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When Horses Cry

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

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

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The Last Spiritual Warrior – Living a Zen Inspired Life

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

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

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

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

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5
Oct

The Path to Freedom and The End of Tyranny

“We do not want you to copy or imitate us. We want to be like a ship that has crossed the ocean, leaving a wake of foam, which soon fades away. We want you to follow the Spirit, which we have sought to follow, but which must be sought anew in every generation.” — 1st Generation Quakers

“Community is The Spirit, The Guiding Light…” — St. Benedict

Zen, Authentic Spirituality, is characterized by an emphasis of abundant simplicity—Simplicity grounded in the absence of the pursuit of any person, place, experience, thing, desire, or ideal, as the source of our joy. There exists for the Zen Contemplative a simple and profound yearning for complete union with “not knowing” or life as it is recognized in Zen which is fundamentally “Empty” and “Mystery,” removing all obstacles to the deepening of this relationship with one’s true-self, with this moment, and ones immediate environment.

As Rumi once wrote, “Our true work is not to go in pursuit of Love, chasing after it in people, places, objects, and experiences, but to inquire within ourselves as to the emotional, psychological, and spiritual obstacles we have built up in our lifetime preventing us from seeing Love where it always has been — within us and all around us.” (Para)

Thus, we find the Buddha’s emphasis on — “Right Point-of-View; Right Thought and Intention; Right Speech and Action; Right Effort and Concentration, and so on.” All designed to cultivate the ground for helpful attitudes and motives, with the emphasis of avoiding unwholesome and habitual ways-of-being learned in ones lifetime, which prove to be obstacles toward liberating oneself from a life driven by fear, emotional and sentimental ties, that only complicate the inner journey.

For the ancient Zen masters and their students, relationships were “non-attachment”: They cared for others without any expectation of reciprocity. Concern for personal gain or self-aggrandizing was discarded. While feelings or emotions were acknowledged, with an emphasis on fully experiencing them, they were subjected to the discipline of the heart’s goal to awaken and to liberate oneself from the false-self and egocentric self which operated from a place of fear and craving.

Integrity was utmost, followed by an unrelenting devotion to prayer, contemplation, meditation, and benevolent service. Sacrifice was expected and understood to be essential. Ones vocation was to sacrifice this small self, this egocentric self, so that, “The person we were always meant to be,” could surface and get on with the real business of the spiritual life — “The liberation of all sentient beings from suffering and its causes.”

One of the tools used by the contemplative is a deep inquiry into the meaning of what The Buddha called, “Right Point-of-View,” which included how one viewed himself or herself and, his or her place in the world. One cannot endeavor to achieve this without eventually arriving at the realization of our’s and all sentient beings “interconnected and interdependent” relationship. We are not born for ourselves alone, we are born for each others benefit. Our place in the Universe is defined by the level of true-self realization — that the real meaning and purpose of my life was and is to live my life as a benefit for all other sentient beings and the whole of Nature. This could not and cannot be achieved apart from living morally and with a mindful awareness of not only my needs but the needs of my brothers and sisters with whom I coexist and co-create the world around me with. The solution to which is what followed or more accurately, which was embedded in the contemplative life — “Community”.

“Life in community is no less than a necessity for us — it is an inescapable “must” that determines everything we do and think. Yet it is not our good intention or efforts that have been decisive in our choosing this way of life. Rather, we have been overwhelmed by a certainty — a certainty that has its origin and power in the source of everything that exists…We must live in community because all life exists in a communal order and works toward community.” (Para)

The truly spiritual, the true contemplative, lives his or her life deeply committed to the “belief in the overwhelming power of life, the power of love to overcome, and the ultimate triumph of truth…This deeply committed belief is not a theory; neither is it a dogma, a system of ideas, or a fabric of words…We must live in community for only in such a positive venture can it become clear how incapable of living life fully the individual is and that community is that life-giving force which makes all things possible.” (Para)

Community answers the social-political crises our Nation and the World finds itself in today. While millions of individuals, religious and political organizations, are engaged in the battle against tyranny and injustice, the contemplative cannot fight their battles in their way.

