Thursday, January 31, 2008

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Master Hui Re
"In my last life I made an appointment to be born in this Saha world. So here I am fulfilling my vows in this life. Now I'm making an appointment to be born in the Pureland, in the Land of Lotuses, when this life ends."
Rebirth is difficult to believe in and can't be explained rationally.
The Wheel-of-Life illustrations show beings living, dying, and being reborn as they revolve in one after another of the Six Realms of Existence. To me, the Wheel-of-Life illustrations are wonderful and useful teachings of the Buddhist Dharma, illustrating psychological states in THIS LIFE, and there is no necessity of believing in past lives.
Even though I don't believe in previous lives, let me relate my own previous life, that is, two lives ago. I feel I was an ordinary lay follower of Saint Honen (1133-1212AD), a reciter of the nembutsu, a student of the writings of the Tendai priest Eshin Sozu (942-1017AD), wishing to be reborn in Amitabha's Pureland, and wishing to return to Earth after dwelling there, to be reborn in this Saha World and continue serving the Buddha by following the bodhisattva path. It's just a feeling.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


And This Year The Winner Is . . . . .

The four seasons are the same every year but the weather is different. In one-crop agriculture, not every year is a good year. But in nature, it is always a good year for SOMETHING. Maybe the bay laurel trees are profusely blooming with yellow flowers. Or maybe there is a great crop of manzanita berries. And this year?
THE WINNER IS . . . . .
mushrooms. Prodigious amounts everywhere on the mountain. More than all the wood rats and feral pigs can possibly uproot and gobble.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Crossing the Ocean

Two archetypes invoked and visualized in the crossing of the ocean of suffering are the bodhisattvas Tara and Prajnaparamita. Tara helps by ferrying one across on the boat of compassion, present tense. But Prajnaparamita, by giving the understanding of Shunyata, has lifted one beyond suffering, past tense. The mantra translates as:

Thursday, January 17, 2008


One of 21 plants in the Geysers field producing electricity from underground steam. They say it is "clean power." The steam seen in this photo is from cooling towers. After the steam turns the turbines, it is cooled into water-form and piped back ~2 miles down into the ground where it can be reboiled by the heat of the magma.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

More People Sing More Good

This is from Jaime De Angulo's description of his anthropological field work among the Pit River Indians of Modoc County, CA in 1921. Living among the people, he meets an old Indian named Blind Hall whom he had met years before, and Blind Hall says:

"I remember you, I remember your voice -- I am pretty sick now, dropped my shadow on the road [when the buggy overturned], can't live without my shadow, maybe I die, I dunno...... I doctor myself tonight. You white man, you stay, you help, you sing too. More people sing more good. Sometime my poison very far away, not hear. Lots people sing, he hear better."

Then Jaime relates,

"Blind Hall called his medicine 'my poison.' The Indian word is damaagome. Some Indians translate it in English as 'medicine,' or 'power,' sometimes 'dog' ( in the sense of pet dog or trained dog). That evening, we all gathered at sundown. Jack Steel, an Indian from Hantiyu who usually acted as Blind Hall's 'interpreter,' had arrived. He went out a little way into the sagebrush and called the poisons. 'Raven, you, my poison, COME!....Bullsnake, my poison, come.....Crablouse, my poison, cooome......You all, my poisons, COOOME!!' It was kind of weird, this man out in the sagebrush calling and calling for the poisons, just like a farmer calling his cows home.

"We all gathered around the fire; some were sitting on the ground, some were lying on their side. Blind Hall began singing one of his medicine-songs. Two or three who knew that song well joined him. Others hummed for a while before catching on. Robert Spring said to me, 'Come on, sing. Don't be afraid. Everybody must help.' At that time I had not yet learned to sing Indian fashion. The melody puzzled me. But I joined in, bashfully at first, then when I realized nobody was paying any attention to me, with gusto."


