We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned,
so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
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,
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,
“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.”
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.
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,
“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.”
“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
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?
“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.”
I Love You,
“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
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.”
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,
“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
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?
“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,
“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!”
(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.
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,
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,
“The need for the Dharma is stronger than ever. We can choose to live in our fears, confusion, and worries; or to stay in the essence of our practice, center ourselves, and be the ones on this beautiful boat of the earth that demonstrate patience, compassion, mindfulness, and mutual care.” – Jack Kornfield
The dictionary defines “fear” as: a feeling of anxiety concerning the outcome of something or the safety and well-being of someone. No one would deny that we are living in a time of uncertainty and causes for concern. We can choose to view the world and current events exclusively from a place of fear, doubt, and worriment, or we can choose to view it from a place of “faith” as we feel both the strength and fragility of our “interdependence and interconnectedness”.
As some of you reading this may know, nearly twenty-four months ago I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. (I continue the “good fight” to defeat the cancer in my body to this day.) Needless to say my immediate emotional response was one of fear. Over the past twenty-four months I relied on my forty-five years of practice and training in Zen and my “faith,” and found “refuge” in the Dharma and made a conscious choice to come from a place of faith rather than my fears.
Recently I presented a two hour talk on “Working With Our Emotions”. During that talk I reminded people that, “We are not our feelings or our emotions.” We have feelings, and we have emotions, but “we” are much larger than any feeling or emotion we may be experiencing at anytime. History is full of so many examples of how both individuals as well as small and large groups of people transcended their feelings and emotions to meet the current challenges and to bring about great change in their lives, the lives of others, and to our planet.
In times, such as these, of uncertainty and good cause for concern and vigilance, we need to remember that, “We’ve been here before.” Perhaps some of you reading this have not lived long enough to experience what I mean as a nation or a community, but certainly each of us I am confident, if we took the time to contemplate this moment, can remember other times in our lives when fear dominated our experience and despite its presence we made it through and overcame our reasons for fear.
I will admit that my cancer and the chemotherapy I am receiving are cause for fear to visit me every day. It would be foolish, deceptive, and unrealistic to suggest that that should be different just because I am a Zen monk and live a spiritual life. The First Noble Truth applies to everyone, even the Buddha, Christ, and the Prophets.
So what’s a monk or anyone else for that matter to do?
First, “Do Not Panic.” Educate yourself and “do what is necessary”. Listen to your doctor or other “experts”.
Next, when fear surfaces we are to expect it, while at the same time not “fear” it. (It was Franklin Roosevelt during the some of the darkest days on the planet, WWII, who said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Meaning we need to have an appropriate relationship with this sometimes quite powerful emotion. (Here, “appropriate” means “one that works” to support us and get us through the storm.)
Fear is a normal systemic anatomical reaction to both real and perceived threats. Sometimes our fear is a function of our “perception of the moment” or of what’s going on in the world. We need the wisdom to discern the difference between “real threats” and “perceived threats”. We need to remind ourselves that we possess the knowledge and the courage to do whatever is necessary to meet the challenge both real or perceived.
Next, whenever we experience fear or anxiety real or which is part of your perception of what’s happening, stop and take a breath. Find that still place within yourself and try to “bear witness” to your experience and to the narrative which is creating your experience. Continue to breath slowly and deeply until you find yourself coming to a more calm and rational state of awareness. As I mentioned earlier, every morning I am greeted by fear and when I am in a “chemo-week,” most of my day feels fearful and uncertain. Now you need to know that there are times when the experience is overwhelming. Whether or not, my training has taught me to find refuge in both my breath and bearing witness. The feeling or emotion may not go away immediately or for some time but, I do not allow the feeling or emotion to define me or who I choose or need to be in the moment. This is my “act of faith”. My choice to believe that no matter what is happening in my world or the world around me, “In the final reckoning all will be well.”
