from Mountain Record 32.2, Winter 2013-2014


 from Teaching a Stone to Talk 
- by Annie Dillard

The island where I live is peopled with cranks like myself. In a cedar-shake shack on a cliff-—but we all live like this—is a man in his thirties who lives alone with a stone he is trying to teach to talk.

Wisecracks on this topic abound, as you might expect, but they are made as it were perfunctorily, and mostly by the young. For in fact, almost everyone here respects what Larry is doing, as do I, which is why I am protecting his (or her) privacy, and confusing for you the details. It could be, for instance, a pinch of sand he is teaching to talk, or a prolonged northerly, or anyone of a number of waves. But it is, in fact, I assure you, a stone. It is—for I have seen it—a palm-sized oval beach cobble whose dark gray is cut by a band of white which runs around and, presumably, through it; such stones we call “wishing stones,” for reasons obscure but not, I think, unimaginable.

He keeps it on a shelf. Usually the stone lies protected by a square of untanned leather, like a canary asleep under its cloth. Larry removes the cover for the stone’s lessons, or more accurately, I should say, for the ritual or rituals which they perform together several times a day.  

From Teaching A Stone to Talk. Copyright © 1982 by Annie Dillard. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins.



 from Worlds of Wonder  - by Thomas Berry

What do you see? What do you see when you look up at the sky at night, at the blazing stars against the midnight heavens? What do you see when the dawn breaks over the eastern horizon? What are your thoughts in the fading days of summer as the birds depart on their southward journey, or in the autumn when the leaves turn brown and are blown away? What are your thoughts when you look out over the ocean in the evening? What do you see?

Many earlier peoples saw in these natural phenomena a world beyond ephemeral appearance, an abiding world, a world imaged forth in the wonders of the sun and clouds by day and the stars and planets by night, a world that enfolded the human in some profound manner. This other world was guardian, teacher, healer—the source from which humans were born, nourished, protected, guided, and the destiny to which we returned.

Above all, this world provided the psychic power we humans needed in our moments of crisis. Together with the visible world and the cosmic world, the human world formed a meaningful threefold community of existence. This was most clearly expressed in Confucian thought, where the human was seen as part of a triad with Heaven and Earth. This cosmic world consisted of powers that were dealt with as persons in relationship with the human world. Rituals were established whereby humans could communicate with one another and with the earthly and cosmological powers.  

From The Sacred Universe by Thomas Berry, edited by Mary Evelyn Tucker, © 2009 Columbia University Press. Reprinted by permission of Columbia University Press.



 from Piecing It All Together - by bell hooks

Watching quiltmakers do work by hand, I see in their labor an organic practice of mindfulness. Attention is concentrated, focused, repetitive. Sarah Oldham (Baba), mama’s mother, saw in the process of quiltmaking a way for a female to learn patience, the stillness of mind and heart that she would need as a grown woman to tend to work, home, and family. Learning to quilt in girlhood and continuing on into death and beyond, Baba was devoted to the ongoing practice of patience, combining spirituality with creative imagination. In stillness, sitting, sewing, she found herself able to listen more fully to the divine voice speaking, making god visible in the work. Baba was patient but she was not quiet. Creating beauty she found a way to speak, a way that moved beyond words.

Creativity is not quiet. I often experience the urge to create as a rumbling within the depths of my being. Like the tremors before an earthquake to come, that rumbling within me lets me know my senses have been aroused, stirred, that I can move into the imagination as though it is a fierce wave that will sweep me away, carry me to another plane, a place of ecstasy. The root meaning of the word ecstasy is to stand outside—that’s what creativity does, it allows the creator to move beyond the self into a place of transcendent possibility—that place in the imagination where all is possible.  

From Belonging: A Culture of Place. Copyright © 2009 by Taylor & Francis. Reprinted by permission of Routledge.



 The Rupture/The Gulf Spill - by Eve Ensler

At Sloan-Kettering they show it to me on the CAT scan screen: a huge pool of blackness in the center of me—the same day as the Gulf oil spill, the now poisoned Gulf of Mexico somehow inside me. Sixteen ounces of pus. Two point five two million gallons of oil a day. An intra-abdominal abscess. Contamination from postsurgery, postexplosion leaking, the spread of infection to the bloodstream to the ocean. My body is rupturing, shit leaking from where they closed it up, leaking there and spilling, purging—same moment, same day BP exploding rising up, gushing out of me from every orifice, nothing can stop it, trying to shut it down, but not able, there is no stopping it, and it smells putrid, otherworldly, and it fills the bag and I can’t get to the bathroom and the bag explodes and I am puking, my guts still sewn raw from the surgery, and it really hurts.

