and washing hair. Similarly,the kitchen supervisor cautions them not to leave the water running when washing vegetables or dishes.

Avoiding waste is not limited to water. The novice learns to use and reuse every scrap of paper, then recycle it. Much of the paper used for letterhead and other purposes, in fact, may already be from recycled stock. Garbage that can be recycled is separated and taken to a recycling center. Bits of vegetables that the cook cannot use become soup stock or compost. Food is never wasted. At meals the novice learns to wipe every morsel of food from the plate with bread, pickles, or carrot sticks. Prayers before meals remind the Zen practitioner that food should be eaten in the spirit of an offering from those who produced it.

Zen Buddhist trainees are taught to protect the environment. Cleaning supplies are ecologically safe. (They might not work as fast, but that doesn't matter. You use more elbow grease.) Aerosol sprays are unheard of at many Zen centers. Lights are turned off when no longer needed. Trainees are taught to treat all creatures of the earth with compassion. Plants, also having life, are not to be willfully destroyed. At many Zen centers flowers are rarely picked for decorative purposes, although they may be used for offerings -- for example, in the altar. More often, greens for the altars are artificial or dried so that they last indefinitely. The altar flowers, too, may be dried, artificial, or perhaps a living,flowering plant.

As a way of giving to the world and not just taking from it, some Zen centers plant trees and flowers each year. Many Buddhist groups maintain organic gardens. The members of at least one Zen center regularly clean the streets and sidewalks in their neighborhood. Other centers have regular fast days during which money that would have been spent on food is sent to famine relief organizations.

In the beginning, the novice does these things out of a sense of obligation; it is the "right" thing to do, and besides, it is part of Zen training But as the individual develops spiritually, these practice become habitual. More than that, they become part of the way one lives. It is never a matter of its being too much trouble, or too inconvenient, or unnecessary, for example, to recycle the garbage. One does it with the same lack of self consciousness with which one brushes one's teeth. In the end, it is a way of life that is an expression of one's spiritual awareness, an understanding that has penetrated every aspect of one's life. Living in harmony with the earth does not happen over night. It takes many years of training and deep spiritual understanding for a person's actions to be instinctively universal, rather than self-centered. Recall the story of the monk and Zen master recounted earlier. The monk decided to stay with the master because he spontaneously chased after the leaf; the master could not have done otherwise. His action was as unselfconscious as reaching for a lost pillow while sound asleep. The teacher's life was permeated with compassion and attentive care for all things, even a leaf of cabbage. He knew well that nothing is separate from the universe -- which means, from ourselves.

If you are convinced that, as Zen Master Deign said, "you and the streams and the mountains are one and the same," how could you live the selfish existence of one who despoils the environment? When a massive oil spill threatens the ocean, could a single wave stand aloof, acting as if it alone were unpolluted, or work only to cleanse itself? No, the wave and the ocean work as one, for in reality, they are one. What affects the ocean, affects the wave. Just so, what affects the universe, affects each of us, since we and the universe are not two. Therefore, in a person of wisdom,compassionate concern for the world will instinctively arise. The expression of this universal compassion is ecology.

(n1) Zen Master Deign, "Cease Snack" (The Sounds of Valley Streams, the Forms of the Mountains), translated by Francis DLO Cook in How to Arisen Ox (Los Angeles: Center Publications, 1978), p. 114.(n2) Zen Master Deign, "Tans Kyokun" (Instructions for the Zen Cook),translated by Thomas Wright in Refining Your Life (New York: John Weatherhill, 1983), p. 6.(n3) From the Anguttara-Nikaya II, Samyutta-Nikaya I, quoted by Lama Govinda in Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism (New York Samuel Wiser, 1974),p. 66.(n4) From the Kozen-Gokoku-Ron, quoted in The Three Pillars of Zen, by Philip Kapleau (New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1980), p. 126.(n5) A being of deep wisdom and compassion who devotes his or her life to

4. Dharma Rain Zen Center


Dharma Rain Zen Center (DRZC) is a diverse group of people who come together to share the practice of meditation, and to study the principles of Buddhism. The purpose of the Center is to offer instruction in Zen practice and Buddhist teachings, and to provide a place where people can form a community that supports Zen practice in everyday life. For these purposes, the Zen Center has two buildings available for the practice of meditation and other aspects of the study of Zen. The first is the Center House at 2539 SE Madison, which includes a small meditation room (pictured, right), library, office, residences, some small meeting rooms, and Dharma School facilities for children. Take the House Tour to see more. The second is a two-story church building at 2514 SE Madison. It has a large meditation hall, (pictured, left) lecture room and institutional kitchen. Take the Zendo Tour to see more. Both are conveniently located in central SE Portland within a block of each other. The center uses these buildings for a full array of classes, workshops, meditation periods and ceremonies. The description in this brochure indicates most but not all of the activities of the Center. For more complete and up-to-date information, consult the events section of the latest issue of the Center's monthly newsletter, Still Point.