Sakajiri-san praying under the waterfall

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Suffering of the Heaven Realm

In Buddhist psychology, unlike in Western religions, heaven is part of samsara, part of the cycle of birth and death. Though the highest point on the Wheel of Life, heaven is not for eternity but just another inevitably changing state of existence. The suffering of heaven is insidious and a trap, very difficult to recognize as suffering because it seems so happy, so wonderful. It is so enjoyable that there is no striving and no 'good karma' created, one lives on the results of his past striving and meritorious actions. Nobody is helped, no higher states of mind are realized.
Isn't Heaven the trap that America has fallen into? Food and shelter are abundant, our average hours of work are only 40 a week, and after the work day is finished, it is entertainment, entertainment, entertainment. When one entertainment is over, we reflexively search for another to fill the time. Restaurants & bars, movies, television, great music, Internet links, scandals and stories of celebrities' lives, games to play, and entertainment by professional game players.
You think you are enjoying these entertainments, but in reality, the ENTERTAINMENTS ARE ENJOYING YOU, robbing your time, stealing life of its potential. It takes time to realize the Buddha's teachings, to examine one's own nature, cultivate good qualities, help neighbors, and practice calming and insight. Life is soon over, wasted in pleasures of heavenly entertainments, and we die without ending our suffering or showing others how to end theirs. Buddhism was just another entertainment.
The irony is, that while we waste our lives, obvious to everybody is the coming of mass planetary disasters, the great suffering quickly and increasingly closing in on all life on Earth.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Tendai Includes Pure Land Teachings

People inquiring about Tendai sometimes say they like Tendai teachings, but are not interested in the Pure Land. I tell them there is no need for Pure Land teachings for those who don't plan on dying. These teachings are only for those who think they might die some day.
In many Tendai temples, the Amitabha Sutra is recited daily, which includes the following passage:
"All those who have set their minds on being born in the land of Amitabha Buddha, or who are now setting their minds, or who will in the future set their minds, will reach the level where they do not regress from Highest Perfect Enlightenment. They are already born, or are now being born, or will be born in that land.
One way to gain faith, confidence, and assurance of Amitabha's welcome into the Pure Land is by repetition of the 6-syllable nembutsu a million times. The great saint Honen, Tendai priest and founder of the Jodo Sect, had the habit late in life of reciting the nembutsu 60,000 times a day, while at the same time carrying out all his worldly and religious obligations. Tendai beads can count 20,000 repetitions in a cycle, and so are convenient to use if you want to set your mind on birth in the Pure Land. With 33,000 repetitions a day, in one month a million will be accumulated.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


The computer has colored this photo of morning ice in the volcanic ash

Friday, January 11, 2008

Triads in Buddhism

Depictions of a Buddha and his two chief assistants has historical precedence in Shariputra and Maudgalyayana, who were spiritual friends before meeting Shakyamuni, realizing arhatship, and being declared "Shakyamuni's Two Generals." Shariputra was distinguished by 'excellence in wisdom,' while Maudgalyayana was 'chief in spiritual powers.'
In the Mahayana, Shakyamuni takes his universal form as Mahavairocana Buddha, and his two chief assistants become the bodhisattvas Manjushri (Prince of the Dharma) and Samantabhadra (Universal Virtue, or The All-Good Bodhisattva). And parallel to the historical chief disciples, Manjushri, shown riding on a lion, proclaims the Dharma with a lion's roar, while Samantabhadra, riding on an elephant, leads people in the strong and steadfast practice of the various forms of concentration.
In this evolution of Buddhism, Shariputra began to represent the WORDS of the teaching only as the religion aged and became somewhat ossified, and so, the expanded (vaipulya) teachings were revealed by Manjushri, being inspired by his direct inner knowledge. Likewise Samantabhadra shows the inspired practices which meet the needs of the world's various cultures in present time, even though they are different from 400BC India.
Other triads are Amitabha Buddha flanked by the bodhisattvas Avalokiteshvara (compassion) and Mahastamapraptha (power), and Fudo Myo-o assisted by two boys, one emphasizing the sword aspect and the other emphasizing the rope aspect.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Here is a list of creatures, exclusive of birds and insects, that share the Cobb Mtn area with humans. Each of the following has been spotted by me at least once in the last twenty years.


