Thomas Hübl: Hello and welcome to the Collective Trauma Summit. My name is Thomas and the convener of the Summit. I’m very happy, delighted and very curious to sit here with the poet, author, and Buddhist priest Zenju Earthlyn Manuel.
So Zenju, a very warm welcome and I’m so happy and very curious to have our conversation today. So a very warm welcome here.
Zenju Earthlyn Manuel: All right thank you, Thomas, for inviting me. I’m very excited about the conversation with you. Before we begin, I want to honor those who have come before me – who are the reason why I sit here before you.
I want to honor all the teachers, sages, and prophets that have taught me and have walked with me and all of those unseen spirits of the various elements that have been with me, those of the fire, the earth, and the water. And I want to give thanks and honor at least the spirits of the indigenous Native American indigenous, who were the caretakers of this land, who are still here taking care of much of the land, but not all of the land. And so I want to honor what has happened on this land to their people and bring the understanding that we have yet to cede the land back. So I just wanted to make that clear. So all of that I speak with and I honor and I’m grateful for those who walk the path that you walk, Tomas, who walk the path, the spirit. Thank you.
Thomas Hübl: That’s so beautiful and so soothing, there’s something very true when I listen to you and it touches me as to how you bring in the deep honoring of tradition. I often call this the one tradition, the tradition of life that is being passed on from generation to generation. So it’s beautiful that you make such a dedicated space for that invocation and the honoring, thank you for that. It’s beautiful. Beautiful.
I think especially, often, in Western modern society and the hyper-individualized self, everything is around me and what I’m going to do. The recognition of the depths that live in us. And I think that that brings us already to a deeper level of our conversation. It is like that – I believe trauma often creates that disconnect between our ancestral lineage and between each other and creates some sense and kind of separation.
Maybe before we go into the ancestral separation, maybe you want to share with us a little bit – since you devote your life deeply to this spiritual path. And that’s something that’s very close to me. And I’m always interested in what was the initiating factor? Was that from the beginning, from day one like that? Was there something that happened for you that initiated you through the spiritual journey? And so maybe you can just speak a bit for us.
Zenju Earthlyn Manuel: Yes, I think the largest and most potent incident (and the earliest, if I put it that way) incident that happened to me and my life was to lose a childhood friend at six years old. And I was amazed, I was shocked, actually, that I even wasn’t sure if the story was true. I had to go back and ask my older sister, did I lose a friend at six years old? And she said, “Yes, you did.” And she was someone I played with, we rode our bikes up and down the block. She lived around the corner with her aunt. Her aunt was from either Texas or Louisiana because the area had migrants from Louisiana, black migrants from Louisiana and Texas lived in that area. Because now you just share places and work, where to live and where to work when you come to a new state.
So this child, my friend, was living with her aunt. They hadn’t been there long. But I really enjoy the little girl’s company. And so then when I heard that she died, my mother was just kind of talking, kind of like, “Yes she passed. Before she passed, she asked for milk and honey.” And I was like, I don’t understand any of that, you know?
I didn’t understand how a child could die, she hadn’t lived her life. That’s all I could think of. Actually, instead of being sad, I was angry. Very angry. So it could be said that maybe my spiritual path is filled with anger in some way. I was angry to find out that you come into life and they talk about how beautiful it is to be born. And then you find out you’re not going to stay. And I got very angry at my mother for having given birth to me. She did not understand that. I was like, I wish you hadn’t done that. I wouldn’t have to go through this. And I took it very personally when I was a child.
So it began a query, a quest to look at what was life and what was death. I would think about it a lot at night after experiencing the death of my friend, thinking about it, you know, I wasn’t allowed to go to the funeral. I guess they thought I was too young. I did eventually go to one. Begged, begged, and begged because I wanted to see death. I wanted to see what it looked like. And I finally did at eight years old, it took two years to get my mother to take me to somebody’s funeral. But I didn’t get to go to hers, but I would ride to her house every day on my bike and there would be a black wreath on the door. That’s what they used to do in the old days, which I still think it’s a wonderful ritual so that everyone knows that this house is in mourning, and you know where to bring the food and find out if they need anything. And then at that time, two people wore black bands. Sometimes people do that every now and then in different places. But it gives you notice that this person’s in sacred space, this house is in sacred space. And the people around them, their friends, and their family are in a sacred space.
