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Learning to Take Refuge

We have three cats that live on the homestead.  There's Sam, a black and white tuxedo.  There is Finn, a white albino.  And there is Enso, a gray tabby.   The first two, Sam and Finn, are house cats to their core.  They'll sit and look out the window on nice days, but they have zero interest in trying to venture outside. Enso, however, is another story.  During the spring and summer, he comes inside just long enough to eat, then he runs back outside to explore the woods that surround our property.   He likes to roll around in our garden mulch and he'd rather sleep in a pile of straw than a cat bed. However, his love of adventure cools a bit as the days grow shorter and the nights get colder.  During the Fall and Winter months Enso goes outside just long enough to ensure the grass is still where he left it, and then he retreats to the warm comfort of our home. I get a bit of a chuckle from his antics, but I'm glad we can offer Enso a place of refuge on the days when the
Recent posts

Dealing with Life's Manure

As a homesteader, I spend a lot of time dealing with manure.  I clean it out of the cat's litter boxes.  I step in it each time I feed the chickens.  And I collect it from our two rabbits, Belladonna and Oleander.   That last part might be surprising to some people.   It's not often that people talk about growing their poop collection, but it makes sense in the context of gardening. Simply put, soil is a living thing.  And the wise gardener feeds it lots of yummy foods.  Because nothing grows in hungry soil. Rabbit manure is a special treat for garden soil.  The manure is nutritious, high in nitrogen and phosphorus.  Also, it breaks down slowly, providing nutrients throughout the growing season. That said, rabbit manure might be good for my garden, but dealing with it is unpleasant.  It has a slight smell, attracts flies, and occasionally winds up on my clothes when I'm not careful.  On those days, I wonder if it wouldn't be easier to just buy fertilizer at the store. B

Moving Beyond Life and Death

It’s harvest season here on the homestead. And the earth has been generous with its bounty. We’re approaching 200 pounds of vegetables; harvesting potatoes, beans, carrots, corn, and a variety of other foods. It’s a wonderful life, but it’s also a strange one. Because the harvest requires me to kill the plants I’ve spent the last few months cultivating. Corn cobs are snatched from their stalks with a violent, twisting motion. Bean plants break apart as beans are pulled from their vines. And potato leaves are left to rot in the soil as I pull their roots (the potato spuds) from the earth. But the violence doesn’t stop there. The rabbits and chickens who live on the homestead are feral beasts, and their appetites are unending. I keep them satisfied by feeding them food from the garden. I strip the corns plants of their leaves, in the same way, I stripped them of their cobs. The leaves are fed to the rabbits, and the tall, spindly stalks go into the compost pile.   Bean plants are

Stripping It Down to Nothing

I love Buddhist rituals.  I love their history. I love their meaning. I love their ability to transcend time and space.   When I bow, I embody the Buddhist ancestors who bowed before me.  When I light incense, I grab hold of a karmic strand that goes all the way back to Buddha. Thus, my practice might seem arcane and esoteric to the casual observer.  I wear robes. I prostrate before my altar.  I chant and study sutras.  Each day, I go to the meditation hall and live as Buddha lived.  I do this so when I leave the meditation I can continue living as he lived; ending suffering for myself and all beings. That said, there are times in life when these practices become burdensome, like wearing a fancy suit on a hot day.  The fault lies not with the training, but with me. It requires strength to carry the rituals from one day to the next, keeping them alive for the next generation.  And there are days when my strength is lacking. There are days when my mind is so frazzled, my body is so tired

Catepillars and Butterflies

A student sat down in front of their teacher and asked, "How do caterpillars become butterflies?"  The teacher replied, "They don't, only butterflies can become butterflies." This koan comes from my new book, "A Year of Zen Mindfulness" .  I like it because it describes my approach to teaching the Dharma along with the primary focus of my book, which is to help people transform their daily life experiences into spiritual practice. The koan is based on Hongaku or original enlightenment, which is at the heart of Mahayana Buddhism.  Simply put, the teaching states that we all have Buddha nature, which is the source of enlightenment. Thus, enlightenment is not the goal of spiritual practice.  It's the starting point.  We don't study sutras, sit on the cushion, and chant in front of our altars because we need to attain something.  No, we do these things because they remind us of what we already have.  They point our attention inwards; to the enlight

I'll Keep You Alive

In a couple of weeks, I'll have my one-year anniversary of living on a homestead.  And I can say with full honesty that I love this life.  Growing food and caring for animals is rewarding.   Watching the land grow and shrink throughout the year is educational.  And being surrounded by nature is nourishing. That said, there have been challenges and hard lessons.  I think I may have killed my tractor.  Apparently, I wasn't supposed to leave gas in it over the winter.  And several trees have fallen down in our back pasture.  So, those will need to be limbed and quartered at some point. The most important challenge (and lesson) came early last year when I was working in the garden.  I was dealing with an infestation of striped cucumber beetles that were threatening to destroy our squash plants.  this was after dealing with slugs that threatened to destroy our bean crops and gypsy moths that threatened to eat our collard greens. As I stood there baking under the summer sun, carefull

Blind Faith and Buddhist Practice

Faith is a dirty word in American Buddhism.  When teachers discuss having faith in Buddha and his teachings, for example, there's a lot of hand-wringing involved.   We're quick to explain that faith in Buddhism is more akin to trust, and practitioners don't need to believe anything that doesn't resonate with them. This is good, correct teaching.  In fact, one of the high points of Buddhist doctrine is that it encourages discourse.  It encourages people to be skeptical and ask questions.   And no one is required to believe something that doesn't sit well with them.  I'll say it again, this is a good thing. However, if we visit dictionary.com, we find two definitions of faith:      1. confidence or trust in a person or thing      2. belief that is not based on proof The type of faith that's most often discussed in Buddhism is the first definition.  We ask questions, we experiment with the teachings, and we develop faith in them based on their efficacy.    I&#