“The greatest need of our time is to clean out the enormous mass of mental and emotional rubbish that clutters our minds…Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.” ― Thomas Merton
I recall watching a documentary on Japan, one of the scenes a fisherman was being interviewed. The fisherman happened to be a Buddhist. The interviewer asked if he believed in God. He replied, “When you are in the deepest parts of the ocean where the waves are 40 feet tall crashing against your boat, and you fear being throne off the boat while pulling in your nets, you can be sure I believe in God.” Life is difficult these days for all of us, myself included. There seems to be so much uncertainty about the future, our trusts violated, our beliefs challenged, and our very existence increasingly threatened by failure to be good stewards of this beautiful planet we all live on. So many families threatened daily by mental diseases stealing precious time away from them and money they don’t have. War continues and seems like it will never end. Extreme poverty continues to visit so many people here at home and around the world. But worst of all, polarization continues to push so many of us away from each other when we should be moving towards each other.
I have always cared deeply about things and have always found myself attracted to others who do as well. I have no patience for complacency or indifference. I feel deeply about things, especially individual and personal freedoms and inherent rights of all sentient beings to live authentically without fear of government or religious institutions interference or retribution; I revere Beauty and Creativity; the Mystery I first discovered at the age of seven and continue to about the Nature of the Universe, Life, and Love. I made a choice at the young age of seven, rather than seek to understand any of It as if I or anyone could actually possess such understanding, to remain blissfully ignorant of any explanation just to sit in Its company.
I feel deeply about the personal responsibility we all share to ourselves, our families, friends, neighbors, our ancestors who made supreme sacrifices for all of us to live and enjoy this life, and most of all our children. I believe that the only legacy worth having in the end will be to have lived my lifetime doing whatever I can, wherever I can, however I can, to insure that the same rights, freedoms, beauty, and opportunities afforded me by the Mystery some call God and the brave citizens of our World yesterday and today who “Prepare the Supreme Meal” and make the “Supreme Sacrifice”, living my life as a Benefit for others and a responsible Caretaker of these gifts including the Whole of Nature.
“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.”
You and I are designed for relationship, we are born to be “in relationship” with everyone and everything else. The purpose of life, and if we are ever going to find any meaning, is found in relationship, living my life as a benefit for others. “Community is the Spirit, the Guiding Light…” which when lived functions as a compass, a means of navigating through a reality marked by impermanence and uncertainty. Thomas Merton wrote, “It is therefore of supreme importance that we consent to live not for ourselves but for others. When we do this we will be able first of all to face and accept our own limitations. As long as we secretly adore ourselves, our own deficiencies will remain to torture us with an apparent defilement. But if we live for others, we will gradually discover that no one expects us to be ‘as gods’. We will see that we are human, like everyone else, that we all have weaknesses and deficiencies, and that these limitations of ours play a most important part in all our lives. It is because of them that we need others and others need us. We are not all weak in the same spots, and so we supplement and complete one another, each one making up in himself for the lack in another.”
Community is not just some nice sentimental idea or romantic notion but a force for fulfillment and sustainability. It is a context which naturally creates confidence, courage, true self-esteem, contentment, and love as the content of our lives. Community is the only conducive environment for personal and global fulfillment and spiritual practice.
Enlightenment, is to live one’s life at the level of full self-expression. The work of “being spiritual” is to discover who I am and realize my true self. The first step toward Enlightenment begins with the realization that, “Who I think I am is not” that the self I call “myself” is conditional or what Buddhist call “the conditioned self” and is not my “true self”. This self is who I have come to identify with after years of cultural, social, religious and political conditioning, including the most unyielding of all false identifications, identification with my parents. My happiness as well as my emotional and psychological maturity and well-being is dependent on distinguishing between this self I call myself which is conditional, and who I truly am. Our hearts will remain restless until we do.
In his book, “The Book of Awakening” Mark Nepo quotes Parker J. Palmer who writes, “The spiritual life is about becoming more at home in your own skin.” Nepo says, “The aim of all spiritual paths, no matter their origin or the rigors of their practice, is to help us live more fully in the lives we are given.” This is contrary to most contemporary spiritual approaches which are too often rooted in emotional greed, resentment, or what Chogyam Trungpa called, “Spiritual Materialism”.