moutain lion........................rattlesnake
black bear...........................gopher snake
blacktail deer.......................california king snake
bobcat................................water snake
grey fox...............................garter snake
ferel pig...............................racer
opposum..............................rubber boa
skunk..................................ring neck snake
jack rabbit...........................slender salamander
cotton tail rabbit....................newt
grey squirrel.........................tree frog & others
mole...................................spade-foot toad & others
gopher.................................pond turtle
wood rat...............................alligator lizard
field mouse & bellied lizard
bat......................................fence lizard
river otter.............................skinky
ring-tail cat..........................

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Pronouncing "Svaha" and "Sowaka"

These two are the same word, the first in Sanskrit (as a native word) and the second in Japanese (as transliterated). But when Americans read these two spellings, they have a unique take on it.

"Look at how the Japanese mangled Sanskrit! 'Sowaka' is not even close to 'svaha.' " I've listened to this opinion expressed many times over the years, and now wish to point out that the opinion is ignorant and ethnocentric.

We in the US pronounce both spellings as if they were English words, and that's why the sound is so different. But do this if you can: listen to a speaker fluent in Sanskrit pronounce "svaha." (There are about 10,000 such people, including Dr Sharma, now retired from teaching the language at UC Berkeley, of whom I have a tape of his pronunciation.) Next, listen to a native speaker of Japanese say "sowaka." It is nearly identical to the Sanskrit.

It is amazing that even though there was an absence of cultural exchange for a thousand years (850-1850), the pronunciation has been passed down intact in Japan.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


On New Year's Day at the top of the mountain, I met three hikers who had stopped to check the maps in Gary Suttle's book California County Summits. They asked me for directions because the book was vague and the top of the mountain itself is confusing, so it was understandable that they couldn't quite tell where they were and how to get to the Sonoma County high point. They took the photo shown here, and then I indicated the direction to the Highpoint, saying, "You fellas just follow the bear tracks in the snow, that way. I'm going this way. See ya later!"

All of their photos are shown here:

Monday, January 7, 2008

from Jaime D'Angelo's "Indian Tales"

Here is an excerpt, much abbreviated from a story 16 pages long in the book, about how Weasel burned the world. He was in a rage because someone stole his beads, and he started a fire.

"Then, they say, the whole world caught fire. It was burning, burning everywhere, up the canyons and down the slopes and over the flats. For days and nights it burned. At last Coyote Old Man thought, 'I ought to stop that fire. where's my rain sack?' "

So Coyote Old Man caused a deluge which put out the fire, but also caused flooding and mud and darkness everywhere. In the aftermath he meets up with another survivor, his grandson Hawk Chief.

"In those days the world was dark, there was no fire, and Hawk Chief didn't like it. He grumbled, 'Why is there no fire and no sun? Grandfather, why don't we have fire?' 'Well, everything is destroyed, nothing left. You are just a boy, you don't understand the destruction of the world.' 'Oh, you could get them for us if you wanted to.' 'How can I?' 'Oh, you could if you wanted to.' 'All right, I'll go look for the fire.' "

Then, after some adventures:

"The fire blazed up and Hawk Chief was glad. Coyote and his grandson the Hawk now had fire but it was dark all over the land. Hawk Chief began to grumble again. 'Grandfather, why haven't we a sun? I want sunlight, I want sunlight!' 'Yes, yes, I hear you, nut how can I get it?!!' 'Oh, you know -- you know everything, Grandfather, and how it used to be before the destruction of the world. You can get the sun if you want to.' 'All right, all right, I'll go and see your cousins, the Doves. Maybe they can help us.' "

After more adventures, the sun jumped up into the sky.

