Be The Change: Paul and Sheila Wellstone were my friends for over thirty years. During their last Senatorial campaign, I flew with Paul & Sheila to a debate in southwestern Minnesota. On the flight home, I asked Paul how he was able to handle what I perceived to be personal attacks. Paul simply quoted Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Pope County Blues: Paul and I first met in the 1970’s when we were both active with farmers fighting to stop a high-voltage power line in central Minnesota. Pope County Blues was released to help get the word out. Radio stations wouldn’t play it, so the farmers made sure it could be heard on jukeboxes across central Minnesota.

Agent Orange: My Country Tis To Thee: Paul was a voice for the Vietnam Veterans exposed to Agent Orange, the code name for a chemical herbicide used as a defoliant on 17.5 million acres in Vietnam. Veterans, who were exposed to Agent Orange from 1962 – 1971, suffer from a variety of medical problems including: chloracne, cancer, birth defects, mutations, metabolic disorders, and kidney dysfunction. Agent Orange: My Country Tis To Thee is the soundtrack for Agent Orange: A Story of Dignity and Doubt, narrated by Martin Sheen and financed by the Minnesota Chapter of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

Let Us Rise Up & Sing: Paul’s political roots go back to the Farmer-Labor Party of Minnesota. One of the early champions of the Farmer-Labor Party was Governor Elmer Benson (from 1937–1939.) When the lumberjacks went on strike, Governor Benson called out the National Guard on the company. The lumberjacks won! Being moved by his courage, I wrote Let Us Rise Up & Sing for Governor Elmer Benson after he died in 1985.

On The Bus: On The Bus was collectively written by Ann Hoff’s 4th grade students at Paul and Sheila Wellstone Elementary School in St. Paul as part of my Elders’ Wisdom, Children’s Song™ program. The song is based on Paul Scott’s story of meeting Paul Wellstone:

“My name is Paul Scott. After a short time in the Korean infantry, I came home and got a job driving the Greyhound bus. When I was asked if I would drive the Green Bus for Paul Wellstone, I didn’t know who he was. I said, “Where is his bus?” “It’s in a garage in Shakopee.” When I went there and said, “I’m the new Wellstone bus driver.” The man said, “You owe me $340!” I paid it. I drove it for one day and it broke down! Then I heard Paul talk, and I was hooked.”

Hard Times Coming Our Way: Mary Harris Jones (1830 – 1930), better known as Mother Jones, was a prominent American Labor and community organizer, and Wobbly. Mother Jones began organizing at forty years of age while Paul Wellstone (1944-2002) began organizing in his twenties. They both left an indelible mark on the progressive politics of our nation. The foundation of Hard Times Coming Our Way is my earlier song, We Love You, Mother Jones.

My Father’s Eyes Are Looking Down On Me: My father, Red Long, passed away when I was young. Without the help of government programs, family, and friends, my family would not have made it. My Father’s Eyes Are Looking Down On Me was inspired by Why Do The Good Die Young, a the song I wrote for my father.

Lay Me Down Easy: LeAnn Little Wolf wrote after the Wellstone plane crashed: “As the rescue crews were approaching the crash site, eagles were sighted soaring above . . . though our time here is brief, an ancient truth circles with the eagles: Spirits never die.”

All songs: © Larry Long 2006

Special Note: “This Land Is my Land. It’s not your land. Get the hell off my land. Go find your own land. From California to the New York Islands this land is mine it’s not yours!” I first heard these new words sung to Woody Guthries’s song, “This Land Is Your Land”, by the Lakota singer, actor, and activist, Floyd “Red Crow” Westerman

The Dalai Lama

For five amazing days in July of 2008, over four thousand people gathered at a coliseum in Madison, Wisconsin, to listen to His Holiness the Dalai Lama speak. He guided us through fifty hours of selected readings from his book Stages of Meditation and Santideva’s A Guide To The Bodhisattva Way Of Life.

His talks, focused on reverent topics of religion and spirituality, were often broken up by a spontaneous burst of laughter from His Holiness.

