Friday, July 31, 2009

Buddhist Volunteers for Animals and People

I plan to start my own nonprofit organization that would combine three of the biggest passions in my life -- Buddhism, volunteering, and animals. I will call my organization -- Buddhist Volunteers for Animals and People (BVAP). Membership would be open to anyone who is either practicing Buddhism or wishes to learn more about Buddhism. In addition to Buddhism, members would have a very strong interest in volunteering and a genuine love for all animals (not just the animals we call pets). The mission of BVAP is two-fold: (1) To integrate the Buddhist principles of loving-kindness and compassion in the service of animals and people and (2) To support and encourage Buddhist vegans. Some of our projects would include the following:
  • Provide animal-assisted therapy in nursing homes, hospitals, and hospices
  • Offer companionship and assistance to home-bound seniors
  • Raise money to help animal rescue organizations
  • Educate people about the health, environmental, and animal-related advantages of plant-based eating
My plan is to start BVAP in Northern California, then eventually start a branch in Southern California. When I retire, I plan to start a branch of BVAP on the Big Island of Hawaii where my husband and I plan to spend half of the year. I already belong to several Bay Area Buddhist organizations, I'm an active animal-assisted therapy volunteer in San Francisco and the East Bay, and I belong to a local vegan club. Unfortunately, I do not know anyone who shares all three of my passions.

Even after I retire, BVAP is something I can continue to develop for the rest of my life. In Possessing the Secret of Joy, Alice Walker wrote, "The secret of joy is resistance to evil." The point of human existence, Walker contends is to move beyond ourselves and fight to make the world a kinder place. Refusing to support cruelty and suffering is crucial, but the next step -- resisting injustice -- is even more important.

In President Barack Obama's inaugural speech, he said, "We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness." I believe the animals who share our planet deserve their full measure of happiness too.

The poet Adrienne Rich wrote, "So much as been destroyed I have cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world." When I retire, I'm not going to settle for a life of indolent leisure. I want to continue doing something good for our world and all sentient beings every day for the rest of my life. If you share my passion for Buddhism, volunteering, and animals, please email me at I hope to hear from you!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Thanksgiving Celebration FOR Turkeys

Wow, the Celebration FOR Turkey event at Farm Sanctuary was such a spiritual experience for me! I loved how we fed the turkeys before we fed ourselves. That is how it should always be. I always feed my animals before I feed myself. Countless animals have sacrificed their lives in order to feed us and we do not treat them with enough respect and compassion. Since we fed the turkeys at 1:00 PM, we didn't eat until 2:00 PM. Normally, I have lunch at 12:00 PM, but I wasn't even that hungry by the 2:00 arrived because I was so enthralled with the turkeys that I actually forgot about my hunger! When we visited the cow barn, most of the cows trotted over to us and lowered their heads so we could pet them (just like a rabbit)! They were the friendliest cows and I felt so touched by that experience. Instead of viewing us as enemies, they treated us as friends. They were completely innocent, open and trusting. We can learn so much from our four-footed friends!

The pigs were very friendly too and I loved how the simplest things gave them the greatest pleasure such as a nice belly rub! Daniel started laughing when the pig he approached flopped over and snorted while he rubbed her belly. My favorite part of the day was kneeling before the turkeys and presenting them with an artfully decorated, beautiful display of fresh acorn squash stuffed with succulent dressing surrounded by cranberries and sliced grapes. I loved how the Farm Sanctuary volunteers took time to slice the grapes into quadrants so the turkeys wouldn't choke on them. There was so much thoughtfulness and love that went into the preparation of the food for the turkeys. I do the same thing when I feed my rabbits and guinea pigs. I like to arrange the food into a pretty display in beautiful food dishes just like what you would see in a restaurant. My husband thinks it's silly for me to go to so much trouble, but if people enjoy beautifully arranged food when they eat out, I'm sure that animals appreciate it too!

