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Quote of the Week: Melody Ermachild Chavis

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Melody Ermachild Chavis is a private investigator, a longtime Zen practitioner at Berkeley Zen Center, and a writer. She is the author of two wonderful books that more people should know about: Altars in the Streets: A Courageous Memoir of Community and Spiritual Awakening and Meena: Heroine of Afghanistan.

In her role as a private investigator, she has worked on trials and appeals for inmates on Death Row in California, including Jarvis Jay Masters. In this excerpt from her essay, “Seeking Evil, Finding Only Good” (found in the anthology Not Turning Away), Melody reflects on the complexities of “guilt” and karma:

At first, my new client might seem guilty of something terrible. But that first impression gets complicated as the story of his life unfolds. I go out to interview witnesses, and in the listening, I become a witness. I find some more people who are “guilty” too — perhaps parents whose love failed.

As I work, the guilt in my client that seemed so solid begins to come apart in my hands. All I can find in the end are causes and conditions in an endlessly tangled web. Investigating any life, one sees how currents coming from very far away can meet within a person: echoes of a long-ago massacre, hurts barely spoken, then a dark street, a shout, a bullet — a lethal moment.

Does this mean that responsibility lies nowhere? No. We are each responsible for what we set into motion. Yet we can never isolate one current of karma from the ocean of creation.

About Maia

I've been practicing and studying the Buddha way since 1994, and exploring the question "What is engaged Buddhism?" since the late 90s. As former executive director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and editor of its journal, Turning Wheel, I had the honor of meeting and working with many practitioners of engaged dharma, including Roshi Joan Halifax, Joanna Macy, Alan Senauke, and Robert Aitken Roshi. I write about socially engaged Buddhism on my blog, "The Jizo Chronicles," as well as on the theme of personal and collective freedom on my website, "The Liberated Life Project." Through my Five Directions Consulting, I offer support to individuals and organizations who aspire to integrate awareness into their work.

4 responses »

  1. Ah, the perennial “Freedom vs. Determinism” issue. She takes the
    “Yes, responsible” position!” which is the whole point of debating “Freedom vs. Determinism”. And our position on “responsibility” has a role on our positions on “justice” and “punishment”.

    We are inevitably interwoven — as her immersion experience and writing clearly display.

  2. her use of language is absolutely stunning. such a lush way to describe the rich experience.

  3. Pingback: Quote of the Week: Melody Ermachild Chavis | The Jizo Chronicles

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