A friend of mine led me to this article from the San Francisco Zen Center’s Green Gulch Farm blog

They have a group there called Ecosattvas, which is such a brilliant new term. I really like this. Ever since I discovered the high mountain basin farms of the Chan Monasteries in Southern China, I have been enamored by the sure purity of their consumption cycles. ALMS is a short portrait of that. It shows a community that lives in a sensical, respectful and intimate relationship with their landscape.

When I was a student in Bodh Gaya, I remember watching cows eating up the waste from the little restaurants near the Vihar where I lived with my classmates. The plates were made of a kind of tree leaf. I wish I knew what kind of tree. The bottles and plastic bags had been collected away already, re-used in a million clever ways. Those cows would gobble down all the “waste” from the restaurant and then out back in the grazing area near the river folks gathered up the cow patties in baskets to dry in neat little bricks which in turn were burned in homes and restaurants to cook on.  For the 20-year-old from Ohio, seeing the shear efficiency and purity of this cycle struck me deeply. And it is part of my world ever since.

Posted on April 20, 2013 and filed under Shared Journey.

The Real Work of Life

photo by David Harris

photo by David Harris

From the final interview in Amongst White Clouds: beings in this world live in ignorance… they summon heaven and they summon hell…

Reading in Joanna Macy’s “World as Lover, World as Self”, there is a discussion of systems theory and how it relates to the Buddhist definition of karma. Macy quotes Karl Deutsch: “Each step on the road to ‘Heaven’ or to ‘Hell,’ to harmonious autonomy or to disintegration, was marked by a free decision…” Macy goes on to say that in life’s evanescence, “lies hope and promise. For in the flow of decisions and deeds, choices can be made that open broader vistas to perceive and know, wider opportunities to love and act.”

I feel this is hopeful.  In any given moment, we have the capacity to move one direction or another.  In this sense, I feel we are truly empowered.


Posted on November 15, 2012 and filed under Shared Journey.

The Lens of Engaged Buddhism

Lately I am having conversations about development work, and development filmmaking and I reflect on the Buddha’s definitions of violence, unethical behavior, injustice in the world as the actions of people who are suffering and acting out of that suffering. It sometimes shakes us up to sense that Buddhists can be more concerned with the cause of those terrible things than the terrible things themselves. But where is the line drawn? In the film Crazy Wisdom, when a student asks Chogyam Trungpa what he thinks about the aggression in our world, Trungpa Rinpoche responds, “I want to talk about the aggression in this room!” (quoted from my memory) Is reflection, inward journey and confronting our own demons the starting point for confronting social issues?


Reflecting on the Mahayana concepts of Sunyata and the Bodhisattva ideal, self-cultivation happens in and through suffering in the world. Sometimes this happens in a quiet room sitting on a cushion. Sometimes it means holding steady and confronting something terrible in our world. There must be chances to practice every day at home or in the office or in the street.

I am learning about socially engaged Buddhism and how it brings our practice out into the world. It’s a messy world. And there’s a lot of dust in the air. But as a young Chan monk once told me, quoting his teacher, “we can only see a beam of light by the dust that floats in it.”

I’m reading an amazingly lucid book on Engaged Buddhism by a scholar named Ken Jones, entitled The New Social Face of Buddhism. It is inspiring me to think through my values as a filmmaker. In development filmmaking for example, like the films I make for NGOs here in Vietnam, I believe a film is as much for the beneficiary as it is for the audience. The issues calling for our attention in this world, the “problems” we need to fix, are as much the problems of the beneficiaries as they are ours. Because this world we live in is created by us all. Sometimes in ways so subtle we cannot see, we put into play actions that affect innumerable beings, creatures and landscapes of our world. I draw great inspiration from the writings of Joanna Macy who eloquently draws the complexities of our suffering planet, our suffering economies, our suffering societies… to the truth of Dependent Co-arising.

My films are only successful if they speak to the issue in a way that engages both the viewer and the viewed and sheds light on the universality of suffering. That’s why I say that film can be a bridge between us. That it is a platform for mutual respect and dignity.


