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When Horses Cry

  • I wrote the following post the day after the shooting of innocent Amish Children in Paradise, PA.  I have pulled it from my Archives because I believe we need to read it again.

The sound of the horses hooves were heard across the cornfields as they pulled the carriages carrying the Mothers and Fathers, Sisters and Brothers, Aunts and Uncles, and fellow neighbors of the Amish Community of Paradise Pennsylvania making their way to the funeral of the man who, just two days ago, senselessly murdered their daughters. “They had already forgiven him.” the press wrote that morning, and now they were on their way to console the wife and children of this man, and to stand at his gravesite and pray that he would find the peace in death that he could not find in life.

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The Last Spiritual Warrior – Living a Zen Inspired Life

“They are an intriguing people.  From the moment they wake they devote themselves to the perfection of whatever they do.”  – The Last Samurai

A friend of mine asked me the other day, “How can I make my spiritual life more than just wanting a new Mercedes?”  In the East they say, “It is better to know the right question than to know the right answer.”  My friend “knows” the “right question”.
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Living the Zen Iinspired Life – If there is no resolve, you might as well stay on the sofa.

“It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell.” – Buddha

Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.” So is “resolve” the missing ingredient in most people’s efforts to create real and lasting changes in their lives? Take for example one’s weight loss effort, getting to the gym, trying to stop procrastinating, cleaning that closet, or practicing to be more compassionate, without resolve we might as well stay on the sofa. Now I believe that at all times we already know what we need to do, we just don’t like it. Most people never get pass their habitual behavior of finding “excuses” as to why “they can’t”. My three-year old daughter, who is my teacher on many levels, always says to me whenever I tell her “she can’t”, “But I can try.” I often tell people, “Today a persons word is equal to their excuses.” We talk a great deal about who we can rely on in times of trouble, most of us are never on that list.

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30
Jul

Rely On Your Self!

During his final days the Buddha was committed that his monks and nuns fully understood what he had taught them over the past forty-five years. His final words included, “Rely on Yourself. Do not rely on any outside source. Rely on the Dharma. You are the Dharma.” What specifically did the Buddha want his monks and nuns to understand by these words. I have concluded that His final words, like all of his teachings, are as relevant today, especially during these most turbulent and uncertain times, just as much as they were during his lifetime. “Be the master of our minds, do not be a slave to our minds.”

“My disciples, the teachings that I have given you are never to be forgotten or abandoned. They are always to be remembered and treasured, they are not to be thought about, they are to be practiced. If you follow these teachings you will always be happy. The point of my teachings is to control your own mind. Keep your mind from greed, and you will keep your behavior right, your mind pure and your words faithful. By always thinking about the transiency of your life, you will be able to resist greed and danger, and will be able to avoid all evils. If you find your mind is tempted and so entangled in greed, you will have to suppress and control the temptation, be the master of your own mind do not be the slave. A man’s mind may make him actualize his Buddha-Nature, or it may make him be a beast. Misled by error, one becomes a fear-filled demon. Led by enlightened, one becomes a Buddha a free master of his or her mind. Therefore, control your mind and do not let it deviate from the right path.” {Be the master of your mind. Do not let the mind be your master} (Para)

Christ regularly reminded his followers to “Pick up your cross (suffering) and follow me.” He taught that God exists within us and that the Kingdom of Heaven was all around us. That what was necessary was to “practice what he preached by example”. Not just to believe in Him or His teachings but to “apply” those teachings by accepting that, “Life involves Suffering,” “Life is transitory” and that the solution for cessation from suffering was “practice” or “applying the teachings”. This is what I believe Christ meant by “real faith”. It had nothing to do with “belief” and everything to do with “following his examples”.

The Buddha says to us that, we alone are the bearers of our suffering and the solutions to our suffering. That whenever we rely on any other source for our relief or happiness, we will be disappointed. That, “Practice” was a “Way-of-Life” to be applied daily and regularly. He says to us that, “The teachings are not to be thought about, but to be practiced.” And, “The point of my teachings is to control your own mind. Keep your mind from greed, and you will keep your behavior right, your mind pure and your words faithful. By always thinking about the transiency of your life, you will be able to resist greed and danger, and will be able to avoid all evils. If you find your mind is tempted and so entangled in greed, you will have to suppress and control the temptation, be the master of your own mind do not be the slave.” Admonishing each of us he insisted that we, “Be the master of our minds, do not be a slave to our minds.” This would include our feelings, desires, and emotions. We understand that, “Having feelings both positive and negative, desires, and emotions is to be expected as human-beings.” The problem too often gone unrecognized is that our “feelings, desires, and emotions have us.” We are often unconscious that what is “running our lives” is the “master of our lives” which are our “thoughts about life, our feelings, desires, and emotions”. Enlightenment here, can be understood as a conscious-based choice to take back control of our minds and therefore take back the power over our minds and our lives.

The first step toward “Mastering our Minds,” is to see for ourselves how much our daily choices and priorities are based almost exclusively on “what we are thinking about life,” “what we are feeling in the moment,” and “what we are desiring.” Zen Master Dogen said that, “Zen is the study of the self.” He used the term “Zen” to mean the specific form of meditation used throughout the generations to achieve this awareness and enlightenment. In Japanese, we call it “Shikantaza” or “Just Sitting”. We take the upright enlightened posture, bring our awareness to a natural process of breathing in and breathing out, and we simply “observe”. Observe what? We observe what I often refer to as the “Bureaucracy of Ego”. We observe, taking no position for or against, thoughts as they flow into our awareness, feelings, emotions, and our reactions or desires. We sit as if we are watching all of this take place on a movie screen in front of us. Master Dogen went on to say that, “We study the self by forgetting the self.” By taking no position for or against the thoughts, feelings, emotions or desires, we “bear witness” and simply experience them in our bodies. We feel whatever is present and remain detached by following our breath as we breathe in and as we breathe out. A practice so simple yet proven to be the most difficult thing you will ever do; So we – Just Do It. Eventually, and no one can measure the exact moment, “This self I call myself” drops away and, “We are enlightened by the myriad of forms.” Dogen said. We remember who we truly are, we see the world as it really is, not the one we have created, and we begin to experience our True-Nature our Buddha-Nature.

Al the while as we make our way “back home” we need to be prepared to face a lifetime of unwholesome habitual behaviors which must be corrected. “The teachings are not to be thought about, but to be practiced.” We must confront the minds tendency to distract us from “the moment” by drawing us into a narrative which takes place in the mind and, is alway evaluating life, qualifying it, testing and judging it. We have responded to this distraction long enough that we have come to believe that the “narrative” is life when all the while it is an illusion, a fabricated translation of life. The Buddha says to us that in these moments, “You will have to suppress and control the temptation”. Next we have to be diligent to “Keep your mind from greed.” Often we think of greed as having to do with money. We are to understand that, “Greed” is any moment we find ourselves entrapped in the “habitual behavior” of comparing this moment to some other moment or idea about the way life should be. This is when we are being “driven by” desires for something more, something better, something different that what is in the moment. This is when the Mind is the Master and we are the Slave.


“If you find your mind is tempted and so entangled in greed, you will have to suppress and control the temptation, be the master of your own mind do not be the slave.” We consciously without criticism or judgment of ourselves notice the Bureaucracy of Ego at work, come back to focusing on our breath, breathe, and return to the moment just as it is and, “take care of business.”

Another tool the Buddha gives us is something like a mantra. He says to us, “By always thinking about the transiency of your life, you will be able to resist greed and danger, and will be able to avoid all evils.” When challenges and difficulty rises we remind ourselves, “This too shall pass.” Another approach is to ask ourselves, “Given the transiency, the impermanence of my life and the lives of those I love and wish to spend time with, is the investment of my time and energy in this desire worth it?”

“Brothers and Sisters, permit me to respectfully remind you: Birth and Death is the Supreme Matter. Everything, Everyone, is of the Nature of Impermanence. Gone. Gone. Forever Gone. Opportunity is too often Lost. Do Not Squander Your Life.”

“Be the master of your minds, do not be a slave to your minds.”

I Love You,
Seijaku Roshi

25
Jul

The End of The World – Is It?

There are those who say that the world is broken, on the verge of total collapse, dying, never to recover. Is it? Twenty-five-hundred years ago during the time of The Buddha, the world looked very much like ours today. Poverty was everywhere, even acceptable. If you were born into poverty it was considered your fate, your karma. You, as the generations before you, the generations that would follow you were condemned at birth to a life of hard labor, low class citizenship, often homelessness, and cultural and social discrimination and racism. Nations were regularly at war. By nations I mean family clans who claimed that they, not others, were rightful aires to the wealth and power available at that time and were wiling to do to others whatever was necessary to gain it. Don’t even talk about pollution, to this day the Ganges or Ganga River, considered the holiest sight in India, is also where human waste and other waste is deposited, and where lower class citizens gather water to bathe in and drink.

