A Supreme Teacher Continues on...

A Native American brother weeps hot tears of rage as he recalls his time in “that mess” that was the American war in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s. “The Creator didn’t put us here for this,” he says, choking back tears. In the space of a couple minutes, he then recites the violent history of the USA better than any history book ever could.

It is August 2002, nearly a year after 11 September 2001, and the Native brother is participating in a sangha, or community, of Vietnam war veterans organized by Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh at Stonehill College, a private Catholic school located in Easton, Massachusetts. Like me, Nhat Hanh was in the United States at the time of 9/11 and saw firsthand the dangerous wave of fear, ignorance and hate that quickly rose up throughout the land: A “war on terrorism” was officially declared, the nation of Afghanistan was soon invaded and now the U.S. government was preparing for a second invasion in Iraq.

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Accolades for the Archbishop

It is early morning somewhere in rural South Africa, the sun not yet rising over the horizon. In the dim morning light, through the slowly lifting fog — or is it smoke from the nearby shacks? — I am walking up some makeshift steps on the side of a steep ravine. I look over at the person walking up next to me and study the lines on his face: It is Desmond Tutu, the revered Anglican Church archbishop of South Africa. He is showing me around here, he explains, because he wants me to see how people in South Africa really live, the poverty they still have to face in the land of apartheid.

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Salute to a Soul Sister

Janice Mirikitani and a friend are walking down the sidewalk, as the friend’s recollection goes, in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, California, USA — one of the city’s poorer and more merciless areas. Coming down the sidewalk toward them is a man of the streets who is making loud barking and growling noises like a dog; he is obviously in need of some help.

The friend instinctively grabs Mirikitani’s arm to pull her away and out of the path of a perceived danger looming ahead. Just as instinctively, Mikiritani pulls the friend back close to her and keeps walking straight ahead, her stride intact. Soon, the man and Janice are standing face to face on the sidewalk and the friend’s heart is racing, fearing what might come next.

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From Syrinx to Rio, A Writer Remembered

The first time I heard Rush on the radio was the very moment when I began to take notice of rock musician Neil Peart as a writer in his own right. I even remember when and where it all started: It was sometime in early 1980; I had just turned 21. On a warm afternoon, in my car with the windows rolled down and the radio blasting, I was on my way to the beach and stopped at a traffic light at a major intersection in town when the “The Spirit of Radio” from the new Rush album Permanent Waves came over the airwaves of a local FM rock radio station. Peart’s drumming especially knocked me out, and I soon got the LP record and found an even greater musical feast to be had: the song lyrics that Peart wrote for almost the whole album.

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Hamba Kahle to a South African Son

Hamba kahle in the Xhosa and Zulu languages of South Africa is a commonly expressed heartfelt wish for a deceased person to “go well” on their spiritual journey in the Great Beyond. Another commonly heard English phrase at South African funerals is that someone “ran a good race” during his/her lifetime on Earth, having lived a life worthy of praise.

Such terms of endearment are among the many now being expressed throughout South Africa for renowned musician Johnny Clegg, who passed away at his home in Johannesburg a few days ago at the all-too-young age of 66. He had succumbed to pancreatic cancer.

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All Power to the Peaceful

Both tragic events happened on the 15th of the month, one on a Sunday morning before church services inside a Christian Baptist Church and the other on a Friday afternoon during open worship inside two Muslim mosques. One of the events resulted in the deaths of four young girls of the congregation, the other in the deaths of 50 young and old faithful followers.

Both events were cold-blooded, calculated acts of murder committed by believers in the supremacy of the European race and the inferiority of dark-skinned “others”, with the added hope of sparking a race war between them. Both tragedies shocked the conscience of people around the world, jolting them out of any sense of complacency they may have been in regarding the deadly violence of white supremacists.

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Playing the Soundtrack of Our Lives

There are many contemporary musical artists around whose work touches us deeply, inspires us, motivates us, tells our life stories in their lyrics and songs. We think of them as playing the soundtrack of our very lives.

A select few musicians in the world, though, rise to the status of soundtrack-makers for entire cultures, peoples and nations. Hugh Masekela, the South African jazz trumpeter who passed on recently at the age of 78, is among that highly regarded level of musical giants. His music was the soundtrack of a nation-in-the-making, South Africa, and spoke directly to countless numbers of people around the globe, especially in the African diaspora.

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Memories of a Grassroots Man

It has been heartwarming and heartbreaking, inspiring and saddening, all at the same time, to see all the tributes to and news coverage about Native American elder and activist Dennis Banks, in the wake of his passing on 29 October at age 80.

Banks is most well known for having co-founded the American Indian Movement in the late 1960s at a turbulent time in modern history and the many confrontations he led or joined in during that time, most notably the 71-day occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, USA. He was a warrior who stood up when his people most needed him, when the times most demanded it, and for that he will always be remembered and loved.

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In the Spirit of Animals

Do animals have spirits?

If you had asked me such a question some years ago, I probably would have given you some theoretical answer based on things I have read in books or seen in movies or gotten from the Web. But the issue became a very real and personal one for me a year ago, with the passing of our family’s dog, as I wrote about in this blog space.

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A Place Called ‘Motomenai’

The Japanese press reported widely in early January of this year about the recent death of someone I had known fairly well, Shozo Kajima, of old age. He was 92 years old. He was cited in most of the obituaries as the author of a mega-bestselling poetry book titled Motomenai [Not wanting], published in 2007.

But what most of the media here didn’t report in their brief stories on Kajima were the kinds of things I had gotten to know personally about him in recent years: how he had been among the up-and-coming literary figures in Japan after World War II, how he became a renowned scholar and translator of English-language classics (especially by the U.S. author William Faulkner), how he found a new form of expression in watercolor painting, and how, later in life, he rediscovered his Asian roots in the Chinese philosophy of Taoism and had become known as a respected Taoist philosopher in Japan.

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