After we had our delicious vegan holiday feast, the co-founder of Farm Sanctuary gave a short talk. I was very impressed when I learned that he had a graduate degree in Agricultural Economics from Cornell University. He talked about how agricultural students at Cornell are initiated into the cruelties of our animal agricultural industry, how "bad" has become acceptable. When he spoke, his talk reminded me of the atrocities that took place during the Holocaust and the wars that plague other countries around the world. It seems that when enough people commit a heinous act, it becomes acceptable. People are so "blind" to their actions that they automatically accept the status quo (even it's a horrible and cruel status quo) as normal.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Blessed Unrest

I just discovered an amazing book entitled Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawken. In 1966, Paul Hawken co-founded Erewhon Trading Company, the first natural-foods business in America (this was long before Whole Foods). Later he launched several successful sustainability-focused companies, including the garden-tool boutique Smith & Hawken, often cited for its environmental awareness. And I thought Smith & Hawken was just another Yuppie gardening store!

In his new book, Hawken provides the historical underpinnings of the environmental movement and lays out its common aims and ideals. This is a movement that has no name, leader, or location, but is in every city, town, and culture and it is organizing from the bottom up and emerging as an extraordinary and creative expression of people's needs worldwide.

Hawken talks convincingly about the convergence of the environmental/sustainability movement with the social justice and indigenous rights movements (collectively described as “the movement,”) and the significance of the millions of organizations that have arisen world-wide to tackle the many issues that all these movements encompass. According to Hawken, there are 1 - 2 million organizations working toward ecological sustainability and social justice. He asserts that this is the largest social movement in human history. The movement has three basic components: environmental activism, social justice initiatives, and indigenous cultures' resistance to globalization.

The movement for equity and environmental sustainability comes as global conditions are changing dramatically and becoming more demanding. We are the first generation to witness a doubling of population in our lifetime. Nearly 3 billion people will join the current population of 6.6 billion within 50 years. By the middle of this century, resources available per person will drop by at least half. Wow, this statistic makes me feel guilty for having a child!

When I was in high school, I enjoyed reading Ralph Waldo Emerson's essays. I loved how Emerson wrote about nature as a language. In Emerson's essays, he viewed religion, science, and nature as one field of thought. According to Hawken, Emerson's ideas on how we treat nature and how we treat one another would become the foundations of environmental and social justice. I also enjoyed reading works by Henry David Thoreau, who was influenced by Emerson's essay Nature, built a cabin and retreated to Walden Pond. Thoreau believed in human interdependency and the need to respond to moral imperatives. The connectedness Emerson saw in the natural world, Thoreau saw in the human world, and it led to his writing his classic essay Civil Disobedience. Thoreau's essay heavily influenced Gandhi and Gandhi's commitment to a nonviolent means of objecting to injustice similarly influenced Martin Luther King, Jr. These strands all express Emerson's faith that thought "was sent and meant for participation in the world..." What distinguishes one life from another is the one thing we can control: intention. I believe that by acting from a heart filled with grace and deep intentionality, we can make a difference in the world.

According to Hawken, there were two branches of the environmental movement in North American in the 19th century. Both Emerson and Thoreau can be credited for one branch, the idea of man and nature as one. Opposed to that view was the conviction that man is necessarily superior. George Perkins Marsh's Man and Nature ushered in a revolution in the way people conceived their relations with the earth. Its message was that nature thrived without humans and while man's intervention almost always caused permanent damage to the earth, intervene we must.

I believe that saving our planet is just as important as saving our indigenous cultures. According to Hawken, areas of the world that are the most biologically diverse are also the most diverse in language. Yet, half of the world's languages have disappeared. More than 3,000 of the remaining ones are dying. There are 438 critically endangered languages with fewer than 50 speakers. The prevailing Eurocentric view about indigenous cultures tends toward the belief that assimilation of these "marginal" cultures is in their best interests. But consider this. The loss of language is yet another indicator of the worldwide collapse of ecosystems. Indigenous people want the conveniences of modern life-- just not at the expense of losing their birthright. If languages are living things, inextricably intertwined with biological diversity, then the loss of "verbal botanies" is irreparable. Culture is a critical and determining part of our environment. Ecosystems are created by the interaction of living organisms; each species depends on the others to ensure its long-term survival. As we eliminate one culture every two weeks, we court two types of extinction: cultural and biological.