In this environment The Buddha was born, raised, and eventually would set out on his personal journey for “enlightenment”. Later on, on the day of his enlightenment he would declare that, “The world is perfect and complete, including its myriad forms.” Twenty-five-hundred years later the late Dr. Wayne Dyer would say something similar, “Everything is perfect in the universe – even your desire to improve it.”

On Tuesday of this past week I was rushed to the ER At Cooper Hospital in Camden NJ by a friend of mine. It would not be the first time, I prayed it would be the last. Later I would be admitted and learn that my “lobster-like appearing” body which felt completely on fire was caused by a condition called “Neutropenia”. My body was having a horrific reaction to the current chemotherapy I had received exactly one week ago. My WBC, RBC, and Platelets, had all dive-bombed. My Blood vessels were dilating and my fever was off the wall. I was admitted and for next 48 hours, “waited” until my body would heal itself. All the doctors could do was “treat the symptoms caused by my body reacting to the chemo”. By Thursday I would recover well enough to go home – A most welcoming prognosis. During this experience yes, it felt like my world which included cancer for nearly twenty-five months was indeed coming to an end. It felt that way. It felt real. But something inside me as it had for all those months reminded me that what felt as if my world was ending, was just “another reaction to a horrific detail of my life’s current circumstance”.

I often say to the students of Pine Wind Zen Community, “You need to be able to tell the difference between what you’ve brought with you, and what you have picked up along the way.” Also, “What is often referred to as the real world, and the universe, is really ‘the world mankind has created, you need to look much closer to see the real world.” The world we witness daily on cable news is not that world. It is, no matter how difficult we find it to admit, it is “The world we have created”. What is before us are “symptoms” of a cancer which entered our worldly body timeless centuries ago. Currently we need to be treating the symptoms until we are willing to look close enough, courageously enough, audaciously enough, and with a great faith in our ability to see and treat the real causes of the cancer.

I have come to understand “cancer” in its many forms well enough to know that, you can’t just cut some of it out, you can’t just treat some of the body. You must treat the whole body and surgically remove all of the cancer, for there to be any possibility for real healing and renewal. The process is time consuming, requiring skill and sacrifice, and regularly painful. It also requires all parties to be willing to fully participate in applying the cure.

I did not enjoy what was happening to my body these past few days anymore than I look forward to chemo-therapy every other week. But my training as a Zen monk has enabled me to take the right position. To maintain “right attitude,” for example, life or the cancer doesn’t care about the narrative running in my head about how much “I hate this.” In one of his teachings Wayne Dyer wrote, “The way to a peaceful life is to notice the perfection in God’s world and in ourselves, and nurture that perspective.” So I practice dropping my attachment to the present narrative and “look for the perfection in God’s world,” and “nurture that perspective”. Looking for something, is different, from denial and, replacing the existing narrative with some idealistic dream for life. It requires a willingness on my part to see first what is really so and, to see beyond that to what is also so.

Whenever I have found myself in the hospital with and emergent situation, I purposefully make it a point to forget the limitations presented by my own pain or discomfort and deliberately engage with everyone coming into my room to participate in my healing. “Hi, how are you?” “How are you doing?” “Please take care of yourself.” The “perfection” I have found over the past twenty-five months and most of my life is the loving, and compassionate care others are so willing to step up and give to strangers. Not only does this practice benefit me but, in emulating these Bodhisattvas behaviors, no matter the circumstance, no matter the situation, no matter how I am feeling, gives back to our sick and wounded world the medicine it needs.

As I sat in the ER waiting to be admitted I witnessed so much of the suffering of strangers. At one point I thought of Christ on the cross after a lifetime of witnessing the suffering of his day, and now witnessing his Mother’s and family’s suffering as they bear witness to his own. I was caught by the vision of a Mother bringing her paraplegic son into the ER for help while trying to comfort his panic and pain. How patient she was with him, how present to his needs and, not what had to be present in her, perhaps her own fear, anger, and resentment. Then there was the Lesbian couple, the one partner in so much pain and perhaps fear, perhaps it was the symptoms of an already diagnosed condition, which caused her to shake and bolt uncontrollably. I watched her partner doing all that she could do to forget herself in order to bring some comfort and assurance to her love. Her care for her friend which required so much patience was a mastery to envied.

We are not living in a world which is broken. It is we who are broken, we who are on the verge of total collapse. But we can and we will recover, just as we have in times past. But, is “recovery” all we really need or want? Is it time? Is it time for a complete healing of ourselves? Is that what we want? Is this what we need? Or do we need to “bear witness” to the suffering for a little while longer until we “really get it”? Or, as a dear friend of mine use to say, “Enough is enough and too much is plenty.”

Since the day of my diagnosis I have had only one intention, “To stay alive. To conquer this cancer,” so that I may continue to be a Father to my daughter; a son to my Father; a sibling to my Sister, and a fellow Zen monk with my brother and sister monks working together, to bring about the healing and renewal of our fellow human beings. Those I know and those who appear as strangers. For as often as I visit Cooper Hospital and MD Anderson for chemo, the fog which creates the illusion of separateness becomes clearer and clearer each time, and I can only see my brother, my sister, in pain just like me, filled with hope, and courage, and the audacity to trust in life and its miraculous ability to remain alive against all odds.

There is a popular saying which has risen out of the current pandemic situation, “We are all in this together.” If that true, or if it is ever going to be fully true, we must remember that the “body” infected by this “cancer” centuries ago, is in “All of us together.” We must remember that healing cannot be focused on just the few. It must be inclusive. Including those who oppose or disagree with us; Those complicit in spreading the cancer, either by their own ignorance, greed, and indifference. We have to, we must, change the conversation to really mean, “We Are All In This Together.” Or, I promise you, I’ll bet whatever money I may have, We Are Truly Destined to Only Recover and To Never Really Heal – To Repeat History Again and Again.

I have both written and spoken about “The Gift of This Cancer”. I have learned so much more in the past twenty-five months than in all the forty-five years of my life as a monk. The gifts it has given me in the lessons I have learned remain immeasurable. It has helped cut through my own ignorance, leaving me with a vision of my fellow human beings and of the real world which has left me with great faith that while we are the co-creators of the history of mankinds suffering, we are also the co-creators of the medicine required for full recovery and complete healing. All that is required for us to begin the healing process, is understanding the words of Albert Einstein, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” And, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

We need a different conversation, one that comes out of being “In This Altogether”. One of “family” though estranged yet still related. I will not claim to know how to get there. I cannot rewrite what history has already written. I cannot change anyone who does not wish to be changed. I can only change myself and I as do with an open and faithful heart, I do believe, that in some unexplainable mystery, me, you, whenever you and me do, somehow we change the world.

I am in this with you and, without a single doubt, I believe in yours and my ability to bring about the healing of each other and all of Nature.

I Love You,

Seijaku Roshi

10
Jul

Building Your Life on A Spiritual Foundation

We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned,
                        so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

                                                         —Joseph Campbell

Authentic Spirituality can be defined broadly as a sense of connection to something higher than ourselves, something larger and more profound than our relationship with sensual satisfaction. In Zen, any type of sensual satisfaction of any kind including “feeling more peaceful” is viewed as a byproduct rather than an ends to a means. Initially almost every person who has shown up at Pine Wind over the years, are motivated by one form or another of the “pursuit of happiness”. Often I warn everyone that, “Ego got you here, but it will not keep you here.”

Spirituality is universally connective in the realization that suffering is a part of human existence. Establishing a real ground or foundation for your spiritual practice which seeks a connection with that larger self, often referred to in Zen as one’s “Buddha-Nature,” or even perhaps “God,” or “Universe,” will prove to be difficult at first but is essential, for longevity and sustainability of any genuine practice including, meditation or mindfulness. Unlike so many other cultural or social efforts toward finding some kind of peace-of-mind, or happiness, or satisfaction, Zen-Buddhism points to “taking refuge” in times of difficulty in one of the Three Refuges — “Buddha-Nature, Dharma Teachings, and finally Community or Sangha;” in the end it all comes down to “You” Your “personal effort,” in maintaining a devotion to the practices, no matter the circumstances or situations rising in our lives at any moment. It means remaining true to the Fourth Vow of “The Vows For All” — “The Buddha-Way is endless, I vow to follow it.”