There is another saying older than Palmers, “When the student is ready the teacher appears.” Here the reference to the “teacher” may or may not necessarily be a person. We are to understand that, “Life” as it is showing up in our lives and in the world is “the teacher”. As a young Catholic I remember the Sisters and Priests often saying, “God never gives us more than we can handle.” If both sayings are true, and I believe they are, then the only matter left is whether or not the student is going to attend class.
“We say Buddha Nature pervades the entire Universe or God is Omniscient, Everywhere. Therefore we cannot say, “Not now” or “Not here.” For wherever we are there is Buddha or God. In Zen we do not look for Buddha or God outside ourselves, they are within us. We are the gateway. Everywhere we are is The Pure Land, the Kingdom of God. What are you waiting for? If not now, when?”
– Seijaku Roshi
I often say that in our modern world, “A persons word is equal to their excuses.” It would also follow that, “A persons potential is equal to their excuses.” This would include our potential for real changes in our lives which would result in ending our pursuit of and search for what is and always has been with us, and finally enjoying our birthright — joy, contentment, and love. The only thing that prevents us from “here and now” is our deluded perceptions of “when and where”.
“Quintessential for any resolution to the global suffering we are witnessing in our world today is clearly communion with others. We cannot expect any change, any relief, any sustainable resolve until we learn the lessons of sharing our life, our gifts, our blessings with others. Until we break the containment of our very small points-of-views, our egocentric approaches to spirituality, and become part of a larger vision for ourselves and the world, nothing will change and suffering will continue to compound.” – Seijaku Roshi
A students asked his master, “What follows Enlightenment?’, the master replied, “A lifetime of benefiting others, and oh yes, ten thousand more hours of meditation.” In his book “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism”, Chogyam Trungpa wrote, “We have come here to learn about spirituality. I trust the genuine quality of this search but we must always question its nature. The problem is that ego can convert anything to its own use. Ego is constantly attempting to acquire and apply the teachings of spirituality for its own benefit.”
“Prosperity cannot be measured by possessions. It can be measured only by who you are in the process of attaining them. Most people ignore what they do to themselves because they are driven exclusively by what they think, they want from the world and from others. Their focus is object bound, purely external. This false prosperity, created by the ego mind, is unconscious prosperity. Otherwise known as success…”
Synonymous with the word “squander” is “to scatter”, which means, “to throw loosely about, distribute at irregular intervals.” Squandering ones life is to live ones life “unconsciously” without “awareness”, and certainly not “on purpose”. Nothing robs us more of any opportunity for authenticity and meaning.
The reason so many people who have so much still pursue more, better, or different, is a function of what happens to us when our focus shifts from “what really matters” and becomes “object bound”. When we forget that the solutions to our lives as well as the worlds are never going to be found “in the world”, they are “within us”, suffering (stress and anxiety) compounds.
One of the many myths about Buddhist spirituality is the notion that all desires or desiring is “bad”, and that the aim of meditation is to eradicate desiring. When reciting the (four) Bodhisattva Vows for All the third vow is, “Desires are inexhaustible, I vow to end them.” An impossible promise, therefore what do we do with this cause for suffering? Robert Aiken, Roshi teaches us, “I have heard people say, “I cannot recite these vows because I cannot hope to fulfill them.” Actually, Kanzeon, the incarnation of mercy and compassion, weeps because she cannot save all beings. Nobody fulfills these “Great Vows for All,” but we vow to fulfill them as best we can. They are our practice.”
Zen-Buddhism teaches that the key to cessation from suffering begins with understanding how Mind is operating from moment to moment, by becoming intimately familiar with its nature and, what we call “the bureaucracy of ego”. All sentient begins live life from an ego-centric point of view (“regarding everything only in relation to oneself; self-centered.”- dictionary.com) where one experiences themselves as separate from other beings, other dharma’s. Zen-Buddhism refers to this bureaucracy as “ego-delusion”. All suffering, stress, and anxiety, fear and worriment, low self-confidence, a sense of personal lacking, are a function of “ego-delusion”. This is when ego-mind is running a story based on the delusion of separation.
