Exploring the deep-ecology roots
of Chan-Zen

In our bones is the rock itself,
in our blood is the river,
our skin contains the shadow
of every living thing we ever came across.
This is what we brought with us long ago. 

~ Ute tribal song

Watch video of this Monday Zen talk

Deepest ecology, shamanic sources, mystic roots. Chan-Zen has all these, and we will explore a few of them in coming weeks ahead of a visit by Zenju Earthlyn Manuel (The Shamanic Bones of Zen), at the end of the month.

I have clearly realized: 
mind is nothing but the mountains, the rivers, and the great earth, 
nothing but the sun, the moon, and the stars.

~ Eihei Dogen

Calling on Gaia. When the demon Mara attacked Shakyamuni as he sat beneath the Bodhi tree, it was the earth goddess the Buddha called upon to aid him by touching his hand to the ground. Bodhidharma, a Brahman prince, is traditionally credited with bringing Chan meditation to China in the later fifth century. His message, however, is largely Daoist, translator David Hinton believes, developed by nativist Taoist poets and artists in the centuries before the Indian prince’s arrival. And the foundation for those Daoist sages was a vibrant paleolithic wisdom, reaching thousands, if not millions of years, back in time.

The Old Ways. That is what poet Gary Snyder calls them.

What does Gaia, in this great space, think she’s doing? But what she does is not really our concern. Our day-to-day concern is the shimmering network of the gift-exchange, the ceremonies of life; energy, transformation. Our concern is the kids sleeping in the back room, snow in the far hills, a coyotes howling in the sagebrush moonlight. (The Old Ways, 1974)

Sacred is but a name. Grasping the deepest ecology in Zen is to understand the nature of Gaia, which was in motion for long before our parents were born, is our nature. It is not in the world of good or evil; profane or sacred. It much much more alive that all that. Linji says, “If you love the sacred and hate the secular, you’ll float and sink in the birth-and-death sea… sacred is no more than the name ‘sacred’…” Gaia has not name; Gaia is our name. 

We find something deeply satisfying and comforting in knowing that we need not travel back to paleo time or space to simply realize the “shimmering network of the gift-exchange.” Awakening is the mud sticking to our shoes. It is the kids sleeping in the back room. The racoon snooping around the back door. The Old Ways are our ways. And they are not two with all other things. “The roots of all living things are tied together. When a mighty tree is felled, a star falls from the sky…”, says Chan K’in Viejo, a shaman from the Lacandon rainforest in southern Mexico.

After Work
by Gary Snyder

The shack and a few trees
float in the blowing fog

I pull out your blouse,
warm my cold hands
on your breasts.
you laugh and shudder
peeling garlic by the
hot iron stove.
bring in the axe, the rake,
the wood

we’ll lean on the wall
against each other
stew simmering on the fire
as it grows dark
drinking wine. 

The Ute tribal song and Chan K’in Viejo’s words are quoted in The Fruitful Darkness: A Journey Through Buddhist Practice and Tribal Wisdom, by Joan Halifax (2004)
Picture credit: Southern Ute Indian Tribe