The Order of Clear Mind Zen

Friday, August 13, 2021

The Streetcorner Hunger Project

 With Palms Together,

Student Shinrai has been purchasing and distributing bags of food for homeless persons on the street corners of Las Cruces for years. Recently the Order of Clear Mind Zen has decided to make this one of our Engaged Practices. We are calling it "The Streetcorner Hunger Project." This morning we distributed about twenty bags of food to homeless folk on street corners. If anyone would like to donate to this continuing project, please do so through our PayPal button on our website at
Chris Gasco

Tuesday, June 8, 2021



A funny thing happened to America recently. We have shifted direction on our moral compass. We were once a nation that held hard work and the strength of character and will to be considered ideals. We believed in merit, that one should be rewarded for one’s hard work and accomplishment, that people should rise in authority and responsibility based on that merit.
These ideals are being challenged. Merit itself is in question. People sometimes now hold that race, gender, and sheer luck have more to do with gain and social success than merit or anything else. And perhaps they do.
The notion that we are a nation of White male privilege and that the game is rigged from the start has seemingly gained ascendency. The notion of merit, then, simply has no place and may even be dangerous according to a price out of Princeton University. There is little to deny this supposition. Racism exists. Sexism exists. And those of the right color and gender do seem to get the breaks.
However, there is more to merit than business, social, or personal outcome. Merit is a consequence of effort, skill, creativity, and determination. To develop these qualities, I assert, is far more important than the external outcome of their application. They give rise to a sense of competence, personal value, and integrity. In short, they develop moral character.
The effort to attack merit as somehow racist or sexist leaves us believing we really need not work hard, study hard, or be creative in our approach to personal success. So, what are we left with? We shift the blame for our economic and social failures on those with priveledge. We do not feel the need to examine our own role in outcomes. It’s easy. Didn’t get the job or promotion? Blame the social structure. Why, I ask, try?
Again, simple: self respect. Belief in oneself. Gutsiness.
In a world of constant social and moral change, would it not be helpful to each of us to know we are capable in spite of whether or not we are rewarded? In truth, I don’t know, but I believe so.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Intent and Critical Theory

 With palms together,

The Buddha Way teaches there are Three Poisons: Greed, Hatred, and Delusion and we address these with the Three Antidotes: Generosity, Love, and Wisdom.
Today I’d like to address an issue with one of the aspects of Critical Theory, derived from Postmodernism, and an underlying theoretical foundation of Critical Role Theory, as well as the Cancel Culture and Political Correctness movements. One of the core assumptions of the theory is this: “Language operates hierarchically through binaries, always placing one element above another...” and in discourse, “the speaker’s meaning has no more authority than the hearer’s interpretation and thus intention cannot outweigh impact.” In other words, the author’s “intentions are irrelevant” even when known. (Cynical Theories, Pluckrose, H and Lindsay, J., 2020 P.40).
Felt injuries of racism, sexism, ageism, and other prejudices often cause us to want to defend ourselves, counter attack, or otherwise be “made whole” through the courts. We may want to “cancel” the perpetrator of our felt injury, seek some form of restorative justice or some other compensation. Our subjective interpretation of the experience and its consequent pain and suffering may be tangible and visceral. . There is no question as to the painful effects of prejudice: economic. academic, psychological, etc.
The movements I refer to above are attempts to correct centuries of oppression. Members and advocates believe prejudice is structural to society and there is truth in this observation. That truth needs addressing, to be sure, yet, there are aspects to the way these movements attempt to address it that are, in my opinion, problematic. First, and perhaps foremost, are its broadly generalized assumptions. While racism and other prejudices, may be structural, it does not mean every person within a group of those identified as oppressive, are oppressive, racist or sexist. To claim the alternative is true is, itself prejudiced against individuals. Second, a vindictive approach to oppressors is hardly effective, it simply succeeds in making those identified more resistant and demands they entrench themselves even more deeply into their prejudicial state. Finally, such an approach is harmful to the oppressed as it disallows any real recovery from victimhood.
For Zen Buddhist and others, especially those in recovery, it is important to keep in mind (and heart), the power of forgiveness, Forgiveness of the effects of prejudicial acts against us requires a willingness to accept or understand the intent of the offender. Was the offense intended? Where was his or her mind? What was in his heart?
To suggest such questions are meaningless is to denigrate our humanity and place us in the same camp as the oppressor: prejudiced and wielding that prejudice with the power to harm. From a Buddhist point of view, karmic consequence follows intent, so intent is critical in understanding and we need understanding to more correctly address the situation. Buddha diagnosed and his treatment followed his diagnosis. To arrive at a functional and comprehensive diagnosis we must be comprehensive in our exploration and fact gathering. What good is a diagnosis that comes from missing data?
What Critical Theory and its Social Justice Warriors seem to refuse to do is look deeply with a willingness to examine intent, since intent is already assumed to be that of power and dominance. And if it weren’t? No matter, the effect of the words or actions is far more important, they say. The net effect of this is a never-ending conflict between binaries with little hope for conflict resolution, save to say the subjugation of the “other.”

Thursday, April 29, 2021

A Place of Neither Hot or Cold

 With palms together,

A cold and rainy morning greets us in southern New Mexico. I am reminded of the koan where the student complains to the Master about heat and cold and the Master replies, to paraphrase, "Go to the place where there is neither hot or cold."

Where is that place? I wonder as I sit outside with the cold and rain. Hot and cold are simply words we apply to a feeling, rather, a sensory perception, and as such gives rise to thoughts and feelings. Isn't our brain a wonderful thing?


