Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

Osho Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, PhD, is an author, poet, ordained Zen Buddhist priest, teacher, and artist, whose diverse background, education, and experience all provide a unique integral and cultural perspective within the space of religion and spirituality. She is the author of The Shamanic Bones of ZenThe Way of TendernessThe Deepest Peace, and more. Manuel is a native of California and now resides in New Mexico. Learn more at zenju.org.

Author photo © Vaschelle André

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Zenju Earthlyn Manuel: Opening to Darkness

Darkness is an inseparable part of life. Yet instead of resisting it or trying to eradicate it, as society would often have us do, how can we use darkness as fodder for our growth and evolution? In this podcast, Tami Simon speaks with poet, Zen Buddhist priest, and artist Zenju Earthlyn Manuel about her new book, Opening to Darkness: Eight Gateways for Being with the Absence of Light in Unsettling Times, and how we can begin to change the way we relate to darkness and blackness. 

We invite you to turn off the lights and close your eyes (assuming you’re not driving), as you listen to this insightful and provocative conversation exploring “zenju,” or complete tenderness; our longing for light and the call to “enter our caves”; the connection between the bias toward light and the oppression of Black-bodied people; the evolutionary force of blackness; creativity and darkness; the notion of “the absence of light”; the price we pay by avoiding darkness at all costs; how we can’t really know but can only experience light or darkness; the teacher of darkness called death, and the willingness to look at something beyond our control; the inner capacities to stay with darkness; recognizing the spiritual component to darkness; building an intuition and going beyond what is taught and learned about darkness and blackness; being with suffering; silence and darkness; and more.

Note: This episode originally aired on Sounds True One, where these special episodes of Insights at the Edge are available to watch live on video and with exclusive access to Q&As with our guests. Learn more at join.soundstrue.com.

Growing through the Peak of Your Pain

A doctor of Chinese medicine who was a famous bonesetter in China once said to me with a heavy accent, “Here, you [meaning Americans] don’t like to feel pain. You don’t like to suffer.” He said this as he wrung my neck as one would a chicken’s, snapping it back and forth in a way I had never experienced. I screamed as if he were breaking my bones.

For a month prior, I hadn’t been able to move my head to the left or right. My left arm was nearly immobile. I had just started a new job that probably should have ended the moment my body locked up. I went for acupuncture, then pain pills; used ice and hot water bottles. I went to medical doctors, and they X-rayed the area and gave me more pills and a brace to keep my head still—the kind used for whiplash. I later tried one of the best chiropractors in the city, and she gave me the number of a neurosurgeon, thinking I had a herniated disk and would need surgery. I did not seek out the surgeon and stayed in pain for weeks. Finally, a friend from my job gave me the number of her doctor, the famous bonesetter mentioned above. I called him at 10:00 pm that night. That’s how much pain I was in. To my surprise, he answered the phone. He said, “Come in. I wait for you.”

I said, “Now?”

“Yes!” he said. “You have pain, come now.”

Wow, I thought. Now that’s a healer. It didn’t matter that it was the middle of the night.

My partner at the time drove me across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco, and I met my friend from work at the healer’s office. She had come to translate from Mandarin to English. The place was tiny, with photos on the wall of city dignitaries and other famous people who were his clients.

“Hi.” The bonesetter smiled like a boy. “I’m Dr. Fu.”

I sat down in his small room and showed him my X-ray. He threw it on the floor without looking at it. He took the brace off my neck and threw that on the floor, too, right next to the X-ray. Then he twisted me into a pretzel. I howled, yelped, screamed, and hollered.

All of it. No wonder he had me come when no other patients were there. He told me to breathe, and I did my best. Suddenly, at the peak of the pain, I felt my muscles release in my neck, shoulders, and back. It was in fact a miracle to me. I had suffered so long.

I carried my brace and X-ray out in my hands. It was as if I had never been in pain or unable to move. The night sky filled with stars made me feel like I was on another planet. I was in bliss. When I returned to work, everyone was shocked. Was it a miracle, or was it the ability to withstand a greater amount pain to be free of the pain? I would have never imagined that I needed to go deeper into the pain, deeper into the darkness of it. All I had wanted was out.