“Oh, that’s mistake number one!” he said after a false start. He tried to begin again. “Oops! That’s mistake number two.” On and on he would go.

The morning sessions ran from 9:30 am to 11:30 am. After a break for lunch, the afternoon sessions ran from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm. Evenings were taken up with Tibetan cultural activities like competitive basketball, talent shows, concerts and shopping at dozens of small stands in the ad hoc coliseum bazaar.

During the afternoon the Dalai Lama often fielded questions from the assembled crowd:

“What is the quickest way to enlightenment?” “Lay down.”

“What is the smallest form of a sentient being?” “A sentient being is something that can move on its own from one place to the next. As far as we know now, it’s the amoeba. That may change, though.”

“Does Buddhism believe in a force of universal good?” “All organisms are in this manifestation. Consciousness is the energy of the Buddha arising.”

One woman had a more personal question: “This morning I discovered a lump in my breast. There’s a history of cancer in my family. We have little money and no medical assistance. Should I call my husband and let him know about this now or wait until I get home? I don’t want to worry him.” The Dalai Lama thought for some time and with a slight quiver in his voice said, “Possibly you can get some help from a non-governmental agency for your medical care. I know this is difficult for you, but only you know what is best in terms of letting your husband know directly or not.” The Dalai Lama thought awhile longer and continued. “I will give you a little bit of money to help with medical costs.” He then moved onto another teaching.

Halfway through he stopped. “I just can’t go on with this teaching. I’m still thinking of the woman without medical care and the lump she found.” He then spoke to her again. “My doctor is with me now. I will instruct him to meet with you. Sometimes Tibetan medicine works where western medicine does not. Just come up and my assistant will help you.”
On the fourth day the Dalai Lama did a layperson’s initiation where all those who chose to read vows together from A Guide To The Bodhisattva Way Of Life:

Devoid of merit and destitute, I have nothing else to offer. Therefore, may the Protectors, whose concerns are for the welfare of others, accept this by their own power for my sake.

I completely offer my entire self. . . . O Supreme Beings, accept me! I reverently devote myself to your service.

Being free from fear of mundane existence due to your protection, I shall serve sentient beings; I shall completely transcend my earlier vices, and henceforth I shall sin no more.

In sweetly fragrant bathing chambers whose beautiful pillars are radiant with jewels, glowing canopies made of pearls, and crystal floors transparent and sparkling.

. . . Death does not differentiate between tasks done and undone . . . for it is like an unexpected, great thunderbolt.

. . . Just as a blind man might find a jewel amongst heaps of rubbish, so this Spirit of Awakening has somehow arisen in me.

. . . It is the great sun dispelling the darkness of the world’s ignorance.

For the caravan of beings traveling on the path of mundane existence and starving for the meal of happiness, it is the feast of happiness that satisfies all sentient beings who have come as guests. (selected readings)

Long Life Offering Ceremony (July 24, 2008)

On the fifth and final day of the conference, the Tibetan community gathers from across North America to hold a Long Life Offering Ceremony (Tenshung) for the Dalai Lama. It is the first ever performed in the United States.

The drums sound. Dancers in traditional Tibetan clothing appear. One hundred Lamas stand from where they are sitting on stage to face His Holiness the Dalai Lama as he enters. Cymbals crash and the sound of Tibetan horns resonate like bagpipes throughout the coliseum.

The Dalai Lama laughs in the midst of the low chant of the Lamas. “I am not here to teach today, but to enjoy the atmosphere.” His laughter is infectious. A long line of Tibetans and admirers of the Dalai Lama begin to walk down the aisle with their hands lifted up, holding small gold prayer vessels and sacred texts on white prayer shawls.

Rice with raisins is passed out to everyone in the coliseum by hundreds of organized volunteers. Everyone eats together, including the Dalai Lama, who is now singing from the sacred text.

Above the Dalai Lama hangs a colorful cloth image of a 50-foot-tall Buddha. Four directional images of the White Tara, Tibetan goddess of compassion, surround him.