"Now they had fire, and the sun shone over the world, but still Hawk Chief was not satisfied. He wandered around, grumbling. 'WHAT'S the matter now?' asked his grandfather, the Coyote.
'Grandfather, WHY AREN'T THERE people? I want the world to have people.' This time Coyote Old Man got mad. 'All right,' he said, 'and then WE will have to go away.' "

After much difficulty in making people:

"Hawk Chief wanted to stay, but the old man said, 'Well, you wanted PEOPLE, didn't you? Now we have to go away. COME ALONG.' That's the way they went. They went away. They went west, beyond the ocean." (to the land of the dead)

Sunday, January 6, 2008


97% of California's forests have been logged since the gold rush, and though most were replaced with new growth, the character of new growth forests is markedly different from the huge trees 200 years and more in age. And many animals lose their homes and food sources when forests are cut.

In the 3% of old growth forests, as shown in this photo of a stand of ponderosa, sugar pine, and douglas fir on Cobb, the undergrowth is thinned by periodic natural fires, while the big trees remain and spread their canopy, giving an open feeling with a pine needle carpet. Cobb has 400 acres of old growth forest, semi-protected as State property, and several hundred acres more which have fortuitously avoided the chain saw. But also on the mountain are some large tracts owned by loggers.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Vaisravana, Protector of Buddhism

The icon for Vaisravana shows a heavenly king in Genghis Khan-type armor. He holds the banner of authority in one hand and a stupa, a reliquary tower, in the other. But where are the weapons which can forcibly subdue the non-believers and protect the Dharma? Can a stupa protect Buddhism?

Yes, it can. This is the iron tower into which Nagarjuna entered to receive the Vajrayana. The stupa represents samadhi, and Vaisravana ("extensive hearing," Bishamon-ten, Tamon-ten) offers the protection which comes from entering samadhi and receiving the Dharma. The icon shows a brilliantly shining sun inside the stupa. This is the Buddha's relics; this is the Dharma he left for us.

Weapons which harm people will not protect the Dharma. The warrior skills of martial artists will not protect the Dharma. In the Avatamsaka Sutra, Sudhana nears the end of his journey to enlightenment and comes to a great tower containing the adornments of Vairocana. He prostrates himself in front of the door, and then circles the tower respectfully hundreds of thousands of times. From a distance, Maitreya ("The Loving One") comes and opens the door for Sudhana to enter, and "Sudhana, in greatest wonder, goes into the tower. As soon as he entered, the door shut." The following 10 pages describe that samadhi.

Right from the very beginning of Shakyamuni's preaching, that is, the Eight-fold Noble Path, samadhi was the culmination of that Path. The only protection for the Dharma is for people to enter into samadhi and realize it for themselves.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


Named by the Russians who were in this area before the Americans, Mt St Helena has the appearance of a volcano but is actually part of a sedimentary range called the Mayacamas Mountains. View from Cobb Mtn.

The Other World

It is hard to believe that there are other realities beyond what can be seen, heard, felt, smelled or tasted. Yet when one turns the mind's eye away from what is outside and looks inside, another world becomes known. This can be verified by oneself, provided the effort is made to quiet and concentrate the mind. Yet we humans are filling the planet with more and more devices to delight and entertain the senses, so that the last several generations have been losing interest in inner worlds, losing the ability to go there, and even failing to recognize that they exist or have value. People conversant with both worlds will tell them that this is where problems are solved, that inside is the realm of true happiness, where you can experience that all forms of life are one form of life, and that harming others in any way leads to your own suffering.

The trend away from otherworldly knowledge was noted by Carmen Blacker when she chronicled Japanese shamanism in the 1960s for her book The Catalpa Bow:

"The world view uncovered by the shaman's faculties, with its vision of another and miraculous plane which could interact causally with our own was the basis for the more advanced mystical intuitions of esoteric Buddhism. Today, however, this world view is fast disappearing. The vision of another plane utterly different from our own ... has faded. Instead the world has become one-dimensional; there are no barriers to be crossed."

To repeat Shakyamuni Buddha's words, "This Dharma is for one who delights and rejoices in the Unworldly, not for one who delights and rejoices in worldliness."