Introductory Workshops

Workshop: Zen Meditation - The primary practice in Zen Buddhism is "zazen" which means "sitting meditation." For people new to Zen, Dharma Rain Zen Center offers an introductory workshop in zazen practice several times each month. Zen Meditation is designed for complete beginners, of course, but it is also recommended for anyone who has not received instruction in the Soto Zen style of zazen. No previous experience is necessary. We start with an explanation of the purpose and the basics of the method, then various postures are demonstrated which participants try out. This is followed by a period of meditation and an opportunity to ask questions.

Workshop: Starting A Practice - This workshop offers tips on starting a practice. It emphasizes the way we can cultivate insight by looking at our own actions in the light of the Buddhist Precepts, the importance of compassion in Zen practice, and how the principles of meditation apply to every activity. Some time is spent on the forms used at the Zen Center. For example, there is an explanation of the altar and other items found in the Zendo (meditation hall), and the reasons behind chanting, bowing, and other things done during retreats and services.

Workshop: Basic Teachings - Here we provide an introduction to terminology used at the Center, and cover some basic Buddhist concepts essential to understanding Zen that are often referred to in other classes. It is the perfect place to bring questions.

These three workshops are usually held at the Center House, and are offered without charge. Cushions and benches are provided, but you should wear loose, comfortable clothing. There is no need to pre-enroll. Please check the calendar in Still Point for scheduling details.

About Zen Discipline

Because of the way Zen is practiced in some temples in the Far East, it has gained a reputation for very strict discipline. In some of these temples, even beginners are expected to sit for long periods in full lotus, without moving at all. This is very difficult for anyone not used to sitting on the floor. At Dharma Rain Zen Center, people are encouraged to change positions as needed. In addition, we recommend that people use chairs or benches in the meditation hall if this is better for them. Sitting in zazen should become comfortable with practice, and lead to stillness and peace of mind. It should not become a grueling endurance test.


In addition to the introductory workshops mentioned above, there is a class at the Zen center almost every Wednesday night, except during the summer months. Classes focus primarily on Buddhadharma (Buddhist teaching), particularly from the Soto Zen perspective. Sometimes, however, we have teachers from other religious traditions come to inform us about their practice, or we may invite a guest speaker with information on other issues of interest to our members. Wednesday night classes are open to the public, and there is no charge.


Approximately bi-monthly, the Center holds a retreat. Some of these are one-day retreats, usually held on a Saturday from 8:00am to 4:30pm, with a vegetarian lunch. The schedule includes meditation and services, tea, class, work periods (mindfulness practice), and an opportunity for discussion and questions. There is a fee charged for every retreat, but the Zen Center strives to keep these fees low. Introductory Retreats emphasize the problems and concerns of newcomers and are geared to avoid overloading new practitioners. Other retreats are more intensive, and offer special teaching, ceremonies, or practices. They involve more meditation periods, and usually include a teaching ceremony called "formal sanzen." These retreats can last anywhere from one to seven days.

Resident Teachers

The two resident teachers of the Dharma Rain Zen Center are called "sensei," which means "one who has gone before." In Zen practice there is no line drawn between a daily life of mindful attention and the spiritual exercise of meditation, so they serve both as teachers to the Sangha (community), and temporal directors of the daily work of the temple. Whether lecturing, giving private counseling, pointing out a mistake, or teaching by example, it is their purpose to help each student find his or her own center in meditation, understand the Precepts in daily life, and bring an energetic mindfulness to all situations. Above all, they wish to help the students fully realize their own potential in practice.

Our Abbot, Kyogen Carlson-sensei (at left), was ordained by Roshi Jiyu-Kennett in 1972 at Shasta Abbey, where he trained as a monk for five years before receiving full certification as a teacher (Dharma Transmission and inka). He remained at Shasta Abbey another five years to continue training, and to serve as a staff member and personal assistant to Roshi Kennett.

Our Director is Gyokuko Carlson-sensei (at right), who was ordained in 1975, also by Roshi Jiyu-Kennett at Shasta Abbey. In 1980 she graduated from the seminary program, then remained at Shasta Abbey to deepen her practice and to help out as a staff member until she and Kyogen-sensei married in 1982 and came to Oregon to teach. For more photos and information on the teachers, see Meet the Teachers.