When we are truly willing to transcend our lifetime attachments to “egocentric emotions and feelings” we discover a kind of set of “transcended emotions” which are not a part of the ego’s bureaucracy. The realization of self-transcendent emotions followed by learning how to nurture oneself to maintain a connection with these emotions, often leads to strengthening the longevity and sustainability of ones spiritual life or practice; apart from which sustainability and growth will prove to not be possible.

In describing these emotions one needs to remember that our connection with them are a function of what Joseph Campbell calls, a “Willingness to forget the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” We must as Zen Master Dogen explains, “Forget the Self” we are far too familiar with, in order to discover this “Higher Self” which results in actualizing “Cessation” from our discontentment created by our attachment to ego. The Buddha taught that, “Dukkha” (discontentment or suffering) is a function of our relationship with, or our attachments, to those feelings, emotions, cravings and desires in our life which, often prove to be the real “Cause” of our dissatisfaction (Second Noble Truth). If our intention for our spiritual practices is only to appease ego’s desires well, that’s just the “dog chasing its tail”. Even the dog eventually grows tired of the chase and go in search of something “more, better, or different”.

Transcendent moments are often experienced as peace, awe or reverence, and contentment—emotional and spiritual wellbeing overlap, like most aspects of wellbeing. The “higher or transcendent emotions — pervade the whole universe, revealing right here right now, every here and every now”. We need only the ability, which training and practice provides, to see them, or more accurately experience them wherever we are and at any moment. We do not have to go in search of them. In fact “searching for them” is a formula for loosing them or not seeing or experiencing them entirely. We need only to learn how to “stop, stay, listen, and experience” this moment exactly as it is, and exactly as it is not. Through Shikantaza, “Just Sitting” meditation of Japanese Soto Zen, we train first in developing and actualizing this posture and then, nurturing and sustaining it throughout regular and consistent practice into an ”endless future”.

At Pine Wind there is a kind of motto which from the very beginning has informed the life of The Monks and those members and students which make up our “Community,” it reads — “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.”
This motto informs everything, every decision, every program, everything we do. Authentic Spirituality takes us out of our conditioned—self which is egocentric in nature, removes us from the bureaucracy of ego, and re-connects us with our Original-Self, our True-Self, which is “Relational” by nature.

“Self-transcendent emotions connect us all through prosocial behavior.” Human Beings are relational by nature. Somewhere in the course of our life we “disconnect” with our True-Nature while not entirely, learned behavior interrupts any direct experience of our “Interconnected and Interdependent” reality. This explains why such contemporary psychological and emotional dysfunctions characterized by a sense of “separateness,” “not belonging,” and “alienation,” continue to lead to low self esteem issues and depression for so many of us today.

Self-Transcendent emotions include: Compassion, Awe or Reverence, Gratitude or Appreciation, Inspiration, Admiration, Joy, and Love. Self-Transcendent emotions naturally inform human behaviors such as acts of Kindness, Benevolence, and Charity. Self-Transcendent emotions are “Others-Focused,” “More Meaningful,” and “Purpose-Filled”.
Too much of what is often mistaken as spirituality is “self-focused,” or “egocentric”. Until we are able to transcend the illusion of “Me, Myself, and I” as the center of the Universe, any possibility for any real transformation and cessation is not possible. The very self we strive through practice to appease, is the very cause of our discontentment. Albert Einstein wrote, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”

I Have written and spoken extensively on the matter of fact that, “I can only offer the world what I have.” Initially, authentic spiritual practice aims to restore the inherent virtues required for any healthy process aimed toward maturity and eventual well-being. Among the virtues referenced in ancient texts are: Hope, Gratitude, Forgiveness, and Self-Compassion. In Zen we understand that cessation from our discontentment or suffering(Third Noble Truth), or true-happiness, is not the function of some supernatural event, nor is it, to be found in some person, place, or thing. True and sustainable happiness is a function of a transformational process. Happiness is an ongoing process involving regular challenges which result in psychological, emotional, and spiritual growth and maturity. In the Buddha’s prescription or process which leads to the aforementioned results (Fourth Noble Truth), He explains that the process begins with “Right Point-of-View,” which is sometimes interpreted as “Right Attitude,” followed by “Right Thoughts,” “Right Speech,” and “Right-Action” and others, behaviors designed to sustain happiness.

Beginning with establishing “Right Point-of-View,” we can connect with the divine, that larger or greater self and purpose for living, which inevitably results in improving one’s wellbeing. We move from fantasy and sensationalism into reality-based practice or training. We begin to experience our interconnectedness and interdependent relationship with others, the whole of Nature, and the Cosmos. Eventually, Hope is reestablished, and a sense of Gratitude for life’s sake naturally surfaces. Forgiveness becomes instinctual and realized as essential for any real sustainable happiness. Self-Compassion defined as:

  • Expressing kindness toward oneself and viewing one’s shortcomings with a non-judgmental attitude.
  • Connecting one’s experience of suffering with that of the collective human experience.
  • Becoming mindful of suffering without becoming attached or making it a part of one’s identity.

Finally after a lifetime of self-criticism, and judging, Compassion is extended to include others and realized as quintessential for any personal or global healing process.

Today the world is experiencing increased social stressors which for centuries have been linked to dis-ease of the mind and the body. Levels of depression continue to be on the rise. There remains a body of evidence that a real “spiritually based lifestyle” is said to have a healing effect on stress filled, anxious, and depressive symptoms. Any effort to establish a “spiritual or religious foundation” for living one’s life is significantly and positively associated with increased sense of well-being and longevity. People live longer, have more satisfying, meaningful or purposeful lives, and have lower rates of low self-esteem, anxiety, and discontentment. Devotion to a regular meditation practice, has proven to lower instances of depression. Becoming more mindful, reduces occasions for depressive thoughts in real-time.

Forming connections with others in troubling times, or any other time for that matter, weakens the strength of fear-driven reactions to external stimuli, eases stress, contributes to reducing the effects of a sense of loneliness, and increases immune response. Both science and spirituality agrees, human beings are relational creatures, therefore “Community is not only the Spirit, and the Guiding Light,” it is the medicine the world has always needed and increasingly needs to meet todays challenge and any increasingly new challenges in the future.

We Really Are – More Together Than Alone!

I Love You,

Seijaku Roshi

4
Jul

“I Can Only Give What I Have” – The World Awaits Your Compassionate Heart

We are living in a time of great uncertainty marked by fear. In times like these, it is essential to realize that my first responsibility is to liberate myself from discontentment (Suffering) and its causes. Why? “I can only give to others what I have.” If I want a world full of peace, I must know peace. If I want a more compassionate world, I must know compassion.
If I want a more kinder, a more gentler world, I must know kindness and be gentle. When I know how to take care of my own discontentment, to take care of my-Self, then I will know how to meet the inevitable challenges life will present, I will know how to take care of the world around me.

When we commit to a devoted regular meditation practice we are creating the context, the conditions, for “cessation from suffering and its causes” to arise; we are laying the ground for awakening, building a bridge between the “false-self”, the ego-self we have come to identify with and, our True-Self.

We are on a journey each of us, not to some far away destination, to some “visionary flower in the sky,” but to our true home, which is never far away. Whenever we hear that small voice within us, and, if we listen, *(Samahdi Meditation, the meditation of the Buddha serves as a conduit for listening), it is always “calling us home to our Self.” What we are really searching for is that True-Self Buddha called “Buddha-Nature”; Christ called, “Children of God,” The Torah refers to as, “God’s People,” and what the ancient Zen masters referred to as, “Your face before your parents were born.”

What is essential, is to understand that there is no separation between your own liberation from suffering and its causes, and liberating the world from Its suffering and Its causes. There is no separation between your True-self and Others. Everything and everyone is interconnected. Once you are truly aware of the interconnectedness and interdependency of all phenomena, ego, that false-self we have come to identify with, naturally drops away, along with it the illusion of separateness. When the “illusion of separateness” drops away, “We are enlightened by the Ten Thousand Things”.

The “interconnected and interdependent” reality of all things, teaches us that my own happiness or my own discontentment, is dependent on the happiness or suffering of others, and likewise. This is the meaning of the words spoken by Jesus when he said, “It is better to give than to receive,” and “Whatsoever a person sews, so shall they reap.” “Loving your neighbor as yourself,” is not an ends but rather a means, a practice, when applied regularly brings us into a deeper realization of the interconnectedness of all things, of the true-relationship between others and me. With this deeper realization I know how to relate to the world around me, I know how to “be” in relationship with others.

