“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,
“Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.” – Pope Francis I “Laudato Si”
Basic to all Buddhist teachings is the “interconnected and interdependent” nature of all of creation. Nothing happens in a vacuum. The threats of climate change and the increase of natural disasters across our globe are directly interconnected with the current state of consciousness of all sentient beings, especially the human family. Our Mother Earth is ill and crying out for healing, healing which can only come from us. As we become more and more polarized and alienated from each other, we can expect increased natural disasters and the Earth continuing to strive to survive the threat of total extinction. Her healing and renewal depends entirely on our willingness to heal the rift between us, to learn to live together with each other and the natural world, and commit wholeheartedly to global programs, not only here at home but everywhere, that guarantee not only the sustainability of life on Earth but also, insuring that all its inhabitants are guaranteed an opportunity to thrive equally.
Often you have heard me say, “Quiet Mind, Quiet Body; Quiet Body, Quiet Environment; Quiet Environment – Peace on Earth.” Both in theological and wisdom teachings we find the teachings that, “The Garden of Eden is everywhere.” Or as in Buddhism we say, “The Pure Land is everywhere.” However, if we do not see it within ourselves, if we do not see it where we dwell, we will not see it anywhere. Jesus said, “Though you may have eyes to see, you cannot see.” Furthermore we, human beings, are “co-creators,” what we create becomes a part of Nature, good and bad. Therefore as the Buddha taught, our thoughts, our words, and our actions not only make a difference but become a “reality” not only in our lives but also in the lives of all sentient beings. “What we think or dwell on, we become.” Not only “me” but everyone, the whole world. So when we look outward, what we see in the World is merely a reflection of the state of mind of the human family. We need to heal the World from within. Peace, friendship, equality, justice, the end of poverty and conflicts. Must begin with us, with “Me”.
“Ponlop Rinpoche said, “In the process of uncovering Buddha-Nature, in the process of uncovering our open, un-fixated quality of our mind, we have to be willing to get our hands dirty.” In other words, he was saying that we need to be willing to work with our disturbing emotions, the ones that feel entirely dark. But Ponlop Rinpoche added something really important to this statement. He said that without having a direct experience of our emotions, we can never touch the heart of Buddha-Nature. We can never actually hear the message of awakening.” If we are ever going to heal the Earth, if we are ever going to transform social consciousness, we need to stop pointing out the “darkness” we see in the world and see the darkness “within ourselves,” and begin the work of transformation there. And, this means, “getting our hands dirty”. We need to give up the false notion that spirituality is this kind of blissful ride into heaven. It never was for any one of the Great Masters, including Buddha or Moses, or Jesus; or for Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr., and others. Only now have so many come short of full realization because they consider spirituality as an escape from the problems of the World, rather than the solution, which requires our full participation and engagement in, “getting our hands dirty”. (Actually, a lot of people have the misunderstanding that this is what meditation is about. They believe meditation includes everything except that which feels uncomfortable or takes us out of our bliss zone.)
Engaging Authentic Spirituality, in Buddhism particularly, emphasizes the importance of maintaining an holistic balance in life. While there is a history of personal salvation or liberation taking precedence in the Buddhist schools, the rise of the Mahayana (Zen) school particularly in the doctrine of The Bodhisattva Ideal, reaches past the individual to relate Buddhist soteriology to society as a whole. The Bodhisattva achieves his or her own salvation or liberation from suffering and its causes, only to Vow to return lifetime after lifetimes, to aid and assist other sentient beings to achieve theirs. As The Monks of Pine Wind recite regularly, “One for All, All for One,” and “Community is the Spirit, The Guiding Light” of everything we do and strive to achieve.
Albert Einstein, in his efforts to describe what he saw as the “real condition” of The Universe wrote, “A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” Our spiritual work or “task” is to free ourselves from this “optical delusion, a kind of prison” in order that we may then be able to, “widen our circle of compassion” and help to bring about the total transformation of the human family who in turn can then heal “the whole of nature and its beauty.”
Buddha-Nature includes opening to all of these things, beginning with the fundamental truth we so much strive to avoid, “Life is Suffering,” and our salvation or liberation is to be found in the midst of the many forms of suffering we have created in our world. We must not turn our hearts and our minds from the reality of the all pervasive suffering going on in our planet today. We must as Pema Chodrin writes in her book, “Dealing with Uncertainty,” that spiritual practice or way-of-being in the world begins with “cutting off all escape routes”. We must be willing to “get our hands dirty”.
As I began, allow me to finish by quoting Pope Francis I as he spoke years ago before the United Nations emphasizing that, “Ecological catastrophe under the effective explosion of industrial civilization…requires an urgent need for a radical change in the conduct of humanity, inasmuch as the most extraordinary scientific advances, the most amazing technical abilities, the most astonishing economic growth, unless they are accompanied by authentic social and moral progress, will definitively turn against man.”
