“Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.” – Pope Francis I “Laudato Si”
Basic to all Buddhist teachings is the “interconnected and interdependent” nature of all of creation. Nothing happens in a vacuum. The threats of climate change and the increase of natural disasters across our globe are directly interconnected with the current state of consciousness of all sentient beings, especially the human family. Our Mother Earth is ill and crying out for healing, healing which can only come from us. As we become more and more polarized and alienated from each other, we can expect increased natural disasters and the Earth continuing to strive to survive the threat of total extinction. Her healing and renewal depends entirely on our willingness to heal the rift between us, to learn to live together with each other and the natural world, and commit wholeheartedly to global programs, not only here at home but everywhere, that guarantee not only the sustainability of life on Earth but also, insuring that all its inhabitants are guaranteed an opportunity to thrive equally.
Often you have heard me say, “Quiet Mind, Quiet Body; Quiet Body, Quiet Environment; Quiet Environment – Peace on Earth.” Both in theological and wisdom teachings we find the teachings that, “The Garden of Eden is everywhere.” Or as in Buddhism we say, “The Pure Land is everywhere.” However, if we do not see it within ourselves, if we do not see it where we dwell, we will not see it anywhere. Jesus said, “Though you may have eyes to see, you cannot see.” Furthermore we, human beings, are “co-creators,” what we create becomes a part of Nature, good and bad. Therefore as the Buddha taught, our thoughts, our words, and our actions not only make a difference but become a “reality” not only in our lives but also in the lives of all sentient beings. “What we think or dwell on, we become.” Not only “me” but everyone, the whole world. So when we look outward, what we see in the World is merely a reflection of the state of mind of the human family. We need to heal the World from within. Peace, friendship, equality, justice, the end of poverty and conflicts. Must begin with us, with “Me”.
“Ponlop Rinpoche said, “In the process of uncovering Buddha-Nature, in the process of uncovering our open, un-fixated quality of our mind, we have to be willing to get our hands dirty.” In other words, he was saying that we need to be willing to work with our disturbing emotions, the ones that feel entirely dark. But Ponlop Rinpoche added something really important to this statement. He said that without having a direct experience of our emotions, we can never touch the heart of Buddha-Nature. We can never actually hear the message of awakening.” If we are ever going to heal the Earth, if we are ever going to transform social consciousness, we need to stop pointing out the “darkness” we see in the world and see the darkness “within ourselves,” and begin the work of transformation there. And, this means, “getting our hands dirty”. We need to give up the false notion that spirituality is this kind of blissful ride into heaven. It never was for any one of the Great Masters, including Buddha or Moses, or Jesus; or for Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr., and others. Only now have so many come short of full realization because they consider spirituality as an escape from the problems of the World, rather than the solution, which requires our full participation and engagement in, “getting our hands dirty”. (Actually, a lot of people have the misunderstanding that this is what meditation is about. They believe meditation includes everything except that which feels uncomfortable or takes us out of our bliss zone.)
Engaging Authentic Spirituality, in Buddhism particularly, emphasizes the importance of maintaining an holistic balance in life. While there is a history of personal salvation or liberation taking precedence in the Buddhist schools, the rise of the Mahayana (Zen) school particularly in the doctrine of The Bodhisattva Ideal, reaches past the individual to relate Buddhist soteriology to society as a whole. The Bodhisattva achieves his or her own salvation or liberation from suffering and its causes, only to Vow to return lifetime after lifetimes, to aid and assist other sentient beings to achieve theirs. As The Monks of Pine Wind recite regularly, “One for All, All for One,” and “Community is the Spirit, The Guiding Light” of everything we do and strive to achieve.
Albert Einstein, in his efforts to describe what he saw as the “real condition” of The Universe wrote, “A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” Our spiritual work or “task” is to free ourselves from this “optical delusion, a kind of prison” in order that we may then be able to, “widen our circle of compassion” and help to bring about the total transformation of the human family who in turn can then heal “the whole of nature and its beauty.”