Drinks are now passed out to everyone, which tastes like diluted mango juice.

The Dalai Lama puts on a pointed gold and yellow hat. He is wearing the traditional red and yellow robes of Lamas, as he sits in the lotus position. Comfortable. Smiling. Voice deep. Resonate. Chanting. The Dalai Lama explains the ceremony as it unfolds.

Twenty Lamas put on large yellow and orange hats with feathery cloth that fans upward like a mohawk haircut from the back of their heads to the front, looking like exotic birds of the Amazon.

Three monks give the Dalai Lama three strands of string that he rolls outward into the Lamas who surround him.

As I watch this all unfold, I think about the many rich cultures of the people I have known across this earth. How so many seem to be fighting for their very survival. How could anyone be afraid of these teachings, this religion of kindness, this beloved Dalai Lama? To support the sovereignty of Tibet is to simply be a supporter of justice.

The chanting stops. The Dalai Lama is lost in meditation. A soft wind blows through the coliseum and the White Tara prayer cloths start to sway.

The Dalai Lama shares a story, “Through the years I have received many teachings. In 1958 one Lama came to visit me. He was the reincarnation of a great teacher. He brought me the gift of the White Tara. While reciting the mantras he saw a strong white light that reached into his heart. He told me that I would live a long life. I have been with you now for six days, sharing fifty hours of teachings, and still no sign of tiredness. The Lama’s prediction may well be true.”

The chanting returns as Lamas bring more food. The Dalai Lama laughs and exclaims, “I made another mistake.”

For the young Tibetan children in the audience, this moment in time will be a powerful memory, like the one I have of listening to Billy Graham speak when I was a child with my Grandmother. For these are times when giants walk upon the earth. This 14th Dalai Lama—this child of a peasant—now challenges the emerging Chinese Empire with the kindness of Christ.

Three monks stand and sing in a low monastic voice of sacred scripture. The procession stands again. Everyone follows in song. One of the standing Lamas is holding orange seeds. Another is separating orange seeds from a large bowl and gingerly placing them into a smaller one.

One hour has passed. There is a wonderful feeling of ritual in the coliseum as the spirit of the low chanting resonates from the Lamas. Four other monks now stand, draped with green, blue and yellow sashes.

My troubadour and spiritual brother, Mitch Walking Elk, says, “Fill your life with ceremony.”

The Dalai Lama says, “Practice. Practice. Practice.”

Mitch says, “Take it slow. Be careful. Take your time.”

Mother Teresa says, “From silence comes prayer. From prayer comes faith. From faith comes love. From love comes service. From service comes peace.”

As I reflect on their words, the procession begins to move. One lone Lama chants sacred text while standing before His Holiness. Yellow and gold sashes are draped over the top of the Dalai Lama’s throne which is decorated with wooden carvings of thousands of incarnations.

The procession walks onto the stage with sacred objects to give The Dalai Lama, who then places the gold cloth crown back on his head. The chanting of sacred text is complete. The Dalai Lama returns to the text. One by one the gifts are offered to His Holiness, blessed by him and then brought over to the banquet table which is already overflowing with flowers and blessings.

The head Lama redons his large Mohawk-styled yellow hat. Cymbals crash again. The Tibetan horns blow like bagpipes. The single voice chanting the sacred text returns.

Volunteers begin passing out snacks to the crowd. The procession concludes with Canadian, Tibetan and United States flags flying. All hats are removed. The Dalai Lama places his hands in a prayerful way to his chest, chanting. Everyone receives Sweet and Salty Mix or Keebler Chips Deluxe Mini-Rainbow cookies.

Three monks return, mixing orange seeds. The Dalai Lama reads from sacred Sanskrit. Lay Buddhist now stand in line with white scarves to be blessed and draped over their shoulders by the Dalai Lama, followed by red scarves. The Lamas place hats back onto their heads. The Dalai Lama, too, places this hat back on after the last person’s scarf has been placed on their shoulders. The hats are then removed.