In 1986, after much discussion, Kyogen and Gyokuko senseis resigned their membership in the organization headquartered at Shasta Abbey, and the Zen Center, always a separate and independent organization, also became unaffiliated. Since then we have established a board of directors which is composed of trustees appointed by the Abbot, and elected members who form a 2/3 majority. It is the purpose of the elected board to make the temple responsive and responsible to our community, which is essential as we work to preserve and promote the tradition of Soto Zen practice and develop our spiritual lives together.


Membership is open to anyone who makes a commitment to practice and to the support of the Zen Center. There are levels of membership, however, that reflect differences in levels of commitment. Specifics about these types of membership are discussed in a separate flyer, "Membership and Financial Support."

As members deepen their commitment to Zen practice and to the teachings of Buddhism, they may wish to formalize that commitment though Lay Ordination. Lay Ordination signifies becoming a Buddhist by joining the "Sangha of the Ten Quarters," which refers to the larger community of Buddhists throughout the world. Lay ordination is not a commitment to a specific teacher, temple, or even to the school of Buddhism in which the ceremony is done. It is a commitment to the basic principles of Buddhism, particularly the aspirations expressed in the Buddhist Precepts. Lay Ordination is done during a special week of meditation and ceremonies.

When someone has been an active, contributing member for one year, and has made the commitment of lay ordination, he or she qualifies as a Senior Member. Membership on the Board of Directors is restricted to Senior Members. Sometimes there are special retreats or other events for Senior Members, and they often help out at the Center by leading workshops and classes.

At a later time, it is possible for a Senior Member to make a deeper, more personal commitment in the form of discipleship to one of the teachers. Lay discipleship is a serious step, in which teacher and disciple agree to walk on the path of practice together. Lay Disciples make a commitment to the lineage and practice of Soto Zen, and give the teacher permission to be involved in their lives. At the same time, the teacher agrees to make the disciple's progress a matter of his or her personal concern. For the relationship of teacher and student to confirmed, there must be great willingness and deep trust on both sides.

Open Door

Members of the Dharma Rain Zen Center come from many different walks of life and have differing expectations of the temple. We also welcome the many people who participate in Zen Center activities who are not members. So far as the Center is able, staffed by volunteers and funded only by the membership, we offer a variety of programs and services to meet these considerable and varied needs at low or no cost. During most of the year, the Center operates a daily schedule of morning and evening mediation periods. A full listing of this schedule, plus information on retreats, class topics and times, social events, and workshops, is published each month in Still Point, a newsletter available by subscription. In addition to scheduled meditation periods, the Zen Center will open the doors to the Zendo or Library for personal study during reasonable hours when this does not conflict with scheduled events. The exceptions are when we are closed Sunday evening through Tuesday morning, and occasional periods when the temple is closed except to members.

Other Programs

Other programs offered at the Center include Resident Training, Private Retreats, and Dharma School. Resident Training is an opportunity for members to live in the Center sharing temple duties, while Private Retreats permit people to join the temple life by making use of the guest room. Dharma School is for children, approximately every other Sunday, from 10am until 11:30. Emphasis is placed on helping the children learn to be comfortable in a religious setting, and illustrating ideals such as compassion, mutual understanding, and peace of mind. Through stories and songs, art projects and games, the children learn about Buddhism and other religions and explore topics as diverse as death, sharing, changing seasons, personal feelings, and telling the truth.

Someone from the Zen Center will be more than happy to answer questions you may have about any of these programs, or on aspects of Buddhism or Zen, and the priests are available by appointment for counseling on spiritual matters. The Center also observes traditional Buddhist holidays with ceremonies that are open to the public. Private ceremonies, such as weddings, funerals, memorials, and naming ceremonies can be arranged by speaking to the priests.


The religious tradition called "Buddhism" began in 588 B.C.E. with the life and teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha. He began life as Prince Siddhartha Gotama, heir to the throne of the Shakya clan, but he came to feel that the power, riches, and duty of kingship that were to be his inheritance were a great burden. So he renounced his position, fled the palace, and took to the forest on a religious quest. He had a deep and very personal need to understand why living things suffer. His one desire was to find the cause and cure for suffering. After many years of ascetic practices, learned from the best teachers he could find, he realized he was no closer to answering his basic questions about life, or of satisfying his deep spiritual need, than he had been previously during the indulgent years of his youth and childhood. Concluding that the truth was to be found in neither extreme of self-indulgence or self-denial, he resolved to follow a middle path. He then sat in meditation with compassionate determination for seven days and experienced enlightenment. Thereafter he was called Buddha (awakened one) Shakyamuni (sage of the Shakya clan). This experience of enlightenment, and the compassionate wisdom cultivated during years of training both before and after it, provided the basis for teaching selflessly offered to all who asked during the remaining 45 years of his life. His determination when seeking, his courageous proclamation of the Middle Way, and the wisdom demonstrated in his life of teaching have supplied inspiration to Buddhists for more than 25 centuries.

