Summer Evening, Sitting on the Front Porch

Learning About Welfare
A little boy walks with his father
carrying a small broom over his shoulder
mimicking his father carrying a large broom over his.
When they reach the public bike path
the little boy starts sweeping;
not in an effective manner,
a manner that would remove any gravel.
But the boy sweeps in his own way
making his own little contribution
to the safety of cyclists
the public good
and freeing all beings from suffering.


Rumbling thunder somewhere
Somewhere thunder is rumbling
I can hear it
thunder rumbling somewhere
but not here
here it is sunny
here thunder is not rumbling
or is it rumbling here
not there
where is the thunder
I hear rumbling

What’s in the Name: Take Two

In the Realm of Broken Wooden Ladle Buddha is the title given to a short talk by Eihei Dogen, founder of the soto school of zen buddhism. He gave the talk in 1247 at a monastery he founded in northern Japan. The image of broken wooden ladle buddhas has spoken to my heart and comforted me for many years.

We are all buddha. We are all thusness. From a buddhist perspective, our consciousness or sentience “thinks up” or posits a division or separation between me and other, subject and object. From another perspective, existence is all one dynamic, inseparable and universal unfolding – thusness. Whenever you read buddha you could read thus or thusness.

On one hand, you and I are mundane, unique and imperfect sentient beings. We have been battered and scarred by the travails we’ve encountered over our relatively short lives. We have also been polished and burnished by the nurturing, kindness and love we’ve received. We all need a little help now and then. Sometimes a lot of help.

On the other hand, we are buddha – undivided reality unfolding throughout space and time.

Buddha. Broken ladle. One and the same. That’s our position. It’s a paradox.

Here’s the talk. See what you think.

The millions of billions of transformation bodies [of buddhas] abide throughout a monk’s staff, carry water and gather firewood to make offerings to buddhas as numerous as there are sitting cushions, and, on the tip of a whisk, simultaneously all attain unsurpassed complete perfect enlightenment.[1]  They are all equally named Broen Wooden Ladle Tathagatha, Worthy of Offerings, Omniscient, Foot of Bright Practice, Well-Gone One, World Liberator, Supreme One, Tamer of Strong Persons, Teacher of Humans and Heavenly Beings, World-Honered Buddha.[2]  The Country [of this buddha] is named Clump of Soil; the kappa is named Fist.  The duration of the True Dharma Age and Semblance Dharma Age are both twelve hours, and the Buddh’s longevity is that of a dried turd from three thousand great thousands of worlds.[3]  Do you all understand?

If you state your understanding you are making mistake after mistake.  If you say you do not understand, even the five precepts are not maintained.

[1] Dogen plays with three conventional sutra phrases: a buddha remaining throughout kalpas, making offerings to buddhas as numerous as grains of sand in the Ganges River, and attaining enlightenment while sitting under the bodhi tree.  Dogen substitutes a monk’s staff for endless kalpas, sitting cushions for grains of sand, and the top of a whisk for underneath the bodhi tree.
[2] Starting with “Tathagata,” these are the standard ten epithets for a buddha, in this case describing the new buddha invented here by dozen, named Broken Wooden Ladle, who might be a reference to all of the humble monks at Eheiji.
[3] “True Dharma Age and Semblance Dharma Age” refers to the first phases of a buddha age before its degeneration.  “Dried turd” is a reference to a famous response by Yunmen as to what Buddha is.  See, for example, Dharma hall discourse 229, and case 21of the Mumonkan; Aitken, Gateless Barrier, pp. 137-141; and Clearly, Unlocking the Zen Koan, pp. 102-105.

From: Dan Leighton & Shohaku Okamura, Dogen’s Extensive Record: A Translation of the Eihei Koroku, pp. 232-233.

Summer Symphony

We were sitting on the sauna porch yesterday evening, cooling off between saunas, and the woods were alive with birds: redstarts, chickadees, ruby throated kinglets, black and white warblers, phoebes, golden-winged warblers, yellowthroats. Many were feeding low in the understory and on the ground, well within view even without binoculars. It was a very lively time of day in a quiet and calming sort of way.

Many of these birds were in the egg a month ago and have only been out in the world for a couple of weeks. They are hungry, growing, building muscle and putting on the necessary fat to take them on their first migration in a couple of months. They were extremely active, too, like human toddlers, and chatting constantly.

Now that they are out of the nest and able to manage to catch bugs on their own, it’s difficult to tell if families hang together. Perhaps the chattering is a way to keep in touch with parents and sibs. Or maybe at this stage of their life “family is history” and the chattering serves to keep a larger, mixed flock together – a survival strategy at a community, rather than family, level.

There are many more birds in the woods than just a month ago. I suspect the avian population has more than doubled, perhaps tripled. And though the evening chattering has increased, there has been a significant drop in the morning bird-song. Males no longer feel the impulse to seek mates or defend territory.