Why Buddhists Tell Stories


Story-telling and Buddhist life: not just how we tell them or live them but where we find them in the very being of things.  The sunyata of all things is a kind of story itself, as I see it – a narrative that tells us where something comes from and where it’s going to. Looking deeply into a sheet of paper, for example, we see wood from a tree that grew from soil and rain and sun and time (soil takes time, the sun took some time too, oh yes and the universe…) and space and chemical reactions… and that’s not even the folks who cut the tree down, work in the mill, the paper factor, who buy and sell the stuff on telephones and with computers made by who? What a story. The Story.

I’ll begin with this quote from Shunryo Suzuki:

A wonderful painting is the result of feeling in your fingers. If you have the feeling of the thickness of the ink in your brush, the painting is already there before you paint. When you dip your brush into the ink you already know the result of your drawing, or else you cannot paint. So before you do something, being is there, the result is there. Even though you look as if you were sitting quietly, all your activity, past and present, is included; and the result of your sitting is also already there. You are not resting at all. All the activity is included within you. That is your being. So all results of your practice are included in your sitting. This is our practice, our zazen.

Posted on November 11, 2012 and filed under Attention and Mindfulness, Process of Inquiry.

Mistaking a symptom of suffering for the cause of suffering

I recently re-listened to an amazing episode of one of my favorite radio show/podcasts, All in the Mind, from Australian National Radio. This episode we listened to a talk given by a dynamic child psychologist on suffering, the layers of suffering, and how we can so easily mistake a symptom of suffering for the cause of suffering. He says we throw medicine at symptoms and often miss the true root and source of our suffering. Why not go straight for the root?

He suggests it is an interesting result of many decades of scientific habits and commercial culture. How does commercial culture affect the way I see my psychological suffering? Wow, there’s something to chew on. I found some very insightful ideas in this talk. Download it: Sick, Screwed Up or Just Lazy

Posted on November 8, 2012 and filed under Wonder and Inspiration.

ALMS @ The American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting

When I was an undergraduate in Religious Studies at The College of Wooster, my professors always attended this yearly event. It’s very exciting to have ALMS presented there. One more of life’s full circles I am happy to complete.

Alms will screen at 8pm this November 19, 2012 at the American Academy of Religion annual meeting in Chicago. My friend and fellow filmmaker, Mark Patrick McGuire (Shugendo Now) from John Abbot College in Montreal, will present the film on my behalf.


Posted on October 29, 2012 .

ALMS @ The Society for Visual Anthropology Film & Media Festival

I strive to craft my films in The Dreaming Buddhas Project to a high standard of academic integrity. My work toward upholding these values as a filmmaker includes reading and research into methods and practices of ethnographic filmmaking. In light of this, I was particularly pleased that the Society for Visual Anthropology accepted ALMS as part of their festival this year.


Posted on October 29, 2012 .

INDIA premiere - Amongst White Clouds

I’m excited to announce another upcoming screening of my first doc on Buddhist life in China, Amongst White Clouds.  The INNER PATH Buddhist Film Festival opens in New Delhi, India on April 27th and runs until May 1, 2012.

Years ago I was a student in India with the Antioch Buddhist Studies program in Bodh Gaya. So returning to Buddhism’s birth-place with Clouds holds particular significance for me.  As part of this trip, I am also planning to travel to Varanasi and Sarnath, the site where the Buddha gave his first teaching.  What an amazing country.


Tilling the Soil of the Heart

Krista Tippett’s On Being radio programs always resonate strongly with my life and with my work. The recent Easter week program this year was a re-broadcast. I listened to it last year and enjoyed it but somehow this year it really spoke to me. Perhaps because I’m editing some material right now with a strong theme of farming and meditation. And growing up with gardens around me and staying at the monasteries of my teachers in China, where gardening is a major part of daily life, this program spoke to me. The music for this episode is profoundly beautiful. Vigen Guroian is a real poet.

When Adam gardened, he imitated his Maker in a purely recreative act of cultivation and care. He did not need to subdue the earth in order for it to yield fruit. Rather, the plants were Adam's palette, and the earth was his canvas. There was nothing but delight in the Garden, for Eden itself means "garden of delight." 

Listen and share this with anyone you know who gardens from the heart.



Posted on April 12, 2012 and filed under Wonder and Inspiration.