We are averse to pain and suffering and understandably so, given our American sensibility. We have access to a large market of remedies, products, spiritual paths, and, yes, gateways to the freedom from suffering. I wonder how many times we have diverted our own freedom when we have discovered there is more pain, more trouble, more darkness ahead and we keep adding on remedies. What is the mindset, along with fear and terror, that causes us to avoid our suffering rather than go deeper into seeing what is there? Yes, I should have quit that job on the spot when the pain started, even though I had been there for only a few weeks. I didn’t know at the time, but the pain that was deep inside was because I wanted something different for my life than the job I had accepted. The pain was my impatience, and it was at the same time physical pain in real time. I didn’t wait to allow that“something different” to be revealed in the darkness.

Since all paths—religious, spiritual, or without name—intersect in the place of darkness, darkness is the place where the mind is forced to detach itself from whatever it has grabbed onto in life. And in that nothingness, in that dark place, we awaken.

What of darkness terrorizes us so that we run from it, rather than go deeper into it? How can we bear dark times, or, more explicitly, horrifying times, with the skill of an awakened one? Misery, struggle, and sorrow are not the sole intentions of this life. Yet we can respect our interrelationship with everything in the world, including the suffering in, around, and between us. Is there a way to live in unsettling times that we have forgotten?

Excerpted from Opening to Darkness: Eight Gateways for Being with the Absence of Light in Unsettling Times by Zenju Earthlyn Manuel.

Osho Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, PhD, is an author, poet, ordained Zen Buddhist priest, teacher, and artist, whose diverse background, education, and experience all provide a unique integral and cultural perspective within the space of religion and spirituality. She is the author of The Shamanic Bones of Zen, The Way of Tenderness, The Deepest Peace, and more. Manuel is a native of California and now resides in New Mexico. Learn more at zenju.org.

Through the Fire to Liberated Tenderness

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel is an author and an ordained Zen Buddhist priest whose work and teachings focus upon lived experience in the context of race, sexuality, and gender. Her most recent book, The Way of Tenderness: Awakening through Race, Sexuality, and Gender, discusses how spiritual wisdom divorced from everyday reality is insufficient to heal the wounds of those who have been marginalized. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon and Zenju speak about her experience of racism within dharma practice communities. Zenju also details what she calls “the fiery gateways” that she had to walk through as part of her spiritual journey. Finally, Tami and Zenju talk about what Zenju calls “liberated tenderness.” (79 minutes)

Photo Credit: Vaschelle André of Divine Photography

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Perry Garfinkel: Experimenting with Becoming Gandhi

In a confessional reflection on writing his new book, Becoming Gandhi, acclaimed journalist and bestselling author Perry Garfinkel says, “It was so difficult I almost gave up twice. I thought, ‘I can’t write this book. It’s too big a subject. Who am I to try to become Gandhi?’” Garfinkel persevered, and in this podcast Tami Simon speaks with him about what he discovered along the journey—and how practicing (not perfecting) six universal principles of the Mahatma can transform each one of us. 

Tune in to this highly aspirational yet very down-to-earth conversation on the poignance of the human condition and the elixir of laughter; the Tao of Gandhi; satyagraha, an insistence on and holding firm to the truth; considering “how to Gandhi” a situation you’re faced with; the notion of “good enough”; nonviolence in thought, word, and deed; the connection between words and feelings, and the step-by-step process of personal transformation; simplicity; faith as the driver of our moral compass; celibacy and making love; Gandhi’s life as his message—and making peace with his imperfections; and more.

What does it take to “Be the change you want to see ...

Excerpted from Becoming Gandhi: My Experiment Living the Mahatma’s 6 Moral Truths in Immoral Times by Perry Garfinkel.

Let the Journey Begin

By reading this preface, you have just joined what will hopefully be the experiment of a lifetime that will change both of our lives.

Let me set the ground rules, parameters, frameworks, timelines, caveats, excuses, permissions, and other details that will help you navigate your way—if not to be Gandhi, then to become a person who leads a more ethical, principled, spiritually and morally based, truth-full life.