“With them we stand side-by-side with those who have little or nothing, with the underprivileged and marginalized, and with the degraded and depressed. And yet we must avoid the kind of class struggle that employs violent means to avenge lives taken through exploitation. We reject the defensive war of the suppressed just as much as the defensive war of nations…We live in community because we take our stand in the spiritual fight on the side of all those who fight for freedom, unity, peace, and social justice.” (Para)

While the contemplative remains committed to living a life benefitting all sentient beings and to laboring for the liberation of all sentient beings from suffering and its causes, he or she realizes that they can “only give what they have achieved for themselves”. All that, restricts and limits human consciousness and humanity, all that possesses the minds and hearts of millions, their attachments and compulsions, and which must be healed and reconciled, must first be achieved by the monk, the nun, or student of Zen, themselves. Before I can be of any benefit to others I must move toward inner freedom and detachment from those thoughts and cravings which bind me. The cultivation of the individuals inner freedom was and remains vital to the deepening of their experience of suffering and its causes in the world. “As they deepened their interior freedom, all aspects of their false self were removed and a clearer understanding of their truest self emerged.” It is this “true-self” that dwells deeply within the minds and hearts of all beings, and hungers to be realized and manifested in the world. Whenever and wherever we find tyranny and suffering, we find that this Self is restricted or limited in one form or another. For it is in the liberation of all sentient beings and the elevation toward Full-True-Self expression, we will finally realize personal and global freedom and experience our deepest joy.

We must live in community because when all obstacles are removed we will, as those before us have, find that same Spirit that has led mankind toward community since the beginning of time.

Shall we begin?

I Love You,
Seijaku Roshi

1
Oct

Broken But Not Broke

Meditation

“We had a kettle; we let it leak:
Our not repairing it made it worse.
We haven’t had any tea for a week…
The bottom is out of the Universe.”


― Rudyard Kipling,

Reflection

I never imagined that all the years I have trained as a monk would be tested in the crucible of the last twenty-eight months. Living with cancer is an invitation to pay attention to the life given us, life before cancer, and life as I learn to live with cancer. At its best and most useful, it forces us to look inside ourselves and confront the essential questions of birth and death, to see wherever we have dropped the ball, and in whatever time we have left, to fix what is broken in us and, in our world.

“The truth about one’s mortality challenges us to reach down into the muck of our hurtful, broken past, broken relationships, broken promises, and our broken selves, where we hide so much, and promise we will blister our hands in the heat and the cold and fix what needs to be fixed — not simply throw him, her, or it, or ourselves away, shrug, and move on.”

Most people don’t fix much of anything anymore. We have become a “throw away society”. (I also know that not everything that is broken can be fixed.) When you are challenged however with the choice to either get on with living or to get on with dying, for some the choice is clear while others hope that someone or something will come along and make that choice for them. Unfortunately even if it is made for us, in the end — we must do the living or the dying.

“Tibetan Buddhists say that a person should never get rid of their negative energy, that negative energy transformed is the energy of enlightenment, and that the only difference between neurosis and wisdom is struggle. If we stop struggling and open up and accept what is, that neurotic energy naturally arises as wisdom, naturally informs us and becomes our teacher.”

We find our salvation not in some ideal but rather, right in, the world we have; in both our personal suffering and the suffering of the world. We are called to “bear witness” to our suffering and others. To hold that suffering within our hearts and through applying the principles of loving-kindness, compassion, and benevolence, transform it into the energy that will heal and transform our world.

In Buddhism as in Judaism and Christianity there is an anticipation of a future coming of a Messiah or in Buddhism the next Buddha.