I have a dear friend, who sadly whenever they speak about the future of the world, can only see an apocalyptic end quickly approaching. My response is always the same, “I do and I must remain hopeful in the power of goodness, in the power of love, in the power of compassion, and acts of kindness, which is inherent to all human beings. I do and I must continue to believe this.” I believe we hold the power to conquer all adversarial tendencies and behaviors we have learned along the way, that have consistently been proven to bring us closer and closer to my friends “apocalyptic vision,” but I also believe that at any moment we “choose to” humanity will meet evil with good, indifference with benevolence, war with peace. For as many examples of the opposite we can find in history, their exists proof of the true-nature of the human heart.
I believe in you. I invite you also – to believe! One for All, All for One.
I love you,
One of the Three Pillars of Zen training is “The Cultivation of Wisdom,” which results in a better understanding of the psychological forces at work in ourselves and in society. The current divide and political polarization we are witnessing in America today is, rightfully so, frightening and confusing to all of us. It sometimes feels like the whole world is plunging itself into self-destruction. If we are to find answers, we must embrace the power of the “Truth” which liberates us from the causes of confusion and desperation. We cannot rely on emotions, or opinions, or even our personal beliefs when those beliefs only prove to further the power of ignorance and widen the divide.
Whether we can see it or not, whether we want to see it or not, each of us has had a hand in the making of the problem(s) which cries out for a solution. We must stop looking for the causes of the worlds suffering in others. His Holiness Pope Francis writes, “We are witnessing the globalization of indifference, there is a culture of conflict which makes us think only of ourselves…We’ve become use to the suffering of others, it doesn’t effect me, no one in our world feels responsible. Who is responsible for the blood of our brothers and sisters? The refugees washed up on the shores of the Mediterranean? [In cages at the southern borders of our Nation?] ’I don’t have anything to do with it, must be someone else. Certainly it’s not me.’ Then who is responsible? Everyone is responsible.”
What is the place of the monastic, the contemplative, in all of this? What is the place of the truly spiritual person in all of this? Are we to simply resign ourselves to the worst? Should we simply fortify our spiritual centers, monasteries, churches, mosques, and synagogues, taking a hard-headed position in opposition to all opposing positions? Satisfying our “egos” with our meditations, yoga, prayer life, energy practices, and sense of piety and goodness, while millions of “our brothers and sisters” perish in the rush of ignorance, hatred, and greed?
There can be no question that unless the current culture of fear, the worship of money and power, and indifference is transformed, we will remain in a constant state of insanity and desperation; and the danger of catastrophe, either through war or increasing natural disasters, will continue to be imminent at every moment of our lives.
Do not misunderstand my passion to mean I have answers, this is a problem of terrifying complexity and magnitude, one that I myself do not see clear and decisive solutions. Yet I am convinced that you and I must be the pathway toward the abolition of this current state of affairs. That we must be active in every possible way of lowering the temperature of the debate, mobilizing all our resources for the healing of humanity, and the whole of Nature.
We must at least face this responsibility and do something about it. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote, “Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.” In whatever manner we find ourselves inspired to do our part, we must never allow others to deter us from our commitment to living lives of Peace, Loving-kindness, Compassion, and Benevolence. Prepared to restrain and transform our own instincts for violence and aggressiveness in our relations with other people. We must be vigilant, empowering ourselves and others to meet this most urgent challenge, engaging regular and consistent practices of meditation, prayer, and random and deliberate acts of good works. The survival of the human race and the natural world, the continuing life of the planet itself, depends upon it.
I believe that the modern monastic and truly spiritual persons are called to an openness to a radical personal and global transformation. We cannot continue to rely on the models of the past. We can no longer rely on institutions and structures which can be destroyed or changed in any moment. In the words of the dying Buddha, “Atta Dipa.” We must, “rely on ourselves”. We must, each of us, stand on our own two feet and “be the change we want for the world.”
We begin, by first understanding the psychological forces at work in ourselves and in society. “We are more together than we are alone,” and so let us take that first step and each following step together and, together I believe if not in my lifetime, someday we will “awaken the best of angels within us” and become The Pure-Land, The Kingdom of God, on Earth.
I Love You,
At all times whether we are aware of it or not, we live and exist in “A Circle of Grace”. The aim and objective of any Authentic Spiritual practice or training is, to develop an experiential awareness of our existence within this Circle at all times. At all times, no matter the current circumstance or situation Grace is always available to us unconditionally. We need only to be “aware” of its presence and reach within to be infused by its Loving power.
Never is there a moment in which we exist outside the Circle, or fall from It. But far too often we find ourselves unaware of our existence within the Circle. Because of this absence of awareness, we regularly forget “who we are” and, our “place in the Universe”. Because of this “forgetfulness,” we fall into roles contrary to our ”true nature,” behaving in manners contrary to our deepest desires; wandering, distracted from our true purpose and meaning for our lives. What follows is a measure of discontentment and suffering.