Zen spirituality or what I call “Authentic Spirituality,” is not an idea or a belief, or something you understand intellectually. The only real understanding available is a function of applying the methods, you have to practice and train, every moment of every day of your daily living. We learn, and grow, and mature, only through application. This is why Zen is often referred to as “A Way-of-Life,” or what I prefer, “A Way-of-Being,” in a reality marked by interconnectedness, interdependency, and, impermanence. The realization of these Three Markings become the ground or foundation of our Lifestyle or Way-of-Being in the world. First through realizing the interconnectedness, interdependence, and impermanence of all things, and then the application of “skillful means” well-honed over many generations and proven to work; my speech and my actions become means for avoiding suffering and its causes and, creating the conditions for True-Happiness and Love, for myself and others to arise.

During these times of so much uncertainty and fear, these are times for Love, times for the Compassionate Heart of The Bodhisattva.

Most people like to say that the most important matter in their life is Love; “To Be Loved,” and “To Love Others”. But what is “Love”? I must admit that I have concluded that even I did not fully realize the answer to these questions until I became a parent, and later when diagnosed with cancer. As a Father there is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect and care for my daughter. When I was diagnosed with cancer she was my immediate inspiration to not only conquer cancer, but to be the very best parent, the very best person, I could ever be for however long I had to be.

We often think of Love as some sentimental or romantic experience or sensation in the body. At moments in our lives when certain events or situations are present, there is a sense that Love is something far more deeper, and something other than just a sensation in the body.

In Buddhist teachings, Love begins with a level of maturity which results in a capacity to take care of your life, to make the right choices which will protect you from suffering and its causes, and to nourish the ground beneath your feet to live life fully and authentically, as who you truly are. Remembering that, “I can only give what I have.” if you are not capable of taking care of your own life—if you are not capable of making life-choices that protect you, that nourish and empower you to meet life’s challenges—it is very difficult to take care of another person. In the Buddhist teachings, it’s clear that the Love of ones-Self and the love of another are — “Not Two”. Likewise, Loving others, whether they be family, neighbors, or strangers — as your-Self is — loving your-Self. Love is truly The Practice we call “Living Spiritually in The World”.

I believe that the suffering we witness daily in the world comes from not being able to, or not having the maturity, to Love our-Self. I keep returning to a fundamental reality, “I can only give what I have.” The world is a reflection of what I have or what I lack within myself such as a genuine Love for my-Self, and what I’m bringing to the world through my intentions, my words, and my actions.

Thomas Merton wrote, “Every moment and every event of every persons life on earth plants something in his or her soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of invisible and visible winged seeds, so the stream of time brings with it germs of spiritual vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of men and women. Most of these unnumbered seeds perish and are lost, because so many are not prepared to receive them: for such seeds as these cannot spring up anywhere except in the good soil of liberty and desire.”

Merton goes on to challenge us by asking, “For how can I receive the seeds of freedom…if I am a prisoner and do not even desire to be free…and have hardened my heart against true love?” So what is an Act of Love? It is nothing other than having an open heart and mind to receive the seeds of Love and, with maturity, to be able to offer the seeds of Love I have received to another or others. But I must first have a heart which can identify Love and is open to receive It. One is not capable of either receiving or giving Love unless there is reciprocity. Love is never meant for me alone, it is meant for me to receive so that I can learn and grown and mature in Love and, give it to another, to others.

The Buddhist icon or ideal for both receiving and giving love is — The Bodhisattva. The Bodhisattva is someone who vows to live their lives as a benefit for others; to alleviate suffering and its cause within themselves first, in order to hear the sounds of, and see the suffering in the world and alleviate the suffering of the world by bringing blessings of Love wherever it is needed. A Bodhisattva radiates compassion, integrity and courage, and most especially this Selfless Benevolent Love and Kindness, which is the medicine for the world’s suffering, wherever they find themselves.

Avalokiteśvara, or Quan Yin in Chan Buddhism, or Kanzeon in Japanese Buddhism (English): is a Bodhisattva who, “embodies the Compassion of all Buddhas”. Avalokiteśvara is one of the most famous Bodhisattvas in Buddhism, Who hears the world’s cries, never turning her/his heart from the sounds of suffering, responding with skillful means to come to their aid. In the Mahayana tradition (Chan or Zen) we are all Bodhisattvas, fully-realized or not. As Bodhisattvas we are asked to hold a certain measure of the tragedy of the world in our hearts and minds and to respond wherever we find it with Love and Kindness; with Compassion and Benevolent Service. This is true whether we are speaking about our immediate relationships with our spouses or partners, with our siblings and family, as well as with our neighbors and, the stranger.

As human-beings we bring to our lives as Bodhisattvas a level of our own uncertainty, our own fears, and doubts. This is only natural. In Zen the solution is often something like, “Fake it until you make it.” Part of what we have to offer the world is, our personal experience of fear and apprehension, our uncertainty and sense of helplessness. When we acknowledge what is so in our hearts and minds, never “spiritually bypassing” it or denying it, then our fears and uncertainty can be transformed into powerful means for acts of Love. Kanzeon, not only hears the worlds suffering, but embraces it in his or her own heart and mind, fully experiencing it, so that he or she may respond not with just some idea but rather with the right medicine for transforming suffering into the means for true-liberation or cessation.

We can learn that to Love ourselves is “to take care of these feelings and emotions,” rather than always avoiding or denying them. We can learn to sit quietly everyday and acknowledge what’s so in the moment. It doesn’t matter what the feeling, or the narrative, or the emotion is; we simply sit with “what’s so” without criticism or judgement, holding all of it with a compassionate heart-mind. When we learn to do this daily and at every moment and “find refuge” in our potential to rise above the grip feelings and emotions, and the narrative may have on us, we can begin to feel ourselves as part of something much larger, something generations of sentient beings have not only survived but, have learned to transform into means for real changes in the world.

Once again Merton speaks to us saying, “The true-inner-self must be drawn up like a jewel from the bottom of the sea, rescued from confusion, from in-distinction, from immersion in the common, the nondescript, the trivial, the sordid, the evanescent.”

Again he continues to challenge us with, “In humility is the greatest freedom. As long as you have to defend the imaginary self that you think is important, you lose your peace-of-heart and mind. As soon as you compare that shadow with the shadows of other people, you lose all joy, because you have begun to trade in unrealities and there is no joy in things that do not exist.”

In our contemporary society which insists that each of its members think alike, act alike, make similar choices, and fulfill one exclusive expectation, these words literally rock every preconception of what makes us human. What is that? Certainly our “diversity”. I have always believed that what is missing in any effort to end global suffering and its causes, has always been “the individual”. While we may share 99.9% of the same DNA, perhaps the same cultural or social history, what is also true and not only ignored but punished at times for even asserting is, our uniqueness, our diversity. Believing this I have always thought that what is missing in the world and necessary for its salvation has been and always will be — You! You, along with everything psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually, which makes up the Whole-Authentically-Unique-You!

As the veil of separation begins to part, and the reality of our interconnectedness, interdependency, and the impermanence of both the moment, which is “too often squandered,” and of the “opportunity too often lost” to make real and sustainable changes in the world; the Call for All Bodhisattvas and the urgency to learn to Love ourselves so that we may turn our hearts and minds towards the suffering around us, and serve to help those near to us and those who may still be strangers, grows louder and louder. The question for our times is an ancient one which has resounded in the hearts and minds of men and women everywhere, and in the heart and mind of The Bodhisattva, is “Who will go?” Who like Avalokiteśvara, will open their minds and hearts with courage and audacity, to hear the sounds of the worlds suffering, and be the medicine for its healing and renewal, its transformation and rebirth?

“I, the Lord of sea and sky
I have heard my people cry
All who dwell in dark and sin
My hand will save
I who made the stars of night
I will make their darkness bright
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?
Here I am, Lord
Is it I, Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night
I will go, Lord
If You lead me
I will hold Your people in my heart
I, the Lord of wind and flame
I will tend the poor and lame
I will set a feast for them
My hand will save
Finest bread I will provide
‘Til their hearts be satisfied
I will give my life to them
Whom shall I send?
Here I am, Lord
Is it I, Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night
I will go, Lord
If You lead me
I will hold Your people in my heart
I will hold Your people in my heart.”

I believe in You!

I Love You,

Seijaku Roshi

15
Jun

Whose Going To Be Responsible?

Meditation

“If we permit the times to defines us we are forever lost to the times. We were not born for the times, the times are born for us.” — Seijaku Roshi

“Breakthroughs are created by heroes, by people who will take a stand for the result while it is still only a possibility, people willing to create the path to the result in action. They are willing to see and act on a possibility beyond what is predictable, beyond what the circumstances and rationalizations would allow. Heroes are ordinary people who call on themselves to reach beyond themselves, ordinary men and women who dare to be related to possibilities bigger than themselves.”

