Sunday, June 19, 2011


The New York Times recently published an editorial about a bill that I've had the pleasure of working on for some time. Re-Direct New York legislation (S6711-B), sponsored by Senator Velmanette Montgomery (D-Brooklyn), brings our state a step closer to true justice for youth by reimbursing local governments sensibly for community-based programs for youth and alternatives to detention, rather than only reimbursing for dangerous detention facilities as it does now.

Please read on to learn more, and contact your legislator to support this critical measure. We spend exorbitant sums (over $200,000 per year per youth) to incarcerate one child, which puts them at risk of assault, gang involvement, staff abuse, and educational deprivation. A U.S. Department of Justice investigation laid bare heinous abuses of youth in upstate juvenile prisons. Local detention is also gravely detrimental. Community-based programs are more effective, cheaper (average of $5,000-$17,000 per year per youth), better for public safety, and enable youth to dream of success and find concrete ways to avoid criminal involvement. Governor Paterson's budget proposes to gut crucial youth programs, and we can change that decision.

See your child in every child. Positive change happens in the lives of at-risk youth every day. You can make the difference.

New York Times editorial:
New York State Assembly website, where you can find your Assembly member by zip code:
New York State Senate website, where you can find your Senator by zip code:

Reach me at


"Walk like a free person." - Thich Nhat Hanh. Do you feel enslaved by your own thoughts? Captured by your own special Boogeyman/woman? You are not! You are free! Guess what? Thoughts are not facts. Feelings are not facts. (Ezra Bayda). They are exactly what you make of them, and what you let them be. If you focus keenly on each task at hand, and notice your thoughts gently then let them pass on by like clouds coasting past the majestic mountain of your mind (and not getting stuck there on the mountain), you can indeed walk like a free person. It's not easy, but anything worth doing is worth doing poorly! (Roshi Bernie Tetsugen Glassman). Go ahead. I dare you.

"First LGBTQ Federal Right in U.S." - ORIGINAL POSTING DATE: FRI., APRIL 16TH, 2010

I am so proud to say that President Obama has finally executive-ordered the first lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) federal right. (If you believe I misspoke and that there was another one first, please let me know. I do not know of any).
It's long overdue and we have miles to go, but what a wonderful thing this is.
Let's savor this moment. Definitely motivation to keep striving!
------Original Message-------------------------------
From: The Washington Post
To: Charisa Smith
ReplyTo: The Washington Post
Subject: Breaking News: Obama orders hospitals to grant same-sex couples visitation rights
Sent: Apr 15, 2010 7:47 PM
-------------------- News Alert: Obama orders hospitals to grant same-sex couples visitation rights
07:34 PM EDT Thursday, April 15, 2010 --------------------
President Obama signed an order Thursday night requiring hospitals to allow gays and lesbians to have non-family visitors and to grant their partners medical power of attorney. The president ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to prohibit discrimination in hospital visitation. The memo is scheduled to be made public Friday morning, according to an administration official and another source familiar with the White House decision. An official said the new rule will affect any hospital that receives Medicare or Medicaid funding.
For more information, visit

"Wisdom Warrior" - ORIGINAL POSTING DATE: MON., APRIL. 12TH, 2010

"Wisdom is the brave warrior who will carry us into the sun." - Sade (singer). Wise ones say that silence can sometimes be the best possible answer. Thich Nhat Hanh and other Zen teachers emphasize "deep listening." The more we talk, the less we inherently listen. Inviting others to feel free around us is a great gift. How can someone feel truly free to speak their mind and heart if they hear us talking more than listening, and even far more than they talk themselves? Let's have the wisdom to use words judiciously and to choose silence out of wonder and care. "Not-knowing" is a fundamental principle of Buddhism and Zen.

"Awaken, Awaken, Awake" - ORIGINAL POSTING DATE: WED., APRIL 7TH, 2010

"Being one with the water, the fish doesn't think in terms of being either wet or dry or even of swimming in water. From the beginning we are intrinsically the enlightened state." - Roshi Bernie Tetsugen Glassman, Zen Master.

How many times a day do we wake from sleepwalking, only to realize we've been here, alive, the whole time? Probably not nearly enough. All we'll ever need is inside of us. Right here, right now. Let's not miss life's moments.

"Each of us should strive to awaken. Awaken. Take heed. Do not squander your life." - Zen expression, repeated at the end of most meditations.


"Ignorance creates greed by breeding the idea that we are fundamentally lacking something..." - Roshi Bernie Tetsugen Glassman. How many times have we gone overboard, all because we needed "that something"? Felt utterly alone in the midst of friends? Indulged to fill that void? Will the craving to feel, know, gain, and achieve ever cease?

Emotional malnutrition--as I have decided to coin it--is actually optional. At the NYC Buddhist Forum on March 20th, senior Shambala Center teacher Joseph Mauricio also pointed out this cycle of desire, binging, and dissatisfaction with whatever we currently have. Earlier, I complained to my friend and advisor, Corey Roberts, about receiving unwanted sexual advances in professional settings. I know that I come across as friendly and enthusiastic, but I just can't believe the fact that so many people assume that my demeanor means it's okay for them to put the moves on me. Corey likened most people to roaming nomads in the desert. He said that the world is unfortunately so bereft of kindness that when these thirsty, weary nomads see true kindness staring them in the face, they can not believe it could be the real, pure thing. Convinced that sincere friendliness must be a mirage, too many acquaintances think that I must be offering sexual energy instead. This saddens me unfathomably, and I realize that I need to be more vocal about my platonic intentions as soon as I suspect someone may have the wrong idea, if I want to avoid feeling intruded upon and in need of a constant shower. I will have to get over the disappointment that I must continually "set people straight" if I choose to maintain my personality. I can only hope that in time, sincerity will become as viral as lust and anxiety.

