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Buddhist Chaplains in Louisiana

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This is a story I’ve been following for a while — a group of students from the Upaya Buddhist Chaplaincy Program returned last week from a trip to Grand Isle, Louisiana. The intention of their trip was to bear witness to the aftermath of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and to respond in whatever way the could.

This post comes from Penny Alsop, one of the group:

The open space of not knowing is one of the three tenets of the Zen Peacemakers lineage. Those who seek to practice this tenet are encouraged to enter into situations, even very difficult and especially familiar ones, with an openness to what arises. We’re asked to let go of fixed ideas and preconceptions in order to pave the way to see things as they are instead of how we think they are; how we wish for them to be.

Much like the distinction between being silent and being mute, there is a difference between not knowing and not caring. Not knowing in this context demands deep involvement. It means holding out for all the limitless possibilities while not clinging to a particular outcome. We are asked to engage wholly with what is right in front of us; just as it’s presented, whether we prefer it or not. Time and time again we make the choice to look with our own eyes and feel with our hearts, letting the judgments, the evaluations, the ideas, the dreams and the dramas take a back seat to being with each unfolding moment.

A number of us, largely Buddhist chaplaincy students, went to the Gulf coast this past week. We chose Grand Isle, LA, as our destination because this little island with only fifteen hundred full time residents has been hard hit by the oil spill. We know that people and animals are struggling there, so we go. We go not knowing for certain that that is enough; if our presence is useful or desired. We go without deliverables or action items. We simply go and set a place at the table with an open invitation.

Not knowing doesn’t allow for the certainty of having helped. We give all that up in favor of being willing to give what is asked for in the moment, whether it is appreciation for perfectly made grits or for working twelve hour shifts, seven days a week to clean oil from boom and sand. We give up the certainty of helping in order to celebrate the opening of shrimping season or the first day that a raft has been sold all summer.

The result of over two million gallons of oil into the Gulf is far from clear and in many ways, this disaster is just beginning. For others, the threat is looming around an ill defined corner. This is a story without a predictable outcome. A story that asks us to go toward it willingly in spite of no assurances; to stand with the inhabitants of the Gulf coast when the reports are missing from the headlines and when we’d like to move on to the next thing.

We can’t be sure of much here except that lives have been turned upside down all along the Gulf coast. They are struggling in ways that we’ll never know if we fail to return over and over again.

Urgent Call to Action: Bodhisattvas Needed in the Gulf Area

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Oil-soaked pelican, Louisiana, May 23, 2010 (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Okay people, it’s triage time. The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is far worse than first thought; the wildlife, marine ecosystem, and the human ecosystems of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and the entire Gulf Coast are being devastated as you read this.

I just read a dispatch this morning from Penny Alsop, one of our amazing students in the Upaya Buddhist Chaplaincy Program. Penny lives in Tallahassee, Florida, and works for the Dept. of Environmental Protection, the lead agency for Florida’s response to the spill. She writes:

“Unrefined crude is toxic. VOC burn off is largely at sea but make no mistake, if you go to the area, it will be uncomfortable, maybe even dangerous, depending on where you go and what you do while there. All warnings say to protect yourself when in direct contact with the oil. For people with respiratory challenges, the affected area is not recommended. [Note from Maia: If you are interested in volunteering, see this website: ]

For others who are unable to go on site, there is plenty, plenty to do. Many people are suffering in innumerable ways. This is a time to include them in your practice, in your hearts and minds with a resounding and steady call for the relief of their suffering.

Many people are at a standstill as far as business goes; some standing to lose businesses that have been in their families for generations. Money will be needed to help support them get over the hump. Start a fund to collect donations to send help.

Friends are needed, directly and indirectly for thousands upon thousands who are going to be affected for a long time to come. Writers, poets, photographers – Google “Love the Gulf” to share your stories.

Chaplains and chaplains-to-be, email me directly ( if you want to be included in plans to go to the affected areas to be with people. If you would like to make a donation to make it possible to help send chaplains to the area, checks can be made out to 3 Smart Girlz and mailed to 400 Capital Circle SE, Suite 18154, Tallahassee, Fl 32301. The company is not a non-profit, so I cannot offer anything that would serve as a tax write off. But, every single penny will go only for the purpose of offsetting expenses for chaplains (and candidates) to go to the region. No one is being paid to do this.

Send your love. Take action anywhere that you can. Look at those pictures of oil covered animals and let it break your heart then take the next steps that make sense to you. Just please do not forget.”

This is huge, and the mahasangha is needed in this effort. There are many ways to help. Penny just gave us some great ideas, which I formatted in bold above. Please let us know what you will do…

May 30. 2010, Note: Some of the text above has been corrected from the original post, based on clarifications from Penny.

Untangling the Tangle: Sea Turtle #15

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The inner tangle and the outer tangle,
this whole world is entangled in a tangle,
and so I ask the Buddha this question,
How does one untangle this tangle?

~ Vissudhimagga

This morning, I drove downtown to pick up croissants and strawberries for some dear friends who are coming for tea later on. Along Alameda Street, I stopped and parked the car to walk out and get a closer look and smell of some beautiful lilac bushes growing in the meridian between the sidewalk and the drop off to the Santa Fe River. The fragrance of the lilacs was nearly lost among the exhaust fumes of the cars and trucks passing by.

Sitting outside on this beautiful day, reading the story about Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle number 15, near Padre Island, TX, in danger from the massive Gulf oil spill. Contemplating my own addiction to oil… this morning’s errand, driven by greed, driven by love…. Who will untangle this tangle?

Watching a spider at work

I vow with all beings

to cherish the web of the universe:

touch one point and everything moves.

~Robert Aitken Roshi

Bodhisattvas Needed in Louisiana

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photo from U.S. Coast Guard

Here’s the idea of the day, from Hozan Alan Senauke of the Clear View Project: How about a Buddhist brigade to Louisiana to help with clean up from this huge mess of an oil spill that will hit land soon? The consequences are projected to be devastating.

Here’s a small resource list to get this off the ground:

  • OIL SPILL CLEANUP–To volunteer: 1-866-448-5816.If you have a boat: 425-745-8017. To report oiled wildlife: 1-866-577-1401. Spill-related damages: 1-800-440-0858. (Please repost.)

If you’re interested in connecting with other dharma practitioners who want to go to the Gulf region to volunteer, feel free to comment on this post and find each other.

Who wants to take the ball and run with it?

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