Hawken concedes that globalization does have potentially positive effects: dissolution of exclusionary political borders, connectivity of people worldwide, and a wealth of new opportunities in employment, education, and income. But these benefits obscure the liabilities: resource and worker exploitation, irreversible climate change, pollution (take a look at what's happening in China), destruction of communities, and diminished biological diversity. An inordinate focus on wealth creation also obscures poverty creation, as evidenced by the United States, which has the worst social record of any developed country in the world -- the U.S. is first in teen pregnancies, drug use, poverty, illiteracy, and hazardous waste production.

Like Emerson, I believe that we are nature and any sense of separateness that we hold onto is an illusion. By holding ourselves as separate from nature, we grant ourselves permission to destroy nature and the other living beings that share our planet. Any living system is a combination of harmony and autonomy, predictability and instability. The more resilient a system, whether it be social or biological, the more shocks and impacts it can withstand and still recover from. However, as systems lose diversity and thereby their functional redundancy, they become vulnerable to disruption and collapse.

Ecology is about how living organisms interact with each other and their environment. Sustainability is about stabilizing the disruptive relationship between humans and the living world. All our planet asks from us is rest, nurturance, respect, celebration, collaboration, and engagement. Will we listen?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Spiritual Friendship Circle

"There is nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come." -- Victor Hugo

Are you tired of the same materialistic and mundane conversations day after day? Are you looking for others who you can connect with and possibly cultivate some meaningful friendships? In this busy and fast-paced world, it can be a challenge to find others who have the same goals, morals and values as ourselves.

I am seeking curious, eclectic, spiritual women who love nature, animals, hiking, adventure, and travel for intellectual and spiritual conversations in the East Bay. We will meet on the 2nd Sunday of every month from 2:30 PM - 5:30 PM in Walnut Creek or Berkeley. Where we meet is not as important as forming a sanctuary for our circle, a place uninvaded by intrusive sounds, or by other people, a "Do Not Disturb" location.

In the sweet territory of silence we touch the mystery.
It's the place of reflection and contemplation, and it's the place
where we can connect with the deep knowing,
to the deep wisdom way.

--From a talk by Angeles Arrien, author of The Four-Fold Way

The name of our spiritual friendship circle is "Sunday Sangha." Sangha is a Sanskrit word which means an enlightened community and that is what I'm trying to create--an enlightened community of women determined to make a positive impact in the world. Our circle will foster the psyche, trust and authenticity. It will be a safe and sacred place for deep psychological depth and growth, as well as a place for collaborative undertakings, but we'll also have fun! Our circle will be an island of free speech and laughter. We will listen, witness, role model, react, deepen, mirror, laugh, cry, share the wisdom of our experience, support each other and discover ourselves, through talk. As Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D. states, "When a critical number of people change how they think and behave, the culture does also, and a new era begins. What the world needs now is an infusion of the kind of wisdom women have and the form of the circle itself is an embodiment of that wisdom." The purpose of our spiritual friendship circle is to change the way we think and behave so we can "be the change we wish to see in the world."(Gandhi)

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed
can change the world;
indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

--Margaret Mead

We will rotate leadership within our circle with each member serving as discussion leader for the month. The discussion leader would come up with a topic or question of the month for the other members to address during that month's meeting. Here are some sample questions:

  • How do you lead a spiritual life?
  • How can we realize truth in our daily life?
  • What is anger and why does one become angry?
  • What is happiness in life?
  • How can the mind go beyond its hindrances?
  • How can we know ourselves?
  • What makes us fear death?
  • How can one become intelligent?
  • What is life, and how can we be happy?
  • What is the real way to build up character?
The vision of Sunday Sangha is to "celebrate life and transform it into something that is more sacred, dignified, respectful and equal." If you are interested in new friendships to help you reflect upon your own ideas and insights and enjoy conversations about spirituality, please send an email to for more information.