So I can articulate that now. But as a child, I could not understand what was going on. So I really feel like that was the beginning of me saying, I’m going to walk this path of query. It really is what it was and a quest And I think truly that’s what the path of spirit or spirituality is, is walking with a quest, with an inquiry about this life. And in discovering what it is and that we’re here for or doing what we’re here for.
Just what is it? What is this flesh and bones? What is born from a place we don’t really know biologically, we could say. But where are we from? Where? Where do you and I come from? And how did you and I come to be right here, right now, together? How? And where are you and I going when we drop the flesh, the body, and the bones? We don’t know.
I think that that’s kind of the thing for people to not know. We have a lot of things, I can tell you a lot of ideas I have, but we can share those, but we don’t know. So that six-year-old is still in the quest, still walking into the query. She’s been through a lot of things like, what is that? What is that?
And you know, it’s been a wonderful life because I have had that innate kind of seeing life as some kind of amusement in some way. And it hurt, too. There was a lot of pain, but that, too, became part of the path of looking and seeing. That’s all it is. I think that’s all we’re here to do.
Thomas Hübl: Lovely, you’re transmitting this joyful curiosity of your inquiry, you’re transmitting that as you speak so that’s very beautiful it’s like I’m looking into the face of your curiosity. That’s lovely. It’s beautiful.
So how did that influence you’re deeply interested in Zen practice, but you’re also deeply into the Shamanistic tradition? And so often we meet people, they say, okay, I’m a practitioner, and that’s what I practice, and that’s gonna be the practice. And because I am also very interested in mystical practice. And I think that there are different levels to contemplative practices.
I’m curious why you thought that the confluence of those two is important in your journey or for the people that you teach. So maybe you can tell us a little bit about these two streams and how they support each other.
Zenju Earthlyn Manuel: Okay. So first of all, every gateway that I have entered, no matter what that path is – when I met Diviners from Dahomey at 18, when I went to church at six – everything to me was a gateway that I just would just walk in and then I would discover later I was someplace. But mostly something was driving me into the gateway of church, into the gate, because church to me was not something my parents pushed me into, although they did push me into that at the same time. So they wanted me to have God so I would survive this life as a black child.
Then there was the I think the next largest was the gateway of the Dahomey Diviners from Africa, I didn’t know where I was really. When I entered Buddhism or the Dharma or Buddhist teachings, that was the same thing I entered in the Nischan tradition and I didn’t know where I was. And I entered Zen and I really didn’t know where I was.
So all of these gateways I would just enter because they were presented to me to enter. I didn’t decide what they would do for me, what I would get out of it, or can I be a better person. Will miracles happen to me? I wasn’t looking for anything, probably other than a place to cry. A place to pray. A place to be joined in those things. A place for joy and a place for healing together. I think you speak of that collective healing in action. That’s collective healing in action. So I was used to doing my healing in a collective way because of the church, and pretty soon, even my social justice gateway was in the gateway of spirituality and of collective healing. We didn’t bother with any kind of social justice if it didn’t have anything to do with our healing, our transformation, our survival, (not survival in the world materially, because we could do that with each other.) But our survival in our dignity as human beings was the most important thing. It wasn’t important that we get people to understand us, to think better about us, or any of those kinds of things. It was mostly just trying to understand our lives and live it fully. So I learned how to live it fully in a social justice movement based in the church, based on God. It was totally based on God. And that’s the way it was.
