These koans…


Koans are flexible. They are metaphors we can take in our hands. They form in between the spaces where we apply pressure – a fist of emptiness. Koans expand into those closed off, open cracks. We tense and create pockets of space even as we flex these hands of emptiness. As we sit, stand, talk and eat – koans are always there. They are a living religion. A cold precipitate that over time crystalizes to cement those cracks – adding to the structure, building the foundations. One moment they are our birth. Next, our death. They are our family, our work and our place in this present moment. They fill the void.

Impossible to pin down. You can’t name the spaces they fill. When we speak about them we may be able to take a snapshot of the process. Take many photos as you wish and wave them around saying “This is my koan. This is Zen!” But it would be just as useful to take a photo of the floor-board of your car while on vacation and say “This is it. This is California!”

It isn’t California. It is a floor-board. It isn’t Zen, only your fleeting perception of it. Your snapshot. Your moment. Your koan.

Koans are flexible. We, decidedly, are not… 

But we still nurture them. We hold them. We eventually let them walk on their own. They fill the spaces left between the clenching stress of life. Soon they don’t look like the same koan. Sometimes around the eyes, you catch a glimpse of that brand new thing. That slab of conundrum…but by then they are likely driving down the road, cradling their own koan.

These koans.
Our children handed
to us from past generations
only ours for a moment before
passing them forward.
These koans…


Off the Shelf: July 2012 ~ The Tiger’s Wife and Magical Realism

Our “Off the Shelf” book club discussion will be on The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht. After the last meeting when I was blasted with questions concerning the genre we discussed and similar titles, I decided to come prepared. The following reading list will give a brief introduction to the Magical Realism genre and some of my suggestions on what to read next.

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The Dharma is an open country.

“Buddhism doesn’t tell you what is false and what is true but it encourages you to find out for yourself.” ~ Chogyam Trungpa #emaho #buddhism (quote via Bill Schwartz)

This is how every religion should approach itself and perhaps why so many free-thinkers and skeptics are attracted to Buddhism [or at least Buddhist practice]. Canon, as expansive as it is, to me seems more of a conceptual guide than a set of regulations and tasks. It presents a map [a geography, a landscape, a foundation] for practitioners to explore – to build upon – to maintain, to polute, shit upon or discard entirely. There are mountains and plains – rivers and oceans. Formations that are immutable and can’t be changed [much]. Land is ripe for crops to be planted and the river of Dharma can be averted, redirected or dammed…but not for long. No matter the field, the flood can’t be held back. 

Many call deride this open process of exploration as “cherry-picking” and spit out the term towards many a weary and wary traveler. Used to the derision, I prefer to consider it homesteading the Dharma [one can plant cherries if they wish…I won’t stop them…they are delicious].

Some of us choose one, simple, stationary plot and sit there till we die. That is it. It is our spot – there we till the earth, mend our clothes and raise our children. We pass the land to others. We erect towns and churches and even fences. We create a civilization that follows the lay of the land.

Some roam. Those vagabonds never spend more time than is needed. They work other people’s land, profit (or not) and then move on to the next job. They jump trains from destination to destination with much of the Dharma passing by as an unnecessary but scenic blur. The Dharma is tattooed to their skin, worked into their boots, calloused in their hands and radiates from the wrinkles lining their eyes.

There are the trailblazers. The nonconformists. The adventurers. Those that create new trails by striking out into the wilderness and exploring the grey areas between. By making their own mark and develop their practice they provide variety to the landscape. Outsiders and zen mountain men that only come to town occasionally for provisions, stories and drinks. We don’t understand them but we usually walk away with something more.

Insurgents and revolutionaries plot and plan, create and destroy. They rise up and fall back like a tide. They also challenge and mold. Some wander off into the wilderness and become trailblazers; others populate cities and towns; most blog. Along with insurgents expect militia, doom-sayers, fundies and extremists. Can’t have one without the other…

Then there are carpetbaggers and snake-oil salesmen. They hustle and deceive those homesteaders but mostly rely on tourists for a quick buck. You can’t keep them out. The only option is to educate and inform others to avoid them.

And there are tourists. The Dharma is open to all. People pop in and out constantly. Some make waves, some create ripples in the shallow end and others sit on the shore quietly and watch. Others toss a frisbee. Zencationers and Dharma-brats aplenty. They come back every summer looking for something exotic to take back to place on mantles and in offices…but remember…

The Dharma is open country.