Bioneers Conference

On October 21, 2007, I attended the Bioneers Conference in San Rafael, CA. Bioneers is a forum for connecting the environment, health, social justice, and spirit within a broad progressive framework. Go to for more information. Just like the Craig's List Boot Camp ( I attended in August, the Opening Session began with a drum performance. It's interesting how many nonprofit organizations seek to connect people through music, particularly drumbeats. I think the drumbeats are supposed to symbolize the common heartbeat of every living being on Earth. While I sometimes enjoy the sound of drums (depending on my mood), I prefer softer New Age type of music such as Loreena McKennitt. My favorite song from Loreena McKennit is "The Mummers' Dance." According to wikipedia, Mummers' Plays (also known as mumming) are seasonal folk plays performed by troupes of actors known as mummers or guisers (or by local names such as rhymers, pace-eggers, soulers, tipteerers, galoshins and so on), originally in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales (see wrenboys), but later in other parts of the world. They are sometimes performed in the street but more usually as house-to-house visits and in public houses.

I was deeply moved by Nina Simon's opening talk on fear. Whenever you're engaged in the work of righting social injustices, saving the environment, or protecting the rights of beings who have no voice, you have to face your fears because there will always be those who oppose your work. Nina said, "the way I know I'm on track with my life and my career is when I smell my fear and head straight for it." It's important to question what you are afraid of. When I was in my 20s, my biggest fear was poverty so I entered the financial services industry and became a Financial Consultant for Merrill Lynch because I wanted to make a lot of money. Well, I never earned the riches I dreamed of as a Financial Consultant, but I made a decent living in financial sales. So I remained in financial services for twelve years because it felt safe and I knew I could make a good living in that industry. In Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, Safety is right above Biological and Physiological Needs, but below Belongingness and Love, Esteem, and Self-Actualization. Many people go through life guided by the need for security and safety, but for me, that's only half a life. The other side of life is fear and in fear, we can discover things about ourselves that we never knew existed. Even more exciting is the discovery that fear can motivate us to achieve things we never thought possible, things that have the power to transform the world.

Nina also said, "Keep heading for what is broken." I see so many broken "things" in our world--broken relationships, broken people, broken spirits, a broken environment. And those are the things I feel most compelled to "fix." I'm particularly motivated to "fix" broken hearts and broken spirits. There is so much violence in our culture, but rather than turn away from it, I feel inspired to find ways to transform it. I love working with the elderly population in my volunteer work at nursing homes, senior centers, and hospitals. They have so much wisdom and in the "busyness" of our careers, families and outside pursuits, we tend to forget they even exist. I see so much loneliness and yearning for a human connection in the eyes of the elderly I meet. In my opinion, ignoring our elders is a form of violence. I call it the unintentional violence of neglect. As a very young child, I experienced what it felt like to be neglected and whether you're an infant or in your 80s, neglect and abandonment feel the same.

Many of the panels discussed how to save our oceans and the inhabitants of the sea. I also feel a deep commitment to saving our oceans and sea creatures. But at the same time, I feel deep anguish about the millions of farm animals that are mercilessly slaughtered every year all over the world. Unless you attend an Animal Rights Conference (which I did in July), many nature/environmental conferences do not really address the plight of farm animals. Like the elderly, they are the "forgotten" animals on our planet. On Saturday, my family and I attended a tour at Animal Place (, a farm animal sanctuary in Vacaville, CA. This was a second visit for my son and me. I felt it was important for my husband to see how farm animals should live--in wide open pastures with plenty of fresh air, food, water, and sunshine. Our guide talked about the living conditions of factory farmed animals and how they are slaughtered. Unfortunately, learning more about the sad plight of farmed animals did not convince my husband to become a vegetarian, but it's not too late for my son. I think that once he becomes an adult, he'll become a vegetarian.