It can warn us, bring us pleasure, pain, joy and sorrow. It is hard-wired to do so. As Zen practitioners it is up to us how we respond to its messages. We can complain, as did the student, we can deny the messages, and we can accept the messages for what they are: just thoughts. It is our relationship to our brain's messages that is so important: accept, deny, cope, or deal. The choice is ours and it is that place we should go.

The place of release, rather than mastery. As Master Uchiyama taught, we are to "open the hand of thought." Grasping is like tightening the bonds that hold us captive, recognizing we are our own jailers and practicing to release ourselves from our self created bonds is the way.

How? Releasing our thoughts is to let go of our thoughts, to let go of our thoughts is to settle into our bodies, turning our attention to what may be our three freedoms: posture, breath, and mind. And to do this, we simply stop: sit upright, breathe, and release the chain of thought.

Of course there is another answer to the question of hot and cold: cover or uncover our bodies as the temperatures require :)


Be well.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Zen Peacemakers International

 With palms together,

I am pleased to announce that we are now an affiliate of Zen Peacemakers International.  This is a remarkable international organization dedicated to engaged practice around the world. 

On Facebook: Zen Peacemakers | Facebook

On the web:  Zen Peacemakers International

Please click on these and take a look.

Yours in the Dharma


Friday, April 23, 2021


With Palms Together,

Troublesome thoughts: opinion is not fact. Feelings are not fact. Thoughts are not fact. Yet most of us, i believe, consider our subjective perceptions, thoughts and feelings, to be fact, fact that we act upon.

In the first three months of this year 213 civilians were shot by police. Given our perception of police engagements with Blacks, how many of those shot were Black? Answer: 30. Frankly, I would have guest a number higher than 50% and I would have been wrong.
There is, however, no question that Black lives taken by police, over a year, are disproportionately higher than those of Whites. A simple answer used by many is that this is a result of systematic racism among police agencies and as such represents a form of White supremacy. I am not so sure.
There are a lot of factors that play into this picture. Crime rates in Black communities, poverty, Black on Black violence, to name a few.
Recently, I’ve begun a study of Critical Race Theory, trying to understand the principles and motives that support it, and come to some terms with my own prejudices. The theory asserts that our entire nation is racist and even gains made through civil rights legislation are more about White advantage than Black civil rights. “Whiteness” is understood as property and liberalism is essentially racist.
I admit I struggle with this theoretical position. It ignores nuanced differences between bias and prejudice, for instance. It begins with an essentially racist belief that all Whites are racist and then seeks to establish this as the underlying truth of the theory.
Thus far in my research, it seems to fail to address the existential responsibility of individuals to achieve, choosing instead to blame “Whiteness” for the failure of Black communities to succeed.
CRT uses subjective narrative to support its claims. Personal stories of racist encounters with Whites reinforce the theory. Yet, I would hope we might know that anecdotal evidence is highly subjective and often is self-serving.
There is no doubt in my mind that racism exists in America and elsewhere in the world. It exists within all races and ethnic groups, Black, White, Asian, Native American. I believe it is important, essential, to recognize our own prejudices and biases, and work to extinguish them. But I don’t believe one racist point of view cancels another either. It is critically important that we each examine our own lives, the choices we make, the values we hold, and how we comport ourselves. Black Lives Matter and how we understand this, as Whites and Blacks, is critically important. In my opinion it is not helpful to use one racial stereotype to confront another.
May we each find a way to live in harmony.


An addendum:
What are the limits to our responsibility, both personal and collective for our parents and parents parents behavior? Do we or should we, bear personal or collective responsibility for past generations?
I believe our personal responsibility begins with our own attitudes and behavior, but also how we deal with our parent’s attitudes and behaviors. While we can say our parents helped shape us, that shape is our responsibility.
My mother was prejudiced against Cubans as we lived through the Cuban mass immigration. As I had Cuban friends and neighbors, I knew them differently from my mother and rejected her prejudice. I think my early exposure and reaction to overt racism and prejudice allowed me to work hard to free myself from it: a lifelong process.
Prejudice and hate literally make me sick, I feel it viscerally. I confront anti-semitism, racial hatred, sexism, and any other form of prejudice as directly as I am able, including that which I may uncover in myself. I believe this is our responsibility to do.
I do not believe I am responsible for my ancestor’s behavior, but do believe I hold some responsibility in addressing its consequence. Why? Because I am a citizen and member of a diverse society. How is it not my responsibility to make our world a better place?

Tuesday, December 8, 2020


 With palms together,

Today, December 8th, is the day in history Siddhartha became the Buddha, the Enlightened One. We call it Rohatsu, "the eighth day of the twelfth month." It is said, after practicing zazen under a tree, on the eighth morning he looked up and saw the morning star and in that instant became fully awake: "Anutarra Samyak Sambodhi" complete unexcelled awakening.

He saw all things in the entire universe were one, as Master Dogen Zenji puts it, "one bright pearl." He saw that time and space were one so he saw the past and future in the same moment. These realizations were 'deeply profound and minutely subtle.' Getting up from his seat he believed it would be impossible to teach such things. No one would understand him.

Yet, as he walked away from the tree and met some former friends, they noticed something had changed in him. These friends were seekers of the way, as well, and wanted to learn. They convinced him to teach and so he did with his first teaching being the Four Noble Truths; life is suffering because we are attached to things, there is a way to end this suffering and the way is the eightfold noble path, a "middle" way," a way between extremes.

Today, it seems to me, we all might accept this truth: extremes of any sort are problematic, if not destructive. Releasing ourselves from being overly invested in things, realizing we are all together living on the same planet, breathing the same air, may be our way of growing closer together, uniting as one family, to become more caring and compassionate.

Winter has always been a time when the light is low and we look to renew ourselves by bringing the light of hop into our world. Lets all do that this month and maybe, just maybe, the darkness eclipsing our societal sun will be lifted.