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Posts Tagged ‘Oneness

The Haiku Path

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Zen Garden Path

Photo: Nathan Adams/Flickr

Go to the pine if you want to learn about the pine, or the bamboo if you want to learn about the bamboo. And in doing so, you must leave your subjective preoccupation with yourself. Your poetry issues of its own accord when you and the object have become one – when you have plunged deep enough into the object to see something like a hidden glimmering there. However well-phrased your poetry may be, if the object and yourself are separate – then your poetry is not true poetry but a semblance of the real thing.

— Bashō

Introduction

Haiku is about inter-being.

The word “interbeing” originated with the Vietnamese Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh. It means: everything is in everything else. We experience this reality through mindfulness, through Being in the Here and Now. One life-energy is permeating everything.

Haiku means letting this energy/life/reality write itself.

Or, to put it simply: A haiku records an immediate experience of life.

Haiku writing is sometimes called a way of life, rather than an art. It could also be described as a way of seeing, listening, being.

Because haiku writing is rooted in experience, the best time to compose a haiku poem is right after the event. But the experience comes first! Only afterwards, when it is recalled, as vividly as possible, we can put it into words that convey, as directly as possible, what happened.

A. The Spirit of Haiku Writing

Don’t follow in the footsteps of the old poets – seek what they sought.

— Bashō

The haiku spirit expresses:

• Simple awareness of the present

• Living this moment to the full

• Experiencing the flow of life energy

Calm winter evening:
A fishing boat returns
Laden with the sun

— T. Horiuchi

Haiku should be egoless – no self. One forgets the separate self in simple awareness. No self- centered sentimentality.

The bell fades
the fragrance of blossoms remains
this quiet evening

— Bashō

Avoid personal or possessive pronouns (especially I/me/my). In Japanese haiku, there is very little direct expression of emotion. The poet describes that which s/he experiences, not how s/he feels about it.

The longest night
more time now
for counting stars

— Barbara Campitelli

However, there is often an indirect expression of emotion, especially the feelings engendered by ephemeral beauty, such as cherry blossoms, and the transitory nature of life:

Autumn by the lake
waves come and wash away
all footprints.

— Sarah Paris

Haiku is neither analytic nor judgmental. There are no comparisons. Haiku, as opposed to much of traditional Western poetry, does not employ metaphor, but describes what is here and now.

Through white cotton fields,
lifting toward the sunset,
a golden river.

— Richard Wright

Most of the time, haiku employs simple, descriptive words to describe an experience in the present (“cool evening”, “spring rain”, “grandmother’s quilt”). Avoid judgmental words (“amazing”, “frightening”) or abstract concepts (“eternity”, “consciousness”.)

Because there is such emphasis in haiku writing on simple, direct experience, the impression is sometimes created that a haiku is merely a short description of a pretty image. This is incorrect. A haiku aims to convey a deep, direct, non-dual experience.

If the experience is missing, the result will be a superficial description, not a haiku.

An example:

The red carnation:
leaves are light and feathery,
it smells of earth.

Communion

If haiku is practiced with the goal of achieving non-dual consciousness, the concept of “communion” is an essential element. This element is inherent in Zen-influenced classic haiku, but not often stressed in Western haiku.

Haiku as a spiritual practice will reflect an increasingly non-dualistic consciousness. In the poem, this often manifests as two or more different elements in communion through
one force, one movement, one flow.

The stillness:
Into the rock it pierces –
the cry of the cicada.

— Bashō

Note the two elements (stillness, cry) inter-being in the same flow of energy (both the stillness and the cry of the cicada are experienced as “piercing the rock”.)

Other examples:

Touching
the fishing line –
the summer moon.

— Chiyo-ni

The tennis court is filled
with balls coming and going
and the butterfly.

— T. Kawamata

Rain… Rain!
And countless frog’s voices
fill the river

— Anne Rees Anderson

B. The Techniques of Haiku Writing

1. Form

A haiku has three short lines with either:

a) 2-3-2 accented syllables (plus any number of unaccented ones), or
b) 5-7-5 syllables, or
c) free verse.

Examples of 2-3-2 accented syllables (plus any number of unaccented ones):

May rainstorm –
flowers bend as snails
pass in procession

— Janet Schroder

Listening with another
To the music of the mountain stream;
There is no other.