Next, this is what “living spiritually” is about. We all, both monks and laypersons, need to regularly pray, meditate, contemplate, and choose to “be the ones on this beautiful boat of the earth that demonstrate patience, compassion, mindfulness, and mutual care.” For ourselves, our families, our neighbors, and fellow brothers and sisters, and for the entire world.
I would also like to suggest that you strongly limit exposure to both social media and cable news. Remember, we live in a “culture of fear,” and it is the business of both these medias to report current events from a place of suspicion and yes – fear. Be very “selfish” about what you allow to enter your sphere of consciousness. I am not suggesting no exposure, but perhaps a real “diet” is in order here.
These may be “The times which try men’s souls.” They are also times for men and women of real faith, real spirituality, to rise up as our ancestors did so often and, be what the world needs now.
So slow down. Trust yourself. Trust your family and friends. Trust the Dharma. Wash your hands. Learn to gassho (prayer hands) and bow instead of shaking hands and hugging. And always remember, “Everything is of the nature of impermanence, this too shall pass”. And when it does, I’ll be waiting to give you one big hug!
I Love You,
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is closed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
— William Butler Yeats
Everywhere you go there is talk of a revolution. Even His Holiness Pope Francis as well as The Dalai Lama has suggested that what the world needs now is some kind of “spiritual or moral revolution”. The difference between these two holy men and those around the neighborhood bar or attending a political rally, is that they understand as I do that, the revolution they point to must come from within each person desiring real and sustainable change in our current world conditions. For centuries past we have for too long engaged the wrong-notion that the world around us needs to change when, all the evidence shows that the “world around us” is in fact the world man has created and; that creation finds it roots in mans current or historical state of mind or consciousness.
The dictionary defines “rev-o-lu-tion” as: a dramatic and wide-reaching change in the way something works or is organized or in people’s ideas about it. By nature any authentic spiritual approach to life is “revolutionary” or “transformational”. What authentic spirituality really does, is plant the seed of ancient wisdom within the person or, more accurately nurtures the existing Seed of Consciousness inherent in every individual, which in turn “causes” a “wide-reaching change in the way something works or is organized or people’s ideas about it.“
Most peoples idea of spirituality is in reality another form of “modern day marketing and consumerism.” You take the world’s idea about life such as, “the pursuit of happiness, or pleasure, material possessions, or financial security” and repackage it in a box with pretty colors and great slogans, (usually quotes from Zen or the Tao, not to forget that symbol “Yin-Yan”) and label it —“Being Spiritual”. The aim of both “modern marketing” and what is often “marketed” as “spirituality” is just another way of luring the individual to a product that is designed to “appease the ego’s desires”; whether it be “better and improved feelings and emotions,” “financial wealth and security,” or just the notion that “if you buy this you will become more, better, or different in no time whatsoever, requiring little to no changes in your behavior”.
The confusion, anxiety, stress, self-doubt, worriment, fear of uncertainty, political polarization, and all the rest, is now as it has been through the centuries, less about the content in a persons life, and more about the lack of or complete absence of discipline and integrity (context). It is a “crises of identity”. What the Buddha, and Christ, the Prophets, and Sages, have all been saying to us while society continues to ignore it or put a blind eye to it (Ignorance: what the Buddha identifies in the Second Noble Truth as the cause of our discontentment.). It’s no wonder we regularly feel confused and uncertain about our footing in the world; our society has dissolved into a myriad of disparate and conflicting images and notions about what it means to be human, let alone “E Pluribus Unum — Out of many — One”.
If the Western world today appears to lack a commitment to a life of real-faith and integrity, “it may be because that the terms of that faith have lost all purchase in their memory and imagination.” In Yeats’s poem he suggests that, even those with “the best” intentions lack the necessary conviction to fully realize and actualize their faith, lost “to a generation completely spellbound by the glitter of technology, the lure of consumerism, and the surreal whirlwind of change in a global, media-saturated environment.”
(This was never more evident to me than a recent trip to Disney World with my 10 year old daughter and her mother. The planning of which took months, and the execution of which took four days. My intention was to enjoy a time I may not have many more opportunities for, to witness in my daughters eyes the “wonder and amazement” I experienced, as a small child of the 50’s and 60’s watching Walt Disney World on our family’s black and white TV every Sunday evening. While I admit that there certainly were opportunities for that, the reality was that the designed environment was clearly intended to “spellbound the visitor by the glitter of technology, the lure of consumerism, and the surreal whirlwind of change in a global, media-saturated environment.” You were lured into a theme of wonder, beauty, and promise, only to be ushered out at the end to the next theme through a maze of “merchandise” which would leave any one person bankrupt after a short while. And not just financially. Everywhere, not only the technology required to create the surreal experience of “Soaring Around The World,” or actually “Being a citizen of the Empire” was evident, and there were as many I-Phones “the citizens” carried with them distracting them even more from any possibility of any real human contact. That and the numbers of “All the Lonely People” that populated the small spaces provided in the lines and the parks themselves, standing and waiting sometimes hours on end for what would be a 15 minute sensational experience, rarely looked up enough from there cell-phones to see each other let alone have any genuine contact with other. At the end of the day you found yourself even in the best physical condition, as opposed to my own, too exhausted to even have that “family conversation” either on the bus ride back to your room or after you arrived.)
The singular goal of any authentic spiritual approach to living ones life is, “to awaken in human beings a sense of original innocence, or what Buddhism calls the Original Self.” That “True-Self” which while may not yet be realized by the individual, yet exists and awaits to be re-awakened. In the book titled, “The Way of Peace,” Morihei Ueshiba, the father of the ancient Japanese martial art Aikido writes, “You are here for no other purpose but to realize your inner divinity and manifest your inner enlightenment.” Here is where the revolution begins, where transformation is possible.
What I call “The Principle of Identity” is the ground, the cornerstone, of any authentic spiritual practice or approach to living one’s life spiritually. The principle states that, “whatever you identify with, you become.”
If you know yourself as Chardin suggested as, “a spiritual being immersed in a human experience,” your lifestyle will reflect this and your experience both of yourself and your place in the world will reflect this as well. What follows is your views of yourself, the meaning of your life, your life’s purpose, and the world around you will also reflect this. Remember what I said earlier, if we are going to have any kind of global revolution or transformation, it must begin with you, it must begin with me. It must emerge from within and “realize and actualize itself in the world” through you.
Zen, and its practices, too often are mistaken to be passive in nature. Rather, Zen is a living tradition vibrantly responding to the issues and circumstances as well as the signs of the time. In Mahayana (Zen) Buddhism there is the emphasis about the life of the “Bodhisattva” – a person who is able to reach nirvana but delays doing so out of compassion in order to save suffering beings. The Bodhisattva is fully engaged in the world for the benefit of all sentient beings, while not being of the world. (Here “of the world” means, “the world man created”.) His or her view of themselves and their place in the world transcends all modern day images and ideas about what a man or woman, a citizen, a worker, a person, truly is. (The literal translation of the word “bodhi satt va” means: Sanskrit: one whose essence is enlightenment, from bodhi – enlightenment + sattva – essence.) It follows that a Bodhisattva “vows” to live his or her life as a benefit for others, as a conduit for cessation from all forms of suffering. It also follows that every serious practitioner of Zen, is a Bodhisattva and, at once mystical and political, spiritual and intellectual, personal and transcendent, sacrificial and life-giving.
Make no mistake about it, contrary to contemporary western representations of spirituality, Zen calls us and, sometimes drags us, out of our comfort zones; while inviting us into a more fluid realm, a contemplative experience, mystery. Awakening the memory of our “inner divinity,” whether through the employment of new kinds of language and behavior (etiquette), new and also ancient forms of prayer (chanting), disciplines (virtue), and liturgy, make no mistake about it will require risk. Like the mystical image and meaning of the life of the butterfly, the caterpillar must cease to be before it can fly free. Free of its old form, sacrificed or laid down in order to fully realize the complete meaning and purpose of its existence, and in fully realizing it may truly thrive.