Reflection

In Zen prior to developing a greater awareness of how this mind and body are operating from moment to moment, we so often experience ourselves at the mercy of the circumstances and situations arising daily from moment to moment in our lives. We tend to either operate on auto-pilot or like firemen spending our days reacting to immediate situations going about our lives simply putting out the fires. Prior to such an awareness there are no possibilities except the ones defined for us according to the current circumstances and situations.

So much of the emotional and psychological stress and anxiety, feelings of helplessness, people experience in their lives has everything to do with how they see themselves and their place in the world. The vision or lack of any real vision, they hold for themselves and for the world is too small to permit any notion of one being able to truly be the master of their destinies as well as the world’s destiny. While we may have limited or even no power over our external environment we find ourselves in, we do possess unlimited capabilities when it comes to our internal environment. We can learn and train to “respond” or “to be responsible” for our reactions to current events, rather than simply reacting to every stimuli and experiencing ourselves as victims of these events.

“If we permit the times to defines us we are forever lost to the times.” Which accurately describes many persons reactions during this current pandemic and their resistance being demonstrated toward the steps necessary to be taken for survival. While I may certainly understand and sympathize with those persons, demanding that it is their right to exit their homes and gather where they will, without any protection or consideration of others well-being, that “desire” comes from a very small, certainly limited, point-of-view of themselves and their inter-relationship or connectedness with the Whole.

Certainly prior to the arrival of COVID19 we had yet to establish any real kind of global awareness of our true reality. We are not simply individuals with rights and freedoms bestowed upon each of us. We are individuals with rights and freedoms bestowed upon each of us to be exercised for the benefit of the Whole. “E Pluribus Unum”. “Out of Many — One”.
Buddhism like so many of the great Faith-Based Religions, have as their foundation, expressed in different ways the universal notion that we “belong to each other,” we are by Nature “interdependent and interconnected,” and the solutions to life’s various forms of suffering are to be found only in a context for living which is inclusive and benevolent. The true cause of our suffering or dissatisfaction which leaves us regularly stressed and anxious, surfaces whenever we act independent of this reality, whenever we do not consider the consequences of our “reactions” on the Whole. Likewise, the true source of our contentment, the only true-happiness available to us, rests in establishing responsible reactions to difficult challenges which always result in creating “community” or “equal opportunities” for all parties or The Whole.

Whenever I, a “Student of Dharma” look at the real form of the Universe, I am convinced that, “We were not born for the times, the times are born for us.” I have always been a strong believer in what I call “Spiritual Evolution”. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote, “You are not a human being in search of a spiritual experience. You are a spiritual being immersed in a human experience.” Each of us without exception are “immersed in a human experience” to learn what we may, what we must, for our own “spiritual evolution” as well as that of the World. Just as Darwin explained in his “Theory of the Evolution of Nature,” Nature produces a conducive environment each time the next part of the evolutionary process is required or necessary, “The times and every time throughout human history, are “born for us” not “us for the times”. This current time when mankind finds itself once again challenged by what first and always appears as impossible, is offered as an essential lesson to be learned in order that as a whole we can continue to rise, “Beyond what the circumstances and rationalizations would allow…reach beyond our egocentric selves; ordinary men and women daring to be related to possibilities larger than ourselves.”

I am convinced that COVID19 like the so many other impossible and life-threatening events in history before now, presents to us once again unlearned lessons which must be learned if we are ever going to become more than just individuals exercising our rights and freedoms no matter the consequences, and if our point-of-view of ourselves, our place in the world, and others, is ever going to be transformed into the vision we call Universe.

Spiritual people often say, “We are here to learn something.” They say this when the times are convenient. When the times such as current circumstances suddenly and unexpectedly knock us out of our comfort zone, most spiritual people run away from their lessons and choose fear and doubt and worriment; finding themselves “lost in the times”. We need to nurture and develop steadfastness no matter the circumstances or situations. All throughout history numerous examples have repeatedly proven that, “Breakthroughs are created by heroes, by people who will take a stand for the results while it is still only a possibility, people willing to create the path to the results in action.” We need to nurture and develop the courage to be, “willing to see and act on a possibility beyond what is predictable, beyond what the circumstances and rationalizations would allow.” We need to train like monks whose daily training is to be, “Heroes, ordinary men and women who call on themselves to reach beyond themselves; to reach beyond their feelings and emotions and personal desires, ordinary men and women who dare to be related to possibilities larger than themselves.” Until then, history will, indeed, continue to repeats itself again and again until “the student arrives” to finally – learn the lesson. The long, long, overdue lesson to be learned.

Prayer

May I become at all times both now and forever:

A protector for those without protection; A guide for those who have lost their way; A ship for those who have oceans to cross; A sanctuary for those in danger; A lamp for those without light; A place of refuge for those who lack shelter, And a servant to all in need.

I Love You,

Seijaku Roshi

5
Jun

Today’s Daily Reflection from Seijaku Roshi

Meditation

“Anger, annoyance, and impatience deplete energy. Patient effort strengthens our resources. We need to practice cooling emotional fires and alleviating fierce disruptions from our lives.”

—Allan Lokos

“There is nothing I can give you which you do not have; but there is much, very much, that while I cannot give it, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts can find rest in today. Take Heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in the present instant. Take Peace!

The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within reach, is joy. There is a radiance and glory within the darkness, could we but see, and to see, we have only to look. I beseech you to look.” – Fra Giovanni

Reflection

In an effort to further clarify “Authentic Spiritual” practice or training, we need to cut off our stereotypical ideas about what being spiritual is really about. It has nothing to do with “finding our bliss,” unless finding it will support us in being more patient with ourselves and others, more loving and kind, more empathetic and compassionate, and move us toward a genuine desire to be of benefit to our immediate environment and the world at large. Ultimately, all the meditation and mindfulness practice and trainings have no value what so ever if they do not contribute to awakening within us what The Buddha identified as our True-Nature or Buddha-Nature. We are by “nature” Loving, Kind, Compassionate, Empathetic, and Benevolent beings. If our spiritual practices are not about cultivating the ground for these qualities to awaken and thrive, we are just fooling ourselves and others who think otherwise.

Our work towards awakening and cultivating these qualities begin by recognizing the years of unconscious and sometime conscious embracing of conditionings or habitual behaviors we have accepted as normal and have reinforced at the cellular level over the years. We have become “reactionary machines” operating most of the time on “auto-pilot”. When we finally take to the cushion, or the chair, or just standing, to reflect on our behavior and commit to come and know “ourselves” thoroughly through-and-through, we become more “aware” of this reactionary conditioning. The more aware we become, we can begin to work with this energy in order to transform it from “reactionary” or “mechanical” behavior, to “responsible” behavior. By responsible I mean that through meditation and mindfulness, first we develop a keen awareness of the difference between the two and its effects on our experience and our environment, then we can “choose” to replace the habitual reactionary behavior with more “beneficial” behavior. Until we “seriously” commit to this effort nothing, and I mean nothing, about our lives will change. The same is true about our immediate environment and the world. Remember what I often said in the past, “The surest way to have life go on the way it has up and until this moment, is to keep doing it the way you always have.”

Authentic Spirituality is taking responsibility for the life I dream of and no longer allowing it to be at the mercy of years of conditioning or life circumstances and situations arising from moment to moment. We really are the “masters of our destiny,” personally and globally.

Can we get down to the business of making the changes necessary for changing the world now?

Prayer

“I pray for those who dance with life in the face of death.
For those whose unkind visitor brought them great limitation, for whom the plague is real.

For the child, the woman, the old man, the banker, the teacher, the prisoner, the priest, for the artist, the musician, the player. For the worker, the lover of imagination, the dreamer of dreams.

For those who were told not to love, and dared to love anyway. For those who hid for a lifetime, and for those who bravely ventured out.

For those who die alone, and those who leave surrounded by love.

For all the victims of the dark night, that they may reach the dawn of victory.

To them I bow inwardly.

They are with me, now and in memory, and in the hope of the new day.”

—Molly Fumia

I Love You,

Seijaku Roshi

15
May

Rain

Meditation

“It’s not that we have to quit this life one day, but it’s how many things we have to quit all at once: music, laughter, the physics of falling leaves, automobiles, holding hands,the scent of rain, the concept of subway trains… if only one could leave this life slowly!”  ― Roman Payne

“Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.” ― Roger Miller

Reflection

The rain, the rain, oh how I love the rain. I overslept this morning, haven’t done that in a while. As I made my way down the hall to let “Pookie,” my 3 year old Jack Russel out, I was greeted as I am every morning by “Meowzer” one of the three Zen masters I live with. He runs to me every morning and says, “Pay attention.” And I do, I pet him first, “Good morning Meowzer.” As I enter the parlor I am greeted by Pookie, “Good morning Pookie.” I open the sliding door to the rear yard and am greeted by the aroma first, “Ahh it rained.” And I see that all familiar coating on the grasses and pine trees and flowers. My heart fills with anticipation and I proceed to open all the windows. “Come in.” “Come in.” Oh how I love the rain! My mind suddenly returns to a day we had “Sesshin” (extended intensive meditation training) years ago. It was all day so “work practice” was in order. The rain was falling and one of the monks asked, “Should we just focus on inside.” “Oh no” I replied, “Let’s get wet.” That afternoon we worked outside in the falling rain. I fell in love again that day with, “music, laughter, silence, presence, the physics of falling leaves, the sound of the automobiles making their way north and south on 206, the fellowship of monks and friends, prayer hands, the scent of rain.”

“Some people walk in the rain, others get wet.” Some people just go through life while others take the time to smell its aroma, and get wet by its offerings, the immeasurable experiences of “being alive”. As children we loved the rain and the snow and sunny days. We would run out of my Mother’s house while she cried, “Walk, before you fall.” We never listened, even “falling” had something to offer us. We would start early morning and go all day, I don’t believe our feet ever touched the ground except when we missed it touching us. We ran, we climbed, we imagined, we ate life like my memory of eating my very first cheesesteak from Pat’s on Passyunk Avenue. Somehow we sensed, though we never spoke about it, we didn’t have time to talk about any of it. Little did I know then, what I would come to know for sure, so much later in my life, “We were right, we didn’t have time to waste, not a moment to squander.” 

When it rains here at Pine Wind it feels like a cleansing, a kind of baptismal. In Jizo-an it can be mesmerizing. The sound of the rain falling upon the metal roof. “No time to think about anything.” “You just want to listen, listen to the falling rain.” After the rainfall, that familiar glaze like coating on everything. Crisp, clear, alive. But you will miss it all if, “You just walk through the rain, if you just walk through life.”

Prayer

We Need Rain

We need rain to awaken the earth.

We need rain to flow through every plant’s veins;

We need rain to make muddy stains.

We need rain to keep our farmers praying.

Lord? Please answer our prayers with water.

Lord? Please bless nature with clear blue seas.

Plants are dying, animals are not surviving;

People are starving, nature is not responding.

We need rain for all ends to meet.

We need rain to quench the thirst of the poor.

Quench the thirst of each animal in each herd.

We pray for grey skies and waterfalls;

We pray for green grass to grow as high as walls.

We need water to wash our bodies;

We need rain to rehydrate our doggies.

Lord? Please send rain to help fruit grow;

Lord? Please send rain to help all rivers flow.

Our farmers are losing hope;

It’s getting harder for them to cope.

Let the rain you send kiss our skin;

Let each flower glow within.

Lord? Quench our sun-baked souls;

Wash away all of our troubles.

Let it rain for days.

Let it fall on field and tree;

Let it guide our ships at sea.

We are awaiting water puddles;

Watching clouds and rain cuddle.

We need settling of dust and heat;

We need clean faces roaming the streets.

Lord? Please send us rain.

We welcome it with open hands.

— Bronwyn Van Der Walt

I Love you,

Seijaku Roshi

27
Apr

Daily Reflection from Seijaku Roshi

Meditation

“What’s it all about Alfie
Is it just for the moment we live
What’s it all about
When you sort it out, Alfie
Are we meant to take more than we give
Or are we meant to be kind?
And if, if only fools are kind, Alfie
Then I guess it is wise to be cruel
And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie
What will you lend on an old golden rule?
As sure as I believe there’s a heaven above
Alfie, I know there’s something much more
Something even non-believers can believe in
I believe in love, Alfie
Without true love we just exist, Alfie
Until you find the love you’ve missed
You’re nothing, Alfie
When you walk let your heart lead the way
And you’ll find love any day Alfie, oh Alfie
What’s it all about Alfie?”

Songwriters: Burt Bacharach / Hal David

Reflection

While the students sit in quiet meditation, the old master jumps from one to the other, in their faces yelling, “If not now when?” The quintessential question of any effort to live a truly “spiritual” life is, “What’s it all about?” First, your idea or desire to be more spiritual, then the big one, “What is your life all about?” Followed by, “Really, what is life all about?”

I have spent forty-five years a student of the spiritual masters, everyone from the writers of the Talmud, the Gospels, the Teachings of Thomas Merton and other various Catholic saints and contemplatives, and the Buddhadharma. I have prayed, meditated, gone on retreats, hosted retreats, taught meditation and prayer, but, it was not until the day they told me I had cancer that I really, finally, faced and answered the question, “What’s it really all about?” While I have certainly visited it on numerous occasions for the past forty-five years; I will tell you that until you have “no choice” to really, really, face the question, lean into it, and not leave the room until you have answered it, that living “spiritually” idea is just another one of those “nice ideas” you have.

There’s a lot of talk about how perhaps maybe after COVID19 is under control, we the people, and the world will have visited the question in some kind of global consciousness way and, everything will be different. In my previous reflection earlier this week following the death of my Mother, I offered a vision for the world I hope we will work toward. While there is evidence, you rarely hear about on cable news, that people are really beginning to “lean into” the question, I must admit I’m kind of “wait and seeing” it through. For every positive and hopeful example rising out of this quarantine we find ourselves in, there is as many examples of “the more things appear to change the more they stay the same.”

Thomas Merton wrote that, “Love is our true destiny.” Albert Einstein wrote that, “Each of us are part of a whole called by us Universe.” I have always believed that we are made of the stuff of Love and, that Love is not some passive emotion we get to enjoy when someone loves us, but rather an active, engaged, verb, to be expressed and spread around by each of us for the benefit of others and not just for our egos. Einstein went on to explain in his own unique way that we are never really “loving” anyone but ourselves until we have “expanded our circle of compassion” to include all sentient beings “including the whole of Nature.” He emphasized that this was “the task” before each of us who live in the 20th and now the 21st Century, and that the future of life on Earth depended on it.

So “If not now — When?” “What are you really waiting for?” “What is your life and all that spiritual matter really about for you?” I tell my students, “Ego got you here (to Zen training), it will not keep you here.” For those who come and truly commit to a lifestyle grounded in Loving-kindness, Compassion, and Benevolent Service, who stay around to continue to do the work, the only thing that keeps them here is — Love. Sangha, Community, are the “Fruits of Love”. Whether we are talking about a religious or spiritual community, or a global community. And, “What is loving another person?” Well let me quote my dear teacher Thomas Merton again.

“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” And, “Love seeks one thing only: the good of the one loved. It leaves all the other secondary effects to take care of themselves. Love, therefore, is its own reward.”

We never really see “other” whether it be an-other person, the world around us, and even ourself, until we stop trying to “twist them and ourself into an image.” And then not until, our love “seeks only, the good of the one loved.”

Another factor about “Loving’ other to remember is, the old Zen saying, and I will paraphrase it here, “It’s easy to love someone who loves you back, someone you have an attraction to.” What about the stranger? What about your spouse or partner during quarantine who is driving you crazy? What about the kids who won’t stop complaining? What about a world that has disappointed you? Mother Theresa wrote that, “Love is not love until there is some kind of sacrifice on the part of the lover.”

For the contemplative, and the truly Zen student and monk, isolation and silence is the ground for confronting these questions and arriving at answers which transform us and not just make us feel good. The contemplative and the truly spiritual person must, “travel through the valley of the shadow of death,” before he or she reaches Nirvana.

As you have often seen in my writings and heard me teach, the real valuable experiences are not those moments we are filled with joy and happiness watching a beautiful Sunset or the Sun coming up over the ocean, but they are the moments which “tax” us. Don’t misunderstand me I would love to see the Sun come over the Atlantic these days but, I still have work to do on myself with my patience while parenting my daughter during quarantine. Whether you understand it or not, the two are interconnected. We never see such wonders until we are able to see it while exhausted and frustrated, in the mundanities of life.

So class is in session. Our teacher, our teachers, are calling us. The Han is sounded. The lesson is generations upon generations old. An “Ancient Lesson for Modern Living”. One which has been taught again and again and, will continue to return until we have not just learned it but, we have “mastered” it.

What’s it all about, Alfie?

Prayer

“If you have come here desolate,
If you have come here deflated, then
Thank your lucky stars the desert is
Where you have landed—
Here where it is hard to hide, here
Where it is unwise to rely on your own
Devices, here where you will have to look
And look again, and look close, to find
What refreshment waits to reveal itself to you.
I tell you that though it may be hard to see it now,
This is where your greatest blessing will find you.
I tell you this is where you will receive your life again.
I tell you this is where the breath begins.”