This experience of separation also includes everything I perceive I need to be happy or satisfied. Ego perceives all needs and solutions to one’s life as existing “apart from the being”, therefore – “the pursuit of happiness”. Whenever we feel stress or anxious it’s because ego is convinced that I lack something and I don’t know where to find it, so I go looking for it. What follows is a never-ending pursuit of happiness, looking in all the wrong places. There’s an old familiar fable about this. “One day the god’s of Olympia got together for a conference. The
god’s were concerned that human-beings if allowed near the Truth would harm it. So they deliberated on where they could hide the Truth in order that humans would never find it. You could imagine the suggestions. One suggested high on the highest mountain top; another in the deepest part of the ocean; another among the stars, and so on. Everyone also agreed that someday humans would travel to all those places. Finally (And isn’t always the way in these stories?), the oldest among them stood and said, “I have the perfect place! Humans would never consider looking for it there, and even if they do go there they won’t believe it. Let’s place the Truth in each of them.” They all agreed and remain correct until this day.
Whenever Buddhist talk about “suffering” it refers to a state of mind – anguished, stressed, worried, and delusional. In resolving “suffering” for ourselves and others we begin by recognizing that “the suffering is within us”. It is not happening “to me” as if someone else is doing it to me, it is my perception (“the process by which an organism detects and interprets information from the external world by means of the sensory receptors.” – dictionary.com) my interpretation of what is happening in the world around me. This is not some “denial” about the external events or triggers, but understood as an “interpretation” of the events, not based on fact as much as my ideas, beliefs, and/or expectations, which are always personal. Next, we look at what it is we are “desiring” in order to resolve the suffering, and ask ourselves, “Will it really resolve the suffering?” If not we apply the Teachings of “Right View”, “Right Thought or Intention”, “Right Speech”, and “Right Action”, (The Eightfold Noble Path, the Buddha’s “prescription for cessation from suffering.) It could go something like this:
- Am I seeing this from every possible point-of-view?
- What is my real intention? Do I want to be freed up or do I want to be stuck in resentment, blame, shame, etc.? In other word do I want a solution or revenge?
- If someone were speaking to me that way would I want reconciliation? Are my self-criticisms loving, compassionate, kind, or am I not prisoner of my own words, judge and jury, and executioner all at the same time?
- #3 just replace speech with actions.
Whenever I find myself “suffering”, I am always telling myself a story. When I examine the story, usually “Stephen King” is somewhere in there. No wonder I’m afraid. So I have a choice, I can either keep reading Stephen King’s story in the darkness of ego-delusion, or stop reading the story all together, or rewrite the story with loving, forgiving, compassionate, kinder thoughts and words. There is another choice but after nearly forty-years of teaching I find it to be almost impossible for people to choose, including me at times – “Stay out of your head!”, “Don’t indulge the stories!” Part of our conditioning has taught us that “life is a story” we tell ourselves or others. No it’s not. Life is always happening outside the story, the story we tell ourselves and others is just an “interpretation” of what happened. Once you really know this to be true about life, you realize that there really is a whole “way-of-living” where you get to write the script and act in your own life. It goes something like this:
- Beings are numberless, I vow to love them all.
Another impossible promise, but with “right intention”, we arouse skillful effort, and with “right desire” our “way-of-living” this way, outside the story, extends us beyond the limits of our personal identities. Which are also delusional.
I Love you, (No not “you” – YOU!)
Albert Einstein wrote, “I fear the day when technology overlaps with our humanity. The world will only have a generation of idiots.” The dictionary defines “idiot” as, “an utterly foolish and senseless person.” Ring any bells? Recently on a talk show another scientist pointed out that the internet and modern technology, such as smartphones and personal computers, and MAC, are intended to be tools for connecting us and bringing our world closer together. The results have been exactly the opposite. It is not my intention to knock Apple or Microsoft, I too enjoy these sometimes magical inventions of the 20th and 21st Century that continue to rise out of the evolving consciousness of mankind. No, this article is about the “humanity” part of Einsteins words.