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
On August 28, 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., stood at the Lincoln Memorial before more than 250,000 people and said, “I have a dream…”. What followed was a shared vision for a “new nation”, a “new world”. Every Spring Nature affirms the infinite potential of that new world, a “resurrection” of the best in Nature and what I believe to be the best in Humanity, which is part of Nature.
We all “have a dream” and I believe it is the same dream dreamt by Martin Luther King, Moses, Jesus, Buddha, You and Me. It has been translated in a myriad of ways. With Spring at hand we have an opportunity once again for a “resurrection”, so I offer you my translation for your consideration…
“In the domain of Spirit, potential is not achieved by how much we know or believe, neither is it realized by the level of empathy or compassion we may feel toward others, or by how sincere we may be. Potential is achieved by our willingness to train regularly and the quality of our “steadfastness”, which is measured only in “times of trouble”, and requires that we come down from the mountaintop, because no one achieves their potential up on the mountaintop.”
- Seijaku Roshi
Authentic Spirituality is for the long distance runner only. It is for those who by the time they take to running the race have resolved for themselves “never to give up”, to stay “steadfast” even if it means I come in last, I finish the race. But not just finish the race, rather I finish the race with all the integrity, honesty, and commitment of a true warrior. I don’t let difficulty dissuade me, the allure of escape distract me, or the fear of failure motivate me. The runner of the race has trained for many years, changed his or her poor habits, and yes sacrificed much just for the sake of running the race. He or she is mature enough to know that difficulty will come, it is expected but as long as we train regularly, have the right coach, and a strong heart, we will meet the challenges with “all victorious mastery”.
“This rationalization of the spiritual path and one’s actions must be cut through if true spirituality is be realized…Whenever we have a dualistic notion such as, “I am doing this because I want to a particular state of consciousness, a particular state of being,” then automatically we separate ourselves from the reality of what we are.”
- Chogyam Trungpa, “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism”
Whenever I am asked, “How did you come to your spiritual path?”, I reply, “I never have.” Somewhere around the 60′s a new religion was given birth out of the spirit of revolution or opposition to a status quo both political and religious. As well intended I am sure the revolution and the revolutionist were, whenever you create something no matter what it is in opposition to something else, whatever it is you are opposing will make its way into the new creation. Kind of like when Jesus said, “To conquer the Romans, make you no different than they.”
“We will, each of us, come to know peace in our hearts and minds when we remember we belong to each other and are a part of Nature; When government begins to make policy, legislate, provide for the common welfare accordingly; When each and every one of us truly take the steps to build our lives around the betterment of the whole and not just for personal gain and gratification.” – Seijaku Roshi
The dictionary defines “stewardship” as, “the responsible overseeing and protection of something considered worth caring for and preserving.” The question of whether or not I am “my brothers/sisters keeper”, has long been debated in many circles. From the Zen Buddhist point-of-view, there is no debate about it – I AM. We also understand that not only is “stewardship” a responsibility of every “spiritual minded” person, (actually everyone), but the secret to a more fulfilling and love-experience filled life.