Symptoms may include abdominal pain, chills, diarrhea, oil penetration destroying the plumage of birds, making them less able to float in the water, less able to escape when being attacked, preening leads to kidney damage, altered liver function, ruptured digestive tracts, lack of appetite, nausea, dolphins spurting oil through their blow holes, rectal tenderness and fullness, seal fur reduced in its insulation abilities, leading to hypothermia, vomiting, weakness.

They need to start the chemotherapy, but they can’t until the infection is gone. I’m too weak and there will be too many complications.  

From In the Body of the World: A Memoir. Copyright © 2013 by Eve Ensler. Reprinted by permission of Metropolis Books, Henry Holt and Company LLC.


 from Memorandum to the Animals - by Amy Leach

And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee. —Genesis 6:19  

Unfortunately, Animals, we are not going to be able to bring all of you with us this time. Last time there were eight humans on board and at least two of each of you; but that was a sentimental era and God was a sentimental fellow, like the old pack rat up the road who won’t give up any of his whim-whams. Bringing two of every sort of creature onto the ark meant bringing all seventeen hundred species of scorpions, and all the blotchy toads and testy wasps and malevolent snakes and countless other creatures as unnecessary as insanity. This time around we are in charge: producing our own cataclysm, designing our own boat, making our own guest list, which does not include Every Living Thing.

That first, ancient boat we have retrospectively christened the Fantasy; today we sail in a boat called Reality. Realistically, logistically, it would be too complex to try and save every single kind of you multitudinous, miscellaneous creatures. Dormitory assignments would be a nightmare, because we don’t know who might eat whom or who might die of social stress.

From Things That Are. Copyright © 2012 by Amy Leach. Reprinted by permission of Milkweed Editions.


 from The Idea of a Local Economy - by Wendell Berry

Let us begin by assuming what appears to be true: that the so-called “environmental crisis” is now pretty well established as a fact of our age. The problems of pollution, species extinction, loss of wilderness, loss of farmland, loss of topsoil may still be ignored or scoffed at, but they are not denied. Concern for these problems has acquired a certain standing, a measure of discussability, in the media and in some scientific, academic, and religious institutions.

This is good, of course; obviously, we can’t hope to solve these problems without an increase of public awareness and concern. But in an age burdened with “publicity,” we have to be aware also that as issues rise into popularity they rise also into the danger of oversimplification. To speak of this danger is especially necessary in confronting the destructiveness of our relationship to nature, which is the result, in the first place, of gross oversimplification.

The “environmental crisis” has happened because the human household or economy is in conflict at almost every point with the household of nature. We have built our household on the assumption that the natural household is simple and can be simply used. We have assumed increasingly over the last five hundred years that nature is merely a supply of “raw materials,” and that we may safely possess those materials merely by taking them. This taking, as our technical means have increased, has involved always less reverence or respect, less gratitude, less local knowledge, and less skill.

From The Future of Nature: Writing on a Human Ecology from Orion Magazine. Copyright © 2007 by The Orion Society. Reprinted by permission of Milkweed Editions.


 from Arctic Dreams - by Barry Lopez

In the 1930s a man named Benjamin Lee Whorf began to clarify an insight he had had into the structure of the Hopi language. Hopi has only limited tenses, noted Wharf, makes no reference to time as an entity distinct from space, and, though relatively poor in nouns, is rich in verbs. It is a language that projects a world of movement and changing relationships, a continuous “fabric” of time and space. It is better suited than the English language to describing quantum mechanics. English divides time into linear segments by making use of many tenses. It is a noun-rich, verb-poor tongue that contrasts fixed space with a flow of time. It is a language of static space, more suited, say, to architectural description. All else being equal, a Hopi child would have little difficulty comprehending the theory of relativity in his own language, while an American child could more easily master history. A Hopi would be confounded by the idea that time flowed from the past into the present.

In 1936 Wharf wrote that many aboriginal languages “abound in finely wrought, beautifully logical discriminations about causation, action, result, dynamic and energetic quality, directness of experience, etc….” He made people see that there were no primitive languages; and that there was no pool of thought from which all cultures drew their metaphysics. “All observers,” he cautioned, “are not led by the same physical evidence to the same picture of the universe.”