Soto Zen

Many years after the death of Shakyamuni, Buddhism continued to spread across the map of Asia, evolving in different ways as it moved. The beginnings of Zen as a distinct sect of Buddhism can be traced to a reformer who began teaching in China in the late Fourth Century C.E., a time when Chinese Buddhists showed more interest in debating philosophy and reading complex texts than in the urgent business of finding the Truth within. This teacher, Bodhidharma, is remembered for his emphasis on disciplined meditation practice and the importance of direct personal experience. Zen continued to evolve, and by the time it reached Japan in the 13th Century, there were several Zen schools with different styles of training. One of these was Soto Zen.

An important teaching in Soto Zen is that every thought, word, and action is part of our spiritual life, whether or not we choose to acknowledge them as significant. The practice of Zen is fully developed when all aspects of life are integrated into a deep awareness, and the wisdom of the Buddhist moral precepts guide us as naturally as healthy lungs guide the flow of breath. In Soto Zen, ongoing growth toward this integration comes from the continuous practice of the three pillars of "sila" (morality), "dhyana" (meditation), and "prajna" (wisdom). We cultivate these in everyday life with zazen practice, which strengthens concentration and opens the mind to the truth; work, which encourages vigor and develops capacity for "mindful" action; and the study of Buddhist principles and Precepts, which cultivates selflessness in thought and action. A Zen Master once said that Zen is not something that can be added to our lives; rather our lives, just as they are, should become Zen. Because of this, Zen practice should lead us to a full and healthy engagement with life for the benefit of self and others. Dharma Rain Zen Center is dedicated to helping people cultivate and realize the practice of Zen in normal, everyday American lives.

5. Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism ...by Stephanie Kaza (Editor), Kenneth Kraft (Editor)


Amazon.com ...In many senses, modern consumerism, with its promotion of greed, attachment, and self-centeredness, is the reversal of Buddhist values. The result is that modern Buddhists are moving into social activism, specifically environmentalism, and protecting the world's ecology from the devastation of unchecked consumerism. In Dharma Rain, Stephanie Kaza and Kenneth Kraft offer a resource for Buddhist environmentalists. They begin with sources in Buddhist Scriptures and writings of past masters. The rest of the book is a treasury of perspectives from contemporary Buddhist activists who look deeply at causes and solutions to environmental devastation that is happening in places like Thailand, where 70 percent of the forest has disappeared in the 20th century, and in Tibet, where the Chinese communists continue to quietly destroy not only Tibetan society but also its once-teeming wildlife and verdant flora. Many great minds chime in: Thich Nhat Hanh on interbeing, the Dalai Lama on true political success, Sulak Sivaraksa on buddhism with a small "b," Peter Matthiessen on the snow leopard, Joanna Macy on dependent co-origination, and Gary Snyder on the "harming" inherent in certain things we eat; Dharma Rain is an embodiment of Thich Nhat Hanh's observation that "life is one," that "our way of walking on the earth has a great influence on animals and plants." --Brian Bruya

Amazon.com- Reviewer: from Boulder, CO ...To borrow from poet William Blake, this anthology encourages us "to see a world in a grain of sand, and Heaven in a wildflower." Previous green anthologies, such as the 1991 "Green Reader" (which I also recommend), convincingly show that we are in the midst of a global environmental crisis. This impressive, 491-page collection not only examines the many problems contributing to that crisis (e. g., consumerism, nuclear waste, deforestation, and overpopulation), but proposes that it is now time we rethink our attitude "not only to people, but to plants, animals and places" (p. 356), suggesting that a compassionate, buddhist perspective can help. Contributors to this anthology include, among others, Thich Nhat Hanh, Gary Snyder, Joanna Macy, the Dalai Lama, Peter Matthiessen, Peter Timmerman, Robert Aitken, Rick Fields, and Christopher Titmuss. Although all of the contributors write from a buddhist point of view, you do not have to be a buddhist to appreciate this book.


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