I am so glad that Zen accepts that perfection is the here and now. Can we try to believe that the current ingredients of our lives are precisely what we need to create each daily feast? Striving, craving, searching, and desires are "inexhaustible" (The Four Vows). We do not need to gorge on anything in this world-- be it material or intangible. It is possible to free ourselves from that feeling of persistent lack. Seize the day. Be grateful. See a need, an opportunity, and act. Make the most of each present moment.

It truly is always right now.


Last night my yoga teacher mentioned a famous, misunderstood yogi who he studied under. This famous yogi said that yoga can make us "bulletproof." But not because we build armor to shield and desensitize ourselves from emotion, pain, disappointment, and harm. Instead, he meant that yoga enables us to get so deeply in touch with ourselves, with our vulnerability, and with our souls, that we can withstand anything, resting in that intense inner beauty no matter what. That yoga class was such a transformative experience. Definitely the best one I've been to.
Feeling helpless, crying at seeing someone get stomped in the midst of a crowd, going home from yoga class, made me ache. I suit up with my armor, to engage others, in order to protect those in pain.
We're here. It's now. Let's suit up.


"Whether tainted or free of all tarnish, There is [one] mind: Whether one stands or falls, It is with the same body." - Princess Yodo, Japanese Zen nun. Are you the same person as the person in your childhood photo? Yes. . .and no. Where would I be if my father wasn't born? Would your day have been as meaningful if that person hadn't annoyed you? Everyone can be our teacher. Interdependence reaches all. Savor it and see what it has to offer :-)

"Original Spirit" - ORIGINAL POSTING DATE: FRI., FEB. 26TH, 2010

"Only when one finds the original spirit of human beings, which is non-existence, and is able to use it at one's disposal, [does] the life of a human being open up. When that happens, one becomes an independent being who is not being swindled by environments, and thus whenever, wherever, and whatever kind of life with whatever shape of a body, one leads one's life, one finds nirvana." - Kim Ilyop, Korean nun and woman’s rights activist (1896-1971.

"City Council fails to properly address gangs; new bill could target Black and Latino teens" - ORIGINAL POSTING DATE: WED., FEB 24TH, 2010

City Council fails to properly address gangs; new bill could target Black and Latino teens

By STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff
Published: Wednesday, February 24, 2010 7:08 PM EST

On February 11, the New York City Council voted 38 to 9 in approval of a bill, Intro 1-2010, that would crack down on gang initiation activity and prevent gangs from recruiting new members.

This new legislation creates a Class A misdemeanor penalty for what it dubs “criminal street gang initiation.” Those who are charged would face as much as a year in jail if convicted of initiating a person and if the initiation created a risk of “physical injury.” So what’s the problem with this bill? The New York Police Department and prosecution don’t have to prove with witness testimony that the injury took place during initiation.

Vagueness permeates this bill and it leaves a lot of questions open to a plethora of answers. One question, however, has been asked multiple times since news of the bill’s passing broke: Will this bill unfairly target Black and Latino teenagers in New York City? Two people answered with a resounding “yes” to that question.

Charisa Smith, coordinator of the New York Task Force on Racial Disparities and the Juvenile Justice System, spoke of the myriad of ways in which this bill can be a problem. “I think it’ll really allow for an undesignated level of restriction without any guidelines,” Smith said. “They can make an assumption as to what a group is going to do. The policies are, if you see this kind of behavior, you must do this. [It] leaves you with a broad range of possibility.
“It’s going to widen the potential load of alleged suspects,” Smith continued. “It’s gonna really confuse young people, because how do you avoid it?”

Smith isn’t the only one who sees holes in this legislation. Marquez Claxton, a former NYPD officer and City Council candidate, thinks the bill could be a good thing with clear regulations and directions, but sees parallels with another NYPD practice.

“The expressed sentiment behind it is a good thing,” Claxton acknowledged. “But the concern would be the application of the law by the police department. The real problem comes with how they enforce it. Will it be equally enforced or will it be targeted enforcement? If this is done the same way as stop and frisk, we have to look at the legislation with a skewed eye.”

Last year, police officers stopped a record 575,000 people under the stop and frisk policy, in which officers stop, detain and/or pat down people in the streets. Almost 90 percent of those who were stopped under the policy were Black or Latino. The NYPD claims that the practice has stopped and prevented crimes, but many groups, including the ACLU, say it unfairly targets ethnic minorities and violates basic civil liberties.

Many fear the same when it comes to bill Intro 1-2010. “First of all, teenagers gather in large groups to begin with,” said Smith. “When people are gathered in a group, it’s unclear as to what’s going on. Young people in Black and Latino neighborhoods are going to be forced to live in fear of the police more than they do already. There’s not enough safe havens for Black and Latino teenagers to go. It’s kind of an accident waiting to happen.”

Council Member Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn echoed similar sentiments after the council announced the vote. “I don’t think it’s going to deter one gang violation,” he said.
“The collateral damage isn’t worth it.”