Zen is, and must, if its ever to continue to retain its ancient yet modern viable identity, insist on the practitioners willingness to die to the old image of themselves and the world, and open their hearts to the possibility of a new yet ancient reality living and hungering within us to be alive; to sacrifice that socially acceptable image of “me, myself, and I” in order to actualize and manifest that enlightened, True-Self, in the world, for the world’s benefit.
Toward the objective of “Zen Training” or practice, which I have already pointed to, Zen employs four basic vehicles — “The cultivation of Wisdom through meditation, contemplation, and mindfulness (awareness); the study of ancient teachings; living a virtuous life, and benevolent service.” Once again, Morihei Ueshiba reminds us, “The Art of Peace begins with you. Work on yourself and your [appropriate] task in the Art of Peace. Everyone has a spirit that can be refined, a body that can be trained in some manner, a suitable path to follow…Foster peace in your own life and then apply the Art to all that you encounter.”
Zen can be described as a “way-of-life,” or more accurately a “way-of-being” in the world. “One does not need buildings, money, power or status to practice the Art of Peace. Heaven is right where you are standing, and that is the place to train.” In Zen, we do not look for God or Buddha outside ourselves, they are within us. It is because of this fundamental truth that we train how to “live in the kingdom of heaven,” which is always “right wherever we are standing” at anytime. The world is our Zendo. While we may come together as Sangha or Community to train in a specific Zendo (Pine Wind), our training or practice, does not end when we exit. We train together at Pine Wind in order that we may be able to “return to the market place,” and be a “light in the darkened corners of the world”.
Another widely held misconception of the spiritual life is, that while we are admonished to “be in the world but not of it,” the spiritual life somehow exists apart from the world and our daily lives. The fact of the matter is, that, “our lives just as they are, is the spiritual life”. If we understand the words from the Art of Peace, “Heaven is right where you are standing, and is the place to train.” Our lives and everything about our lives, is our training. We are to “work on ourselves and our appropriate task in the Art of Peace.”
Usually when I ask people what their practice is, they will tell me, “Oh I meditate.” Or “I do Yoga.” Or “Reiki.” Authentic spiritual training takes place in your daily life, “your life” is the training or practice. Spirituality and daily living are not separate from each other. “Not Two” as we say in Zen.“All things, material and spiritual, originate from one source and are related as if they were one family. The past, present, and future are all contained in the life force. The universe emerged and developed from one source, and we evolved through the optimal process of unification and harmonization.” We are to work on our lives as they are at the moment, remembering that “Everyone has a spirit that can be refined, a body that can be trained in some manner, a suitable path to follow…” We work with our uncomfortable emotions, reactions, fears, worriments, self-doubts, criticisms, judgements, and all the rest. “Fostering peace in your own life and then applying the Art to all that you encounter…Heaven, earth, humankind, United in the path of harmony and joy, following the Art of Peace, across the vast seas, and on the highest peaks.”
In short, living spiritually, living a Zen Inspired Life, is “to become fully impregnated in a mystical and truly mysterious tradition,” to “manifest fully the mystical dimensions of this ageless and timeless way-of-being in the world, hence to help us do what we must really do in order to bring about real and sustainable change in the world: live our faith — fully, deeply, in its totality.”
“The Art of Peace is medicine for a sick world. We went to cure the world of the sickness of violence, malcontent, and discord — this is the Way of Harmony. There is evil and disorder in the world because people have forgotten that all things emigrate from one source. Return to that source and leave behind all self-centered thoughts, petty desires, and anger. Those who are possessed by nothing possess everything.” — Morihei Ueshiba
Viva La Revolution!
I love you,