“Where shall we look for the Messiah?” Asked the ancient sages. “Shall the Messiah come to us on clouds of glory, robed in majesty and crowned with light?” One sage imagines this question posed to no less an authority than the prophet Elijah himself. “Where,” the sage asks Elijah, “shall I find the Messiah?” “At the gate of the city,” Elijah replies. “How shall I recognize him?” “He sits among the lepers.” “Among the lepers?” Cries the sage. “What is he doing there?” “He changes their bandages,” Elijah answers. “He changes them one by one.”

For Mahayana Buddhist a long held belief by some (myself included) but not all, has been that the next Buddha will not necessarily be any one individual. The next Buddha will appear in the world as “Sangha” or “Community” —

“It is possible the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community, a community practicing understanding and lovingkindness, a community practicing mindful living. And the practice can be carried out as a group, as a city, as a nation.”

It is important to recognize that both prophecies point to “behavior” as the force behind the arrival of the new Messiah or Messianic Era or The Enlightened Era of the Buddha. Here we understand that the Messianic Era or the Enlightened Era as in Buddhism, will be a function of first the individual and then, the masses becoming the full embodiment of both the Messiah and or Buddha —

“At the gate of the city,” Elijah replies. “How shall I recognize him?” Asks the sage. “He sits among the lepers.” “Among the lepers?” cries the sage. “What is he doing there?” “He changes their bandages,” Elijah answers. “He changes them one by one.”

“The Buddha body is in us. Using the energy of mindfulness, meditation, and living virtuously, living community for each other, we can touch the body of the Buddha within us and around us at any time. And I know the sangha body is in me and around me. The trees, the grass, the blue sky, the flowers are all elements of the sangha. And you, are my sangha body. You take care of me.” I take care of you.

“Community is the Spirit, the Guiding Light…” In a genuine community of deeply devoted people, the individual finds his or her true-freedom in the free decision of the united — All for One — One for All. Spirit, “Working from within each member as the will for the good of humanity and the whole of Nature, freedom becomes unanimity and concord.” Liberated by the Spirit of Community, Guided by the Light of loving-kindness, compassion, and benevolence, which is the Heart and Soul of Community, each person naturally moves toward the realization and actualization of the good of humanity and the benefit of the whole of Nature.

We must live in Community because the eternal struggle against the destructive and enslaving powers of Greed, Hatred, and a Culture of Indifference toward global suffering and injustice, “Against all the wrong and injustice people do to each other,” cannot be met alone by any one individual, it can only be eventually conquered by the ranks of souls and bodies mobilized to meet this struggle wherever it is found and whenever it is before us.

Today it is clear that,

“The challenge of liberation for unity and the fullness of love is being fought on many different fronts with many different means. So too, the work of community finds expression in many different ways because the Spirit of Community is rich, boundless, seamless and timeless, and inclusive. But no matter the expression there is a common certainty of purpose…and when we possess this certainty we will be given the strength for loyalty and unerring clarity, even in small things, to the very end.”

Perhaps here we need to reflect on what is at the root of what so often seems to be an impossible task. What is missing for so many is I believe to be a “lack of certainty”. A “certainty” that can only be nurtured and reinforced by a singular view of ones self and ones place in the world, and a purposeful approach born and sustained out of that view.

The solution has always been for me, what I call “The Principle of Identity”. In his teachings, “The Art of Peace” Morihei Ueshiba writes,

“You are here for no other purpose than to realize your inner divinity and manifest your inner enlightenment. Foster peace in your own life and then apply the Art to all that you encounter.”

This is the ground for achieving the impossible. No matter how long and how difficult and, how impossible it may seem. Each of us, ordinary beings, called to live extraordinary lives. We are called to meet hatred with love. We are called to meet indifference with benevolence. We are called to meet polarization and the delusion of separation with community. We are called to the impossible task of healing ourselves, our world, the last, the present, and the future. I believe that if we were not capable, the dream of a more loving, kind, and compassionate world would not have ever found its life within us.