The “collateral damage” that Williams mentioned would more than likely be the result of a law open to police interpretation. Not only could it have bad consequences for innocent teens, but the teens that are actually out gangbanging could get away with crimes if they hire the right representation in court.

“A good law is not this vague and open-ended because a good law doesn’t want enforcers to interpret it so widely,” Claxton said. “It’s too open-ended and it’s not specific enough, and it makes it that much more difficult to be enforced. You stand a risk of having individuals who should be prosecuted beating these cases because the law is poorly written.”

So the law could be a disaster two-fold. It could unfairly target Black and Latino teens and it could be a blessing to those who are actually in gangs. City legislation must go back to the drawing board.
Attempts to contact the NYPD were unsuccessful.

"Clairvoyant Cops: NYC Gang Bill a Step in Wrong Direction" - ORIGINAL POSTING DATE: THURS., FEB. 18TH, 2010

Clairvoyant Cops: NYC Gang Bill a Step in Wrong Direction

By Charisa Smith

February 18, 2010

It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to see a new series called Psychic Cops launched on A&E, considering recent gang-related legislation passed by the New York City Council. After all, its Psychic Kids series about inherited psychic abilities is already a hit. In this new series, cameras could follow New York Police Department officers who City Council members apparently believe are so clairvoyant that they can tell when a group of people is a gang. Even more remarkably, these “psychic” police officers could decipher whether this group of people committing an alleged crime were involved in a gang initiation.

This scenario is as ridiculous as it sounds. But it has become a reality in New York City, where on Feb. 11 the city council passed in a vote of 38-9 the bill Intro 1-2010, which creates a new Class A Misdemeanor penalty for “criminal street gang initiation.” The bill defines a “street gang” as “a formal or informal group of three or more persons who engage in certain activities, one of which involves a criminal purpose.” A person charged under the law would face up to one year in jail for the initiation of a person into a criminal street gang if it created “a substantial risk of physical injury.” To convict, prosecutors do not have to prove with witness testimony that an injury took place during the gang initiation. The bill’s sponsors proudly tout the fact that law enforcement would not need the testimony of a victim to prove this crime occurred.

A hypothetical look at this law in action conveys our city’s dilemma. An African-American male stands by his apartment building, speaking informally and animatedly with three African-American male friends. Their conversation is casual and none of the young men are gang-affiliated. But their predominantly African-American and Latino neighborhood has been labeled a gang hotspot by the NYPD, and members of their community are stopped and frisked regularly. Suddenly, a police car screeches to a stop and two officers jump out, their guns drawn and yelling. They arrest the young men and charge them with “gang initiation activity.” The young men vehemently argue that they were not committing a crime, and that the police have no proof of any gang activity. But their case goes to trial, and without a witness needed to attest to what was taking place that day, all the young men face one year in jail under Intro 1-2010.

Scenarios similar to this one take place in cities that have implemented similar gang-related legislation. Sponsors of the New York City law, including council members Maria del Carmen Arroyo, Peter F. Vallone Jr., and Domenic M. Recchia, Jr., and Speaker Christine C. Quinn, are trusting that NYPD officers can properly perceive a group’s “criminal purpose”; the actions comprising a “gang initiation”; and a risk of injury to another person without having witnessed any acts and without intensive fact-gathering, let alone an actual inquiry of the people involved.

This overarching faith in police raises deep Constitutional issues about potentially wrongful arrests without probable cause, and unfairly lowered burdens of proof for prosecutors at trial. I am currently the Coordinator of the New York Task Force on Racial Disparities in the Juvenile Justice System, a coalition that has worked for the past two years to communicate with decision-makers in governmental agencies including the NYPD to eliminate the overuse of juvenile arrest, incarceration and racially biased policies and practices. Police officers from diverse parts of the City have expressed a desire to use different, more constructive strategies than arrest. While the police often have the chance to stop crime with resourcefulness rather than handcuffs, NYPD policies already leave little leeway for alternatives; and Intro 1-2010 makes their job more difficult.

It is more than likely the NYPD and prosecutors will fall short of the new law’s expectations. The city’s district attorneys stated in testimony that the definitions of gang-related crimes as presented by the bill were imprecise and overly broad. The result would mean shifting valuable human and financial resources away from the few individuals who actually commit gang-related crimes to the many who may be perceived to be, wrongly. Intro 1-2010 will widen the net of “suspects” — which undoubtedly adversely affects low-income communities of color who are already subject to intensive police scrutiny — while also failing to address the root causes of criminal gang activity.

Furthermore, the bill is another step in the wrong direction during a budget crisis. By dictating that “criminal street gang initiation” activity is now punishable by up to one year in jail, New York City will be adding to the exorbitant cost of detention, which is currently $200,000 per year per youth. What is the social cost of this price? Recidivism rates as high as 81 percent for girls and 89 percent for boys. By comparison, community-based programs cost as little as $10,000 per year per youth, yield recidivism rates as low as 15 percent, and teach youth the skills they need to become productive and law-abiding.
Community-based and faith-based organizations have the ability to respond to young people’s need to feel protected in their communities by offering a network of supportive, involved adults and positive peers. These groups need resources including funding and property. The City can respond to the lack of recreation in low-income areas by funding, and investing in, creative after-school and evening programs and safe spaces for youth, including alternatives to detention and incarceration. And we New Yorkers can help the City tackle unemployment by creating partnerships between the private sector, the public sector, and communities, which would enable individuals in need of job opportunities the chance to make money lawfully. Drug treatment programs are also necessary to deter young people from joining gangs; and with these solutions, we will see more vulnerable youth steering clear from gang culture while still feeling safe.
Harassment, criminal mischief, assault, and other crimes that could be involved in gang initiations are already illegal, according to Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., chair of the Public Safety Committee, and prosecutors who testified at a City Council hearing. Intro 1-2010 simply tacks on expensive and unproductive jail time to currently punishable crimes. Instead, New York City should invest in true crime prevention, gang deterrence and community empowerment measures.