Grace, is relational by nature. While it is always offered “freely,” our “participation,” our “conscious awareness” is required. Given freely, we must accept and embrace It freely. To accept and embrace It freely, is to “live it”. To “live it” is to make it our central desire. Grace is a living being. Infused by It, we are transformed into truly living human-beings. Fully Enlightened. Compassionate. Loving-Beings.
Once infused what follows is a natural awakening and understanding of the real meaning and purpose of our lives. Love is that meaning, and Benevolence is, our purpose for existence. The Circle enjoins a Community of Enlightened Beings, Human Beings, Children of God, Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Mahasattvas. Together with all sentient beings, we exist to sustain and fulfill The Great Mystery of Life which began since the Beginningless Past. It is only through our full participation in this meaning and purpose for our lives we find our fulfillment. There is no other way. As Thomas Merton once wrote, “A tree gives glory to God be being a tree.” So by being Love and living a life which Benefits all beings, we realize our own glory.
The Circle is all inclusive. For everything, whether fully realized at the moment or not, are “parts of a Whole,” called The Circle of Grace. Each part brings to the Circle what is needed, and each contribution, each participant, is satisfied by what the other brings and in return what each participant brings to the other.
The Circle is Self-Sustaining, for within It there is only One-Self, one True-Self. Call it God, or Buddha, or by any other Name, It never ceases to be The Circle of Grace or in any way is it diminished or changed by what we call It, or perhaps buy our own doubts.
Therefore by Its True-Identity, Its True-Nature, we never need to fear, or worry, for no matter what part of The Circle we find ourselves in, there is The Circle of Grace in Its fullness. No part is lacking. No one is lacking. All are One. All that is required is our “Yes”.
I see you, I love you,
In a few weeks it will be my birthday. I will be older than I ever was in this lifetime, and younger than I will ever be again. Today my friend and brother asked me if having cancer has in any way altered or added to my view of life. I don’t know. The past is now a blur to me. I recall living it, but as for the details they are like a visionary flower in the sky.
I will say this. I believe more than I have ever believed that, Love is all there is. Love is all that matters in anyones lifetime. Whence we are born we begin to intuitively move towards Love. For some mysterious reason, unknown to me at least, as we grow older, other desires seem to get in the way. Then, for some of us at least, we grow old and at the same time find ourselves returning to that intuitive desire to Love and to Be Loved. If we are lucky, time and experience has transformed us by then to become Lovers.
“In the Beginning was The Word,” and that Word was Love. It created all sentient beings and the myriad forms of its only offspring, which is Life, precious, precious Life. It is Love which created the world and which sustains it. We humans are but only one form of Its expression. If today, given our current events, we do not wake up to the reality of Love, we will be gone. And I believe that the Universe will simply recreate itself in Its own Image. That image is – Love.
I do remember that when I was younger so many things mattered which today I realize was just youthful ignorance. I took so much for granted, especially time and the space I occupied within it. There is a Buddhist Dharani which remains dear to my heart. I recite at all public gatherings at the end of each gathering. “Allow me to respectfully remind you, Birth and Death is the Supreme Matter. Everything is of the nature of Impermanence. Gone, gone, forever Gone. Opportunity is too often lost. Do not, squander your life.” Oh, if only I had learned the full meaning of this Dharani earlier than I did. But, we are not to dwell on past failures or mistakes. Only to learn from them.
“Birth and Death is the Supreme Matter.” We are to reconcile our way of living, of being in the world, with the One un-negotiable, undeniable, Truth. We are Born, and we are sure to Die. Death comes to all of us. Buddha’s, Christ’s, Prophets, Good, Bad, this Truth does not discriminate. “Time” is merciless, and it too does not discriminate. Everything, everyone, is of “the nature of Impermanence”. From the moment we are Born we begin our path toward Death. Once Death arrives, we are, “Gone, gone, forever gone.” This life, this body, this person, I have come identify with and experience as fixed or permanent, is not.
Because we resist this reality more than anything else, “Opportunity is too often lost.” Too often lost! The opportunity to know Love. The opportunity to express Love. The opportunity to Be Love. The opportunity to be Loved. For it is Love which fulfills me. It is Love which satisfies me. It is Loving other which completes me. In our ignorance we “Squander” so much time, space, and opportunity.
One day we all arrive at that day we are, “Older than we ever have been in this lifetime, and younger than we will ever be again.” The Buddha taught that “every moment” “every now” is an opportunity to “Purify past Karma, and eliminate its effects on the present moment and the future.”
So, every moment, until the day we die, is in fact an opportunity to “learn the full meaning of this precious Dharani. “Carpe Diem,” “Seize the Moment” “Now”. If not Now, When?
I Love you,