“The ultimate aim of the spiritual life, is not to be happier or more peaceful , it has to do with the perfection of the character of the being.” – Seijaku Roshi
Spirituality is a Way of Living one’s life based on character, honor, integrity, and service. It is the life of the Spiritual Warrior who lives his or her life by higher standards than the average person. A life guided by the “Principle of Identity”, rooted in virtue, and a genuine sense of benevolence towards all sentient beings.
In The Principle of Identity, I discuss the markings of a truly spiritual life which play an essential role in the warriors lifestyle. It is the spiritual warrior’s view that every human being possesses an inherent character or fundamental nature of Loving-kindness, Compassion, and Wisdom. This Nature can only be cultivated through a serious commitment to train the mind through meditation, adapting and living by ancient principles and practices, and benevolent service or living ones daily life as a benefit for others, so that it radiates out into the world. The warrior does not leave his or her character to chance. Over the years he or she understands that they will meet unexpected circumstances and situations which will challenge them and, that early on in life fear left unchecked, can and will weaken it.
“Happiness is imperative for my health and well-being, the health and well-being of others, and the sustainability of the species. But so often our attempts to find happiness end up causing more pain to ourselves and others, because we keep looking for it in all the wrong places.” – Seijaku Roshi
The global crises in our world today is not an “economic crises”, but rather an “identity crises”. We are living in the “culture of not enough for everyone”, not because there “is not enough for everyone”, but because we have created a dualistic mentality whereby there is always enough for some but not enough for everyone. Abundance is the true spirit and the essence of all life. (Not the abundance people mean when their spirituality is about “their next Mercedes”.) I call this the “Spirituality of Enough”. I believe the “spirituality of enough” is “self-evident”. We need only to, “Behold the lily’s of the field, and the birds of the air.” By “enough” I mean not only enough for the basic necessities of life, but also “enough time”; “enough patience”; “enough understanding”, “a big enough heart”.
We are witnessing a great ideological struggle both in America and around the world. One side of the debate views mankind as “consumers” whose only possibility for real and sustainable happiness is a function of increasing ones physical wealth and possessions. Where citizenship and the individuals value is measured by how hard he or she works to achieve the aims and goals of a free marketplace. This group would deny the importance of any spiritual values or at a minimum they view the value of spirituality or religious devotion only according to how those values reflect and promote the defined objectives of the free marketplace.
On the other side, we recognize that man’s life and ambitions, as well as the sustainability of the species requires, a firm foundation of spiritual values which are shaped and defined by man’s humanity and not by his or her bank account. Values which include a devotion to insure equanimity both in the marketplace and society; a sense of responsibility to serve a purpose greater than one’s, self-serving pursuit of happiness; where citizenship and patriotism is measured by a person’s character and a sense of responsibility towards helping fellow citizens and members of society who for any reason, find themselves now or in the future unable to help themselves.
People tell me often, “I have no time.”, and I believe them but not the reasons they give me. Having no time is contrived, perhaps unintentionally, but twenty-four hours a day really is enough. Having no time is what happens to us when we allow the dominant culture to have us, when we have lost our intuitive knowledge of life, and trapped in a life for ourselves and our family of “no choice”, which we created.
There is a Zen saying that goes, “If you have time to breathe, you have time to meditate.” or to just sit, to listen, to eat right, to talk to your children, to rest, and all the other things you “don’t have time for”. When you live among the natural world as I do here in the Pinelands, it becomes your teacher, ever reminding you about the true meaning of a life fully lived. One of the lessons is that we are called to face our lives “proactively”. I am always surprised and in awe of how the deer face, every day, the growing population of cars and humans. They find a way, with the exception of the occasional road kill. They make it work. Never losing a beat. It is also clear that everything in the natural world “lives intentionally”. Active in the cycle of life, not just reactive. I often say that most people’s daily living can be compared to the life of a firemen. Just going around putting out fires, reacting to one crises after another. Life is meant to be lived deliberately. The very notion “I have to.” points to the uncomfortable fact that most people’s lives are not their own. They are just following a script, given to us first by the dominant culture of our time, and second reinforced by our conditioning, cross-purpose identities, and our complacency.
Yesterday much to my surprise the snow fell. I do not remember the last time. It struck me so deeply along with what followed that I am here at 4:00 AM writing.
Before soon my four-year old daughter and I immersed ourselves in its beauty and ran outside to play. It was white everywhere. The Pinelands was a Christmas Card, my only regret was that my IPhone’s battery died and I could not photograph more of it but, I got Katie making snow angels.