Why implement Intro 1-2010 when we know it will not keep the public safe and will not address the true problem of gangs in our City?

Charisa Smith is the Coordinator of the New York Task Force on Racial Disparities in the Juvenile Justice System, an effort directly supported by the W. Haywood Burns Institute. To interview/book Charisa Smith and other members of the New York Task Force on Racial Disparities in the Juvenile Justice System, please contact her directly at


"The point of seeing through our laziness of mind is not to judge or feel badly about ourselves, but to understand the need to use our minds in the service of waking up." - Ezra Bayda. We try to figure things out. This nonstop figuring and musing is scattered, as opposed to having disciplined focus. We are gigantic, cloudy, walking, talking heads. How on earth do our huge, thought-filled heads even balance on our drag-along bodies? Yet, when fully alive in the present moment, things often become crystal clear. Try to "wake up" all day today. Try tomorrow. See how richly you live.

“He did each single thing as if he did nothing else.” - ORIGINAL POSTING DATE: MON., FEB. 1ST, 2010

2/1/10: “He did each single thing as if he did nothing else.” - Charles Dickens. It's the start of Black History Month, the 2nd month of 2010. Having courage to pay true attention to life can be revolutionary. What am I doing? Where is my mind? My heart? Where am I needed? What can I focus on to play my part in history? Everyone has something to offer, and something to learn. Today is all we have.


Dear X,
Great to hear from you. Glad my emails could make you smile. How was your day? Your job seems really rewarding and exciting, from what I read of your card!

I'm actually not familiar with the work of Trungpa Ripoche. I love learning about other traditions, I just adore mine so much that I like to fill my days with Zen because I identify with it most strongly! I will have to make a point to read about the "me plan" sometime, though. I guess I tend to "study" (read) Zen texts more often and to experience other traditions through dharma talks, visits, or new friends instead.

Speaking of pan-Buddhism, here's a link to Bodhi Lounge, the Meetup group I was telling you about: If you get a chance and are interested, join up (free) and check out the link I posted to Roshi Enkyo O'Hara's dharma talk on Martin Luther King and the Vimalakirti Sutra, on the Message Board section.

To answer your question about moving between the 3 phases of practice, I would have to say that the Me Phase definitely has a diminished presence in my life, but I still have a drama playing in my head at times! The reason why I tend to stop the dramatic tape (DVD, lol?) before it plays that much is because I've gotten a taste of a life with far less self-worry and anxiety, and now I literally need a certain level of mental spaciousness to function. I find that because I "check myself" for presence of mind nearly every 2 minutes now, I've actually grown more physically sensitive to mental stress. It's weird but helpful. When I start to spin a story about something going on and proceed to detach my mental state from my whereabouts, and then even let a jumble of emotions start radiating through my body, it doesn't take long before I feel overwhelmed, as if I need to just rest in the void again, no matter what comes my way. I'm not sure if I've brainwashed myself to physically manifest that "Worrying is bad for your health," or whether I just grew more sensitive to those energies, but I clear my head so I won't end up with a migrane or an upset stomach! I'm also a trauma survivor and a former chronic pain patient (I really would appreciate talking with you about your pain sometime. I would love to be supportive and to learn more), so I now know that I also actually "manifest stress differently" than the average person. I finally found a doctor (GI of all things) who asked all the right questions and understands what I'm going through. A combination of practice, surgery, medication, and lifestyle choices has helped me to find a far less stressful way of life.

But everything's relative. . .Just because I don't play a tape in my head for too long doesn't mean I avoid chaos! I just recently broke a pattern of dating really unstable women. I did it for 9 years, same story everytime, supportive people pointing out the pattern, but I simply thought I was supposed to be with someone like that until it became too much to bear. Learning never stops!

Merle Kodo came to the Zendo this past summer. If you venture to her sangha sometime, I would enjoy tagging along.

Sorry I wrote you a novel! I'm a writer and a generally vocal person, so I think nothing of blabbing on and on in a one-way forum like email. Hope you're not bored lol. Please tell me more about yourself when you can.

Take care now.
In gassho,


"He's dead, and that's why he lives" - ORIGINAL POSTING DATE: SUN., JAN. 24TH, 2010

"[Y]ou should be like the sailor floating on the water. He's dead, and that's why he lives. . .We don't move and we don't follow our thoughts. . .[T]hat allows us to float on the ocean of energy. . ."-Philippe Coupey, French Zen monk. Being still, letting our ego and thoughts fall away in daily life, connects us to our deeper selves and the world. Come "Know Yourself If You Want to Get Over Yourself." Learn from Ezra Bayda’s book Zen Heart. Nosan Lawrence Grecco (Director) and Charisa Smith (Contributing Facilitator) with facilitate group meditation, and discussion before social time.