Kalama Sutta The Buddha’s Charter of Free Inquiry

It is proper for you to doubt, to be uncertain; uncertainty has arisen in you about what is doubtful.

Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing;
nor upon tradition;
nor upon rumor;
nor upon what is in a scripture;
nor upon surmise;
nor upon an axiom;
nor upon specious reasoning;
nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over;
nor upon another’s seemingly ability;
nor upon the consideration, ‘The monk is our teacher.’

When you yourselves know: ‘These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertake and observed, these things lead to harm and ill, abandon them.’

…Do not accept anything by mere tradition…
…Do not accept anything just because it accords with your scriptures…
…Do not accept anything merely because it agrees with your pre-conceived notions…

But when you know yourselves—these things are moral, these things are blameless, these things are praised by the wise, these things, when performed and undertaken, conduce to well-being and happiness—then do you live acting accordingly.

snipped from Access to Insight


image from Sinfest

Run, Roshi, Run! [in four stanzas]

1) Alas, Old Zen family man,
Who doesn’t sit, pray or chant
Which isn’t to say he can’t
but he would rather be content
and enjoy the current moment,
than formulate another spiritual plan.

2) Hey! Old Zen Crow
why do you sit in your own wake
just for your own sake?
When the end is so blurry,
so don’t be in such a hurry
to pretend you’re the one in the know.

3) And now! Old Buddhist Hen!
She used the three Dharma seals
to land three profitable book deals.
Now, every time she clucks
practitioners tossed in a couple’a bucks
and ignore the lingering stink of Zen.

4) But the Old Sly Fox
he still swindled and spoke a great deal.
He took a quick dash,
slathered in warm spiritual cash.
and is currently awaiting an appeal.



*A Defense of Minimalist Fiction in 100 words*

Minimalist style is ensconced in the short story. While the short story is hardly different from other forms, it is more concentrated, less broad with a lean feel. There’s a disparate rhythm that places it apart. The experience is different, not simple, but rough.  It displays a singular focus without extensive dialog or imagery. Conversations are sparse, leaving more unsaid than said – providing the reader room to expand the conversation. When done poorly, it lacks substance and character; seeming lazy and unconcerned. Minimalist fiction punches while the reader bobs and weaves; allowing the reader to be in the fight.


Libraries build a bridge to the past.



Image from RCPL’s Flickr stream: This uprooted home was caught by the trees that once provided shade for it. A footbridge in the distance now carries golfers across gentle Rapid Creek.

As communities grow larger, people become more disparate. We forget the events that impact us – we drift without recognizing a sense of our shared and communal history. Those around us are neighbors, sharing the same space in history – kindred spirits – victims, sometimes, to the same forces of nature and time. The recent 40th anniversary of the Black Hill’s Flood 1972 was a stirring example of how memory and history keep us connected. And how a library’s mission is to help keep those memories archived and preserved before they drift too far apart.

People use the library to gather and learn. To find information and stay informed. But the library is also a place to share experiences, relate memories and provide a firm foundation of knowledge and hope for generations to come. As such, a library is difficult to define. There are entire communities that utilize the services for vastly different and diverse needs. The Rapid City Public Library is in a constant state of reinventing itself in order to help bridge that gap between what came before, what is happening now and what is emerging in the future.

The 1972 Black Hills Flood Oral History Project was launched by the RCPL to do this exact thing: To bridge the gap from the past to the present in order to build a better future – To test the idea of whether building a virtual archive focused on shared history and a life-altering local event would benefit a community. It did just that. With 21,000 pageviews over the past year, the resource has become a valuable tool in the shared history of the Black Hills region.

The Flood website consolidates information about this devastating event and the time that followed.  Radio transcriptions, KOTA reporter Robb DeWall’s news reports and notes, timelines, memos and letters from the time of the event provide factual information but the personal connection to the community is provided through the interviews and recorded memories.

It represents a true collective effort on the part of the community. It incorporates written memories and photographs provided by neighbors and those that lived through and were affected by the Flood. It allows the story to be told by those that were there. It enables all of us to become “storytellers.”

Leaving the past aside for a moment, the future is equally important to the library. Providing educational resources such as our e-reader guide, expanding our teen e-books and lending e-readers builds bridges from the community to emerging and evolving technology. Resources that were often available only in physical form are now available online as well as mobily.

E-books can be downloaded while on vacation; audiobooks downloaded while in the car; accounts can be checked while at the dentist’s office. The library is no longer a place in Rapid City – It is your bridge to Rapid City from anywhere in the world.