I mean, the moment people came to the church to begin the movement, at least in Los Angeles where I was raised. So it wasn’t any other place but there at church in the basement, where there’s fried chicken, potato salad, chocolate cake, and the places where you played and you met people from the backcountry, usually somewhere from Louisiana, Texas. So it was a really vibrant and spiritual movement. So when I say “it,” I mean social justice was a vibrant spiritual movement. And always, I guess, the aspects of each gateway I think, came together I guess, at that place of being able to bring one’s whole self, physically, emotionally, spiritually. You know, anything you just everything a human being is made up of can be brought to it. And if I saw a gateway that I could bring my whole self, whether I got there and someone said, no, it didn’t matter. I still could see that the practice itself was something that you could come to. Yes, I was disappointed in many of the spiritual communities. If I looked on the outside of what was being taught, which I did a lot to look outside of what was being taught in church, I didn’t leave the church because they were teaching stuff. I did not. I left because I could feel I had been there long enough. I have been there long enough. I was 17. I knew. And with that, it was time for me to go into another gateway that was being presented.
Now, when do these gateways get presented? You never know. I was at a restaurant, a new African restaurant, and that’s where I met the diviners. So they started inviting me to ceremonies. So I also think about where the gateways meet for me in the ceremony. So I just imagined for that moment, that ceremony with the diviners, it was so different from the ceremonies that were happening at church. Now we have communion, we pray. Then when I got there, they were drumming, they were dancing, doing all kinds of situations, and I didn’t know who and what was happening, and I didn’t ask for any explanations. I just kept doing and doing and doing. And until they decided and I wrote about this story quite a bit so some people know it, they invited me to Dahomey, to Africa. They said, “Come back and take your throne. That you are a diviner.” And I didn’t know what they were talking about. I had no idea what they were talking about. And I didn’t find out they were diviners until 20 years later.
So when the gateways open, we don’t always know. But there is for me a feeling in my own body and heart that says this is a place you can sit for a while in life. You can sit here, reflect, and contemplate. Ask questions. Be yourself. Even if someone doesn’t want you to be yourself, you can be yourself. I don’t know who’s talking to me, who’s saying that. Because when someone doesn’t want me to be myself, I don’t care. Because someone else that I could be myself. That’s some person, but something in my own being that knows that. And so it’s almost like I’m a being that already knows it’s coming, looking for a home. And I think many of us already know we’re always just looking for a home.
That home, meaning not one place, not one dogma, not one tradition, but that home and that place in which we feel, oh, this is a sanctuary. This is where my spirit can be held and I too can honor it, my spirit. And then I too can honor the spirit of others. And then I learned how to do that, even if others have no idea of honoring me. I learned really young, somewhere between six and ten that people are not going to honor me just because, and even if I worked hard, they weren’t going to honor me. So it didn’t matter. We know that honor is not something that can be forced that people don’t understand. I knew they didn’t understand.
I remember when I ran into racism. And I say, Wow, Mom. Don’t they know I didn’t do this to myself? I didn’t make myself this color. They know that, right? My mom was just shaking her head and crying tears because she knew I had got to that place. And I just couldn’t believe it. But I knew that it was a matter of not knowing, some place of naive, not that they didn’t know any black people, but something that was missing in the spirit of humanity. I knew it at that young age, that it was something missing. And then I thought, well, that must be missing in me as well.
So I couldn’t find that missing place. In preaching, sermons, having preachers preach sermons or even Dharma talks or any of the things that we enjoy. Books. I read a lot of books. I think it really came from I did go to that funeral and they were singing and they were doing things. My father was part of the ritual and I never saw him part of one. And I asked my mother, why does Daddy have gloves on? You know, he had white gloves on. I didn’t understand it. But I was just watching the whole thing and I got up with everybody to go see the body, you know? Oh, I thought that was just fascinating to me. When I got to the body, I was traumatized and freaked out, but not enough to not look. And then I went home.
So I feel the walk on Spirit, the path of spirit is all shamanic. It’s all a ceremony. And when we talk about it that’s when separation can begin. Not all the time, but it can begin because each one of us will talk about it differently and experience what we have in common. But we’re going to talk about it differently. We may talk about it from psychological, sociological, social justice, pure energy, integral energy, and metaphysics. There are all kinds of ways to talk about it. But once we start talking about it with each other or trying to influence each other with our words about it, I think that’s when some types of separation begins. And that’s okay because the ritual will bring us back together. Totally a ritual within.
Thomas Hübl: Beautiful. When you see the ritual, the ceremony because during the summit we go exploring what are collective remedies. So how do you envision or how did you experience and make ritual and ceremony as collective remedies? When you look at collective trauma maybe you can speak.