"Essential and Invisible" - ORIGINAL POSTING DATE: FRI., JAN. 22ND, 2010

"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye"-Antoine de St. Exupery. Wen we luv someone/thing, we kno it in our core. No 1 can tell us different. Whether we can c them our whole life or they fade away frm sight, our heart knows they live 4ever. Activity: I will honored those I luv, whether they are visible or bright in spirit. Luv 2 the late pet Peanut, and to her owners Tali, and Allan. - Charisa A. Smith, Esq., Vice-President of Cooperation for a Non-Violent Future, Inc. (CNF), a 501(c)(3) Non-profit Organization.

Dr. Martin Luther King. "Bodhisattva" - ORIGINAL POSTING DATE: MON., JAN. 18TH, 2010

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday - 20min talk by my teacher, Roshi Pat Enkyo O'Hara, comparing Vimalakirti (fictional ideal Buddhist) and Dr. Martin Luther King. "Bodhisattva" is someone who strives for justice and wisdom, and a Buddhist lifestyle. Roshi reads from the Vimalakirti Sutra and Dr. King's letter from the Birmingham jail, challenging us to create a just world. Some vocabulary may be different, but the message is accessible.

"Headed to Retreat" - ORIGINAL POSTING DATE: SAT., JAN. 16TH, 2010

Headed to a retreat. 8am-8pm. Excited, hopeful re sending metta and love to Haiti in zazen (meditation). Red Cross and Yele effectively aid disasters. Money's crucial (even $5) because there's not enough time/order to sort through in kind donations. and " the element that... can give birth to a new civilization." - Thich Nhat Hanh. - Charisa A. Smith, Esq., Vice-President of Cooperation for a Non-Violent Future, Inc. (CNF), a 501(c)(3) Non-profit Organization.

"Devastation afflicts Haiti" - ORIGINAL POSTING DATE: WED., JAN. 13TH, 2010

Devastation afflicts Haiti. "Many abundance have revolted against materialism for the need to be a human being." - Thich Nhat Hanh. Find your human core. The Red Cross effectively aids disasters. Money is most crucial (even $5) because there's not enough time/order to sort through in kind donations. " the element that can give birth to a new civilization"-Thich Nhat Hanh. - Charisa A. Smith, Esq., Vice-President of Cooperation for a Non-Violent Future, Inc. (CNF), a 501(c)(3) Non-profit Organization.

"Informal Letter to My Friend, A Nun" - ORIGINAL POSTING DATE: JAN. 12TH, 2010

1/12/10: From: "Charisa Smith" To: "Charisa Smith"

Hey folks, If u r getting this email frm me, it's bc u r a treasured frend and I thank u 4 being supportiv of me over the years, and now. The message below is from me to 1 of my closest frends frm college, Y (I deleted her responses 4 privacy, of course). 2day was a life altering day 4 me. Definitely the happiest in my life so far. I don't believe one ever reaches "Enlightenment" (Zen thing, mostly a Buddhist thing, and think about it-- any1 who walks around saying "I'm totally enlightened! I kno the answers 2 all life's questions!" has got 2 b pretty damn deluded, hmm? If u disagree tho, I respect that. Cuz hey- I don't hav the answers either lol!). I jus had an amazing day.

Context is dat Y is now in a monastery. We went thru tons of stuff in college and afterwards 2gethr. OK- Here go my messages. Thank u 4 letting me share w u. The 1st message, way below, is re my struggle w someone I wanted to date, and how she dissed me and my morals. I reached out 2 Y 4 support. I understand if u don't care 2 hear that 1 agen!

Charisa A. Smith, Esq. Task Force Coordinator NY Task Force on Racial Disparities in the Juvenile Justice System Community Justice Network for Youth (CJNY), W. Haywood Burns Institute

"To be who you are and become what you are capable of is the only goal worth [achieving]" -Alvin Ailey

--- On Tue, 1/12/10, Charisa Smith wrote: From: Charisa Smith Subject: Re: The right path To: "Y" Date: Tuesday, January 12, 2010, 2:45 PM Dear Y, Thank you so much for taking the time 2 write me. I totally understand dat ur time 2 do that is limited, so I relly appreciate it. CONGRATULATIONS on ordaining! That's amazing! The universe is so deeply interconnected. I've always felt it, but today almost more than anything. Today I got your email, and it just filled me with soaring joy. You are doing something so important, and I treasure your presence in my life. U r such a true gift, Y.

The full potency of interconnectedness fell in my lap just a few moments ago. . .a Sensei from my sangha wrote me back with more information about receiving Jukai, The Precepts. He sent a pamphlet about the process and advised me how 2 proceed. When I opened the pamphlet and read what it sed, I burst into hysterical tears. I m crying now and have been crying like a loon for about a half hour! But tears of hysterical happiness! I dreamed about being a nun when I was younger in Catholic school, and all the while growing up and being fully engaged in secular revelry, I longed 2 do it still. My journey in Zen, hearing from u 2day, reading the words that articulate in great detail what it means 2 liv by the Precepts, and realizing that I really hav everything I ever wanted in this moment, is so overwhelming and --to use your word-- fulfilling.