An elder from Tibet reads from sacred text. An elder reads a blessing for long life to the Dalai Lama: “Since 1959 you have worked on the development of the Tibetan people and to find a just solution. You have tried to bring happiness to the six million Tibetan people. We recommit ourselves to your leadership. We now see how this effort for our children has increased their interest in learning Tibetan. They now, too, make this effort to participate. We stand in solidarity with those in Tibet, until justice is brought to the Tibetan people.”

An organizer of the event addresses the Dalai Lama and everyone in the coliseum. He reads off the amout raised from the event, minus expenses, and says, “This amount will be offered to His Holiness. Thank you.”

The Lama looks solemn and then responds, “I do not take money for teaching. I suggest this money be given to the Tibetan community in India and to lowly Indian people who are suffering for medical care and education. You might wish to put it towards health facilities and education inside and outside of Tibet. So that’s that.”

Returning Home (July 26, 2008)

After my return I spoke with my instructor at the Common Ground Meditation Center in South Minneapolis. I told him that I had just completed two days of fasting and dancing at the Sundance in Porcupine, South Dakota followed by five days of teachings with the Dalai Lama in Madison.

He asked, “What are you doing now?”

I laughed. “Tomorrow I fly to Las Vegas for a reunion with my two beloved sisters without our spouses.”

He smiled. “After the Buddha reached enlightenment, he rode a donkey back into town to see if he could apply what he had learned with others.”

I laughed again. “I’m flying on Northwest!”

The Psalms

As a child, I would close my eyes and allow my finger to drop on the scripture that God wanted me to read. In times of need God’s revelations leaped off the pages of the PSALMS. The PSALMS gave me the poetry of the vastness of creation and the concentration of human longing. With the wail of a mother giving birth, the PSALMS cry out in joyous song. With the heartbeat of every person thrown into exile, the PSALMS take us home again.

I was born into a southern Baptist family, raised in a Jewish community, adopted by Franciscans and rediscovered God in a Dakota sweat lodge. But as Mark Twain writes, “travel is fatal to prejudice,” and so it is when one journeys through comparative translations of religious text.

What is the difference between lacking and wanting? What is the difference between justice and righteousness? What is the difference between enemy and tormentor? What is the difference between forever and long years? Each question brings us closer to the community of God. Through discussion we find each other, delighting in the span of God’s net.

My mother would sing the PSALMS to us at bed time; consoling us by affirming the presence of God in our every sleeping and waking hour. Now, with the same breath, I sing for my children. One night, while singing with my three year old daughter in a canoe beneath a full moon, she said, “Daddy, look at all the angels. Just look at all the angels.”

As my grandmother underlined in PSALMS 139 of her Bible, given to me at her death, ‘the night shall be light about me.’ Surely it is so.

I give thanks with all of my heart

I give thanks with all of my mind

In the presence of angels I sing

Calling out to you one more time.

Download MP3 of Tibet (rough mix) by Larry Long

Larry Long wrote the song Tibet with 5th grade students in honor of Mr. Gyatsho Tshering.  Mr. Tshering worked directly with the Dalai Lama in India for over 30 years after Tibet was invaded and hundred of thousands of Tibetans were thrown into exile.  The lyrics (which are posted below) speak for themselves. The English translation for the chorus to Tibet is “Peace, Loving-Kindness, Compassion”.  The video podcast will be up soon and is of Larry and the kids singing “Tibet” for Mr. Gyatsho Tshering at an Elders’ Wisdom, Children’s Song celebration in March of  2008.    
 
Larry Long is working on a new CD collection of original works, tentatively entitled “Old Ways”. The song Tibet will be featured on this collection.  This recording of Tibet is a “work in progress. The chorus and additional instrumentation is yet to be added”. Larry is featured on vocals and 12-string guitar.  Featured on percussion is Marc Anderson and on electric bass is Enrique Toussaint. 
 