I will leave you for the moment with the words of Morihei Ueshiba once again —

“There is no place in The Art of Peace for pettiness and selfish thoughts. Rather than being captivated by the notion of “winning or losing,” seek the true-nature of things. Your thoughts (your words, your actions) should reflect the grandeur of the universe, a realm beyond birth and death. If your thoughts are antagonistic toward the cosmos, this thoughts will destroy you and wreak havoc on the environment… Always try to be in communion with heaven and earth; then the world will appear in its true light. Self-conceit will naturally vanish, and you can blend with any challenge.” (Para)

Act Accordingly…Shall we Begin?

Prayer

“For as long as space endures, and for as long as living beings remain, until then may I too abide to dispel the misery of the world.” — Shantideva

I Love You,

Seijaku Roshi

6
Sep

The Truth may be vital, but Without Love it is Unbearable.

“One of the chief tasks of our time must surely be to build a global community in which all peoples can live together in mutual respect; yet religion, which should be making a major contribution, is seen as part of the problem. All faiths insist that compassion is the test of true spirituality and that it brings us into relation with the transcendence we call God, Brahman, Nirvana, or Dao. Each has formulated its own version of what is sometimes called the Golden Rule, “Do not treat others as you would not like them to treat you,” or in its positive form, “Always treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself.” Further, they all insist that you cannot confine your benevolence to your own group; you must have concern for everybody — even your enemies…Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honor the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.”

— Karen Armstrong

I have felt lonely most of my life, but never alone. Since the early age of seven I have been convinced that none of us are ever alone even in the darkest moments of our lives. That conviction has never changed. I have always believed that The Universe was designed to work, that God or Dharma, Yahweh, Allah, whatever name you wish to use, was always near, that despite the darkness we may ever witness in our world it could not and does not exist apart from the Light which is within each of us. Thomas Merton wrote, “The fact remains that our task is to see and discover Christ in our world as it is, and not as it might be. The fact that the world is other than it might be does not alter the truth that Christ is present and that his plan has been neither frustrated nor changed.”

Having “felt lonely most of my life,” early on my salvation was found in seeking out “Community”. The more and more I was privileged to experience community with others, the more and more I became convinced that, “Community” alone was the salvation of the world. “Community is the Spirit, the Guiding Light,” a way out of this madness which has imprisoned humanity for much too long. No matter whether it be the teachings of the Dharma, the Torah, the Gospels, the Quran, all without exception culminate their lessons in “loving thy neighbor,” “loving ones enemies,” “being a refuge for the stranger,” “defending those who cannot defend themselves,” “ending poverty” as a moral issue and not just a circumstance of the times.
All of the teachings and great teachers have placed on the shoulders of each and every one of us the utmost responsibility of establishing the Kingdom of God; The Pure-land, on Earth the only way possible — by being “Community” for one another.

Einstein wrote that, “Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Thomas Merton warns us, “To think that you will ever find your True-Self by barricading yourself inside your own world, shutting out all external reality…cutting yourself off from other men and women by stuffing yourself inside your own mind and closing the door like a turtle, is one of the worst illusions.”

For decades now we have been living in a culture of hyper-individualism and indifference to the suffering in the world other than ours. While today we are witnessing a new possibility, individuals and groups of individuals, who have chosen to no longer ignore the truth about suffering and its cause, or to isolate themselves from the world as it is, standing up, kneeling, placing their very lives on the line, their very bodies between themselves and the forces of greed, hatred, and indifference, there is still so much work to be done.

“We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity.”