As you will read in chapter 1, I first thought to undertake this effort more than a decade ago. It took me another twelve years to build up the confidence, belief in my commitment, and, frankly, the funding to actually begin this arduous journey, both inner and outer, including travel to three countries plus my own US. Little did I know how much it would change me, how many miles I would travel, how many inspirational people I would meet, and how many disappointments I would encounter, both in the world and in myself.

I began to take it seriously in the summer of 2019. That was when I started finding and  contacting knowledgeable sources in each country. As a dogged reporter who prides himself in finding the email and phone number for anyone anywhere in the world, that deep dive, which necessarily required a lot of reading and googling, was a relatively easy and very enjoyable and informative exercise. You may also want to research anything additional to what I write here and experiment with your own ways to follow the six principles. I can’t speak for Gandhi, but you have my wholehearted permission and encouragement to think outside the box and off this page.

The Big Goal here was to see if, in the face of a sociocultural climate that appears bereft of moral integrity, one could follow Gandhi’s moral compass, on the one hand, and on the other, to travel to countries where he spent considerable time to see how much had changed in the years since he left them. In other words, did he leave an enduring footprint that others followed or were Gandhi’s tracks swept away and forgotten by time and human nature? In these times of questionable ethical values, of increased violence and rampant lying, I was prepared to admit such evidence might be hard to find. In fact, one too-current example of the failure of the nonviolent movement, which was one of Gandhi’s primary pillars, is occurring as I’m writing this: CNN is reporting that thirty-nine mass shootings have taken place in the United States in the first three weeks of 2023 alone, killing more than sixty people, per the Gun Violence Archives.

I knew the hard part of this goal would be living these principles day in and day out on a personal level. There would be a lot of inner work, mental adjustments, a veritable paradigmatic shift of attitude. I would have to change my mind in the most fundamental ways. Change my habits, modes of thinking, daily actions.

The ground rules were simple: try to rigorously follow the six principles on a daily basis, keeping them in mind through the day, whether hanging out with friends and family, alone in my apartment, or out there in the world. But also to give myself some slack. If I “fell off the wagon,” I would forgive myself quickly and get right back on it. The latter would happen with frequency, as you will read. But I realized very soon that once engaged in this experiment, even when I fell off, there would be no turning back. Once the veil is lifted, it’s hard not to see the world for what it is, and see yourself for who you are, who you are not, and who you aspire to be.

People started wondering how long this experiment would last and asking me when or if I would drop vegetarianism and return to eating meat as soon as it ended. I had planned to dedicate one full year to this project. It expanded to some eighteen months of strict adherence 

to all of the principles, and even some that Gandhi didn’t consider in the course of things. I admit I slacked after that but, as I said, once you know which way the compass is pointing, you can’t completely turn back; you always return to your true north. You find the balance that suits you best, or at least better than before you started.

I frame this journey and this book around the six principles. Some sources list up to eleven Gandhi principles. I chose only six; already you can call me lazy.

Truth. In practice, truth is simply telling the truth, but Gandhi meant it to mean more. He said, “God is Truth,” later changing it to “Truth is God.” He coined the term satyagraha—loosely translated as “insistence on and holding firm to truth”—as a form of nonviolent resistance. I take this on, first focusing on practicing truth in thoughts, words, and actions, with particular attention to lies I tell myself. I look at how society views truth now.

Nonviolence. Although Gandhi was not the originator of nonviolence, he was the first to apply it as a strategy to move the dial in the direction of justice, as a peaceful weapon to protest social wrongdoings. His motto: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Taking it from the political to the personal, I look at how we all act out psychological violence—in passive-aggressive behaviors, in road rage, in clenched jaws, in couched (and not-so-couched) language—that sabotages our best interests. I myself am guilty: I was once a featured guest on The Phil Donahue Show, speaking about my own passive-aggressive behavior in my previous marriage.