Between morning song and youthful evening chattering, there was an intermezzo of a couple of weeks duration in which the young of each species [with their own distinctive call] had fledged and were incessantly and insistently squawking as they followed parents around demanding to be fed. I found myself musing whether adult birds at this point experience stress and feel harried or are simply doing what comes naturally, responding to several aggressively demanding fledglings at once all day long.

Between the “morning song” and “fledgling demanding” periods there was another movement in the seasonal symphony, but you had to listen intently and be close enough to a nest. The nestlings usually sit quietly in their gradually shrinking piece of real estate made of twigs, grasses and potpourri; however, when a parent approaches the nest a chorus of soft squeaking and chittering erupts in anticipation of a bug or worm in their gullet. The parent deposits its harvest and departs within a couple of seconds, after which the chorus would sink into silence again.  During this movement the adults are too busy to contribute their voices to the choir.

Each species lends it’s voice to each movement of the symphony – morning song, nest chitter, fledgling squawk and mixed-flock chip – as the season progresses. Adult and young within each species has a different voice – and each changes as the year progresses.  All eastern phoebe fledglings sing their time-specific part together while adult phoebes sing theirs in corresponding time-specific counterpoint. So it goes with all the other species. It is a symphony that unfolds year after year, as intricate and glorious as those crafted by humans, if only we listen.

And there is a score of sorts.  It’s a score beyond humankind’s capacity to either plan or execute. Nevertheless our species has the capacity to alter and even destroy the symphony. We have already eliminated a couple of voices.  It’s called species extinction. We’ve certainly altered the mix of voices through habitat destruction.

The above puts me in mind of Borland’s cheerier entry for yesterday:

July is April’s hope, May’s promise and June’s growth pushing towards completion. July is mid-Summer, a season in itself. The bee and the ant now put man to shame as a sluggard. The quiet chlorophyll in the leaf makes man’s fissioned atom a puny force. The silent urgency of root and flower and leaf are manifest now, in mid-July, the power and the glory of the green earth itself.

Flooding and Pipeline Safety

This past week saw a flood in the St. Croix watershed.  The Upper Tamarack rose to the steps of the shack, and there is even evidence of it having run under the building which sits on cinder blocks.  There is standing water in the field below the hut and along one of the paths along the river.  It looks like our little cabin is sitting much further down the watershed in a Louisiana backwater swamp rather than along a north woods river.  All-in-all we escaped significant damage and loss.  We may have lost a gas can and a set of stairs.  It’s remarkable that the shack, sitting less than 60 feet from, and 4 feet above, the river for almost 50 years, has never been flooded.

However, the washouts of bridges and roads that occurred as a result of this week’s rains raises concern about the integrity of the Enbridge pipelines.  That’s especially so after having paddled the Totogatic and seen the pipeline crossing on that stream.  At that point the river is contained by steep banks and is narrowed into a funnel to flow under a railroad trestle.  When I visited there was already evidence of erosion at the bottom of the bank.  I imagine the currents there could be wicked during a flood.

It makes me wonder – I have to wonder because there are no regulations or required reporting – what steps Enbridge takes during events like this.  Have crossings been assessed and prioritized for responding in emergencies?  What types of responses does the company take during the flood – enhanced monitoring [e.g., on-site visual inspection] or preventative action [e.g., temporary shut-down]?  Those types of actions: assessment and prioritization of structures at risk and graduated monitoring and action are required for bridges.  It would seem prudent to do the same for structures that carry over a million barrels of toxic liquids under regionally important and nationally significant waterways.  Land, water, habitat, wildlife and scenic value are at stake.

But it’s an opaque system.  And opaque systems breed doubt and distrust, especially when profit and shareholder share price is a driving motivator.  So I wonder.

Beyond that, even: I wonder how it can it be determined if a pipe has been under-cut and is suspended above the bottom of the river during a flood and what is the increased risk of pipe failure if that occurs?  That leads to even more questions. Questions are also a consequence of opacity.

Walk to Raise Awareness

An ad hoc group of concerned individuals from around Wisconsin have come together to organize a walk along a proposed pipeline that will, if built, transport over a million barrels of Alberta tarsands through the state every day.  The line is being proposed by Enbridge and would run along a right-of-way through which the company already transports over a million barrels of oil a day.  The 33 day walk is sponsored by Sacred Water/Sacred Land and is taking place right now.  The group invites individuals to join for a day or more and/or attend any number of events planned along the route.

The proposed pipeline, Line 66, would 1] pose a risk to the the health, integrity and vibrancy of the watersheds and habitats through which it ran; 2] facilitate the extreme extraction of fossil fuels in Alberta, an incredibly destructive rape of the land; and, 3] contribute to further climate disruption.

I don’t know much about Sacred Water/Sacred Land, but intend to check out the walk while it is traversing the St. Croix River watershed.