I relly hope I don't get this cooky wen I begin studying and practicing mor intensely for Jukai! But 4 now, I hav been given free time 2 savor how this feels, 2 cry tears of gratitude and endebtedness to life, and to share this all with u. And as luck would hav it, I must hav been meant 2 experience this in the precise way that I m. I called 3 people 2 share the moment w, and no 1 picked up. I hav become WAY more self reliant and happily independent in the last year, so I stopped making calls n enjoyed the overflowing emotion in solitude (save the sounds of my gasping...Good grief!). Then I turned 2 yr email and m now writing u back. I appreciate the wisdom u shared. I will definitely print out your words and carry them w me wen times get rough, so I can send metta 2 u and rejoice that u r in this world. Glad u included translations 2, lol, bc most of my Buddhist references r in Japanese, w a good helping of Sanskrit & Pali as well.

Your ideas about romantic relationships n marriage r quite helpful and giv me much 2 ponder. Another reason this day and moment r so apropos is bc in the past couple days I realized I've grown so happy on my own that I'm not sure I'm even ready 4 romance...After all this time chasing it! I'm finally com4table 4 it to take years if that's wat happens. And if not, I realize I'll b A-OK. That sed, I hav always dreamed of raising a family, and of the unique joy of being a mother, hopefully both thru adoption and biology. As I hav actually found an admirable tradition (we call ourselves a lay order of Soto Zen) that enables priest ordination alongside the option of raising a family, I feel I would like to live a life like dat. That is y I cried so. . .(Just stopped a few seconds ago!) bc I can actually do everything I ever wanted, and if I extinguish @ this moment, then this is already great enough.

Co-parenting n growing old w 1 special person is still part of my fairytale, yet I will always hav utmost reverence 4 those who give their all to the world thru celibacy and mor intense solitude. I still struggle w ideas of "legitimacy" being in an order that is lay and yet maintains so much ceremony. Yet, I've always felt there had 2 b a way 2 liv a truly spiritually devoted life, commit 2 meditation n the dharma, and still maneuver secular life as well. That's y the nun-dream b/came only a dream @ sum point-- bc I had no idea I could ordain n liv secularly as well.
My teacher, Pat Enkyo Roshi O'Hara, actually gave a dharma talk on the Vimalakirti Sutra on Sunday, and it applies 100% 2 this circumstance! Jeez-another bit of fortuitousness. This day is unbelieveable. It would b gr8 2 speak w u or c u sometime, and I kno that will happen in due time. 4 now, THANK U 4 being who u r, congratulations on ur path and progress 2 ordination once agen, and I will leave u w some Zen wisdom frm authors of various traditions. I apologize 4 the font being so huge! I cut and pasted frm a document I made, I have 2 run 2 do sum work, and Yahoo isn't letting me shrink the font! Not trying 2 b obnoxious, lol:
"If you cannot find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?" - Dogen Zenji (Founder of the Soto Zen tradition, in which I seek to ordain one day).
"If a man wishes to be sure of the road he treads on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark." - St. John of the Cross. (From The Little Zen Companion, which compiles multi-cultural quotes in the spirit of Zen).
“The self says, I am; The heart says, I am less; The spirit says, you are Nothing.” – Theodore Roethke. (The Little Zen Companion).
“That is happiness: to be dissolved into something complete and great.” - Willa Cather. (The Little Zen Companion).
“You should study not only that you become a mother when your child is born, but also that you become a child.” – Dogen Zenji
"We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want" - Lao Tzu (Founder of Taoism and author of the Tao Te Ching).

“Zen is your everyday thought.” - Chao-Chou

"You must learn to turn and direct your light inward to illuminate your true nature. Body & mind will fall away, & your original face will appear. If you want to reach thusness, then you must practice thusness without delay"-Dogen.

We are not just this human body, education, experience, lifespan. We will always be part of the world. And the world is a flowing field of molecular, energetic activity that simply keeps changing forms. Activity: I will use my silence to hear the voice of everything.

"Can You Do It?" - ORIGINAL POSTING DATE: FRI., JAN. 8TH, 2010

"A quiet place is best...During one summer...a distant...noise like that of a broken washing machine began filling the dojo during the morning zazen [meditation]...I sent my shusso [head monk] out to see...Finally, several hours later, he returned in his car. He was still wearing his [robe]...and clutching a kyosaku [stick]. Apparently the noise was coming from a rave party...he [was] trying to track it down, without success..."- Philippe Coupey, French Zen Teacher. Hmm. . . I adore zazen, silent meditation. But why not twirl glowsticks in a robe? The present moment is all we have! You only live once.

Activity: In the next couple days, when you find an opportunity to savor something harmless and spontaneous, DO IT!

Reason to call in “present” for life today (Social Justice Cause): 2000 data showed that approximately 20.9 million American families had at least one member with a disability. Many differently-abled people are living healthy, happy lives. And many are not. Some disabled children, adolescents, and adults lack adequate health care, nutrition, social services, and community support. Did you wake up able to walk this morning? Are you able to speak? Can you have your pick of activities to participate in for work and enjoyment? If the answer to any of these questions is “Yes,” please savor those gifts and engage with someone disabled. Go to the Special Olympics website to see how you can volunteer, coach, take the R-word pledge, watch a video, or support a sponsor to help empower people with disabilities.