At the Bioneers Conference, Dr. Robyn Benson, a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, talked about the Mandala of Being. At the center of the circle is You. Around the circle of You, are six segments -- Family, Work, Play/Travel, Spirituality, Relationships, and Supreme Health. Many of us assign a much larger portion of our pie to Work which is not the way to live a balanced, sustainable life. When I was a Financial Consultant, work certainly took over most aspects of my life. Later, when I started working on my Master's degree in Marketing, school took over my life. But now that I work for a health care consulting firm, my life feels much more balanced. However, my husband would complain that volunteering consumes too much of my life (I volunteer for seven different nonprofit organizations).

Saturday, September 15, 2007


I’m reading this fascinating book entitled Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes by Mark J. Penn. I recognized some of the new microtrends such as the surging population of single people, Cougars (older women dating younger men), Commuter Couples, Internet Marrieds, Working Retired, Extreme Commuters (my facialist on the Big Island of Hawaii commutes 90 minutes each way to work), Stay-at-Home Workers, Interracial Families, etc. The microtrend that really took me by surprise was the Sun-Haters. When we vacationed in Hawaii earlier this month, I wore 50 SPF sunscreen every single day because I’m extremely protective when it comes to my skin. As a result, I came back from Hawaii with nary a tan. Of course, everyone’s skin looks nicer with a little tan, but I don’t want to develop more wrinkles in my skin and I don’t want to run the risk of developing skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States today, with more than a million new cases diagnosed each year. The mortality rate from skin cancer has increased 50% since the 1970s. Between 1980 and 1987, the number of melanomas (the really dangerous skin cancer) increased 83%. Skin cancer in teenagers, unheard of a generation ago, is on the rise. At least 25% of skin damage occurs before a person is 18 years old.

As a result, there is a brand new industry to sun-safe clothing, which means long-sleeved shirts and pants that are woven more tightly than regular clothes. A white T-shirt provides an ultraviolet protection factor or UPF of only 5. Some of the clothes are fortified with the products in sunscreen, or chemicals like titanium dioxide, which deflect the sun’s rays. Sun-protective clothing now does about $180 million worth of business per year. Now, there’s a product called Sun-Guard, a laundry aid that washes sun protection right into clothes, boosting their UPF level from about 5 to 30. The majority of foundations and skin creams contain UPF or SPF of at least 15.

Source: Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes by Mark J. Penn with E. Kinney Zalesne

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Meatrix

Here is an interesting link that makes you think about what you’re eating.

If you have not read Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy by Matthew Scully, I highly recommend his book! This book was named by The Atlantic Monthly as one of the ten best non-fiction works of 2002. Matthew Scully served until August 2004 as special assistant to the president and deputy director of presidential speechwriting. He worked for President George W. Bush a total of five years, including 18 months in the 2000 campaign, and was part of the team that drafted the President’s post-September 11th addresses and every major speech of the first term. Scully has also written for vice presidents Dick Cheney and Dan Quayle, presidential candidate Robert Dole, Arizona Governor Fife Symington, and the late Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey. A former literary editor of National Review, his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and The National Post of Canada, among other newspapers and magazines. Here is a link to an article Matthew Scully wrote about the seal massacres which take place in Canada:

Here is something I found online while surfing. Actress Kate Hudson – nominee for the Academy Award – and hairstylist David Babaii are bringing out a cruelty free line of haircare products that will benefit the WildAid project The WildAid project works together with governments and communities to restore the wildlife of the earth. They are fighting illegal wildlife trade and are attempting to let threatened species grow in numbers again. No doubt about it that this is a very positive project. And the fact that the environment and wildlife are being helped with cruelty free hairline products makes this all the better. There is no need for animal testing to make cosmetics. Here is the link to the story:

Finally, here is a link to an interesting site on animal rights: