Who Is Civilized?

by Christina TChoren Carvalho

When Sensei Daiki talked to me about writing for the Water Wheel, I nodded, thinking how much there was to say about my practice, my groups, etc. Then she added, almost in passing, “Anything you think that can be helpful to people here.” Swooosh…That sounded like a much more difficult proposition. It became like a koan to me. What in this whole plethora of new things in my life could be of use to ZCLA members at large?

I don’t know. So I start with the basics. My son, having his Law school classes online, is living with me for the time being. We adopted a sweet dog that had been abandoned. Since mid-March I’m offering my sangha two periods of zazen daily during the week, plus a Council and study group on Saturdays. Everything online. Many practitioners just disappeared, unable or unwilling to adjust – some hoping this would be a short phase. But new people started to contact me. Most come and go and who knows whether they will come back again.

Yet my feeling – strengthened by direct feedback – is that both the daily zazen and the weekly Council are much appreciated. In these challenging times when we had our way of life turned inside out (or should we say outside in?) our practice connections are even more precious.

On a more intimate level, there is a profound change happening – like my very tectonic plates are shifting and I do not know what the new configuration will look like. I’m not sure how it happened, but all of a sudden my heart broke open to the pain and urgency of the increased destruction of the Amazon and the Pantanal and the real threat of indigenous genocide in Brazil. With my heart broken, a number of shifts continue to happen. I will mention only three in the hopes that this will be of value to some.

There is a profound change happening.

When educating myself regarding racism, I came across an article by Kritee Kanko called: “White Supremacy: Mother of Climate Crisis.” To say this title hit me like a brick is an understatement. The whole sham of the History learned in school came crumbling down, as my eyes went wide open to the perverse reversal of “civilized vs. savage.” Traditional peoples around the world were the ones who had a balanced, civilized way of life, keeping a wealth of wisdom on how to care for our beautiful “blue marble.” Duhh.

Another shift happened during an online workshop on measures to reverse global warming. One of the cherished ideas was about investing so many trillions of dollars on technology that would eventually save so many more trillions of dollars…my head started spinning. How can this mode of thinking truly benefit the poor and vulnerable, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of environmental refugees? This was NOT what I was looking for.

I’m going deeper into this Not-Knowing.

Then I watched an interview with one of our great indigenous leaders and thinkers, Ailton Krenak. He recounted that, in fact, the government had offered his tribe to move to another territory, since it was in their land that the largest environmental disaster in Brazilian history happened in 2015 – Mariana’s dam failure that released 43.7 million cubic meter of toxic mud into the Rio Doce (Sweet River). Ailton Krenak declared with the patience and resilience of an old Tibetan Lama, “The river is like our grandfather who is in a coma now. He will probably never come back to life, but we will not abandon him. We will stay and bear witness.”

Now, with Roshi Egyoku’s blessings, I’m going deeper into this Not-Knowing. Even my personal vows, that seemed so adequate for a number of years, feel somehow not spacious enough – and not incisive enough. For now I’m just educating myself regarding the ecological crisis, the rich and profound indigenous cultures, and more. How will I integrate all of this with my Zen priest path? I do not know.

TChoren is a ZCLA priest living in Brazil. Her Shuso (head trainee) year began in September 2020 and will end when it is safe for her to return to the U.S.