Buddha-Nature includes opening to all of these things, beginning with the fundamental truth we so much strive to avoid, “Life is Suffering,” and our salvation or liberation is to be found in the midst of the many forms of suffering we have created in our world. We must not turn our hearts and our minds from the reality of the all pervasive suffering going on in our planet today. We must as Pema Chodrin writes in her book, “Dealing with Uncertainty,” that spiritual practice or way-of-being in the world begins with “cutting off all escape routes”. We must be willing to “get our hands dirty”.
As I began, allow me to finish by quoting Pope Francis I as he spoke years ago before the United Nations emphasizing that, “Ecological catastrophe under the effective explosion of industrial civilization…requires an urgent need for a radical change in the conduct of humanity, inasmuch as the most extraordinary scientific advances, the most amazing technical abilities, the most astonishing economic growth, unless they are accompanied by authentic social and moral progress, will definitively turn against man.”
I have a dear friend, who sadly whenever they speak about the future of the world, can only see an apocalyptic end quickly approaching. My response is always the same, “I do and I must remain hopeful in the power of goodness, in the power of love, in the power of compassion, and acts of kindness, which is inherent to all human beings. I do and I must continue to believe this.” I believe we hold the power to conquer all adversarial tendencies and behaviors we have learned along the way, that have consistently been proven to bring us closer and closer to my friends “apocalyptic vision,” but I also believe that at any moment we “choose to” humanity will meet evil with good, indifference with benevolence, war with peace. For as many examples of the opposite we can find in history, their exists proof of the true-nature of the human heart.
I believe in you. I invite you also – to believe! One for All, All for One.
I love you,
One of the Three Pillars of Zen training is “The Cultivation of Wisdom,” which results in a better understanding of the psychological forces at work in ourselves and in society. The current divide and political polarization we are witnessing in America today is, rightfully so, frightening and confusing to all of us. It sometimes feels like the whole world is plunging itself into self-destruction. If we are to find answers, we must embrace the power of the “Truth” which liberates us from the causes of confusion and desperation. We cannot rely on emotions, or opinions, or even our personal beliefs when those beliefs only prove to further the power of ignorance and widen the divide.
Whether we can see it or not, whether we want to see it or not, each of us has had a hand in the making of the problem(s) which cries out for a solution. We must stop looking for the causes of the worlds suffering in others. His Holiness Pope Francis writes, “We are witnessing the globalization of indifference, there is a culture of conflict which makes us think only of ourselves…We’ve become use to the suffering of others, it doesn’t effect me, no one in our world feels responsible. Who is responsible for the blood of our brothers and sisters? The refugees washed up on the shores of the Mediterranean? [In cages at the southern borders of our Nation?] ’I don’t have anything to do with it, must be someone else. Certainly it’s not me.’ Then who is responsible? Everyone is responsible.”
What is the place of the monastic, the contemplative, in all of this? What is the place of the truly spiritual person in all of this? Are we to simply resign ourselves to the worst? Should we simply fortify our spiritual centers, monasteries, churches, mosques, and synagogues, taking a hard-headed position in opposition to all opposing positions? Satisfying our “egos” with our meditations, yoga, prayer life, energy practices, and sense of piety and goodness, while millions of “our brothers and sisters” perish in the rush of ignorance, hatred, and greed?
There can be no question that unless the current culture of fear, the worship of money and power, and indifference is transformed, we will remain in a constant state of insanity and desperation; and the danger of catastrophe, either through war or increasing natural disasters, will continue to be imminent at every moment of our lives.
Do not misunderstand my passion to mean I have answers, this is a problem of terrifying complexity and magnitude, one that I myself do not see clear and decisive solutions. Yet I am convinced that you and I must be the pathway toward the abolition of this current state of affairs. That we must be active in every possible way of lowering the temperature of the debate, mobilizing all our resources for the healing of humanity, and the whole of Nature.
We must at least face this responsibility and do something about it. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote, “Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.” In whatever manner we find ourselves inspired to do our part, we must never allow others to deter us from our commitment to living lives of Peace, Loving-kindness, Compassion, and Benevolence. Prepared to restrain and transform our own instincts for violence and aggressiveness in our relations with other people. We must be vigilant, empowering ourselves and others to meet this most urgent challenge, engaging regular and consistent practices of meditation, prayer, and random and deliberate acts of good works. The survival of the human race and the natural world, the continuing life of the planet itself, depends upon it.
I believe that the modern monastic and truly spiritual persons are called to an openness to a radical personal and global transformation. We cannot continue to rely on the models of the past. We can no longer rely on institutions and structures which can be destroyed or changed in any moment. In the words of the dying Buddha, “Atta Dipa.” We must, “rely on ourselves”. We must, each of us, stand on our own two feet and “be the change we want for the world.”
We begin, by first understanding the psychological forces at work in ourselves and in society. “We are more together than we are alone,” and so let us take that first step and each following step together and, together I believe if not in my lifetime, someday we will “awaken the best of angels within us” and become The Pure-Land, The Kingdom of God, on Earth.
I Love You,
At all times whether we are aware of it or not, we live and exist in “A Circle of Grace”. The aim and objective of any Authentic Spiritual practice or training is, to develop an experiential awareness of our existence within this Circle at all times. At all times, no matter the current circumstance or situation Grace is always available to us unconditionally. We need only to be “aware” of its presence and reach within to be infused by its Loving power.
Never is there a moment in which we exist outside the Circle, or fall from It. But far too often we find ourselves unaware of our existence within the Circle. Because of this absence of awareness, we regularly forget “who we are” and, our “place in the Universe”. Because of this “forgetfulness,” we fall into roles contrary to our ”true nature,” behaving in manners contrary to our deepest desires; wandering, distracted from our true purpose and meaning for our lives. What follows is a measure of discontentment and suffering.
Grace, is relational by nature. While it is always offered “freely,” our “participation,” our “conscious awareness” is required. Given freely, we must accept and embrace It freely. To accept and embrace It freely, is to “live it”. To “live it” is to make it our central desire. Grace is a living being. Infused by It, we are transformed into truly living human-beings. Fully Enlightened. Compassionate. Loving-Beings.
Once infused what follows is a natural awakening and understanding of the real meaning and purpose of our lives. Love is that meaning, and Benevolence is, our purpose for existence. The Circle enjoins a Community of Enlightened Beings, Human Beings, Children of God, Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Mahasattvas. Together with all sentient beings, we exist to sustain and fulfill The Great Mystery of Life which began since the Beginningless Past. It is only through our full participation in this meaning and purpose for our lives we find our fulfillment. There is no other way. As Thomas Merton once wrote, “A tree gives glory to God be being a tree.” So by being Love and living a life which Benefits all beings, we realize our own glory.
The Circle is all inclusive. For everything, whether fully realized at the moment or not, are “parts of a Whole,” called The Circle of Grace. Each part brings to the Circle what is needed, and each contribution, each participant, is satisfied by what the other brings and in return what each participant brings to the other.
The Circle is Self-Sustaining, for within It there is only One-Self, one True-Self. Call it God, or Buddha, or by any other Name, It never ceases to be The Circle of Grace or in any way is it diminished or changed by what we call It, or perhaps buy our own doubts.
Therefore by Its True-Identity, Its True-Nature, we never need to fear, or worry, for no matter what part of The Circle we find ourselves in, there is The Circle of Grace in Its fullness. No part is lacking. No one is lacking. All are One. All that is required is our “Yes”.
I see you, I love you,
In a few weeks it will be my birthday. I will be older than I ever was in this lifetime, and younger than I will ever be again. Today my friend and brother asked me if having cancer has in any way altered or added to my view of life. I don’t know. The past is now a blur to me. I recall living it, but as for the details they are like a visionary flower in the sky.
I will say this. I believe more than I have ever believed that, Love is all there is. Love is all that matters in anyones lifetime. Whence we are born we begin to intuitively move towards Love. For some mysterious reason, unknown to me at least, as we grow older, other desires seem to get in the way. Then, for some of us at least, we grow old and at the same time find ourselves returning to that intuitive desire to Love and to Be Loved. If we are lucky, time and experience has transformed us by then to become Lovers.