— Jan Richardson

May My Eyes Be Opened, My Heart Broken, Opened to receive this blessing.

I Love You,

Seijaku Roshi

16
Apr

Einstein or Not – E=Love 2

Meditation

“When I proposed the theory of relativity, very few understood me, and what I will reveal now to transmit to mankind will also collide with the misunderstanding and prejudice in the world.

I ask you to guard the letters as long as necessary, years, decades, until society is advanced enough to accept what I will explain below.

There is an extremely powerful force that, so far, science has not found a formal explanation to. It is a force that includes and governs all others, and is even behind any phenomenon operating in the universe and has not yet been identified by us.

This universal force is LOVE. When scientists looked for a unified theory of the universe they forgot the most powerful unseen force. Love is Light, that enlightens those who give and receive it. Love is gravity, because it makes some people feel attracted to others.

Love is power, because it multiplies the best we have, and allows humanity not to be extinguished in their blind selfishness. Love unfolds and reveals. For love we live and die. Love is God and God is Love.

This force explains everything and gives meaning to life. This is the variable that we have ignored for too long, maybe because we are afraid of love because it is the only energy in the universe that man has not learned to drive at will.

To give visibility to love, I made a simple substitution in my most famous equation. If instead of E = mc2, we accept that the energy to heal the world can be obtained through love multiplied by the speed of light squared, we arrive at the conclusion that love is the most powerful force there is, because it has no limits.

After the failure of humanity in the use and control of the other forces of the universe that have turned against us, it is urgent that we nourish ourselves with another kind of energy.

If we want our species to survive, if we are to find meaning in life, if we want to save the world and every sentient being that inhabits it, love is the one and only answer.

Perhaps we are not yet ready to make a bomb of love, a device powerful enough to entirely destroy the hate, selfishness and greed that devastate the planet. However, each individual carries within them a small but powerful generator of love whose energy is waiting to be released.

When we learn to give and receive this universal energy, dear Lieserl, we will have affirmed that love conquers all, is able to transcend everything and anything, because love is the quintessence of life.

I deeply regret not having been able to express what is in my heart, which has quietly beaten for you all my life. Maybe it’s too late to apologize, but as time is relative, I need to tell you that I love you and thanks to you I have reached the ultimate answer!”

Your father
Albert Einstein

Reflection

(I must first note that since the public appearance of this letter in 2015, several pundits have questioned whether or not Einstein is the author, or at least whether or not he wrote that, “Love is a Force of the Universe”. Nonetheless I think you will agree the letter has meaning and is itself a force for real insight and change.)

I was sitting in a chair receiving chemo at MD Anderson Cooper in Camden when I received an email from an old friend. I was already there for about 2 of the 6 hours and, I was already reflecting on my experience as the chemo flowed through my veins and the side effects began to surface. You need to know that I am not as unpredictable as people may think, at least on some factors of my behavior. Whenever I am alone, when I am feeling alone or lonely, my thoughts always go to the same place. I think of you; I think of those who I love and who I am blessed by their love. I think of my Vow I made years ago to “live my life as a benefit for others,” and my choice to actualize that Vow as a Zen-Monk and Teacher. I am truly, with you always, and you are truly the object of my love and my affections. No matter how difficult it gets, especially during chemo week, I never forget you my friends and supporters, my fellow monks, and our beloved Community of Pine Wind. These thoughts along with my thoughts of course of my daughter, are the driving force within me that keeps me determined to beat this cancer, to win the good fight, to stay around until my work is truly complete.

Whether or not Einstein wrote this letter in its entirety, or whether he ever wrote the line that “Love is a Force of the Universe,” I will leave up to the pundits to entertain. There is so much script in history including Biblical script in Western and Eastern theology which can be put to the same test. It is the message and its ability to help us wake up which matters, not the author. For today I am going to operate from and with the opinion that Einstein did write it or, he would have.

So, I would like to focus on my reflection on one particular set of lines:

“This universal force is LOVE. When scientists looked for a unified theory of the universe they forgot the most powerful unseen force. Love is Light, that enlightens those who give and receive it. Love is gravity, because it makes some people feel attracted to others. Love is power, because it multiplies the best we have, and allows humanity not to be extinguished in their blind selfishness. Love unfolds and reveals. For love we live and die. Love is God and God is Love.
This force explains everything and gives meaning to life. This is the variable that we have ignored for too long, maybe because we are afraid of love because it is the only energy in the universe that man has not learned to drive at will.”

While no one in their right mind would find chemotherapy a desirable experience, after nearly more than two years of receiving it I have made friends with it. Every time I anticipate its monthly arrival I prepare myself to welcome it and sit for however long I must not only in Camden but afterwards at home for the two more days I receive it through a pump attached to my body and, the weeks ahead I wrestle with its side-effects. I must report to you while as difficult an experience it is, and anyone who has experienced will tell you it is, I have been able to make use of it as a kind of “gate” a “portal for self-reflection and insight”. I have learned to use “suffering” rather than fight it or reject it, as a “vehicle” for learning and growing. I deliberately use this time as a lens for seeing myself, my place in the Universe, and my environment, and I am so grateful for everything I have seen and continue to see through that lens, no matter how dark or painful it has been at times.

Every time I have looked, every time I have reflected, while wearing that lens, whether pain or darkness or just the desire for it all to stop, I have always arrived at the same place. “In the end its ALL about Love.” When I trace that experience I find that its not just “the end,” it’s the beginning and the middle. The force we’ve experienced from time to time connected to our will to “survive” is “Love”. I want to survive this cancer so that I may continue to love you, my daughter, the world. And make no mistake about it, to continue to experience the Love I experience from you, my daughter, and the world. It doesn’t matter who wrote it, “the universal force is LOVE.”

“Love is Light, that enlightens those who give and receive it. Love is gravity, because it makes some people feel attracted to others. Love is power, because it multiplies the best we have, and allows humanity not to be extinguished in their blind selfishness. Love unfolds and reveals. For love we live and die. Love is God and God is Love. This force explains everything and gives meaning to life.”

“This is the variable that we have ignored for too long, maybe because we are afraid of love because it is the only energy in the universe that man has not learned to drive at will.”

Yes, “we have ignored too long…” and, our work, as spiritual beings, begins only when we stop ignoring it and start “learning to drive it at will”.

This pandemic I believe is both a curse and a blessing if we take the time to step out of ourselves (ego) and sit with it offering it a “cup of tea”. It has forced us all to slow down, to stop, and to be in the very situations we need to be in after generations of arranging our lives in order that we can avoid being in those places. It has forced us to not only “see the selves we have become,” but to also “see the true-selves we must resurrect and be” in order for the future to even happen.

“Love is Light, that enlightens those who give and receive it. Love is gravity, because it makes some people feel attracted to others. Love is power, because it multiplies the best we have, and allows humanity not to be extinguished in their blind selfishness.”

“After the failure of humanity in the use and control of the other forces of the universe that have turned against us, it is urgent that we nourish ourselves with another kind of energy. If we want our species to survive, if we are to find meaning in life, if we want to save the world and every sentient being that inhabits it, love is the one and only answer.”

This pandemic has certainly brought to light mankind’s failure with all its advancements in technology, industry, medicine, to perfect the one advancement that completes us and adds to our ability to be a positive force of the Universe —Love. Love binds us, love leaves no one behind. Whatever plans mankind puts in place as governments, religious and secular institutions, science, communities, and neighborhoods,

“If we are to find meaning in life, [after our current global state] if we want to save the world [including the whole of nature] and every sentient being that inhabits it, love is the one and only answer.”

Love which is: inclusiveness, justice for all, the end of all forms of hunger, poverty, exploitation, greed, and hatred, must be the “context” of future planning. No matter how this may seem to be a heavy menu, it is only our “willingness” or lack of, which will determine our success.

As always, these literally “transformational” steps must begin with individuals, with you, with me. We can be the force behind the reckoning that, “We are not now, or ever will we be, willing to go back to the status-quo, to the “old normal”. Not Now! Not Never!

We begin with serious and difficult questions: “How am I contributing to the decisions made by government and our social and religious institutions in this country which sustain suffering and its causes?”
We then must answer the question with “actions” and not just hope and or good wishes and prayers.

