One of the many myths about Buddhist spirituality is the notion that all desires or desiring is “bad”, and that the aim of meditation is to eradicate desiring. When reciting the (four) Bodhisattva Vows for All the third vow is, “Desires are inexhaustible, I vow to end them.” An impossible promise, therefore what do we do with this cause for suffering? Robert Aiken, Roshi teaches us, “I have heard people say, “I cannot recite these vows because I cannot hope to fulfill them.” Actually, Kanzeon, the incarnation of mercy and compassion, weeps because she cannot save all beings. Nobody fulfills these “Great Vows for All,” but we vow to fulfill them as best we can. They are our practice.”
Zen-Buddhism teaches that the key to cessation from suffering begins with understanding how Mind is operating from moment to moment, by becoming intimately familiar with its nature and, what we call “the bureaucracy of ego”. All sentient begins live life from an ego-centric point of view (“regarding everything only in relation to oneself; self-centered.”- dictionary.com) where one experiences themselves as separate from other beings, other dharma’s. Zen-Buddhism refers to this bureaucracy as “ego-delusion”. All suffering, stress, and anxiety, fear and worriment, low self-confidence, a sense of personal lacking, are a function of “ego-delusion”. This is when ego-mind is running a story based on the delusion of separation.
This experience of separation also includes everything I perceive I need to be happy or satisfied. Ego perceives all needs and solutions to one’s life as existing “apart from the being”, therefore – “the pursuit of happiness”. Whenever we feel stress or anxious it’s because ego is convinced that I lack something and I don’t know where to find it, so I go looking for it. What follows is a never-ending pursuit of happiness, looking in all the wrong places. There’s an old familiar fable about this. “One day the god’s of Olympia got together for a conference. The
god’s were concerned that human-beings if allowed near the Truth would harm it. So they deliberated on where they could hide the Truth in order that humans would never find it. You could imagine the suggestions. One suggested high on the highest mountain top; another in the deepest part of the ocean; another among the stars, and so on. Everyone also agreed that someday humans would travel to all those places. Finally (And isn’t always the way in these stories?), the oldest among them stood and said, “I have the perfect place! Humans would never consider looking for it there, and even if they do go there they won’t believe it. Let’s place the Truth in each of them.” They all agreed and remain correct until this day.
Whenever Buddhist talk about “suffering” it refers to a state of mind – anguished, stressed, worried, and delusional. In resolving “suffering” for ourselves and others we begin by recognizing that “the suffering is within us”. It is not happening “to me” as if someone else is doing it to me, it is my perception (“the process by which an organism detects and interprets information from the external world by means of the sensory receptors.” – dictionary.com) my interpretation of what is happening in the world around me. This is not some “denial” about the external events or triggers, but understood as an “interpretation” of the events, not based on fact as much as my ideas, beliefs, and/or expectations, which are always personal. Next, we look at what it is we are “desiring” in order to resolve the suffering, and ask ourselves, “Will it really resolve the suffering?” If not we apply the Teachings of “Right View”, “Right Thought or Intention”, “Right Speech”, and “Right Action”, (The Eightfold Noble Path, the Buddha’s “prescription for cessation from suffering.) It could go something like this:
- Am I seeing this from every possible point-of-view?
- What is my real intention? Do I want to be freed up or do I want to be stuck in resentment, blame, shame, etc.? In other word do I want a solution or revenge?
- If someone were speaking to me that way would I want reconciliation? Are my self-criticisms loving, compassionate, kind, or am I not prisoner of my own words, judge and jury, and executioner all at the same time?
- #3 just replace speech with actions.
Whenever I find myself “suffering”, I am always telling myself a story. When I examine the story, usually “Stephen King” is somewhere in there. No wonder I’m afraid. So I have a choice, I can either keep reading Stephen King’s story in the darkness of ego-delusion, or stop reading the story all together, or rewrite the story with loving, forgiving, compassionate, kinder thoughts and words. There is another choice but after nearly forty-years of teaching I find it to be almost impossible for people to choose, including me at times – “Stay out of your head!”, “Don’t indulge the stories!” Part of our conditioning has taught us that “life is a story” we tell ourselves or others. No it’s not. Life is always happening outside the story, the story we tell ourselves and others is just an “interpretation” of what happened. Once you really know this to be true about life, you realize that there really is a whole “way-of-living” where you get to write the script and act in your own life. It goes something like this:
- Beings are numberless, I vow to love them all.
Another impossible promise, but with “right intention”, we arouse skillful effort, and with “right desire” our “way-of-living” this way, outside the story, extends us beyond the limits of our personal identities. Which are also delusional.
I Love you, (No not “you” – YOU!)
Albert Einstein wrote, “I fear the day when technology overlaps with our humanity. The world will only have a generation of idiots.” The dictionary defines “idiot” as, “an utterly foolish and senseless person.” Ring any bells? Recently on a talk show another scientist pointed out that the internet and modern technology, such as smartphones and personal computers, and MAC, are intended to be tools for connecting us and bringing our world closer together. The results have been exactly the opposite. It is not my intention to knock Apple or Microsoft, I too enjoy these sometimes magical inventions of the 20th and 21st Century that continue to rise out of the evolving consciousness of mankind. No, this article is about the “humanity” part of Einsteins words.
“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.