“In the Beginning was The Word,” and that Word was Love. It created all sentient beings and the myriad forms of its only offspring, which is Life, precious, precious Life. It is Love which created the world and which sustains it. We humans are but only one form of Its expression. If today, given our current events, we do not wake up to the reality of Love, we will be gone. And I believe that the Universe will simply recreate itself in Its own Image. That image is – Love.
I do remember that when I was younger so many things mattered which today I realize was just youthful ignorance. I took so much for granted, especially time and the space I occupied within it. There is a Buddhist Dharani which remains dear to my heart. I recite at all public gatherings at the end of each gathering. “Allow me to respectfully remind you, Birth and Death is the Supreme Matter. Everything is of the nature of Impermanence. Gone, gone, forever Gone. Opportunity is too often lost. Do not, squander your life.” Oh, if only I had learned the full meaning of this Dharani earlier than I did. But, we are not to dwell on past failures or mistakes. Only to learn from them.
“Birth and Death is the Supreme Matter.” We are to reconcile our way of living, of being in the world, with the One un-negotiable, undeniable, Truth. We are Born, and we are sure to Die. Death comes to all of us. Buddha’s, Christ’s, Prophets, Good, Bad, this Truth does not discriminate. “Time” is merciless, and it too does not discriminate. Everything, everyone, is of “the nature of Impermanence”. From the moment we are Born we begin our path toward Death. Once Death arrives, we are, “Gone, gone, forever gone.” This life, this body, this person, I have come identify with and experience as fixed or permanent, is not.
Because we resist this reality more than anything else, “Opportunity is too often lost.” Too often lost! The opportunity to know Love. The opportunity to express Love. The opportunity to Be Love. The opportunity to be Loved. For it is Love which fulfills me. It is Love which satisfies me. It is Loving other which completes me. In our ignorance we “Squander” so much time, space, and opportunity.
One day we all arrive at that day we are, “Older than we ever have been in this lifetime, and younger than we will ever be again.” The Buddha taught that “every moment” “every now” is an opportunity to “Purify past Karma, and eliminate its effects on the present moment and the future.”
So, every moment, until the day we die, is in fact an opportunity to “learn the full meaning of this precious Dharani. “Carpe Diem,” “Seize the Moment” “Now”. If not Now, When?
I Love you,
I continue with cancer occupying my body.
Unsure of the future I remain determined to defeat that which aims to defeat me.
I remain confident that God, Whom I, ever since I was seven years old, am convinced lives in me and in all sentient beings will, along with my conviction be the source of my healing.
I believe in miracles.
I remain devoted to being an instrument of Love, Kindness, Compassion, and Benevolent Service.
I continue to believe in the power of Love over Hatred, Kindness over Indifference, Service over Sloth.
I am supported by the very best friends, family, brother and sister monks, and community.
I am inspired by the numbers of people I meet each day who too carry more than anyone should have to carry.
I am inspired by the readiness of those who suffer, to forget themselves to help others who suffer too.
I remain convinced that there is so much more goodness in the world than we are lead to believe.
It is for that reason I limit my exposure to cable and social news media outlets.
I reject living in fear and practice faith, hope, and always looking for the best in others.
I see underpaid caretakers going to their jobs caring for people like my Mother with dementia and the elderly too ill to care for themselves.
I am humbled by their sincere devotion.
I am prayerful, I believe in the power of prayer.
I am hopeful for the future, I believe in the power of humanity, in light over darkness.
I remain awe struck by Nature. Our Mother remains so beautiful, so benevolent, despite how some continue to harm her or take her for granted.
I believe in the power of forgiveness. I forgive all my offenders and ask that whomever I may have offended forgive me.
In this New Year coming upon us, I expect more acts of kindness, more expressions of affection, more generosity, more benefits of the doubt, and gentleness.
We Are More Together Than Alone – Let Community be “The Spirit, The Guiding Light” of 2020 and beyond.
I Love You,
Since I was very little I learned, I was trained, and trained myself to be independent. This was the lesson I heard or received from two very independent parents. A very successful self-made Father and strong willed Mother. As a small child obviously this had limits. I needed to be fed, and clothed, and changed, and all the other things small children need. It was when I entered adolescents that my training began.