 

Tibet
Peace, Loving-Kindness, Compassion
(Honoring Gyatsho Tshering)
I was born in a beautiful country,
In the mountains of Tibet,
In the land of the Dalai Lama,
In the land of Consciousness.
 
Growing up along the border
Beneath a ripe orange tree,
Sitting with my grandfather,
Words of kindness, he taught me.
Peace, Loving-Kindness, Compassion  

Through 14 Dalai Lamas,
We were taught to do one thing,
At a time with 5 senses,
A diplomat, I chose to be.
 
Then from across the border,
Like a colony of ants,
We could smell dead bodies burning,
For days and days after that.
 
Peace, Loving-Kindness, Compassion

Burning books by the millions,
They took everything they could steal,
Destroyed 6,000 monasteries 
Beneath clothing we concealed.
 
The sacred text of our people
Held tightly against our chest,
As we fled across the border,
To India from Tibet.
 
Peace, Loving-Kindness, Compassion

 
Without land, without a country,
One hundred thousand refugees,
One million killed, so many orphaned,
The Dalai Lama called for me. 
 
Will you be there to help the children,
To build schools, clinics, libraries,
Will you be there to help the people,
Serving others, I agreed. 

Peace, Loving-Kindness, Compassion

What can we do but to be mindful,
Where can we go but to be kind,
Compassionate, 
to soothe those who suffer,
To keep hope alive.
 
For Tibet, for the children,
For those in whom, yet to arise,
May love grow, May love prosper,
 May Tibet never die. 
 
Peace, Loving-Kindness, Compassion

Words & music by Larry Long 
with Children of Minnesota

© Larry Long 2008 / BMI

When Gorbachev opened up what was then the Soviet Union through perestroika and glasnost in the 1980s, poets and singers began to emerge on the streets of Arbat, an historic district of Moscow dating back to 1493. On every corner in Arbat there were painters, singers, poets, jesters, people with kids, people without kids, kids with kids, walking and running free in an expression of freedom I’d not known before or since.

I was invited to sing with Kris Kristofferson in Moscow. We stayed at Hotel Russia in Moscow—one block from Red Square, the changing of the guards, the iridescent moon, and a few miles from Arbat Street. We soon discovered that some quarters of Moscow were pro-perestroika and some quarters were not.

Our first performance was in an auditorium filled with 50,000 people. In the front row were a line of police officers, who stood up when Kris’s band was ready to play, then cancelled the rest of the show. The reason, we were told, was because on that side of town they didn’t want to have American singers. The problem, for us, was that there was no way to get out of the auditorium. One of Kris’s people had a screwdriver, and he ended up unscrewing the window out of the back door so we could get out of there and into the bus. 

While in the bus I told Kris about Arbat Street and suggested we should go there and do some street singing. Kris and his band agreed, but when we got to Arbat Street there were no people. It was shut down. We didn’t pay it any mind, though. We just went running out of the bus and down the street with our guitars and mandolins and voices. Pretty soon hundreds of people came out from everywhere to join us on Arbat Street.

Our Russian translator, Sasha, began to chant, “We are glasnost. We are perestroika.”

Soon the police arrived and told us that we had to break it up, but nobody listened. Everyone kept singing and chanting. The next thing we knew, three police officers had grabbed Sasha. I ran over to Sasha and grabbed his arm. Kris came over and locked his arm around the other side of Sasha. We were then engulfed by the crowd. They pushed us out the other side of Arbat Street, while blocking off the police. We all jumped into a cab and headed to Hotel Russia.

Sasha was very scared, because the authorities had taken his identification card. Kris and I met with KGB agents in the bathroom of the hotel and told them that we wouldn’t leave the country until we were assured that Sasha would get his identification card back and nothing would happen to him. By 2:00 a.m. Sasha had his identification card back.

One year later I was singing along the banks of the Mississippi River at a Soviet-American peace walk that was crossing the United States and, sure enough, there was Sasha. Then I knew it had turned out okay. 

As for the former Soviet Union, I certainly hope things improve for them.

(story taken from the liner notes of Well May the World Go)