— Hando

Many English-language haiku poets use a system of 5-7-5 syllables (accented or not). This
system has the advantage of simplicity.

In the autumn dusk
A spider patiently darns
A hole in a wall.

— Richard Wright

The system of 2-3-2 accented syllables offers the advantage of greater flexibility and more naturalness. The natural rhythm of English and English poetry arises from its accented syllables. This is very different from Japanese, where typically each syllable is accented.

How to decide which syllables are accented? Usually, by reciting the lines aloud, the accents become clear. However, in haiku, it is mainly meaning which determines whether a word will be accented or not.

Fresh new
cyclamen leaves are peeking through
the autumn soil.

— Sheila Wyatt

Most of the time, articles (the, a, an), pronouns (he, you, this), conjunctions (and, but, when), prepositions (from, near) and helper verbs such as can, will, has, etc. do not carry accents.

Whether or not to use 2-3-2 accents or 5-7-5 syllables or simply three very short lines is up the individual. There are no right or wrongs or absolutes. All three forms are in common use in English-language haiku writing.

2. Present Tense

Because haiku deals with the present moment, haiku poetry is almost always written in the present or present perfect tense.

graduation …
a thousand chairs wait in the
drizzling rain.

— Mary Joyce

3. Language and Style

Haiku uses a minimum of words.

Old Pond
A frog jumps in –
sound of water.

— Bashō

This is one of the most famous haiku ever written, and the last line in particular has been translated in many different ways to indicate “sound of water” (see: One Hundred Frogs, in the suggested reading list at the end of this document.) It also has spawned a host of haiku alluding to it:

Placid waters
sitting still and serene
waiting for the frog

— Carolyn Franklin

NOTE: Sly humor, as in the above example, can be incorporated into haiku. However, haiku that are solely intended to be jokes (like the famous series of “spam haiku”, or the equally popular series of haiku about computer breakdowns), are not actually considered haiku, but fall under the category of senryu, humorous haiku-style poetry.

Use evocative, specific, concrete words:

On the Snowmass slope
even the magpies on the fence
sit in silence

“Cistercian Monastery”

— Hando

As in the above example, it is acceptable to use a title to indicate the context of the haiku.

Often, the words will convey layers of meaning:

Footprints in the sand
to here and there and nowhere
and the gull flying

— Hando

Repetition of the same sound is often used to express a feeling:

A gray dawn
again, and again the call
of the mourning dove

— Sarah Paris

Internal rhyme and alliteration can add to the beauty of a haiku.:

A long winter rain:
a whistling old man whittles
a dream on a stick

— Richard Wright

NOTE: Rhymes at the end of lines, as in traditional Western poetry, are not typical of haiku and tend to sound out of place.

4. Traditional Techniques and Grammar

Classic Japanese haiku usually contain a word or phrase that indicates a specific season:

On the bare branch
the crow has settled
autumn evening

— Bashō

Kireji – “pause” or “cutting” words – are often used in Japanese haiku to indicate uncertainty or a question or an accent. The are usually at the end of a line and heighten the emotion of the poem. In English, this effect is often produced by the use of punctuation. A semi-colon, for instance, cuts a sentence into two parts, with equal emphasis on both parts.

Last light
over the bay; the pelicans
are flying home

— Sarah Paris

A dash (–) emphasizes and adds to what follows.

mackerel sky
at sunset – a scattering
of childhood dreams.

— Pat Tompkins

Free grammatical structure is common, including abbreviation, free use/switching of subject-object, incomplete sentences, etc.

now only the sound
of snowflakes falling
New Year’s morning

— Barbara Campitelli

5. Presentation

Haiku, like most poetry, are meant to be heard, rather than read on a page. After writing a haiku down for the first time, it is helpful to read it aloud a few times and listen to how it sounds – this will often reveal whether or not the haiku “works”.

When they are formally presented to a group, haiku are always read aloud twice. This helps those who listen to get a better understanding – often, the deeper meaning is revealed only after hearing the haiku for the second time.

IN A NUTSHELL:

• Remember that a haiku is a poem that expresses your experience of everyday life. Therefore, be attentive to the here and now.

• Contemplate even ordinary things and events closely. Unseen wonders will reveal
themselves.

• Let yourself become one with that which you contemplate. Identify yourself with it.

• There is joy hidden in everything. “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”  — Gerald Manley Hopkins

• Then express your experience in three short lines. Keep working on your haiku until it says just what you want.

However, always remember that your experience is the heart of haiku. Keep returning to
your experience of life all the time you are working on your poem.

— Hando

Note:  Hando is the Japanese name of Fr. Thomas Hand, S.J., who studied Japanese haiku during the 29 years he lived and worked in Japan. Hando taught the writing of English-language haiku both in Japan and the United States for many years, and he founded and led the Mercy Center Four Seasons Haiku Kai (haiku group) until his passing in 2005.

Written by MattAndJojang

May 22, 2020 at 10:15 am

Blue Mountain, White Cloud

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Blue Mountain White Cloud

The blue mountain is the father of the white cloud.
The white cloud is the son of the blue mountain.
All day long they depend on each other, without being dependent on each other.
The white cloud is always the white cloud.
The blue mountain is always the blue mountain.

-Zen Master Dongshan Lianjie

Written by MattAndJojang

October 21, 2019 at 10:51 am

Light Playing On Children’s Faces

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Photo: pexels.com

 

Out of nowhere, the mind comes forth.

–The Diamond Sutra

Usually people work hard to make things happen. Yet it might be that things happen by themselves, coming out of nowhere. Here’s a story about understanding coming out of nowhere for a child in kindergarten.

Some of the old school buildings in Los Angeles had high ceilings and clerestory windows. A boy was sitting at his little chair in kindergarten when he saw the yellow light coming in through the high windows. Dust motes swirled in the beam of light. He noticed how bright they were and kept watching; then, suddenly there was no distance between him and the light. He disappeared. He didn’t know how long he was gone; there was no time. When he heard a voice calling, he didn’t recognize the name at first; it didn’t have anything to do with him. Then he heard the other children laughing and wondered what they were laughing about. It was the teacher calling him. After that, the things he saw were beautiful in themselves. Faces seemed more real, and what was real was beautiful. He didn’t really have a name anymore; he was the beam of light. And it didn’t have to be a beam of light. It could be a Coke can or another child, and he would feel that connection. His sense of yours and mine had shifted to something like, “My hamburger is yours, your house is mine.” When the grownups around him fought and argued, he felt sad for them, that they didn’t understand, and couldn’t see what he could see…

The child’s mind is not free because it’s a child’s mind; it’s just free because it’s free. Here is another example of the free mind at work. Usually, people think of death as very important and gruesome. Yet if you are identified with the background, the inconceivable nowhere that the foreground came out of, death might not be a terribly significant event. It might not mean what you expect it to mean. When her mother was dying, a friend took her young son back to his grandmother’s home. The grandmother had a special bed with a railing around it. The boy couldn’t walk yet but would cruise along using tables and the bed railing to hold himself up as he went. The two women watched him. He looked very cute, which was their word for thusness. The dying woman said, “Oh, I’ll always remember that.”

If children can have a natural clarity, you might too, even if you remember no operatic enlightenment experience. There might be no good reason for this clarity; it could be something that just is the case, like a tree, like life. All you would need to do is to notice that things are clear, or to throw overboard the idea that things are not already clear. You could find that courses of action appear to you out of nowhere just the way the next moment does. Your navigation could unfold by itself, and the universe might provide the beauty and happiness you seek.

When you forget your carefully assembled fiction of who you are, you can find a natural delight in people, in the planet, the stones, and the trees. There is no observable limit to this beauty, and no one is excluded from it. Then, if you are fighting an enemy, you may be fighting them as well as you can, but you won’t be a true believer. You will know that an enemy is not truly other and that the fighting is some kind of misunderstanding. The worries that lead to quarrels may still be present, but they are not the main thing. Your problems could be a kind of dream, very powerful when you are in it, and yet a dream. You might notice that, even deep in dreaming, you are near to waking up. And the more you are awake, the kinder the world might seem.

–John Tarrant

Written by MattAndJojang

November 14, 2018 at 10:14 am

Moon in a Dewdrop

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To what shall
I liken the world?
Moonlight, reflected
In dewdrops,
Shaken from a crane’s bill.

–Dogen

Written by MattAndJojang

November 3, 2017 at 11:28 am

No Man Is An Island

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Photo: Doug88888/Flickr

Photo: Doug88888/Flickr

Nothing ever exists entirely alone. Everything is in relation to everything else.

~ Buddha

Written by MattAndJojang

April 7, 2013 at 9:16 am

The Vision at Louisville

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Yesterday, in Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, suddenly realized that I loved all the people and that none of them were or could be totally alien to me. As if waking from a dream—a dream of my separateness, of the “special” vocation to be different. My vocation does not really make me different from the rest of men or put me in a special category except artificially, juridically. I am still a member of the human race, and what more glorious destiny is there for man, since the Word was made flesh and became, too, a member of the Human Race!

Thank God! Thank God! I am only another member of the human race, like all the rest of them. I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

~ Thomas Merton

Written by MattAndJojang

March 19, 2012 at 4:39 pm

If You Want To Be a Rebel, Be Kind

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Pancho Ramos Stierle Meditating At The Occupy Oakland Raid Site

The police had declared Monday, November 14th of 2011 as the day of the raid on the Occupy Oakland encampment.  It was the first Occupy site to call for a general strike that shut down the fifth largest port in the country; it was also the first Occupy gathering to report a shooting and a murder, as police violence also reached new heights.  With tensions mounting amidst political chaos, police escalated their violent crackdowns and the narrative of fear.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent in preparation for the raid, police from around the state were called in, and uncertainty filled the air.

The night before, Pancho Ramos Stierle heard about growing tensions in the community and thought, “If police are stepping up their violence, we need to go and step up our nonviolence.”  So on that Monday morning at 3:30AM, Pancho and his housemate Adelaja went to the site of the Occupy Oakland raid.  With an upright back and half-lotus posture, they started meditating.  Many factions of protesters were around but the presence of strong meditators changed the vibe entirely.  Around 6:30AM, the police showed up in full force.  Full-out riot gear, pepper spray, rubber bullets, tear gas.  All media was present, expecting a headline story around this incredibly tense scene.  Instead, they found 32 people, all peaceful, with Pancho and Adeleja meditating with their eyes closed in the middle of the Plaza.  As the police followed their orders of arresting them, people took photos — particularly of two smiling meditators surrounded by police looking like they’re ready to go to war.  Within a day, that photo would spread to millions around the world, as Occupy Oakland raid ended without any reported violence.

One such experience can be enough for a lifetime.  For Pancho, though, this is just run of the mill.  In small ways and big, he is always looking to step up his compassion in the most unexpected places.

Raised in Mexico, Pancho was fascinated by the stars, planets, and galaxies.  He would always look up in outer space and admire the border-less cosmos that we inhabit; and he’d imagine looking down at Planet Earth from outer space — and not seeing any lines across countries.  He envisioned a world of oneness and unity, and when he got a full scholarship to study the cosmos at University of California at Berkeley, his vision got a huge boost.  He moved to Berkeley to pursue his PhD in Astrophysics.

On campus one day, he serendipitously engages in a profound hallway conversation with a janitor.  It opens his eyes to the janitor’s incredibly difficult life.  Something awakens in him, as he actively starts looking for solutions.  “I saw that instead of PhD’s, what the world needs more are PhDo’s,” Pancho recalls.

As time went on, Pancho realizes that his research supports an institution that actively proliferates nuclear weapons.  That tips him over the edge.  Not only did he stop cooperating with the university system, he starts raising a dissenting voice.

When his complains fall on deaf ears, he partakes in a nine-day fast with other students and professors across California to request an open dialogue with the UC Regents — the governing body of the University of California.  The fast cultimates at a public hearing of the Regents.  When the student request is denied, they lock arms in nonviolent protest and sit peacefully. To disengage them, the police are ordered to make an example of one of them.  They lift up this man, slam him to the ground, put a knee on his neck, twist his arms behind his back and handcuff him ruthlessly.  Supporters start shouting at the overt show of inhumane behavior towards a fragile student who hadn’t eaten a single morsel of food for nine days.  That man was none other than Pancho.

The story would end there, except that Pancho’s strength resided beyond his body.  “It was excruciating pain,” Pancho recalls.  Perhaps the police officer picked on Pancho because of his small and skinny frame, but the outer force is no match for Pancho’s inner might.  The injustice is obvious, but Pancho knew that the officer is not to blame.  In a completely unrehearsed move of raw compassion, Pancho, with all the love in his heart, looks directly into the police officer’s eyes, and says, “Brother, I forgive you.  I am not doing this for me, I am not doing this for you.  I am doing it for your children and the children of your children.”  The overflowing love coming from the heart of this man on a nine-day fast is unmistakable.  This is not the kind of encounter that police are trained in.  Seeing his confusion, Pancho steps up his empathy and changes the topic.  Looking at the last name on his badge, he asks for the officer’s first name.  And addressing him as a family member, he says, “Brother, let me guess, you must like Mexican food.”  [Awkward pause.] “Yes.”  “Well, I know this place in San Francisco that has the best carnitas and fajitas and quesadillas, and I tell you what, when I get done with this and you get done with this, I’d like to break my fast with you. What do you say?”

The police officer is completely flabbergasted, his humanity irrevocably invoked. He accepts the invitation!  Dropping eye contact gently, he then walks around Pancho and voluntarily loosens his handcuffs.  In silence.  By now, all of Pancho’s comrades — twelve of them — are also in handcuffs, so the officer then goes around to loosen everyone else’s handcuffs too.

There are those who use anger, sarcasm and parody to confront unjust action.  Pancho does it with just the simple — and radical — power of love.   If he had a superpower, that would be it.  He is a fearless soldier of compassion, unconditionally willing to hold up a fierce mirror of love.

For Pancho, the whole World, every moment, is his field of practice.  When he was recently asked what nourishes him, his response was clear: meditation and small acts of kindness.  Meditation deepens his awareness while small acts of kindness deepens his inter-connectedness.  Or as Pancho would sum it up, “Meditation is the DNA of the kindness revolution.”   Ever since he first went to a meditation retreat, he has continued to meditate everyday.  “Pancho 2.0” is what he calls himself since then.  It was as if he discovered a new technology to battle our burning world.

Spirituality often sees activism as unnecessarily binding, while activism often sees spirituality as a navel-gazing escape.  For Pancho, though, the two paths merge into one.  Meditation is internal service, while service is external meditation.

In Arizona, when Pancho is arrested for protesting immigration laws that President Obama called unconstitutional, he smiles peacefully for his mug shot. The Sheriff yells out an order: “Stop smiling.”  Immediately, it mirrors the ridiculousness of the request.  Several years ago, some of Pancho’s friends lived in a tree to ignite a conversation around “chopping down 300 year old trees in 30 minutes”.  When the authorities put a barricade around the tree to starve the tree-sitters, Pancho shows up to meditate and spread “metta” (loving kindness) to all those around him.  While sitting peacefully under the tree, he is arrested.  His offense quite literally read: “Disturbing the peace.”

Ultimately, it was in Gandhi that Pancho found his greatest role model for social change.  Perhaps for the first time, history had seen someone manifest seismic systemic shifts in the world solely through the power of inner transformation.  Gandhi opposed unjust action, not just without violence but with radical love for everyone including the person doing the harm; and for every act of resistance, he advocated nine more actions for constructive social change.

“Nonviolence isn’t just a philosophy of resistance.  It is a way of life.  Nonviolence is the thoughts we have, the words that we use, the clothes that we wear, the things that we say.  It is not just an absence of violence, not even just the absence of wanting to cause harm.  Nonviolence is a state when your heart is so full of love, compassion, kindness, generosity and forgiveness that you simply don’t have any room for anger, frustration or violence,” Pancho describes.

When Pancho stopped cooperating with the University of California system, he lost his student visa.  In light of his courage, more than a dozen people offered to help reinstate his status.  He appreciated the gesture but chose to stay undocumented.  More than being in one geographical location or another, he was more interested in blooming wherever he was planted.  Now, all of a sudden, being “undocumented”, he got an experiential insight into what that meant for 11 million people living in the United States; he couldn’t work, he couldn’t have a bank account or a credit card, he couldn’t own anything and he’d have to work low-wage labor jobs, without any insurance, just to survive.

Here is someone capable of being a rocket scientist, whose father is an Economics scholar and author in Mexico, who chooses to live without any financial currency — just so he can be of service to his struggling brethren.  He is sustained purely by social capital.  His tendency to constantly seek to be helpful earns him many friends, who would host him one day of the week.  And on days that he didn’t have a host, he’d just live out in the woods (“Redwood Cathedral” as he calls it).  Such details don’t matter much for Pancho.  All his possessions fit into one bag pack, as his life organizes around doing acts of service.

When Pancho learned about the troubled situation in his neighboring East Oakland, he was quite moved.  Rife with gang warfare, it is an area that most people have written off.  Every week, residents hear the sounds of gun shots being fired — and that’s no exaggeration.  It’s a community with 53 liquor stores and no grocery stores.  The tensions between the police and the community have continued to escalate, while traditional civic programs haven’t made much of a dent.

So Pancho decides to do something about it, with an altogether different framework.  Instead of helping from the outside, he wanted to become one of them; instead of just receiving external aid, he wondered if the community could not only discover undiscovered gifts but then share them freely with others.

With a few like-hearted friends, Pancho rents a house right on the border of two gangs.  They call their home “Casa de Paz” — house of peace.  The shared values of the house include 2 hours of daily meditation, no drinking, and a vegan diet.  And no locks on the doors — anyone can come in any time.

Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, they meditate and do yoga at the local Cesar Chavez park (which has been home to several shootings in recent months).  People have all kinds of reactions to their public meditations.  One time, a mildly drunk man with bloodshot eyes is roaming the park with his girlfriend.  Initially, they smirk and make snide remarks but then as they approach Pancho and his two housemates sitting in crossed legged meditation, Pancho opens his eyes with a loving embrace.  As Pancho reaches to grab something from his bag, the man instinctively reached for something (possibly a gun) in his pocket.  “Brother, here’s a fresh, local, organic strawberry for you,” Pancho said while holding up the edible, red-colored gift from Nature.

On another occasion, their neighbor’s teenage daughter attempts to commit suicide, on a Friday afternoon.  The sounds of sirens create a mild panic in the community but for Pancho and his housemates, it is another opportunity to spread love.  They show up to comfort their neighbors, with a kettle of hot tea, as the family shares their troubles.  Over the next month, that same teenage girl becomes a friend and gets interested in the farming projects at Casa de Paz.

Almost everyday, they facilitate these transformations.  Another time, a few young boys boisterously smash empty alcohol bottles on the streets, just as a prank.  Instead of cringing in fear, Pancho runs outside, barefoot.  The boys could see him and vice-versa, and instead of anger, Pancho humbly bends down and starts picking up the pieces of broken glass.  Something about that act took the kids by surprise, as they slowly returned back.  “Brother, you see that house over there?  They have a young one, and when he walks out on the street, we don’t want them to get hurt,” Pancho explains to them in fluent Spanish.  One thing after another, the kids themselves start helping pick up the broken pieces — and make role models of these love warriors on their street.

In isolation, these are small stories.  Yet, collectively, its impact adds up.  It binds the community, it creates new connections, it fills the gaps.  Its like the silence in between the notes that allows the music to be heard.

“A lot of people talk their talk, but very few can walk their walk.  Living in that community is hard, but living at Casa de Paz is even harder.  They simply refuse to compromise their values, even in small ways, when no one else is looking.  One time, I told them that perhaps their precepts were a bit too tough, and Pancho opened up a book and showed me 11 observances that Gandhi upheld at his ashram.  I couldn’t say anything to that,” remembers Kanchan Gokhale, a long-time friend.

One of those observances is Silent Mondays.  In the tradition of Gandhi, Pancho is silent every Monday.  Even on that November 14th, the day of the Occupy Oakland raid which happened to be a Monday, Pancho stays silent on principle.  As the riot police arrest him, he writes a comment on a piece of paper: “On Mondays, I practice silence.  But I’d like you to hear that I love you.”  The officer smiles.  How could you not?

“On the face of it, Pancho doesn’t own anything.  Yet, he is one of the most generous people I’ve ever met,” says another friend, Joanna Holsten.

How can you give, when you don’t have anything?  That paradox is what makes Pancho shine.  When a friend asked him about service, he took her to a local Farmers Market with two chairs.  She sat on one chair, and put a sign on the other chair: “Free listening.”  When Pancho and his friends saw unused fruit in their neighbor’s backyards, they requested to “glean” the fruit and then gift it to strangers: “This is a gift from East Oakland.”  On a recent Sunday, they gave away 250 pounds of fresh, organic oranges that way.