After a lifetime of dedication to “self-fulfillment” and a society and culture which has promoted for so long “individualism” one should not be surprised by the difficulty this challenge brings with it. But the difficulty does not lay in the challenge itself but rather in the work that will be necessary to transform our world. After decades, if not centuries, of a culture of “greed, envy, and ambition,” often cloaked especially in todays society, in both religious and spiritual rhetoric, the work of transcending selfishness which is embedded in our very social structure, will always prove to be difficult. Nonetheless, whether one is religious, spiritual, or none of the above, if we fail to meet this challenge we will most certainly fail the test of our time. In so doing, conflict, national and global polarization, poverty, injustice, and the pains of countless and senseless wars will continue and compound.

Do Not Be Daunted

“The Talmud states, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

We must not allow ourselves to be daunted or distracted by the enormity of the work ahead, or by emotions which may, when indulged, persuade us to give up or turn back. Far too often the goal or objective is lost only because we allow ourselves to be distracted or daunted by emotions that can and will at times overwhelm us.

Confronting cancer every day of my life often leaves me with emotions and feelings that would have me give up. It is then, when I contemplate those who now also are dealing with cancer or some form of terminal illness. It is then I remind myself of the words hanging on my refrigerator door — “Never, Never, Never, Give Up”. Or I may reflect about my parents and their parents lives during the great depression and a World War; about the people of Europe during those wars, and the numerous senseless wars ever since and how they have left millions of people in grief, fear, and horrific living environments.

Whatever it takes to remain steadfast and committed to realizing and actualizing “our better angels,” and to creating a more enlightened society and a world for all its people and sentient beings — That dream, that hope, must always be held central in our minds and in hearts, in our words, and in our actions.

As the Talmud suggests, “We are neither obligated to complete the work, (we may not see the work completed in our lifetime), but we are neither free to abandon it.”

Please — Remain Steadfast, Upright, and no matter how difficult Never, Never, Never, Give Up. Remembering always “You are Not Alone — We are More Together Than Alone.” Our World is witnessing the rebirth of Truth, a vital Truth, one which will require all of us to Love and Support one another if we are ever going to truly bear it, and bring it to its fullest fruition.

I Love You,

Seijaku Roshi

24
Aug

Freedom

“In a time of domestic crisis men of good will and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics. This is not even a legal or legislative issue alone…law alone cannot make men see right. We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution…One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. And this Nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free.”

— President John F. Kennedy June 11, 1963

Buddhism teaches us that, “Social injustice exists when individuals treat each other unfairly based on discrimination according to some socially constructed label (race, class, gender, age, language, ability, etc.) and/or systemic government practices and policies which directly or indirectly treat different groups unfairly (housing, health, policing, labor, voting, environmental, education laws).” The path toward correcting such injustices is the same path toward peace for the individual and all sentient beings. We cannot and will not have Peace-on-Earth until truly all men and women regardless of their racial, social, cultural, religious, or political identities, share equally in the ”Right to Life, Liberty, Equal Opportunity and Happiness”.

Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “Mindfulness must be engaged. Once we see that something needs to be done, we must take action. Seeing and action go together. Otherwise, what is the point in seeing?”
“The American monk venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi has also spoken of the need for Buddhist practitioners to engage in the world of social injustices as an extension of the Buddha’s teachings on social and community harmony (Bodhi).”

Anyone who identifies with “living spiritually in the world,” must understand that our very existence, the very meaning and purpose of our lives is, “To realize our inner divinity and manifest our inner enlightenment. Fostering peace in your own life and then apply the Art of Peace to all that you encounter.” The “enlightenment” of engaged acts of Loving-Kindness, Compassion, and Benevolent Service; of “Charity towards All and Malice towards None” is the means by which we establish a real and sustainable Peace on Earth.

It would be a grave error to consider the upcoming election in November as just another political election, a battle between two dominant and equally opposite political parties. Make no mistake about it, the election is a referendum, if not the most important referendum of modern times — “We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution…”What kind of world, what kind of society, do we want to live in and to raise our children in?

“The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated…We preach freedom around the world, and we mean it, and we cherish our freedom here at home, but are we to say to the world, and much more importantly, to each other that this is the land of the free except for people of color; that we have no second-class citizens except for people of color and the poor; that we have no class or caste system, no ghettoes, no master race except with respect to people of color and the less fortunate?” –(JFK 1963 para.)