Zenju Earthlyn Manuel: From participating in many spiritual communities. And in every spiritual community, something happens, every single one that exists. If it hasn’t happened, you’re not looking. But something is happening that disrupts, that is maybe horrifying, traumatizing to somebody. I notice that when that happens, when there’s more talking, trying to talk it out and talk about it. I’m not negating that that’s not a good path, but if that talking and work is pulled out, maybe some kind of model or approach is pulled out without any kind of prep for what is about to happen before the talk, before coming down with some type spiritual prelude, a prologue something before that must come so that the space is in the energy of that sacred space created before. So not even in action, some people I’ve seen, some people who follow various traditions, might pour water, some people offer incense, some people sing a song. You know, all of these things are really important. But what I found is that part of the program is 3 minutes and the talk is 3 hours. And it should be in reverse – the ritual should be 3 hours. The talk is 3 minutes, if we talk at all.
If you haven’t felt anything in the 3 hours as a way of just being together and understanding that experience and trusting it (because I don’t think we trust it, I think that’s why we talk about it a lot) I’m including myself in this and not looking at us, but we don’t trust that sometimes. We don’t trust ourselves to be in a place in which there’s been disruption, trauma, trouble, chaos, and woundedness and oh my God, we’re not trusting ourselves to be there. So we’re really trying to explain, this is what’s happening to me.
So I think it’s important to kind of reverse it doesn’t have to be 3 hours. But reverse the length of time we do the sacred part of our coming together. And I know that’s kind of scary because a lot of people aren’t into the spiritual path. They don’t believe in any of it. And I just ask those people to respect for a moment what we’re about to do by just holding space for us and witnessing. We need a witness that this has gone on. You can be the witness and participate in that way and you can be the listener to participate. You don’t have to say, I’m doing this too because we are not doing it. What we are doing is being it. And they don’t know that because they’re not engaged. They never engaged in it. They’re always on the outside looking in. And so I invite those people to stay on the outside and look in. It’s okay. We need witnesses. We need someone to say, “This happened.”
I think a lot of times you try to pull people in and I’m really not one to proselytize anything, any tradition. People talk about meditation and I talk about meditation as that sacred place created before you take action in your life. Before you talk to the teacher, before you go to work, before you do any of these things that have words or action, and so that you are doing it under the influence is kind of like I tell people, take no licks or make some everyone’s maybe had a drink or something and you feel different after you have a glass of wine than you did before. Well, that’s what I’m talking about. Having your glass of sacredness, you’ll feel different when you get up and walk into the world. You know, you may even stumble to get too much of it, it might blow your mind. But you know, that I think is sometimes missing. And we also think about the rituals to do as well. It’s good to have a protocol. I believe in that, too, because it’s there. But if we get stuck, ‘this is how it should go’ then when the spirit even disrupts that, like, oops, then we’re lost. And I’ve seen that happen in Zen practice because everything’s pretty tung, tung, tung. So I’ve seen that. I’ve seen this person who leads the chant and then has this wonderful what we call an echo in the end that to me, I kind of with the Africans do it with their foot. They would just nail that prayer into the ground, into the earth well, and then Zen, the echo now that chanting. We chant, chant, chant, and then we sing: We have chanted the Heart Sutra, for the benefit of us is nailing that chant into the earth. And so you can say, really, I could do an echo right here in a moment, your chanting and then you feel something. I’m going to echo the essence.
ˈekō is actually a Japanese word, and I’m using it as an English one right now. But you can echo the essence of that poem, that teaching. “So I have chanted the heart of great perfect wisdom… We dedicate this to all of those who are suffering, who are dying right now of COVID, and who are trying to make a life after. Who have died in the streets. All of those who left because they were disappointed in the world.”
You can add what you want. So these are the ways in which they’re already there, many of our traditions, it doesn’t matter. There is a way of bringing that prayer down. And then through that, after you feel that and you hear that: see if you can talk. And if you can, what will you say? Is it what you prepared when you walked in the door? Probably not. The witnesses should continue witnessing. They haven’t had the elixir. So they’re going to talk maybe with what they came in at the door.
