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suffering and healing

[The Three Poisons – traditional]

Greed, Hatred & Delusion: Some Call It Leadership?

Andy Robins sees a way through the conflicts and despair – May 2021

It seems that wherever we turn, we are confronted by a world in disintegration, with little rationality or compassion. Human rights are at the bottom of most countries agendas. At the end of 2020, The Top 10 Human Rights Abusers, according to the UN Watch List, are China at number one, followed by Iran, Cameroon, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Turkey, North Korea and Russia. Very few countries get a clean bill of health!

Evolving into selfless, loving and compassionate beings is not the only challenge humanity faces. In 1812 there were 1 billion people on the planet; in 1912, it was 1.5 billion, and just over 100 years later, we are heading quickly towards 8 billion. It is not simply the human world that is in trouble; the planet is in danger too. We have in our power the destruction of all civilization, including the Earth. 

So a change has to come, not just to the political & economic system; these are an absolute necessity, but a shift in the mindset of humanity. The retrieval of the ancient wisdom of the Buddha is not a question of relevance anymore; it’s a question of human survival.

Through all the news footage and social media posts, I find myself asking what I need to do to ensure my children and future generations have a life here on planet Earth.  As a child, I grew up in a dairy and beef farming community,  enjoying holidays fishing off the Cornish Coast while being reared on the results of fresh milk, meat, and fish. Last week, I was shocked to discover that producing 1 gallon of milk takes approximately 1000 gallons of water, and a 1 Ib beef steak requires 2000 gallons of water to produce.  At first, the figures seemed excessive, and as always, there is much-opposing data out there on the web. But probing further, they take in the whole life cycle, including rainfall, to grow the fodder eaten.  I also came across a recent 4-year study of sea life suggesting that through overfishing, the oceans will be empty by 2048. Scary stuff!

Some see the way out as ignorance. Let’s pretend it isn’t happening and make the most of the resources left, whereas others believe that we can resolve the crisis that we face as humankind. Human beings have overcome adversity many times before. Yet, we as humans only began to develop into what we were today 12,000 years ago; we have come nowhere close to solving our afflictions during this time. We want more, and we want bigger and better. We want to fulfill our insatiable inner desires, and as we witness, it affects our personal and professional lives, the realms of international business and politics. Global conflict and warfare are rife, and the destruction of our environment results from our corporate and political greed.

Zen Buddhism identifies greed, hatred and delusion as Three Poisons, for which the Sanskrit translation is the Three Unwholesome Roots. I like the root analogy as we all have these character flaws, and for me, without a doubt, they are the root of suffering and pain.

Greed refers to our selfishness, attachment, and grasping for happiness outside of ourselves. Hatred reflects our anger, aversion and repulsion towards what we perceive as unpleasant circumstances and uncomfortable feelings. Delusion points us towards our bewilderment with the world and wrong views of reality. These three poisons manifest into nonmoral and inept thoughts, speech, and actions, causing much suffering and unhappiness for ourselves and others. The three are deeply embedded in the conditioning of our personalities, and our behaviour is habitually influenced and tainted by these unwholesome roots buried deep into our bodies.

The work of transformation is not a swift process, even though we may demand quick results. This work requires what I call the 4P’s, i.e. the daily Practice of turning up on the mat, Patience to witness our habitual unwinding, Persistence to overcome obstacles on the path, and the Perseverance to pass what we perceive as the end. We also need to throw in a bit of deep compassion for ourselves and others—the aim to liberate ourselves from obscuring the clarity, joy and radiance of our natural enlightenment.
This transformation is the work of the Zen Leader and begins with the challenge of calming the mind and seeing deeply into ourselves. In other words, to eliminate greed, hatred, and delusion, we must first learn to recognize them as they appear. Through zazen and hara breathing, we discern how these deep-seated characteristics influence our thoughts, feelings, speech, and actions. This awareness, this seeing deeply into ourselves, is the beginning of our ability to transform not only ourselves but the world in which we live.

Andy Robins is a Zen Priest, Zen Leadership Instructor and Coach


The way of generative medicine

Dr. Kristi Crymes proposes a new “way” for medicine

If only we were sitting together around a fire on a dark night, you would know right away what I mean by generative medicine, why we need it, how to do it, and we’d figure it all out. I would speak to you from my heart and you would nod and sigh with relief. I will imagine it as I type, and you imagine as you read; when we get to the end our hair will smell like campfire and we’ll get to work.

From my cushion and my clinic, I see well-intentioned people, myself included, causing suffering for themselves and others for no other reason than that they are part of a poorly-designed system.  This is a hard truth, especially for this family medicine doctor with the best intentions. I went into medicine to relieve suffering not to cause it.

I missed this truth for a long time. This type of suffering can be subtle and hard to perceive because it hides in the status quo. It can also be profound as shown by the events of this last year exposing deep inequities and everyday tragedies in the healthcare system. So it can be both easy to miss and so big it feels impossible to change. Fortunately, my Zen practice and experiences during HEAL/ZL training have helped me not only see what is true, but what is possible and how to bring that possibility through me out into the world.

So there is good news: there is a way for us to have a sustainable, equitable healthcare system which generates true health for society and for the planet, I call it generative medicine. It’s a crazy thing to say and yet it is totally possible and the only sane thing to do. The catch is that we have to create it ourselves.

Generative medicine is what we might have if we use the wisdom of permaculture principles and ethics to design a healthcare system. Permaculture is looking deeply at the ways nature actually works and using those ways as design tools for human systems. Traditionally used to develop sustainable agriculture and landscapes, it is whole-systems design based on 3 ethics: Planet care, People care, and Future care/Fair share. It is an entire field of study which I can only briefly touch on here to the extent that my amateur understanding and this stack of firewood will allow. Ginny has written about the use of permaculture principles in leadership and as it turns out, it can apply to any system that affects people and the planet (which is every system). 

You may have noticed that Zen and permaculture are ready companions. At first glance you’ll see awareness, connection, flow and compassion weaving them together. Zen training creates the human condition that is able to see itself and its connectedness to other parts of nature without backing off from the responsibility that has become clear. Permaculture, being a set of design principles, “helps harness creativity and put it to work” in a way that is not only sustainable, but regenerative. It doesn’t just keep a system going, it creates a thriving ecosystem filled with diversity and nurturing connection. In permaculture design, a component’s output is another’s input, every component is connected in some way, and the relationships keep it going, improving and changing. To me, the “perma” in permaculture represents permanent possibility, and that is exactly what our healthcare systems need.

Applying these principles to my every day work as a physician in the American healthcare system has profoundly changed my understanding of the system I thought I was so familiar with: We are all doing the best we can, we have more power than we think we do, and the solutions are right in front of us. What a relief it will be when we get to work and put it all together.

Kristi Crymes, DO, is a family medicine physician, a Zen Leader/HEAL instructor, a member of the board of directors of IZL and a Chosei Zen student.  She is pursuing a Permaculture and Social Systems Design Certificate through the Permaculture Women’s Guild.


Thanks to the Chosei Zen Virtual Dojo, we can still stay connected daily to deepen our practice. Join us twice a day for virtual Zazen at 7-7:30am and 7-7:30pm CST.


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Published on May 14 2021

Last Updated on Aug 16 2021