Authentic Spirituality is “a journey toward waking up to a truth that releases everyone, not a chosen few, from suffering.” Once again as President Kennedy stated fifty-seven years ago:

“We face, therefore, a moral crisis as a country and a people. It cannot be met by repressive police action. It cannot be left to increased demonstrations in the streets. It cannot be quieted by token moves or talk. It is a time to act in the Congress, in your State and local legislative body and, above all, in all of our daily lives. It is not enough to pin the blame on others, to say this a problem of one section of the country or another, or deplore the facts that we face. A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all. Those who do nothing are inviting shame, as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right, as well as reality.”

One hundred fifty-seven years ago since President Lincoln freed the slaves, the moral questions of life continue to challenge the very fabric, the heart and soul, of our Nation. Once again we are faced with a great opportunity, infinite potential, to once and for all “answer the call to freedom” not just for a chosen few, not just for the more fortunate, but for all sentient beings.

History has proven time and time again that, silence is complicity, inaction empowers evil in the world and, only when individual men and women who come together in unity of purpose resolved to right what is wrong in our world, has always proven to be victorious over tyranny and the many causes for suffering.

I Love You,

Seijaku Roshi

19
Aug

Daily Reflection 8.19.20

Meditation

To pull the metal splinter from my palm my father recited a story in a low voice. I watched his lovely face and not the blade. Before the story ended, he’d removed the iron sliver I thought I’d die from.

I can’t remember the tale, but hear his voice still, a well of dark water, a prayer. And I recall his hands, two measures of tenderness he laid against my face the flames of discipline he raised above my head.

Had you entered that afternoon you would have thought you saw a man
planting something in a boy’s palm, a silver tear, a tiny flame.
Had you followed that boy you would have arrived here, where I bend over my wife’s right hand.

Look how I shave her thumbnail down so carefully she feels no pain.
Watch as I lift the splinter out. I was seven when my father took my hand like this, and I did not hold that shard between my fingers and think, Metal that will bury me, christen it Little Assassin, Ore Going Deep for My Heart.
And I did not lift up my wound and cry, Death visited here!
I did what a child does when he’s given something to keep.
I kissed my father.
— The Gift, Li-Young Lee

Reflection

The last two months have been very difficult for me. Chemo-therapy has shown no mercy. Often I found myself responding to the pain with bitterness and resentment. By the time my next round of chemo arrived only yesterday, I found myself exhausted, not only physically but mentally as well. It is not an easy task to carry a backpack full of resentment or anger, or desire. I know so many people these days with and without cancer, who share with me their mutual experience. On Monday evening I sat in my bed anticipating Tuesday. I can’t tell you exactly what hour it came when I consciously decided to choose gentleness, patience, and gratitude, as the ground for my being no matter what came during chemo-therapy. I surrendered to what I believe to be yours and my “better angels”.

I woke up early on Tuesday and followed my usual routine but this time I started by taking into account my “first-light attitude”. I made some adjustments and left my bed. As I left the house and made my way to the car, I stopped to notice that the air was gentle, that there was beauty everywhere, I stopped to pray a simple prayer, “Thank You!” I got into my car and made my way down Route 70 to MD Anderson-Cooper, I focused my thoughts about those on the road with me. Where were they going? Were they in a rush or was this their choice? I eventually arrived at the hospital and as I regularly do I thanked the valet for taking my car; I greeted everyone I met with “Hello” and “How are you doing?”, I thanked the nurses who checked me in after checking me for a fever or any signs of COVID-19, asking them before I left, “Please take care of yourselves?” After retrieving my sandwich for lunch from the small cafe I made my way to the third-floor waiting room. Checked in. Waited. It wasn’t long before I was greeted by a nurse and ushered to my chair for the next four hours. All the while I could feel my cellular-memory warning me about what was to come. I took notice and took charge about what thoughts I would allow to join me during the day.