So I think meditation is not for everybody. I always tell people, please don’t think you have to meditate, because that’s not getting some kind of breakfast. You know, it’s not a supreme law for everyone, and it’s only for those who want to do well and want to fill into the depth of this life. Even if you’re not calm when you do it.
Even if you’re traumatized when you do it. Even if you need help to do it. That you would do it anyway.
That’s what I have had to do. I never meant to be a Buddhist priest. Someone told me I write poetry. They still today tell me: “Oh, that was poetic.” I go, wow. it was? And to me, I’m just writing from that depth of the silence. I am writing from there, so it is poetic. You know the action of that may be poetic. Actually, you invited me if I wanted to read a piece, and I think that what I just said might just fit what I want to share with you.
So from “The Deepest Peace,” I’m sharing this section called Poetic Solitude. The poetic justice of Phillis Wheatley, who was a slave as a child and still walks to the gateway of poetry. So powerful.
So I wrote:
Candlelight accompanies the silence. Sitting at the desk in the spirit of Phillis Wheatley, my poetry has arrived for the evening.
I’m excited for such justice for what I’ve endured. My fingers move fast. I tried to settle down with deep breathing. A slow rhythm must be used in the transfer of words from their arrival, from silence. And their departure back into silence.
These are moments that are slow but ruthless, raw and unintentional. I’m sitting still. I write to hear.
What is there to hear in the midst of destruction?
What is there to know about the nature of living on the edge?
A silent justice speaks. Its message rises to the moment of birds, the running of water, the moonlight on barren land. Justice is open. Empty space and time to gather a fresh, collective song.
The silence is doing everything. I’m not making the silence. Poetic action is coming from the depth of the earth. Writing is a poetic action.
Words go back into the silence once they are written, heard or read. To cling to them leaves little space and time for the new message. The new witnessing. The new poetic solitude and action.
Which way does the water flow after the storm?
Despite struggles, I chop the onions, garlic and mince the ginger, saute, mix with the boiled and peeled, sesame sweet potatoes, puree with oil water scent, and flavor with lemongrass.
There’s nothing to do but let the meeting of the senses happen. Watch and listen.
That is our collective action. That is our collective healing. That alone can be just a ceremony that can be done every day. Every moment. Nothing elaborate. So I offer that in the way.
Thomas Hübl: Beautiful. Let’s give a moment of silence to breathe with your words. Maybe just because you brought it up now, like the short side trail because that’s something that I think is very, very deep that you said is that deep silence is the birthplace of the creativity that arises for you in poetry, for somebody else it’s drawing or any kind of innovation. If people come to you, would you come from a place where they say yes, it’s amazing. But I don’t feel the place of silence in myself and feel too consumed by my life and too entangled. What, if any, of our listeners might want to access the place of silence? Is there anything you want to speak to?
Zenju Earthlyn Manuel: Yeah, sure. It’s interesting you bring that up because just this morning I was listening to a podcast and a spiritual person, I think a Christian minister. She was talking about contemplation and meditation, and taking time to be silent was a luxury and a privileged place, and that everyone is too busy to do these things, trying to survive, take care of their children, go to work, or deal with whatever is happening in their country. Maybe their country is under siege and all these kinds of things are going on.
You know, I was listening to her and taking that in feeling that yes, for me, I was very privileged to be able to just start my life and go into the monastery, although I suffered and my partner suffered too financially and in different ways, we suffered because of it. And then I did begin to learn how taking a whole lot of time away necessarily or leaving necessarily. But once I got training in how to walk with the sacredness that came up from being in the monastery, in the meditation, that I could walk with it. It didn’t matter if I were in a post office and everybody was going crazy cause the line had 100 people and one person was giving out stamps or whatever. It’s not so much that way anymore. But I remember literally standing and everyone was yelling and screaming, and they were trying to get me involved in arguing about the post office, and how the post office doesn’t have enough people and the people they have, they don’t pay. And it was going on and on. I was being a witness to that and I was participating. Because I was definitely giving a nod and affirming their feelings, and knowing that feeling was going on inside of me, too. But I wasn’t willing to join the agitation. I was only willing to hear and know it and feel it because I was feeling it, too. And they were speaking my feelings.