"What Do We Do With It?" - ORIGINAL POSTING DATE: MON., JAN. 4TH, 2010

"A truly enlightened person is one who can transform the energy [emotions] nearly all of the time. It's not that the energy no longer arises; the question is, what do we do with it?"- Charlotte Joko Beck, Zen Master. The world and its inhabitants toss us a whirlwind of situations. We can make plans and have intention, but we fundamentally have no control over what happens. Making peace with whatever happens is Zen practice. Activity: I will feel deeply, then transform that into centeredness. Namaste

"Happy 2010!!" - ORIGINAL POSTING DATE: THURS., DEC. 31ST, 2009

"Your crown has been bought and paid for. All you must do is put it on your head"-James Baldwin. We are the truth. Right now, where we stand. “Zen is your everyday thought”-Chao-Chou. Please savor the present moment and make the most of this gift called life. You matter, and you can make a difference. Happy 2010! Namaste

"Bombing for Peace is Like..." - ORIGINAL POSTING DATE: MON., DEC. 28TH, 2009

"We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want" - Lao Tzu (Founder of Taoism and author of the Tao Te Ching). We live within the bounds of multiple identities. Gender, race, class, sexuality, religion, political affiliation, family membership, etc.. Yet we are each more than one human body walking earth. More similar than different.

Why do I yawn when I hear someone yawn over the phone or see it on t.v.? Why do you experience déjà vu? How can someone’s mind be totally busy thinking a thousand thoughts intently during the whole drive to work but still manage to drive their car skillfully, and arrive there, only to realize they were not really “there” when driving? “Where” were “they”? “Who” or “what” was doing the driving? How did my mother dream of white sheets several years ago and wake up that morning knowing I was in the hospital many miles away and could not communicate with her? When we really get to know ourselves, learn about others, and contemplate the mysteries of life, we can recognize that we are part of one universal consciousness. The shell of our body is so little of what we are.

Activity: Let me see the emptiness within myself. The potential of our greatness as continuations of all that has been and will ever be. Let me take one action today to prove that I see myself in someone else, in the larger whole. Smile at a stranger. Listen when you really want to shut down. Put yourself in your enemy’s shoes. Try to defend someone in need.

Reason to call in “present” for life today (Social Justice Cause): Right now Americans are frightened because of recent alleged terrorist plots targeting airplanes. Many influential people continue play upon these fears, demonizing what they see as a faceless mass of evildoers unworthy of human rights. If someone is threatening to kill, that is a major problem to be handled immediately. But the way we handle threats makes all the difference in the world. Each human being has the capacity to cause harm, feel pain, and love. All of us bleed, think, and dream. Thich Nhat Hanh says that when we understand the true meaning of love, we will not be able to have enemies. There is so much of us in our enemies. Being really human means you see yourself in your enemy. Until we practice ways to target the root cause of hatred and extremism, rather than hurling back hatred and extremism, the cycle of misunderstanding and violence will continue. I invite you to learn about, explore, and promote just ways of fighting terrorism that preserve all human rights. Bombing for peace is like screwing for virginity.


"Schtick" - ORIGINAL POSTING DATE: FRI., DEC. 25TH, 2009

From Charisa (Reesie) Smith to Taliana Sconza – “Naw, man. 2 funny 2 resist. Every1's got a schtick. The mor I find myself the mor I feel like all I'm missing is sum berkenstocks, a dirt floor 2 liv on, a tree 2 hug, and an assorted monument 2 march on.”

"Working With Chaos" - ORIGINAL POSTING DATE: THURS., DEC. 24TH, 2009

"The third method for working with chaos is to regard whatever arises as the manifestation of awakened energy. We can regard ourselves as already awake; we can regard our world as already sacred."-Pema Chodron. We really don't get to choose what is thrust before us in life. It's all about what we do with what we get. Activity: It is time 4 me 2 rise n shine. I will take this life and make it mine. Divine. No matter what I find.


"In Buddhist psychology, the word samyojana refers to internal formations...or knots. When someone says something unkind...if we do not understand why...and we become irritated, a knot will be tied in us. The lack of understanding is the basis for every internal knot. We create elaborate defense mechanisms to deny their existence, but these problematic feelings are always trying to surface...[Knots] need our full attention as soon as they form, while they are loosely tied, so that...untying them will be easy. Otherwise, they will grow tighter and stronger." (Thich Nhat Hanh).

Reason to call in “present” for life today (Social Justice Cause): At this time of year, we are often thrust into the mix with people we know closely and who may knowingly or unknowingly push our buttons. It is so easy to have an argument, a sense of resentment or residual feelings from the past, or simply to notice the challenge of interacting with more people than usual. Statistically, more people get suicidal this time of year. Many humans feel more alone now than ever if they are ill, abandoned, impoverished, addicted, outcast, or just plain depressed. If you know someone like this, reaching out is the most humane thing to do. Everyone deserves to feel like someone cares.

Mindfulness Activity: Truly feel the sensation of being upset when it comes. Catch it, deeply ask why, and work on unraveling it immediately. Regardless of whether or not we celebrate a holiday in late December, we can act from an awareness of the difficulties this season brings to humankind. Show care, communicate, give of kind speech, writing, or time. You can strengthen your capacity to love and possibly touch the life of another.


"Tackling New York’s Juvenile Justice Crisis" - ORIGINAL POSTING DATE: MON., DEC. 21ST, 2009

“That is happiness: to be dissolved into something complete and great.” - Willa Cather. (The Little Zen Companion). Tackling New York’s Juvenile Justice Crisis challenges us to join a serious struggle for youth rights and wellbeing.