From Arctic Dreams. Copyright © 1986 by Barry Lopez. Reprinted by permission of American Vintage Books.



 from The Heart Attack Sutra - by Karl Brunnholzl

As mentioned before, through the blessing of the Buddha’s samadhi Avalokitesvara also entered samadhi, which is expressed here as

while practicing the profound prajnaparamita

This means that Avalokitesvara, like all bodhisattvas on the path, practiced the enlightening conduct of the six paramitas while abiding in the realization of the dharmadhatu, or emptiness. Thus he engaged in the equality of such realization while in meditative equipoise, and in the conduct outside of formal meditation which is supported and pervaded by that realization. In this way, bodhisattvas engage in the union of prajna and skillful means, or the two accumulations of merit and wisdom. They do so through the ten dharma activities of writing the letters of the dharma, venerating both it and those who proclaim it, practicing generosity for both of these, listening to the dharma, reading it, memorizing it, explaining it to others, reciting it, reflecting on it, and meditating on it.

While being engaged in such practice, the sutra says Avalokitesvara “saw” something, that is,

he saw the five skandhas to be empty of nature.

This means that he saw that all phenomena neither arise nor cease, they never really come into existence in the first place nor do they go out of existence later. This is just like in an illusion or a movie. A person in a movie is fundamentally unarisen. Such a person has no parents, was never born, and does not have any birth certificate or ID.

From The Heart Attack Sutra: A New Commentary on the Heart Sutra. Copyright © 2012 by Karl Brunnholzl. Reprinted by permission of Snow Lion Publications.


 from Treasures from Juniper Ridge - by Padmasambhava (Translated by Erik Pema Kunsang & Marcia Binder Schmidt based on teachings by Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche)

Namo Ghuru.

The master Padmasambhava, whose realization is equal to the truly and completely awakened Samantabhadra, who possessed in his mind all the teachings on the view and meditation and never strayed from the true meaning, was asked by Lady Tsogyal of Kharchen, about all the key points for resolving the realization of descending with the view from above.

The Lady of Kharchen asked the Lotus Master: From where do all that appears and exists, the phenomena of samsara and nirvana, first arise?

The master replied: All that appears and exists, the phenomena of samsara and nirvana, arise from the solidified habitual tendencies of labeling. There are three types of labeling: mental labels, cognitive labels, and verbalized labels. Mental labels make thoughts move; cognitive labels build up habitual tendencies; and verbalized labels manifest the manifold objects. It would therefore be better if you stop labeling.

Lady Tsogyal asked the master: How does one become free from attaching labels? The master replied: When you are free from the thought activity of mental labeling, you will be free from the cognitive labels “good” and “evil.” And when free from that, you will also be free from attaching the names of verbalized labeling. By being free from the multitude of dream habits, you are free from labeling names. By being free from that, you will be free from the label “bardo,” and free from that, you will be free from the label “birth and death.”

From Treasures from Juniper Ridge: The Profound Treasure Instructions of Padmasambhava to the Dakini Yeshe Tsogyal. Copyright © 2008 by Rangjung Yeshe Publications. Reprinted by permission of Rangjung Yeshe Publications.


 from Eating Bowl - by Eihei Dogen

The authentic transmission has been conveyed from beyond the Seven Original Buddhas to the Seven Original Buddhas, from within the Seven Original Buddhas to the Seven Original Buddhas, from the total Seven Original Buddhas to the total Seven Original Buddhas, from the Seven Original Buddhas to the twenty-eight Indian ancestors. Bodhidharma, the Twenty-eighth Ancestor, went to China and gave authentic transmission to Huike, the Second Chinese Ancestor, Great Master Zhengzong Pujiao. This was handed down through six generations and reached Huineng.

Thus, in India and China, the teachers of all fifty-one generations transmitted the treasury of the true dharma eye, the wondrous heart of nirvana—the robes and the eating bowls. Earlier buddhas maintained the authentic transmission of the earlier masters. Thus, authentic transmission has been conducted from buddha to buddha, from ancestor to ancestor.

Accordingly, those who study with buddha ancestors with skin, flesh, bones, and marrow, with fist and eyeball, have their own expressions. Some understand that the eating bowls are the body and mind of buddha ancestors. Some understand that the eating bowls are the rice eating bowls of buddha ancestors. Some understand that the eating bowls are the eyeball of buddha ancestors. Some understand that the eating bowls are the radiant light of buddha ancestors. Some understand that the eating bowls are the true body of buddha ancestors. Some understand that the eating bowls are the treasury of the true dharma eye, the wondrous heart of buddha ancestors.

From Treasury of the True Dharma Eye. © 2010 by San Francisco Zen Center. Reprinted by permission of Shambhala Publications.