I stayed with this sense of I’m in the middle of a moment of life, and some people are going crazy. Some people have yet to even arrive to this craziness that’s happening right now and people are starting to come in the door.
So I think that if we wait for our lives to be not busy or to not have chaos or disruption to learn how to hone and harvest silence, then, I think that’s how we feel sometimes – all of life has gone by and now I’m dying. So to take the time, you don’t have to go to a monastery or a retreat center either, any of these things, but to take the time. And I think I have been doing that since.
I think that childhood story I told you about the child who died. I had to take the time, even as a little girl, the six-year-old, to stop with the sobering reality that I was going to die. I could die next week. I didn’t have to grow up and die. At that, I had to grow up or at least get old. But that wasn’t true. So I offer to students who come to me to just start with the moment. That’s the way I did that. We went for 5 minutes and it grew to ten. I try my best not to have long sittings for people because if they don’t understand what they’re doing and they’re not coming to me to find out more, then that can be traumatizing. Sitting can be very traumatizing. Silence can be traumatizing. We’re talking about trauma. And so we have to take in only what we can handle. I only took in what I could handle. So yes, now I can sit every day. If I went to a monastery, ah, went to say, an intensive retreat or a long one, I can sit every day for 8 hours, walking and breaks 8 hours every day. But that started with moment by moment. So, you know, that must have taken many, many years. But some people start there. I’m just going to jump in and do 8 hours every day. You know, and it’s just not recommended by me as a teacher. I think some people do. They go on and struggle and suffer. And I just don’t like people suffering like that.
There are different ways, some people may need to walk first, do the walking meditation, while some people hone the sitting while others hone the walking and somebody can hone the lying down and somebody can hone down the standing. I mean, there’s just so many ways. A lot of my stillness came from drumming. Now is drumming still? I’m a drummer. I drum Congolese rhythms. Not too still. Not too quiet. But the arrival of what comes after the last beat, that arrival to that space. That silence is so full of the power of the earth after the rhythm.
So one person came to me and she said: “Well, there’s no drumming in Zen.” I said, Oh, but there’s rhythm. Plenty of rhythm, plenty of chanting. And there is drumming. But, you know, maybe she didn’t hear that day or that week. There is drumming, there’s a wooden drum, so it’s not the drum you think it is. It’s just a different place. But there is rhythm, and rhythm is very important. It’s in every single tradition. I don’t know a tradition without rhythm, without a way of bringing rhythm into the movement. That’s why I love the spontaneous poetry that comes up in social justice movements. The rhythm just comes right up even when there’s a protest. And they’re shouting. I hear the torch. I hear the rhythm. I love it. I love it. Even though those places sometimes turn out to be unsafe. But there’s kind of this natural inclination to go toward the rhythm no matter where we are or where we’re going. And we know that it does something for us. We know that it picks us up here and drops us off there. We know that.
So does jazz have rhythm? You bet. Even if it’s the quiet Miles Davis, it’s a long note, but there’s a rhythm in that long note. I think it’s really important to take the time whether you’re busy or not and not wait till you’re sick. Oh, I’m not busy. I’m sick, though, now, or waiting till vacation time for all of these things, just have a moment every day, even if it’s short because that wasn’t 45 minutes. That was only 2 of having one good, solid minute. Just stopping. Call it stopping, not meditating. Just stop. And what do you hear? Children screaming in the playground. Birds singing. Gunshots. What do you hear? And how is what you hear impacting you in the collective around you? Not with words, just feeling it using your body for that. And then you can go back to being busy. If you want, I would bet “busy” will go away. Little by little. Until you become a spiritual teacher then you get busy. Hahaha!
Thomas Hübl: Hahaha! I love it when I listen to you and participate, for example, when you describe listening to the rhythm. It’s also that the listening changes with the practice. Also what you hear like with how you listen changes and the depth of deeper aspects of rhythm and therefore deeper patterns and bias become more apparent in the internal state that changes the world that we perceive, we’re able to perceive for the subtleties of the world.
