As a group of Zen Peacemakers are returning to South Dakota’s Cheyenne’s Reservation later this month, following the path laid by the 2015 Native American Bearing Witness Retreat, another initiative in South Dakota is coming to a close. Robin Panagakos, a Zen Peacemaker from Greenfield MA and member of the Green River Zen Center, agreed to send winter cloths for to Alice and Tuffy Sierra of Pine Ridge Reservation, who were among the Lakota leaders of the retreat. Reaching out to other Zen Peacemaker Order training groups, and with the use of social media and the ZPO Members Facebook page, other responded. Hundreds if not thousands of pounds of cloths were sent from Massachusetts, Vermont, New York City and other places around the United States. Members gathered the clothes, boxed and shipped them to the Sierras in South Dakota. Thank you to all the members for your organizing, donating, and contributing to this effort.
Peg Reishin Murray, a Zen Peacemaker Order member from Boulder, Colorado USA, chose to drive her donation to the reservation herself. She writes: My community responded wholeheartedly, my VW van was filled to the rooftop in a few short weeks, and I drove the van to Pine Ridge staying just long enough to unload the donations, then turned around and drove home. Way boring, no?
Then Alice sent a second request and in late January 2016 the scenario pretty much repeated itself—except this time I received a Tuffy Teaching and that is the story I’d like to relate.
According to Google maps, the drive from Boulder Colorado to Pine Ridge takes a little over 5 hours. In reality, Google couldn’t be trusted here and on both occasions that I drove to the reservation following its directions (albeit different routes each visit), I entered a hell realm of GPS deceit that added about two hours to Google’s estimated drive time. (Tuffy told me that he has tried to inform Google that their directions are way off but apparently this is another instance of Native Peoples being ignored) But let me be perfectly honest here—the scenery between Boulder and Pine Ridge is one of the most spacious, uncluttered and majestic landscapes you will encounter and at some point in the journey, an unbidden bliss and the thought, this is suññatā (Pali term meaning emptiness; voidness), arose in my mind.
After many wrong turns, I finally found the road that leads to Alice and Tuffy’s home, and a second act in this comedy of errors unfolded as I attempted to contact Alice’s cell phone to let her know I had finally arrived. Of course, no signal. And the half mile long driveway leading to Alice and Tuffy’s home was a trough of scary-deep mud, the traverse of which only a 4WD might survive. After a brief moment of “ruh roh”, Facebook came to the rescue (text messages have a super power that can penetrate the airwaves that phone calls cannot).
Soon Alice and Tuffy arrived from one direction and Genro serendipitously pulled in behind me. Genro climbed up into the truck bed and we efficiently unloaded my vehicle and reloaded theirs. I took a photo of the three of them to share. The whole encounter had been completely low key, routine, and pretty selfless up to this point. But then as I turned to climb back into the van to begin the trip home, Genro beamed a benevolent gaze upon me and said, “Wow, you must be exhausted. Do you have a plan to take care of yourself?” Big mistake on his part to give me an opening to “say more”. Because in my habitual open-mouth-and-stick-entire-foot-in tendency, I started gushing about the Buddhist term suññatā and how driving out there (even if lost) is bliss. Genro was looking bemused, but Tuffy turned his flinty squint upon me and said, “Yah, good. Now listen up. I’m gonna give you directions for the shortest way outta here. Go back to the gas station and turn right…” His direction(s)? Spot on. I arrived home in record time.
Alice Sierra wrote in response: “Everyday was like Christmas. I enjoy getting presents or packages. Not knowing what was in the packages increased my curiosity and gratitude for the giving to my people. Many many were so grateful for your generosity. My family refers to their clothing as Zen coat, pants, shirts, etc. I’ve even been asked if I would be doing it again???”
Zen Peacemakers appreciates the thoughtfulness and intiative of all the individuals involved in this effort — a fine example of the Three Tenets — Taking Action Rising from Not Knowing and Bearing Witness.