Dharma talks at White Heron Sangha

“The Time to Act is Now”

Friday, October 2nd, 2015

An address at “SLO Faith Communities Respond to the Pope’s Message,” sponsored by People of Faith for Justice, October 1 2015

About a month ago, I went to the annual potluck picnic of the White Heron Sangha—a Buddhist meditation fellowship I’ve been attending for several years. It took place at a beautiful home and retreat center in Squire Canyon, and during the meal I was asked by a couple of people if I would be willing to substitute for one of the Sangha’s leaders in representing the Buddhist community at tonight’s program. He couldn’t be here because he was heading off to a retreat in India.

Being only a marginal Buddhist myself and a burnt-out former climate activist, I was reluctant to agree, but I found myself saying “yes” as I recalled recently hearing about Pope Francis’ wholehearted willingness to take on the issue. (more…)

In the Swim: Musings on Meditation under Water

Monday, January 26th, 2015

1. Wendy’s “Water”

On May 24 last year, I went to the Steynberg gallery on Monterey St. to attend a concert by Shadowlands, a new local musical group consisting of Bob and Wendy Liepman and their collaborators Mark Davis and Karolyn Hausted. They were introducing songs they’d written in preparation for recording them on a CD to be released early in 2015. I’d made a contribution to their crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter because I admired Wendy’s dedication to feeding the Homeless and because I enjoyed her earlier songs, many of which seemed to me more like religious hymns than folk tunes.

Their first piece was the album’s title track, “Shadowlands,” a dark evocation of the mental condition we usually call depression, but which in earlier times was known as melancholia—a state associated not only with illness but also with deep thought, fertile creativity and spiritual awakening. (more…)

Leonard Cohen, Buddhist

Monday, March 31st, 2014

An address to the White Heron Sangha, San Luis Obispo CA March 30, 2014

[Note: Song titles link to current YouTube movies of performances]

Like Henry David Thoreau and Jack Kerouac, two prominent North American writers who found in traditional Buddhist texts and practices a validation for their own renegade spiritual explorations, Leonard Cohen is another rebel hero whose life and work can profitably be examined from a Buddhist perspective.

Unlike those two great outdoorsmen who died young, Cohen has never expressed much appreciation for nature, and he’s still at the height of his game at age 80. But he’s often been compared to the irreverent Cold Mountain poets of Ancient China, who Kerouac and his friend Gary Snyder referred to as “dharma bums.”  Like Thoreau and Kerouac Cohen combines longing for transcendance with earthy iconoclasm, and always writes about himself. Also, like Thoreau at Walden Pond and Kerouac on Desolation Peak, Cohen spent an important period of his life in monastic isolation–6500 feet up in the San Gabriel Mountains above Los Angeles, where studying sutras and meditation practice offered refuge from a secular world of distractions and a source of creative inspiration. (more…)

Beatnik Buddhism in Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums

Monday, October 7th, 2013

A talk to the White Heron Sangha, October 6, 2013

I was introduced to the writings of Jack Kerouac by a trumpet-player friend in high school who gave me a copy of On the Road just after it came out in 1957.  But though I’d already done some hitchhiking around New England and hung out in Greenwich Village on Friday nights, I was put off by the book’s frenetic style and its praise of aimless, restless travel.  Twelve years later, in 1969, I encountered The Dharma Bums, Kerouac’s second most popular book, while selecting works to place on the syllabus of a class at Columbia University I called “Pastoral and Utopia, Visionary Conceptions of the Good Life.” This book’s triumphant celebration of free love, wilderness adventures, bohemian companionship, and Buddhist meditation made a perfect fit.  Forty four years later, while looking for a topic for a Sangha talk to follow up on the one about Thoreau’s Buddhism I offered last Spring, I picked The Dharma Bums in order to consider how my perspective on the novel and its Buddhist themes might have changed in the meantime. (more…)