Saturday, February 06, 2016


The very first book I ever read by a dharma teacher was Stephen Levine’s Who Dies?, given to me by a friend in 1988, almost two years to the day before I met Howie and became his student. Stephen’s son Noah was rebellious and given to drug use and violence. After hitting bottom, he turned to meditation himself, and went on to give birth to the Dharma Punx, or Against the Stream, movement. Stephen Levine himself died less than a month ago.

Among Noah’s wild friends was Vinny Ferraro, who teaches in San Francisco. Thinking to expand my dharma horizons, on Friday night I went over to meditate with Against the Stream. They have a space at Folsom and 23rd St. where it appears Vinny is the main teacher, but other teachers are also featured.

I think there’s a stated age range which stops well short of my age, but I know people older than myself who say they go there and feel welcome. Generally speaking, there were a lot of young people—in their 20s or 30s—and they didn’t appear as well-heeled as the younger people at Howie’s, most of whom are probably tech workers.

I saw three people I knew from Howie’s, including one who was also there for her first time. I sat next to a woman I know from Howie’s, who asked what I do. I told her about the job I’m losing, and then, since we had plenty of time before the evening began, I told her about my aspirations in regard to chaplaincy, which were in fact faltering at that moment; I almost didn’t mention chaplaincy because of it. She told me there is a man who goes to Eugene Cash’s Sunday night meditation group who is a chaplain. We chatted on, and then she said, “Oh—and there he is.”

I went over and introduced myself to this Buddhist chaplain, who immediately agreed to chat with me further. He said his path to chaplaincy had been unorthodox (as mine will be, if it happens at all) and that it might be helpful to hear about, and also that if I get a CPE interview, he’ll be happy to help me prepare for it.

Vinny’s talk was on the five hindrances (grasping, aversion, sleepiness, restlessness, doubt), which he said he had “practiced with a monastic discipline.” He’s funny, and very colorful in expressing himself—a perfect teacher for his students, I imagine. He used a phrase I had heard verbatim from Steve Armstrong, a teacher I admire very much, and another couple of phrases that unmistakably pointed to Sayadaw U Tejaniya, so I felt right at home.

He talked about needing to sit in the fire, which caused me to realize that that is precisely what I’ve been hoping to skip in this career transition. The second I got my notice, I was off like a shot in the direction of chaplaincy. Now that I’m finding out more about what is involved, what the education might cost and how long it might take, and also since I added up my savings and found out they’re actually going down rather than up, there is definite emotional discomfort, which is highly undesired. I want this to be easy, not necessarily regarding tasks to be accomplished, but in feeling certain I’m going in the right direction, but I’m not certain of that. Plus, I did just lose a job that I considered to be an excellent one, and there is no way to avoid some difficult feelings about that. So I was inspired by Vinny’s reminder.

Regarding doubt, he offered that it can arise when love of ourselves or others falters, which I’d never heard before. I’m experimenting with sending myself metta (loving-kindness) when I feel doubt about my direction and it does seem to be rather helpful.

He said that he was in the group when Noah Levine went on his first long retreat in India, where they learned how England had colonized India and introduced the game of golf, failing to take into account the monkeys who found it good sport to run off with the little round balls. Chasing the monkeys was futile and the monkeys were easily able to climb fences, and so a new rule was adopted: wherever the monkey drops the ball, that’s where play begins anew. An excellent dharma reminder: Play the ball where the monkey dropped it.
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