Our spirituality is not simply to be, but to work in harmony with others and for others; to work first on our own life, our own identity, our own destiny and then to work in the world while not of it, on mankind’s destiny, on humanity’s destiny. Thomas Merton reminds us, “If I can understand something of myself and something of others, I can begin to share with them the work of building the foundations of spiritual unity.” and, “In living out that destiny, it means much to have the example of someone who not only talks the talk, but walks the walk. “

Remember, “We Are More Together Than Alone.” With that again I extend my hand, my personal commitment, out to everyone.

Prayer

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

  • Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

I Love You,

Seijaku Roshi

23
Mar

Calling On All Bodhisattvas

Buddhism teaches that there is nothing we can do to stave off aging, illness, loss, or death. It is inevitable that they will come. How we conduct ourselves during and after is the definition of who we are as human-beings. An essential quality of a fully mature human being, of a fully realized enlightened being, especially during difficult times, is to have the heart of a Bodhisattva. The traditional definition of a Bodhisattva is, “someone who chooses not to enter the state of perfect peace, called nirvana, in order to help all sentient beings to liberate themselves from suffering and its causes.” Here the use of the term “perfect peace” does not mean the complete absence of anxiety. It points to how the Bodhisattva responds to stressful and anxious moments like the one we find ourselves in today. Traditionally Buddhism teaches the every being possesses “basic goodness,” therefore every being is a potential Bodhisattva.

While no one including myself welcomes physical pain or mental anxiety, the heart of the Bodhisattva is large enough to hold both pleasure and pain; both the loved-one and the enemy; both the friend and the stranger, in compassionate equanimity. The Bodhisattva embraces his or her kinship not only with those he or she loves, but also with those we may not love or even hate, or with the stranger, and with the whole of nature which sustains all of us. We are related, to all beings past, present, and future. We are also interconnected through our relatedness; therefore what happens to one-being, happens to all of us. We are interconnected biologically, ecologically, economically, and politically. We are interdependent as well. We are in this together, we always have been. We need to support one-another, communicate everyday, says the things you’ve been putting off all of your life.

If there ever was a time in human history, (and there have been other times) once again, now is a time to “Call On All Bodhisattvas”. While fear and anxiety tend to dominate the hearts and minds of so many fellow human beings during this global crises, the heart of the Bodhisattva offers an avenue toward calm, a border point-of-view (options) healing, and possibility, during what feels so impossible. Qualities such as patience, tolerance, loving-kindness, compassion, generosity, and benevolence, applied to how we respond to this crises, can do us all much good. These qualities nurture not only one-another when practiced, science tells us our mental attitude can either weaken or strengthen the human immune system. These qualities though inherent in all of us, sometimes far too often, prove to be difficult to embrace and actualize; requiring practice or regular application and renewal through a daily practice of quiet reflection (contemplation); meditation; and living more purposefully and mindful, not only of our thoughts and emotions, but also of how we communicate with our words and with our actions.

COVID19 is real. Everyone must, follow the recommendations of the experts: regularly wash your hands, keep a safe “social distance” from others, and stay out of public gathering places with more than ten people. Following these recommendations can help prevent you and others from contracting this virus.

COVID19 however, is not the only thing that isolates and separates us. We were divided long before this virus ever touched our shores. We need to be honest with ourselves and each other about this if we are ever going to defeat this virus and other deadly diseases such as: economic inequality, injustice, all forms of discrimination, polarization, poverty, religious and political intolerance, and other social diseases which have made their way through the population long before COVID19.

Alienation, resentment, greed and hatred have never dispelled darkness in our world. Only the truth of loving-kindness; compassion; generosity; mercy; and benevolence, the most ancient and inexhaustible truth which has time and time again proven to bring light, into the darkened corners of our world. From this Truth, we begin to align our priorities including our choices and our behavior and endeavor to dissolve all forms of oppression, doing our part as Bodhisattvas to help all sentient beings liberate themselves from suffering and its causes. Through solidarity we are present for one-another (if not physically), and care for each other (regulasrly pick up the phone, email, write a letter, or text), drawing from the best of our angels, of our — True-nature.

In Zen, especially in times of uncertainty, we can create some certainty in our lives. We do not just abandon years of practice and training because of the fear and anxiety we may be experiencing or because of desperation. We “respond” to the moment by bringing to the moment our practice and training. You and I have no power over what the world may be, or any person for that matter, at any given time whether they be simpler times or complex such as these. What we do have power over, is, our own actions and behaviors.

We can bring some certainty to the moment by being in the present moment with integrity. Here I find the emphasis on having a “daily routine” helpful.

When I wake up in the morning I take a moment to reflect and assess my experience. I apply the basic techniques of living mindfully. I take a breathe or few and bring my awareness to my body and any mental formations. I offer my prayers of gratitude. When I get out of bed I go to the bathroom and with “mindful attention” I wash my hands, my face, and sometimes my entire body; quietly, reflectively, gratefully. I then make my bed. (Never leave your bedroom without making your bed. It makes a hell of a lot of difference when you seek refuge for a nap or when you retire later that evening.) I Turn off all electric items such as the lamp, air filter, and radio. I then make my way down the hall greeted by my cats, I take the time to respond to their needs, then eventually my dog and her needs. While I make it a practice to leave no dirty dishes in the sink except sometimes, I take care of what is needed there. I heat the teapot full of water and prepare my morning matcha tea with honey. I continue from there throughout the day. When I’m hungry I eat. When I’m thirsty I drink. When there’s dishes to clean, I clean the dishes. When it’s time to pray or meditate, I pray and meditate. When it’s time to rest, I rest. When it’s time to write these words, I sit and write. Routine gives us a sense of “living our lives our way.” I do not “do” anything because I “have to”, I always bring an attitude of, “This is my home. My pets are part of my family. My home protects me, keeps me sheltered, warm, and creates a space for me to be. So as I always tell my ten-year old daughter, “The house takes care of us, our pets give us happiness and joy, they take care of us, so we take care of the house and our pets, and friends, guests, and other family members.”

I can remember the arrival of the first computer. The geeks in my class had a field day. It was like the heavens opened and God sent manna. As time went on and we all began to learn how to use a computer one of my friends, one of the geeks, was heard to say, “Garbage in, garbage out.” Later, I like so many learned he was referring to the mechanics of a computer. A computer can only give us whatever is on its hard drive and in its memory. Likewise, a human-being can only react or respond according to whatever is on his or her “hard-drive and in his or her memory”.

So, watch what you expose yourself to while isolated in your homes.
I strongly encourage everyone to “go on a strict diet” of watching cable news. I personally limit it to just at best a half-hour in the morning, a half-hour at night, and sometimes less. The same is true about social media. “Garbage in, garbage out.” Not that there is no value whatsoever in checking in with the rest of the world. But as you know, it’s not like the days of “Walter Cronkite,” “just the facts”. When you randomly just listen to others without filtering the information and blindly accepting it as fact you open yourself to, many other forms of viruses neither good for the mind and the body. Remember that the body takes its cues from your “state of mind”. Do whatever keeps it calm, quiet, and prepared to respond, not just react, to the challenges rising up from moment to moment. As I write these words I am listening to channel 443 on the Comcast cable network. I recommend it.

Finally, having been diagnosed nearly two years ago with pancreatic cancer, I refused to let the cancer, the chemo-therapy, radiation, my daily exhaustion, any side effects, and yes my own fears, to define me.
I fell in love many years ago with The Great Mystery, call it God or Buddha; with this beautiful beautiful planet we occupy together; with my daughter since the first day she was born ten-years ago; with my ninety-year old parents; my sibling; my friends; my fellow monks and students, and the many persons who have visited Pine Wind over the years. What defines me are the Vows I’ve taken and, recite regularly to myself and in the liturgy. They are my personal promises, not just traditional precepts of a Student-of-Dharma. They can be summed up with my experience I have had on numerous occasions including during this part of my journey with cancer.

“It is and continues to be a privilege to be alive. I am honored and grateful for the number of lessons I have learned from everyone I have had contact with in one form or another. Every breath I breathe is gift. Every person who come through these doors, who make the choice to be here when they could be anywhere else in their world, is gift. I am grateful that perhaps whatever days I have left I will get to live them in the heart of the natural world; that I will continue to be called to a life of benevolent service. That I will not be and am not ever alone. I will continue to make this journey with my fellow monks, my brothers and sisters, loved and selflessly supported by friends of Pine Wind and that, like Robert Frost once wrote of himself, in the end: “If I would have it writ upon my stone, let it say, “I had a lovers quarrel with the world.” This, is what defines me. I pray that I will always have the strength and mental fortitude to never fail in my definition and, like my relationship with my dog I hope, “That I will always be the person you think I am.”

“We are so much more together than alone!” Let this be our hope for the future, to realize this. Let this be our only intention, to actualize this everywhere.

I love you,
Seijaku Roshi

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