When I listen to you, I get a sense of the deeper listening and listening has depth and different levels of depth, which is beautiful to participate in. One thing that I think that you started this off with that contributes to depth and you spoke periodically about it is like to hear the drum beat of the planet and I think one way you spoke about it in your initial invocation.
When we honor the lineage a lot of trauma and collective trauma is built on ancestral trauma that has been passed on and created cyclic patterns in family streams and in cultures. Maybe you can speak a little bit from your experience, like how the honoring of the ancestry, our ancestors, and also lineages like you spoke about the sages and the sense of the traditions. I think it’s very powerful to be able to honor and bow down to the greatness of the ones that came before us.
Maybe you can speak a little bit about how that creates depth because I think that’s what I think at the base of that. So maybe you can speak a little bit to this honoring the lineages and healing the lineage.
Zenju Earthlyn Manuel: Well from the first human, they are begging us to do the healing from the first human. I think a lot of people don’t necessarily feel that: “I don’t feel any ancestors, I don’t feel anything. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” People say that, and then they sit there and tell me their trauma and they’re suffering. That is right there. It’s right there. You’re not new to it. You’re not immune to it. It’s not new to humanity.
What I suffer as a person of African descent is older than I can ever imagine. This is far beyond. Far beyond anybody that I can bring up. But I do know the ascension. In that ascension is the death. In that ascension of the dying and the going away and then coming into this pure consciousness of wisdom that I think happens for everyone, even if that wisdom is just who they leave behind. Maybe it’s not even them, it’s who they leave behind, what they leave with us, and the wisdom and the light that comes in the consciousness – that is within us and it’s illuminating through the ancestors to illuminate back and reflect back.
We are the same people that was, that was, that was, that was – before, before, before – we’re the same. We’re embodied differently. We have different conditions to live under, but we’re the same people with the same human conditions and the same human consciousness, thank goodness.
So which one: the conditions, the consciousness, the wisdom are we holding? So we might not be able to say, well, I’m going to heal what happened to Africans who were stolen and enslaved and want to heal that. I don’t have to go back and say I’m going to heal that. But I can stop and say I feel and know that same pain and suffering. I wasn’t enslaved, but I was.
But here I am because I’ve been brought forth from that place even before they were enslaved. I’ve been brought forth from that place to here to now. The conditions of human beings are from that place when they were human beings and are here now too. The trauma, all of it’s here now.
So then how am I going to hold this right to think that I can do it? I’ll do this. I am going to end this right now for us. I remember trying to end something in my own family that was happening with the women, with some kind to me similar abuses happening to us. And I hope this ends, you know but it doesn’t mean I need to go like let me tell you, you’re doing the same thing Mama did. I didn’t need to do that. All I did was put the intention out and said that I wanted this to end. Now, whether it was going to end in my lifetime in the way I wanted it, I don’t know. I think that that’s what we get caught up in.
We get caught up in that we can do it and we’re going to do it. And in that process, we get all sucked up. We jump into the bowl of soup and we’re like, oh, no. And so, it’s not us that is doing it. But I trust that myself, that it’s not us. And that what we’re bringing with us is not only the trauma, we’re bringing wisdom into consciousness. We’re bringing that right in our makeup, in our DNA. And if we want to know who was there long ago, well, I see your grandfather. I see your great, great, great, great, great. I know exactly how it looks. I see your great-grandma. You can see mine. They’re still looking at each other through us. And it was so powerful that it could happen, that the life and light, the source of the light is just right here. There is a source of light. That’s why when I say way, way back there where the source of life is, we’re not the same because we are humans. You know, like people say, well, we’re all the same. We’re not the same because we humans are the same because we’re from the same source of life and light. It was a source of life that brought us. And each one keeps bringing that life forward, forward, forward, forward. Forever.
What we do here may not be for us here in 2021 – I was told this by a teacher. It’s for maybe 2030-31. And I was very disappointed. I want to see the results now. I want to see the world change now. I want to see what I want now. Because I don’t know if I’ll be here or I’ll be able to see and I don’t. But someone of me will, someone of me will. This might not have been my child. Someone of mine is still coming or is here, it could be my little niece, my nephew, or all the children, I think, and care for any of them.