"Becoming a Mother is Becoming a Child" - ORIGINAL POSTING DATE: SAT., DEC. 19TH, 2009

"You should study not only that you become a mother when your child is born, but also that you become a child.” – Dogen Zenji (Founder of Soto Zen tradition, in which I seek to ordain). The Senate health care bill threatens to rob millions of women of a choice about entering motherhood. America should strive for enlightened, purposeful, wondrous motherhood. Activity: Fight for women’s health care rights.

"What Do They Expect of Us?" - ORIGINAL POSTING DATE: THURS., DEC. 17TH, 2009

"If we look deeply, we will know what our children and grandchildren expect of us. We may not see them in person yet, but they are already talking to us. They want us to live in a way that they won't be miserable when they manifest." - Thich Nhat Hanh (Zen Master). The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act crossed a crucial hurdle today. Yet, it needs enough Congressional support to provide futures for our most vulnerable children. Activity: Go to or to do your part.

"Stop Spinning the Story" - ORIGINAL POSTING DATE: WED., DEC. 16TH, 2009

"Zen practice is to see through our desire to cling to our history and to reasons (thoughts) for why we are as we are, instead of working with the reality of what we are." - Charlotte Joko Beck, Zen Master). It is so easy to spin some storyline when we look at ourselves. (Hope Martin, Teacher of the Alexander Technique). Be it past or future. Yet, truly recognizing our current situation and accepting ourselves, as we are right now, will most likely make the difference. Activity: I will not spin a story. I will observe me, now, and handle it.


“When we have difficulties or troubles, peace of mind is not something that comes from outside, but something you find inside yourself.” – Taizan Maezumi Roshi. (Founding Abbott, Zen Center of L.A.). Quieting our own minds and softening our hearts can truly bring ease and joy. In the end, we are our own monastery. No matter where you go, there you are. Activity: Try to tame the wild horse that is your thought stream. Namaste

"Anger? Or Curiosity?" - ORIGINAL POSTING DATE: MON., DEC. 14TH, 2009

Someone asked the Buddha, “Master, is there anything you would agree to kill?” The Buddha answered, “Yes, anger. Killing anger removes suffering and brings peace and happiness. Anger is the single enemy that all the wise ones agree to kill.” Amazing things can happen if when someone gets angry, we stop, breathe, and ask us both, “Wow. What happened here?” Dissolving our own anger into curiosity creates chances for understanding.  (Koshin Paley Ellison).  Activity: Try this the next time someone gets angry at you.  Namaste.

"I Am Nothing" - ORIGINAL POSTING DATE: SUN., DEC. 13TH, 2009

“The self says, I am; The heart says, I am less; The spirit says, you are Nothing.” – Theodore Roethke.
Forgetting the self opens up our universe. Reason to call in “present” for life today (Social justice cause): Many adults can’t buy gifts for their children. 30% of NYC kids live in poverty. Donating even $5 to a children’s charity can help.

Mindfulness activity: Let’s do something to make someone’s life a little better today.   Namaste

"Review of Bodhi Lounge" - ORIGINAL POSTING DATE: SAT., DEC. 12TH, 2009

"If a man wishes to be sure of the road he treads on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark." - St. John of the Cross. (Many quotes are from a Little Zen Companion that compiles multi-cultural quotes in the spirit of Zen).

12/12/09 - Review of Bodhi Lounge (A Buddhist Meetup Group in New York City that had a Bodhi Day and holiday celebration at the Rubin Museum on 12/11/09): I really want to thank Alice, Dennis and Jenn for organizing this awesome group. It is so refreshing to be able to mingle and connect with people who share Buddhist interests and life paths outside of the traditional practitioner's setting.
Buddhist "practice" happens 24-7, living mindfully and acknowledging that "everything is alive and everything is interconnected" (Tai Ta Ku, Pat Phelan, Zen Master). So to take that concept into a chill, fun environment is quite formative, but most importantly delightful!

Meeting people from diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and traditions, and touring the incredible Rubin Museum, was a truly worthwhile way to spend a Friday Night. Towards the end of the evening, I repeated a quote by the founder of my particular Buddhist tradition: "If you can't find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?" (Dogen Zenji, founder of Soto Zen, the tradition I seek to ordain in one day). Thanks to all who make that so real.

"Pity For Myself" - ORIGINAL POSTING DATE: DEC. 11TH, 2009

Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while a great wind is bearing me across the sky." - Obijwa/Chippewa saying (One of the largest Native North American indigenous communities).

Monday, June 13, 2011


So some sweet friends have asked me to post a Buddhist notion on Facebook regularly. I am happy to oblige and hope folks are cool with this. Here is today's: "If you cannot find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?" - Dogen Zenji (Founder of the Soto Zen Tradition, which I seek to ordain in). Have a great day! :-)

The very first time - ORIGINAL POSTING DATE: DECEMBER 8TH, 2009

I am so profoundly honored that my first blog entry just happens to be today. Totally coincidental. Today is Bodhi Day, the day Buddhists believe the Buddha attained enlightenment after years of seeking and days sitting under a Bodhi Tree. I invite you to taste your life as I do the same with mine. Show up, each moment. It is always right now. The present moment is all we have. :-)