I was born into a middle-class blue collar working family, whose Mother was the sole caretaker of me and my siblings, and whose Father was the sole provider. When I and my siblings were very young my Father worked three jobs. It wasn’t until around my tenth or eleventh birthday that had changed. My Father had “climbed the ladder” and now was able to provide for his family with one salary and a growing income sourced in his new start-up business. It was around that same time my Father decided that it was time for me to learn what “hard work” meant. It was also around that same time that I realized that “my feelings” in the matter did “not matter”. He was going to make “a man” out of me and teach me how to make it in “the real world”. My twin and I went to work for my father, after school, and me on the weekends. We worked long hours and were expected also to do our schoolwork, attend classes, and get the best grades possible. For the next four years or so my only relationships were adults, people I came to know and learn from being employed at my Father’s place of business.
By my teenage years I had learned much about business, about hard work, about being your own person. Now don’t get me wrong, these lessons in themself have served me well, but there was one other lesson I had learned. That was, “not to ask” for help or anything else for that matter. If you wanted or “needed” something, it was up to you to make that happen. Along with this lesson I learned for the most part, but not entirely, to ignore my feelings. Especially the sad ones or the ones sourced in not getting what you needed. “Being a Man” meant finding and making your own way and, never, never, expecting help to come from anywhere except, maybe God and that was conditional. At least then I thought so.
It wouldn’t be until my early adult years and up through my mid-years when I was learning who I really was and coming into my own person, that I would begin to see the need to challenge some of these childhood lessons. Yet as I grew and, discovered I had a gift for helping others grow, one lesson, has always stuck with me and proved difficult to relearn, until recently. It would be this lesson that my own survival would require me to learn.
Nearly two years ago I was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I had undergone extensive chemo-therapy, radiation, and major surgery. Eventually I was told I was in “remission”. It would be only several months later I would be told that the cancer was still in my body and had metastasized. It was during my time in the hospital, even though I am confident that I had inklings of it throughout my life, that the “one lesson” I hadn’t learned fully yet, and the one lesson which would be necessary if I were ever going to survive was, “To ask for what I needed.” “Real men don’t ask, they go get it themselves.” I can recall on a number of occasions lying in the hospital bed feeling in pain or uncomfortable thinking, “The nurses are really busy around this time. I can deal with this until someone comes in.” “There are other people on this floor much more sicker than I am, I’ll wait.” The bottom line was then and still to some degree, I did not now how to ask for help, and worse, at least, I felt that whatever it was “I needed” others needs were more important.
All of my adult life I have believed that it is “my job,” “my mission,” to help others, and any concerns for what I might need was secondary. This was my childhood lesson. Yet when we “ask” we participate in a cosmic design. We complete the circle of interconnection and interdependence. Both the one who asks, as well as the one who gives, receives. “Asking” is relational and nurtures our true-natures. Each of us are “relational” by nature. The Universe is a “Community”. “Community is the spirit, the guiding light, whereby people come together to fulfill a purpose, to help others fulfill their purpose, and to take care of one another.” We belong to one-another, we need each other, and every time we reach out and ask for help we reinforce and nurture the “Spirit” which runs through all life.
It was time for me to finish the lesson, and relearn what I needed to. I am happy to report that with the help of first, yes, the cancer, and my blessed Community of Monks, and Students, and Members, Supporters, and Friends, I am attending class regularly and learning what I need to learn. I could not do this without “my teachers”.
Living with cancer everyday provides a lot of time for reflection, contemplation, and meditation. I have given a great deal of reflection about my life’s mission which began for me decades ago, and how my own lessons have always informed the teachings I have shared. Recently one of my fellow Monks and dearest Friend said to me, “Roshi, your message has always been the same, taught by you in a thousand different ways.” Today that message has truly crystalized and proven to be more important than ever.
Each and everyone of us are integrated interdependent parts of a whole called by us Life. Everyone, and I mean everyone, without exception; everyone’s life matters, has meaning and purpose. I have long believed that each of our individual births have never been random acts of some kind of chemical or biological effect, at least not alone. That each of us, without exception, are born on the very second; the very minute; the very hour; the very week; the very month, and the very year we were meant to be born. With us we brought what was “needed in the world”. Yet the very sad circumstance which follows is that most of us never deliver what we brought because, we never learn that our lives matter, and that our lives have purpose. So, some of us never learn to “ask for help,” or “for what we need”. And, when we don’t, all life suffers.