There is never a moment, even in those moments when there is a parent-child standoff, that I am not amazed and inspired, humbled and become the student, in the presence of her “view of the world”. Snow or no snow she finds beauty and wonder in a small stone or an orange-colored leaf. I have yet to teach her anything about Buddhism or Zen except for the few explanations when she follows me into the Zendo, and yet it is not a rare occasion to hear her, like yesterday, say, “We need to hurry Daddy and save the Buddha’s before Buddha-land ends.” The snow had fallen so much by then that some of the statues on the property were already buried. We proceeded down the Peace Trail, she running, calling me to follow, and creating a fairytale like story good enough for the Disney Junior channel. From the statue of Buddha where she not only cleared the snow off him, but then with her hands on each of his shoulders she asked, “Are you OK now?” turning to me to affirm “He’s Ok!”; then to “Mary”, as she refers the statue of The Blessed Mother”, explaining to me that she is a female Buddha, then finally Jizo. As we continued around the peace trail toward the bell the story got more involved, with an occasion of course to make a snow angel or two or three, that would protect “Buddha-Land” from being buried. When we arrived at the bell at the entranceway to the trail, she wanted to ring it and in order to do so, she began to climb a tree stump with snow on top. I suddenly witnessed both my “parent and age” surface. “Don’t climb that honey, you’ll fall and hurt yourself.” As always she continued to climb anyway with me reaching out to support her, stood atop it, and didn’t hurt herself as she rung the bell, “letting everyone know that Buddha-Land was safe and secure.”
“I am the better for having been afflicted.” – King David
I have two pivotal memories from my adolescence and early adulthood as a young Catholic. The first one was, when I saw my first cross without the crucified Jesus on it. Something never sat right with me about that vision till this very day. I also remember being asked by another Christian where I stood about the “Resurrected Jesus”, by then I was beginning to introduce my Zen influence into my teaching mode. I answered, “It didn’t matter to me whether or not the resurrection story is true, Jesus had me at the cross.” I can’t tell you how well that did not go over. It wouldn’t be much longer after then, that I would complete my transition to Zen Buddhism. But I must be clear, it was not a rejection of Catholicism or the Teachings of Jesus, but rather a “completion” a kind of “evolution” toward completing my experience of what I call today “authentic spirituality”.
The word “inspiration” finds its origins in the 1300′s and comes from the Latin word “inspiratus” which means, “influence, inflame, breathe into” as from God or a god. Another word often anonymous with “inspiratus” and in the word itself is “spiritus” which means “breath” or more accurately “spirit” as in Holy Spirit.
I wonder, “What inspires you?” Since my earliest days “beauty” has inspired me. But one must be able to see it, before it can. The paradox is, “the mind sees only what it’s looking for”. Like most people I have seen a beautiful sunset or sunrise, nature, the garden, heard the sounds of music, these are but a few of the beautiful things I have found inspiring me every day, not to mention the beauty of the female species, and the human body. But there’s more. As a new single Parent my four year old daughter inspires me. I never need to go farther than the sound of her voice which is music to my ears, and the wonder of her behavior which brings me more joy that I ever believed possible for one human being to know, laughter, and many teachings which inspire me to be a good man and Father. She inspires me to live long, to live healthy, to live for something more than myself. Animals have always inspired me, first my dogs and cats that I have known over the years, then the deer and other small animals I have met here in the Pinelands, and as a boy hiking in the mountains of Pennsylvania. The truly Noble Ones. For me the whole of Nature has always been all the evidence I need of a Higher Consciousness, call it God or Buddha, or anything else for that matter. “A Rose by any other name is still a rose.”
“You are here for no other purpose but to realize your inner divinity and manifest your inner enlightenment.” – Morihei Ueshiba
Webster defines “essential” as, “1. pertaining to or constituting the essence of…2. absolutely necessary, and indispensable.” Morihei Ueshiba’s words teach us that what is absolutely necessary or essential in one’s lifetime is not the accumulation of wealth or pleasure, not status or success, or a function of where one lives, or obtaining approval from others. Neither is it the “pursuit of self-gratification”. The purpose of this life, every lifetime, is to complete, this lifetimes particular strand of an infinite web-design which connects us to others, past and present, and which births the future.
I have spent my lifetime defining for myself and sharing with anyone who would listen what I have come to believe it means to live one’s lifetime authentically and with purpose, what it means to be a human being, and finally what the purpose for living is, which I believe we all share. It was Teilhard de Chardin who wrote, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Early on I came to accept these words as the context for fully understanding and actualizing what people call spirituality, what I have come to identify as “Authentic Spirituality”. Most of us live our lives as if the opposite is true, “human beings trying to have a spiritual experience”, and that is why we are never satisfied.
On April 15, 2013 Americans and the world once again witnessed the very worst in humanity and the very best, when fellow human beings chose to bring tragedy to the lives of Bostonians, while other fellow human beings chose to bring love.
Each of us must wonder, “Is this ever going to end?” As a parent I wonder, “Is this my daughters future?” Is this part of humanity to become so common place that we will become so accepting that not only will it never end, but so much of the “best of humanity” may be weakened by it or worst jaded.
For now I believe that any hope for the future lies in the past, in history as proven in this account of another time the world witnessed the very worst and the very best…”We who lived in concentration camps can remember those who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken away from a person but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Viktor Frankl