Vegetarianism. Vegetarianism is deeply ingrained in Hindu and Jain traditions, the setting in which Gandhi was raised. In his London years as a law student, he embraced it more seriously to not only satisfy the requirements of the body and his religious beliefs but also to save money by not buying expensive meats. His book The Moral Basis of Vegetarianism, along with articles he wrote for the London Vegetarian Society’s publication, became my personal diet book. I was a meat-and-potatoes kind of kid, just like my father. I became a macrobiotic many years ago, had defaulted to meat in recent years, but an Ayurvedic diet I went on last fall convinced me I need to clean up my eating habits. Don’t we all?

Simplicity. Giving up unnecessary spending is the simple maxim Gandhi had in mind, and because this concept flies in the face of conspicuous consumers on spending sprees in shopping malls, it also has ramifications for our gluttonous nature, which thinks that more of anything automatically provides more satisfaction. But Gandhi also had a political motive in his so-called Swadeshi movement: by making their own clothes using a spinning wheel (charkha), Indians would deal an economic blow to the British establishment in India. These days consumers boycott various brands and stores to protest their company policy, a Gandhian spin. The contemporary “voluntary simplicity movement” draws directly from this Gandhian principle. I will closely examine my spending patterns and make budget slashes. Gandhi called it “reducing himself to zero.”

Faith. Gandhi meant belief in a higher power, no matter what religion. He wrote, “Mine is a broad faith which does not oppose Christians . . . not even the most fanatical Mussalman. I refuse to abuse a man for his fanatical deeds, because I try to see them from his point of view.” It’s the ability to see things from the point of view of someone from another faith that tests the faith of mankind. How are we doing with that? Not so good. The majority of wars in the world are religious wars. My challenge will be to find some balance between my practice of Buddhism, the religion of no God, and Judaism, the religion that invented the One God. I will test the boundaries of my acceptance of faiths I don’t believe in.

Celibacy. Called brahmacharya in Hindi, sexual abstinence was a spiritual path to achieving purity, according to Gandhi, who took the vow of chastity at the age of thirty-eight. Some people question whether Gandhi himself actually adhered to this, with stories and allegations he slept next to teenage girls to test his restraint. Celibacy is not for everyone. Is it for me? I will endeavor to find out, keeping copious notes on my fallings in and out. With my luck, the woman of my dreams will walk into my life and fall in love with me. What will I do . . . or, more precisely, not do?

I never intended this book to be categorized in the how-to or self help genre. I think or hope you can help yourself without my telling you how. Nonetheless, as I made my way around the world, around my mind, and finally around this book, I realized it would be helpful to at least sum up each chapter with what I learned, some tips for your (and my own) benefit. I call these end-of-chapter sections “How to Gandhi.”

With these guidelines and to-dos and with no further ado, here we go. Next stop: becoming the change.

Perry Garfinkel is a veteran journalist, editor, frequent speaker, and author of the bestselling Buddha or Bust. He has contributed to many sections of the New York Times since 1986 and has written for National Geographic magazine, AARP The Magazine, the Huffington Post, the LA Times, and others. He has appeared on CNN and CBS This Morning. He is a frequent guest on WCBS-NY radio’s Health & Well-Being Report.

Tsultrim Allione: Turning Towards What’s Difficu...

What if instead of trying to avoid or attack the people or situations in life that we don’t like, we chose to “invite them all to dinner”? In Tibetan Buddhism, this counterintuitive approach is known as “feeding our demons.” In this podcast, Tami Simon speaks with Lama Tsultrim Allione about making the choice to turn toward what we usually avoid—and the healing and integration this choice can lead to. 

Give a listen to this inspiring conversation on the need to reclaim the sacred feminine at this time in history; the dakini principle in Tibetan Buddhism; balancing the energies of the masculine and feminine; the courage to stand up to authority; cultivating self-trust; the Great Mother of pure potential; the union of wisdom and skillful means; becoming an emanation of an ever-evolving mind stream; the legendary yogini, Machig Labdrön, and learning to move toward what we usually avoid; the practice of “feeding your demons”; creating wholeness by integrating the shadow; working with grief and loss; and more.

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