You matter, you were born for a purpose. Your life has meaning. The meaning of your life was defined at birth. The meaning of your life is to live your life authentically. To be the person who was born. Not anyone else. Especially not anyone defined by others. “You” were already defined and, for some great mystery while you were defined, “You” are a work in progress becoming more and more who You were meant to be. Not just for yourself, but the whole World. The work in progress is never over. The purpose of your life, having been born, is to bring your unique authenticity to the work of benefitting the world. So, you need to “take care of yourself” to be able to meet this Divine and ever needed challenge. So, “Ask” for what you need! Don’t wait for cancer or some other threatening experience to show up. Ask! When you do, as I have discovered, an infinite supply of what you need, call it Love, Family, Friendship, Community, will be provided you. Because, we might forget who we are, but that Great Mystery called by us by many Names, never forgets, and is always ready and willing to give.
Thank you to everyone who have convinced me that my asking matters. Without whose love, good thoughts, prayers, and support, I could not meet this challenge and complete my life’s mission.
I truly, truly, love you,
This morning as I awoke I laid in bed reflecting on my experience that last forty-eight or more hours. Yesterday my family and I celebrated my parents 90th birthday. Present, was my Father a man of marvel, who continues to work even now seven days a week, with the same devotion he had the first day he went to work. My Mother who for ten years now has lived with dementia was present enough to mumble, “Hi” to everyone before she ate some food and fell fast asleep for the next three hours. Then there was my Father’s brother 84 years old with colon cancer requiring him to wear two colostomy bags and the beginning of kidney failure. Also was my Aunt, his wife who is 99% legally blind and requires his devoted attention every waking hour. They had made the long trip of driving 3 1/2 hours from northwest Pennsylvania for the occasion. Finally, my twin sister, her family my niece and nephew, their wives and husbands, my daughter Katie and her great cousin Livia and, my closest cousin Porky and his family.
On my mind as I laid in bed were the words of the Evening Dharani I had recited in the Zendo hundreds of times, as I did just the other day. “Permit me to respectfully remind you, birth ad death is the Supreme Matter. Everything is of the nature of impermanence. Gone, gone, forever gone. Opportunity is too often lost. Do not squander your life.”
Over a year ago I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Entered an intensive chemotherapy protocol, had major surgery to remove a tumor from part of my pancreas, more chemo and then radiation. In the end I was told, I was in remission. The bloodwork showed that the cancer cells were no longer active. With that news, I rang a traditional bell you would find on any ship, to mark the success of medical science and perhaps my will to beat the cancer. The happiness on that day as well as the anticipation of living cancer free did not last long. In just two days from now I will return to chemo-therapy for a second battle against the demon thief who haunts the lives of millions of people all over the world.
As I laid in bed reflecting I wondered, “What had I squandered?” And “How much?” And, “If I did, what would I have done differently?” I must admit to you there were no immediate answers, and certainly not the usual I often hear people say like, “I would have travelled more.” “I wouldn’t have not worked so much.” Or “I would have said, I love you more often.” No my mind simply fell back to the party where, I sat most of the time when someone was not asking me to explain how I felt, simply watching and quietly loving the faces of all the people there. Most of all my daughter Katie. Whom as you’d might expect I worry the most about in the event I lose this battle. I did however begin to see where I took for granted many many years ago that all of these people, whom I love so much, from my Father to his brother, my niece and nephew, my cousins, and last but certainly not least of all my daughter, while only ten years old, would, did, and are aging toward that same inevitable transition that comes to us all. How brief the many family outings when we were children, or perhaps celebrating the new birth of a nephew or niece. Moments like these are too brief, time is merciless forever robbing us of those imagined “opportunities in the future, too often lost.”
