Ben Gustin’s Dharma Folk Songs
I was first introduced to the Chan ancients riding the roads that run around Green Gulch on the way to my father’s house in Bolinas. Pop began to study the Gateless Gate koans when I was around 3. He used to hit me up for answers, thinking I might be be closer to some kind of pure mind than he. So I got to know Joshu, Nanzen, Hotei, etc. through his renderings of those famous stories. My father has a very solitary and devotional Buddhist practice. He never thought to himself, “What can I get out of Buddhism?” Rather, he took refuge in the teaching, offered incense at every full moon, and made altars. We used to drive by Green Gulch and he would tell me “There’s Buddhists down there.” In 1998 after a lot of running around, political activism, social service etc, I was pretty burned out at age 26. I needed a way to keep doing service work and I knew I needed a strong spiritual base just to be a complete human. Remembering my old man’s clues, I went to Green Gulch and heard Lou Hartman deliver a real beauty of a talk, all about communism, being black listed and Suzuki Roshi, worms that lived in the sea, endless vows. It was great. I checked myself in at the City Center. A year later I took the precepts with Paul Haller.
I moved to Green Gulch, worked on the farm, sat, sat , sat and then took off for Asia and visited many temples in 7 countries. I returned to Tassajara, where most of these songs were written. After two years at Tassajara and a year in back at the SF City Center, I decided to enter the world again. My daughter Ava Lume was born soon there after and we moved to Sebastopol, CA where we live now, at Rocks and Clouds Zendo with Daniel Terragno.
Two records really inspired me to record, so I’d like to mention them. The first was Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska. Even if you think you don’t like the Boss, this record is amazing. The other was Jolie Holland’s Catalpa. Both were done on a four track at home and had a stark, naked sound I wanted. Both planted the seed “Hey maybe I could make a record like that.”I also want to mention Rev. Heng Sure’s new record Paramita, (in the American Buddhist Folk Music tradition that is being created). My daughter and I have been enjoying it together as we ride about in my truck. Having the Dharma on the stereo is a good reminder for me as I rush about my worldly life. I hope that my songs can serve the same purpose.