That creative generosity, a kind of “giftivism”, takes all kinds of forms for Pancho.

Of the 32 people arrested at Occupy Oakland, 31 were sent home on the same day, with a misdemeanor charge.  Pancho, however, is held for deportation.  Very quickly, he becomes an iconic symbol for all that is wrong with the dominant paradigm.  Within two days, twenty thousand people sign a petition to free Pancho.  At his court arraignment, a large group of people show up to meditate — which has never happened in that courthouse, and again confuses all the police in riot-gear who are themselves drawn to the circle.  People from around the world call the sheriffs and congress representatives.  Media everywhere reports the story. Vigils are held by many around the globe.  By the end of the four days, Alameda County D.A. drops all criminal charges and ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) releases Pancho from jail, without any bail.  No one can really explain the unprecedented move by the authorities.  “It was truly a miracle that he was let go,” Marianne Manilove posted on her FaceBook wall.

Francisco Ugarte, Pancho’s pro-bono laywer, happily reported, “They really didn’t know what to do with him.”  He would relay Pancho’s notes from various jails that he was being shuttled to.  “Tell them that I love them all.  (It’s a) great place to meditate!” was his first note to friends and supporters.  Francisco’s second note conveyed this message: “Pancho wanted me to convey to folks that he was, for some reason, identified as a particularly dangerous inmate, wearing a red clothes in jail, and shackled so that the movement of his arms was restrained. The shackles were metal, and surrounded his waist. Apparently, this treatment is reserved only for the most “dangerous” inmates. It is unclear why Alameda County have done this.  But after a short conversation, we agreed that, without a doubt, Pancho was the most dangerous person in Santa Rita Jail — dangerous to the whole system.  As Pancho said, “The most effective weapon against a system based on greed and violence is kindness.”

Kindness is indeed Pancho’s go-to weapon.   When in doubt, be kind.  Even otherwise, be kind.

As Pancho is shackled up in solitary confinement, he creates a makeshift cushion with his shoes and starts meditating.  The guards themselves start taking photos to post on their Facebook walls!  Moved by his equipoise under conditions of extreme stress, some guards even inquire about the specifics of meditation.  One of them befriends him and gifts him an extra “package” — a toothbrush, a toothpaste, a piece of paper and a pen.  Pancho then cleans up his cell of all the litter, toilet paper and other waste; on the piece of paper he writes, “Smile.  You’ve just been tagged with an anonymous act of kindness!”, and leaves that extra toothpaste and toothbrush next to it.  “I wanted to beautify the cell for the next person after me,” he would later say.  Jails didn’t have any vegetarian food, so he smilingly fasted — having two oranges in four days.  He gifts away his ham sandwiches to other inmates, and connects with them in the spirit of generosity too.  In transit, when he has more contact with other prisoners, he educates them about their rights.  With the ICE agent who shackles him, he smilingly says, “Sister, your soul is too beautiful to be doing this kind of work.”  To which she smiled back and responded, “Thank you.”

Really, there’s not much else one can respond with.

When he is released from jail, lots of media houses are frantically looking for him.  Pancho, utterly uninterested in the games of fame, is unreachable.  The man doesn’t even have a phone.  That weekend, like every weekend, the best way to find him was to meditate at Casa de Paz, or volunteer at Karma Kitchen, or farm at the Free Farm Stand.  “Let’s replicate constructive programs,” he would say, while retelling stories of Gandhi.

From anarchists to administrators, people love Pancho — not just because he fiercely stands up for his values but because he is genuinely and constantly moved by love.  Whenever you meet him, he pre-emptively warns, “Hello, my family calls me Pancho.  I’m from the part of the planet we call Mexico and in Mexico, we like to give hugs,” before enveloping you in his trademark embrace.

Former US Marine Jason Kal recalls, “When we first met, I just casually told Pancho that I liked his t-shirt that said ‘ahimsa’ (meaning nonviolence) on it.   The next thing you know, he just takes off his t-shirt and gives it to me.  I was totally speechless.  I’ve never seen anyone do that.”  Today, Jason is Pancho’s housemate at Casa de Paz and a dear friend.

As Pancho often signs off his emails, “If you want to be a rebel, be kind.”

~ Nipun Mehta