Life isn’t like we like to think of it, “either/or”. We do what we can. We do what we do. We accumulate a collection of choices that were both good for us and others, and those not so good. In the end if we are lucky, and I consider myself as one of the lucky ones, we have no regrets. Not because we did it all right or we did it, “my way”. I think the “no-regrets” come from just simply accepting it all. All of it. The successes and the failures. All the while maintaining a sense of gratitude and meaningful engagement with it all as it all unfolds. “Being engaged”, I think is the true meaning of living life. Hiding from none of it. Embracing the hard times as well as the good times. It’s all meaningful and has something for us to seriously consider. Opportunities should be ceased. Take not one for granted. When you find yourself either walking in the rain, bathing in the sunlight, or having to go through hell, do it “as if you own the place.” Don’t look back. The moment you’ve passed through it, it is “gone, forever gone”. Look around you, see the beauty of the moment, touch it, listen to it, taste it and fully digest it.
As I said “hello” and then “goodbye” to my family yesterday, I noticed as I hugged each and every one of them, I held them a little longer and a little tighter. While I did I realized that I wanted them, to know, I really did love them, I really did appreciate them, I really was for them.
By the end of the party I was exhausted, making my way ahead of everyone to my car, when suddenly I heard my daughters voice yell out, “Daddy, Livia, (my five year old cousin) wants another hug.” I stopped and turned around and waited for her to run into my arms, there we hugged. When she broke loose of our embrace and ran back to her Mother, I knew I had been hugged, and I had hugged her. Life Was Good!
I want you to know, I really do love you! I really am for you!
“Our society suffers from a crises of connection, a crises of solidarity. We live in a culture of hyper-individualism. There is always tension between self and society, between the individual and the group. Over the past sixty years we have swung too far toward the self. The only way out is to rebalance, to build a culture that steers people toward relation, community, and commitment – the things we most deeply yearn for, yet undermine with our hyper-individualistic way of life.”
– David Brooks, The Second Mountain
While the meaning of spirituality like the meaning of love may be different to different people, traditionally, “spirituality” referred to a religious process of re-formation, “which aims to recover the original shape of man”. Fundamental to all of the Buddha’s teachings is the “interconnectedness and interdependency” of every life-form, our “true-nature”. We are “interconnected” and our very existence depends on our realization of this fact-of-life and the actualization of our interdependency by the ways in which we live our daily lives.
Chardin wrote, “You are not a human being in search of a spiritual experience. You are a spiritual being immersed in a human experience.” As “spiritual beings,” true and sustainable happiness is a function of “recovering our original shape” or “realizing our true-nature”, living as “spiritual beings immersed in a human experience”.
Spirituality is deeply rooted and deeply committed. It is a “committed life”. There are no options for those who live spiritually in the world. “Community is the Spirit, the Guiding Light.” For the truly spiritual it is our “interconnectedness and interdependency” which defines us and motivates our actions. It is not enough to believe “we are one,” our words, our life’s actions, choices, and ways of being must reflect our beliefs. “Whereby people come together to fulfill a purpose,” a “singular purpose”. That “purpose” being, “to live my life as a benefit for the whole of life”. We were born to bring to the world what the world needs. What the world needs is “benevolence,” a “community” of spiritual beings benefitting the world by the way they see themselves (thoughts), by the way they communicate (words), and by their choices and ways-of-living (actions). Spiritual beings; beings made up of the stuff of love, kindness, and compassion, immersed in the human experience to “realize their enlightenment and manifest their divinity” for the benefit of the whole world. And finally living together to, “help others fulfill their purpose,” and “to take care of one another.”
Living “spiritually” is a way-of-being in the world grounded in the belief in our inherent potential to love unconditionally, to care about each others well-being, to take care of each other and the whole of Nature. Living spiritually is living “Responsibly”. “Responsibility begins with the willingness to take the stand that one is cause in the matter of one’s life. It is a declaration, a context from which one chooses to live one’s life. Responsibility is not burden, fault, praise, blame, credit, shame or guilt. In responsibility, there is no evaluation of good or bad, right or wrong. There is simply what’s so in any given moment or circumstance or situation, and the stand you choose to take on what’s so. Responsibility begins with the willingness to deal with a situation from and with the point-of-view that you are the generator of what you do, what you have and what you are. It is a position which defines you and your way-of-being in the world, an empowering context that leaves you with a say in the matter of life.” Whenever a difficult situation surfaces in my life I do not look for fault, someone to blame or shame, or who’s guilty. I choose to be responsible for my reaction and for correcting the situation. When my brother or sister is hungry, I find a way to feed them. Where I see injustice, I work to reestablish justice. When I am hurt, I forgive. Because responsibility is “my position,” or the “context” I have chosen to live my life from, “I am” the source of my actions and my reactions, of what I want, and of who I am in the world.