Gentleness is not an easy practice where pain is involved and yes with fear shadowing your every moment but, it is essential. In a world that appears to be marked by the opposite, when the opportunity to receive gentleness or to offer it arrives — it is “Gift”. As I have learned as a man and as a Zen monk, one cannot go looking for it, neither can one wait for it, it must be initiated, only then can it be recognized. Once initiated the moment becomes like a great closed iron door which suddenly opens and what one unexpectedly finds behind it, is exactly what one needs.

We can get lost in the news that the world is terrible, that the end is near, that the enemy is at the gates. But I can tell you after spending enough time traveling in “the valley of the shadow of death” — Angels live here too. That Christ was correct when he suggested that, “It is in giving we receive.” If you don’t want to go with Christ how about Paul McCartney, “And, in the end The love you take is equal to the love you make.” If you start at first-light determined to see them you will, you will see ordinary human-beings with wings — Angels among us. If you look around you, you will see them, in your home and in your neighborhood. If you look in the mirror with all the intention to see, with all the intention to bring gentleness, and patience, and gratitude for what you have rather than longing for what you don’t, you may be lucky to see your own wings. For I have become convinced that, “Angels” are not beings which exist apart from us while among us. That angels are merely a choice made by ordinary people, a way-of-being, in the world. Angels are known to arrive when something is needed, something is amiss. They show up to correct what needs to be corrected and to supply the missing.

“And I did not lift up my wound and cry, Death visited here! I did what a child does when he’s given something to keep. I kissed my father.” Yesterday I kissed the hearts of all those angels I met. I thanked God for the wings to fly above the pain and discomfort, not away from it, but above it. High enough to see that above the clouds which cover the sky and the ones which often cloud our minds — there is light, there is always light, and if you look you will see wings in flight.

Prayer

“I should tell you from the outset: this blessing will require you to do some work.

First you must simply let the blessing fall from your hand, as if it were a small thing you could Let easily slip through your fingers, as if it were not precious to you, as if your life did not depend on it.

Next you must trust that this blessing knows where it is going, that it understands the ways of the dark, that it is wise to seasons and to times.

Then — and I know this blessing as already asked much of you —
It is to be hoped that you will rest and learn that something is at work when all seems still, seems dormant, seems dead.

I promise you this blessing has not abandoned you. I promise you that this blessing is on its way back to you. I promise you — when you are least expecting it, when you have given up your last hope — this blessing will rise green and whole and new.” — Jan Richardson

May I be patient to wait, gentle to this moment, toward myself and everyone who appears in this moment, may I be grateful for the waiting and for the return. Amen.

I Love You,

Seijaku Roshi

30
Jul

Rely On Your Self!

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

I Love You,
Seijaku Roshi

25
Jul

The End of The World – Is It?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Love You,

Seijaku Roshi

10
Jul

Building Your Life on A Spiritual Foundation

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

                                                         —Joseph Campbell

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

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

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

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

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

At Pine Wind there is a kind of motto which from the very beginning has informed the life of The Monks and those members and students which make up our “Community,” it reads — “Community is the spirit, the guiding light, whereby people come together to fulfill a purpose, to help others fulfill their purpose, and to take care of one another.”
This motto informs everything, every decision, every program, everything we do. Authentic Spirituality takes us out of our conditioned—self which is egocentric in nature, removes us from the bureaucracy of ego, and re-connects us with our Original-Self, our True-Self, which is “Relational” by nature.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Really Are – More Together Than Alone!

I Love You,

Seijaku Roshi

4
Jul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I believe in You!

I Love You,

Seijaku Roshi

15
Jun

Whose Going To Be Responsible?

Meditation

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer

May I become at all times both now and forever:

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

I Love You,

Seijaku Roshi

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