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Learning to be Intolerant

Acceptance is a big deal in Buddhist circles.  We're told that we must accept suffering, accept mistreatment, accept the opinions of others. We're told to be like the ocean, which accepts all things and rejects nothing.  Much of this thinking is rooted in a slavish dependence on the absolute.   This is especially true in Zen circles where the conventional world is painted as less than, and we're told all things are resolved in the unborn mind. This puts practitioners in a tough spot because right and wrong clearly exist.  2+2 = 4, not 5.  But if we care too deeply for the truth, if we "have preferences" then that's seen as proof of an unenlightened mind. I struggled with this contradiction for many years, wondering how I was supposed to practice Buddhism without practicing Buddhism. Then I studied the life and teachings of the historical Buddha, putting aside the words of Western "masters", and I noticed something interesting. The Buddha never taught
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Lost Cats and Buddhist Love

As I write this one of our cats, Finn, is sprawled across my lap.   He is an all-white, American short hair with blue eyes and below average intelligence.  I've watched him carefully plan his leap onto the bookshelf only to jump headfirst into the wall.  And he regularly gets lost wandering through our house; meowing sadly until I or my partner go to find him. What Finn lacks in intelligence, however, he makes up for with love. He is one of the most affectionate cats I have ever known. He rubs his head against my legs when I walk through the house, he watches from the window when I work in the garden. And if I sit on the couch to write, read, or watch a movie, he magically appears in my lap. I like to think that I'm the strong, independent type. But the truth is that I'm not so different from Finn. When I kneel in front of my altar, I justify my actions with philosophical jargon. I can talk for hours about sacral realism and how my Butsudan is a physical representation of B

How to Save The World

A student went to his Zen teacher and found him working in the garden.  The teacher greeted his student and asked, "How is Buddhism in the south?"   The student replied, "There is much discussion."   The Zen teacher paused a moment, and then he said, "Come help me plant radishes in the garden."   The student asked, "How will that help the world?"   The Zen teacher replied, "What do you call the world?" When I was a young man, I didn't make time for what most people would call "domestic duties".  Cooking, cleaning, making the bed; these tasks seemed like a waste of time at best, and they were beneath me at worst. I looked at all the suffering in the world, and my unmade bed seemed insignificant in comparison.   I wanted to feed hungry children.  I wanted pull plastic out of the ocean.  I wanted to rescue the animals being tortured in factory farms. I imagine the student in the koan shared my concerns. "There is much di

Freeloading Chickens

One common misconception about chickens is that they lay eggs every day.  In truth, their levels of production increase and decrease based on the weather.   In the summer months when the days are long chickens tend to lay eggs every other day.   However, they lay fewer eggs in the fall when the days get shorter, and they go through their molt, replacing their old feathers with new ones. In the winter, the chickens rest.  They are less active during the day, and their egg production drops too almost nothing.  Today marks the third day in a row that I've walked to the hen house, fed my birds, and received no eggs for my trouble. They've become a bunch of freeloaders. It's not uncommon for homesteaders to start culling their hens around this time of year, turning them into stew, and making room for the new chicks that they'll purchase in the spring.  It makes sense from an economic perspective.  Why keep feeding birds that don't feed you in return? However, I'm tak

Letting Go of Minimalism

As a younger man, I prided myself on being a minimalist. I never owned more possessions that what I could fit into a duffel bag.   I did my best to avoid clothing purchases; choosing to make due with the free t-shirts that were passed out at college fairs and job recruitment events.  When I finally moved into my own place, I scoffed at the idea of buying furniture; choosing to eat and sleep on the floor. When people asked about my behavior, I told them that I was a minimalist and a Buddhist.  I gave long lectures on Buddha's teaching of nonattachment; explaining that every possession is a fetter that holds us back from enlightenment. This is true; however, I don't think it explained the full reason for my minimalism.  At its core, my lack of possessions had less to do with religion and more to do with trauma. My parents divorced when I was a kid.  They'd been fighting non-stop for a while, but it was still a surprise when my mom loaded me and my siblings up in the van; taki

Rolling in the Grass

As I write this, it feels like hundreds of ants are biting my arms and legs.  I have a grass allergy, and prolonged exposure results in itching and small bumps appearing on my skin.   It's been this way my whole life. When I was a child I loved playing outdoors with my friends.  We spent countless afternoons wrestling in the grass and hiking through the forest. This led to countless nights when I complained to my mother, "It feels like my skin is on fire!"  She responded by covering me head-to-toe in pink, chamomile lotion to stop the itching. My siblings would joke that I looked like an alien.  We'd all have a good laugh.  And then I'd go back outside the next day to roll around in the grass. Now that I'm a man, I realize my childhood suffering was 100% avoidable.  I could have played games that involved pavement instead of grass.  I could have explored the local mall instead of the forest. But as I think of all the fun I had traipsing through the mud with my

Love the Fight

No one ever talks about the connection between homesteading and crisis management.   If one goes to Instagram and searches for #homesteadlife or #hobbyfarm, they'll be greeted with pictures of happy chickens, well-groomed garden beds, and barns that look like they came from a magazine. The message is that growing food and caring for animals is a lazy, carefree way to spend one's life.  You can collect eggs in the morning, do yoga in the afternoon, and pose for pictures with your goats without the specters of stress, fear, or worry ever darkening your door. Dear reader, this is a lie from the darkest corner of Avici hell. The process of living on the land is the process of dealing with catastrophe.  In this year alone my rabbits were infected with ear mites, aphids attacked my fruit trees, several garden beds succumbed to pill bug infestations, and my state is experiencing a drought. So much suffering, so little time. But in the midst of all that struggle, there's one inesca