Memories of a Grassroots Man

It has been heartwarming and heartbreaking, inspiring and saddening, all at the same time, to see all the tributes to and news coverage about Native American elder and activist Dennis Banks, in the wake of his passing on 29 October at age 80.

Banks is most well known for having co-founded the American Indian Movement in the late 1960s at a turbulent time in modern history and the many confrontations he led or joined in during that time, most notably the 71-day occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, USA. He was a warrior who stood up when his people most needed him, when the times most demanded it, and for that he will always be remembered and loved.

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In the Spirit of Animals

Do animals have spirits?

If you had asked me such a question some years ago, I probably would have given you some theoretical answer based on things I have read in books or seen in movies or gotten from the Web. But the issue became a very real and personal one for me a year ago, with the passing of our family’s dog, as I wrote about in this blog space.

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A Place Called ‘Motomenai’

The Japanese press reported widely in early January of this year about the recent death of someone I had known fairly well, Shozo Kajima, of old age. He was 92 years old. He was cited in most of the obituaries as the author of a mega-bestselling poetry book titled Motomenai [Not wanting], published in 2007.

But what most of the media here didn’t report in their brief stories on Kajima were the kinds of things I had gotten to know personally about him in recent years: how he had been among the up-and-coming literary figures in Japan after World War II, how he became a renowned scholar and translator of English-language classics (especially by the U.S. author William Faulkner), how he found a new form of expression in watercolor painting, and how, later in life, he rediscovered his Asian roots in the Chinese philosophy of Taoism and had become known as a respected Taoist philosopher in Japan.

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‘A Love Supreme’ at 50

I have given up long ago on making any kind of easily broken New Year’s resolution to mark the arrival of another year, so for 2016 I decided to do something different that will start me off on the right foot and stay with me through the year ahead: choosing my first musical selection of the year.

That, for me, would be the classic jazz album A Love Supreme by John Coltrane. I can think of no better way to start a new year than by sitting down and once again giving a close listen to this magnificent recording that has inspired so many people around the world since it was released back in 1965.

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The Zen of Climate Change

Fifteen of the world’s most well-known Buddhist leaders, potentially representing more than one billion adherents of the spiritual path of Buddhism around the globe, released a public statement on October 29, 2015, calling on world leaders to take urgent, meaningful steps to deal with planetary climate change. Among those those who signed the statement were the renowned Dalai Lama of Tibet and Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.

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In the Spirit of John Trudell

I had recently bought the newest CD release by John Trudell, titled Wazi’s Dream, but had not yet gotten around to listening to it when I heard the news online that the Native American activist/poet/truth teller did not have much longer to live. Prayers were going around for him, and a few days later on December 8, he departed for the spirit world at age 69.

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Healing for the Healer

He is said to be the only person who Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. personally nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Thich Nhat Hanh is a master teacher in the Zen Buddhist religious tradition, an exile from his native Vietnam, an accomplished author and world-renowned peace activist, and the type of person we would all consider to be a good human being.

He is also now, at age 89, bedridden and recovering from a severe stroke that he suffered about a year ago. He has come out of a coma, and with the help of qualified medical professionals and the love of his Buddhist students and colleagues, he is slowly learning to do basic things like move his body and speak words again.

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Of Soil, Soul and Society

Last night in Kyoto I had the humble honor of being in the presence of one of the great philosopher-activists of our time, Mr. Satish Kumar of India. He is currently on a speaking tour of Japan, and I was fortunate to have attended his lecture here to several hundred Japanese audience members. It was a real spiritual boost for me, offering much inspirational food for thought and shining a light of hope in these uncertain times.

Kumar, a former monk of the Jain religion in India and follower of the nonviolence teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, is perhaps best known today as a peace activist, ecologist and editor of the magazine Resurgence based in England, where he lives with his family.

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A Happy 100th Birthday

Here in Japan today, February 2, the life and lifework of an extraordinary figure is being humbly honored and celebrated: farmer and philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka. The 100 years of his life are being commemorated today at The Museum of Art, Ehime, in the southern Japanese city of Matsuyama — not far from the family farm where Fukuoka lived and worked most of his life — with a symposium, musical tribute and video messages.

Though I can’t be there for that official event, I would like to commemorate Fukuoka on my own this weekend by reflecting on his life and remembering how, in his way, he helped changed the world. It would be no exaggeration to say that at least in the field of agriculture the world over, certainly in the so-called “organic farming movement” that has grown so dramatically the past few decades, Fukuoka has been a leading light and a huge inspiration to many people.

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