So I think that if we start to take action in a way that we are doing it. I think that’s when we get into trouble. I think it gets us started reapplying our trauma because we can’t do it. I’m telling you, we cannot do that. But I remember asking an abbott, they have this ceremony and you stand up and you ask the question. You know, some people were asking questions, they had read some books. I could tell, you know, very abstract Zen questions.
I got up and said, I feel very wounded. Is it possible I will always feel this way? He looked into my eyes and said, “Yes.” I stand up on my hands and I say, thank you. And then you back away. And then do some more bows back there, you know, not to him, but bowing to the words that came from the silence from the way, way back from the source of light that came through that person to me. That to me was the voice of somewhere else. It didn’t say that I would die of the woundedness, that I would have a horrible life because of it, but that it would be there. And because it’s there, that’s when I realized that disruption is there. Woundedness is part of life. Destruction is part of life. Trauma is part of life. Then what to do? What am I to do?
And I asked my students: How can you use racism? So we have a pact where we’re all black Zen students. We’re all black. And that’s very rare. So there’s a pact you can’t talk about white people. So of course, in the first part of the beginning of our conversations, we didn’t have any. No, no, no. Because we’re not talking about blackness juxtaposed to whiteness. We’re talking about black. And yes, we do know there’s an integration, but we’re talking about you and the evolution of that blackness in you, in you, and what it is. So I still get analysis. If somebody announced that they have a great analysis of whiteness, and then I ask, Can you give me the same for blackness? What’s the analysis for blackness? We’re spending too much time out there, it doesn’t matter. white, brown, it’s any kind of it’s anything out there. Because if you’re out there, I know for myself when I did that, I was retraumatized every time I did that analysis.
And then when I took this trauma, this woundedness, into the ceremony, because even when the teacher said, no, it’s still there. And I went like this. Something happened right there. Something happened to me. Not only to me. To some people who were in the room, they came to me later in tears. It was their thing. I didn’t get engaged with it, but it was interesting to see. A simple question, a simple bow and we touched to the point that something changed for us, not the woundedness, but something changed somehow how we walk with that woundedness. And we were going to stay alive, wounded or not, that meant we had to walk, not for the rest of our lives, but walk out of that Buddha hall into the hallway with that woundedness. Just one step that we just took one step.
Thomas Hübl: Amazing. So beautiful. So lovely, and very deep what you shared with us.
Zenju Earthlyn Manuel: Maybe I’ll share some more poetry.
Thomas Hübl: Like maybe we can. I see we’re already at our time.
Zenju Earthlyn Manuel: We’re at our time. I have no idea.
Thomas Hübl: It’s amazing. So lovely, the deep conversation. So maybe we just finish with one of your poems.
Zenju Earthlyn Manuel: Let’s go with a short one, it just kind of fits what we were talking about. This is, again, in “The Deepest Peace.”
Rattling The Bones, My Ancient Stories
The first breath of a spring day is surrounded by orchids in my room, tension is hunted down in the body then breathed out.
Bones are let down from being folded up overnight.
Deep breathing releases the dark river that pumps inside my body.
This river can’t be heard, but speaks when clogged.
These bones can’t be heard but rattle when I remember.
When I dig into an ancient story. The moment just passed is ancient.
I remember it. My bones rattle.
When still I sense the bones of the earth. The bones of those who crawled upon the earth. Or flew above clouds are the same bones inside of me.
The same bones hold the same wisdom. Bare bones, let us know life is impermanent. You don’t have to believe Buddha.
Accepting the passing of life brings the presence of peace.
Thomas Hübl: Thank you very much Zenju, this was really amazing. All kinds of dimensions together. Beautiful, thank you so much. It was a great enrichment for the summit. I deeply enjoyed your depth, the innocence and the openness of your curiosity, the depth you’re exploring. So thank you very much.
Zenju Earthlyn Manuel: Thank you for inviting me.
Thomas Hübl: Thank you.