Whenever we define ourselves or anything or anyone, we “fix the limits”. By definition to define is, to “fix the limits of”. Choosing to be responsible and to live spiritually in the world “defines” me, it is what determines both my potential and my limitations. Spirituality is “absolute”. Webster defines “absolute” as, “a value or principle which is regarded as universally valid or which may be viewed without relation to other things.” “In “idealist philosophy,” the “Absolute” is “the sum of all being, actual and potential”. In “monistic idealism,” it serves as a concept for the “unconditioned reality which is either the spiritual ground of all being or the whole of things considered as a spiritual unity.” (Wikipedia) Earlier I wrote that “spirituality is a committed life”. Not loving my fellow sentient beings, not being kind to everyone I meet, not showing compassion for the suffering and, not living my life as a benefit for others, is not an option. I don’t get to cherry pick the very basic principles of my life. I may make mistakes and even fail at times. Then I clean up my mess and get back to living spiritually in the world. But simply abandoning my identity because “I don’t feel like it today,” or “life is too difficult,” is not an option. I call this, “The Principle of Identity”. I am defined by the very principles I have chosen, or declare to be, “Who I want to be in the world”. Life’s circumstances and unexpected situations, unfulfilled expectations, and tragedies, do not define me. My “response” to life is “Who I Am”. I am a spiritual being, not a human being in search of a spiritual experience, “a spiritual being immersed in a human experience,” in order to learn, to grow, and to serve.
Living spiritually in the world is transformational. The dictionary defines “transformation” as, “a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance; a metamorphosis; a change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one, by natural or supernatural means.” Living spiritually is not just a supplemental effort to simply make me feel better after a difficult day. It is a “re-formation which aims to recover the original shape of a person.” This involves a “thorough or dramatic change” in lifestyle including priorities, principles, choices, and decisions. Happiness, contentment, or joy is not the aim, but a bi-product of living spiritually.
Our social and cultural environment is not conducive for happiness or well-being. Any effort to simply supplement our daily experience with meditation, yoga, a prayer life, or any of the other spiritual practices, will always, result in just a temporary positive experience at best. In Zen, “learning to be content,” is choosing to be responsible, to be “cause” in the matters of my life. The source of my personal happiness, begins and ends with me. My lifestyle, my choices, my priorities reinforce my life’s experiences. Global transformation, begins and ends with me. My choice to heal rather than harm, to forgive rather than blame or shame, and to love “all the many beings” unconditionally, is the transformational force of the Universe.
You say, “You want to see the world change?” Well, all real change begins with real changes. “Be the change you want the world to be.”
I Love You,
We live in a “content” oriented society obsessed with the pursuit of more, better, and different. Our reality, is one of cause and effect, context and content. If we are ever going to understand our personal and global discontentment, which is at the root of the worlds increasing fear of challenges and uncertainty, we must become aware of the “causes” in life, the “context” of our lives which creates the content of our lives.
Faith – “strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.”
Far too often in the modern world man is willing to “throw the baby out with the bath water.” When problems arise or God forbid tragedy strikes, too many of us move away from our faith in God or Something larger than ourselves. Perhaps we pray less, attend our places of worship less often, put aside meditation, withhold our donations, or are less mindful of our behaviors harmful both to ourselves and others. When problems arise this is a time to “find refuge” in our faith and the spiritual practices which will get us through the darkness, remembering as Mark Nepo writes in his book “Awakening,” describing his battle with cancer, “The presence of God does not guarantee the absence of pain, but makes it more bearable.” Likewise, the Buddha’s teaching on “cessation from suffering,” (The Four Noble Truths) should be understood as a means for transforming life’s disappointments to opportunity’s and not oppositional.