“Love seeks one thing only: the good of the one loved. It leaves all the other secondary effects to take care of themselves. Love, therefore, is its own reward.”
You and I are designed for relationship, we are born to be “in relationship” with everyone and everything else. The purpose of life, and if we are ever going to find any meaning, is found in relationship, living my life as a benefit for others. “Community is the Spirit, the Guiding Light…” which when lived functions as a compass, a means of navigating through a reality marked by impermanence and uncertainty. Thomas Merton wrote, “It is therefore of supreme importance that we consent to live not for ourselves but for others. When we do this we will be able first of all to face and accept our own limitations. As long as we secretly adore ourselves, our own deficiencies will remain to torture us with an apparent defilement. But if we live for others, we will gradually discover that no one expects us to be ‘as gods’. We will see that we are human, like everyone else, that we all have weaknesses and deficiencies, and that these limitations of ours play a most important part in all our lives. It is because of them that we need others and others need us. We are not all weak in the same spots, and so we supplement and complete one another, each one making up in himself for the lack in another.”
Community is not just some nice sentimental idea or romantic notion but a force for fulfillment and sustainability. It is a context which naturally creates confidence, courage, true self-esteem, contentment, and love as the content of our lives. Community is the only conducive environment for personal and global fulfillment and spiritual practice.
Enlightenment, is to live one’s life at the level of full self-expression. The work of “being spiritual” is to discover who I am and realize my true self. The first step toward Enlightenment begins with the realization that, “Who I think I am is not” that the self I call “myself” is conditional or what Buddhist call “the conditioned self” and is not my “true self”. This self is who I have come to identify with after years of cultural, social, religious and political conditioning, including the most unyielding of all false identifications, identification with my parents. My happiness as well as my emotional and psychological maturity and well-being is dependent on distinguishing between this self I call myself which is conditional, and who I truly am. Our hearts will remain restless until we do.
In his book, “The Book of Awakening” Mark Nepo quotes Parker J. Palmer who writes, “The spiritual life is about becoming more at home in your own skin.” Nepo says, “The aim of all spiritual paths, no matter their origin or the rigors of their practice, is to help us live more fully in the lives we are given.” This is contrary to most contemporary spiritual approaches which are too often rooted in emotional greed, resentment, or what Chogyam Trungpa called, “Spiritual Materialism”.
There is another saying older than Palmers, “When the student is ready the teacher appears.” Here the reference to the “teacher” may or may not necessarily be a person. We are to understand that, “Life” as it is showing up in our lives and in the world is “the teacher”. As a young Catholic I remember the Sisters and Priests often saying, “God never gives us more than we can handle.” If both sayings are true, and I believe they are, then the only matter left is whether or not the student is going to attend class.
“We say Buddha Nature pervades the entire Universe or God is Omniscient, Everywhere. Therefore we cannot say, “Not now” or “Not here.” For wherever we are there is Buddha or God. In Zen we do not look for Buddha or God outside ourselves, they are within us. We are the gateway. Everywhere we are is The Pure Land, the Kingdom of God. What are you waiting for? If not now, when?”
- Seijaku Roshi
I often say that in our modern world, “A persons word is equal to their excuses.” It would also follow that, “A persons potential is equal to their excuses.” This would include our potential for real changes in our lives which would result in ending our pursuit of and search for what is and always has been with us, and finally enjoying our birthright — joy, contentment, and love. The only thing that prevents us from “here and now” is our deluded perceptions of “when and where”.
“Quintessential for any resolution to the global suffering we are witnessing in our world today is clearly communion with others. We cannot expect any change, any relief, any sustainable resolve until we learn the lessons of sharing our life, our gifts, our blessings with others. Until we break the containment of our very small points-of-views, our egocentric approaches to spirituality, and become part of a larger vision for ourselves and the world, nothing will change and suffering will continue to compound.” – Seijaku Roshi
A students asked his master, “What follows Enlightenment?’, the master replied, “A lifetime of benefiting others, and oh yes, ten thousand more hours of meditation.” In his book “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism”, Chogyam Trungpa wrote, “We have come here to learn about spirituality. I trust the genuine quality of this search but we must always question its nature. The problem is that ego can convert anything to its own use. Ego is constantly attempting to acquire and apply the teachings of spirituality for its own benefit.”
“Prosperity cannot be measured by possessions. It can be measured only by who you are in the process of attaining them. Most people ignore what they do to themselves because they are driven exclusively by what they think, they want from the world and from others. Their focus is object bound, purely external. This false prosperity, created by the ego mind, is unconscious prosperity. Otherwise known as success…”
Synonymous with the word “squander” is “to scatter”, which means, “to throw loosely about, distribute at irregular intervals.” Squandering ones life is to live ones life “unconsciously” without “awareness”, and certainly not “on purpose”. Nothing robs us more of any opportunity for authenticity and meaning.
The reason so many people who have so much still pursue more, better, or different, is a function of what happens to us when our focus shifts from “what really matters” and becomes “object bound”. When we forget that the solutions to our lives as well as the worlds are never going to be found “in the world”, they are “within us”, suffering (stress and anxiety) compounds.
One of the many myths about Buddhist spirituality is the notion that all desires or desiring is “bad”, and that the aim of meditation is to eradicate desiring. When reciting the (four) Bodhisattva Vows for All the third vow is, “Desires are inexhaustible, I vow to end them.” An impossible promise, therefore what do we do with this cause for suffering? Robert Aiken, Roshi teaches us, “I have heard people say, “I cannot recite these vows because I cannot hope to fulfill them.” Actually, Kanzeon, the incarnation of mercy and compassion, weeps because she cannot save all beings. Nobody fulfills these “Great Vows for All,” but we vow to fulfill them as best we can. They are our practice.”
Zen-Buddhism teaches that the key to cessation from suffering begins with understanding how Mind is operating from moment to moment, by becoming intimately familiar with its nature and, what we call “the bureaucracy of ego”. All sentient begins live life from an ego-centric point of view (“regarding everything only in relation to oneself; self-centered.”- dictionary.com) where one experiences themselves as separate from other beings, other dharma’s. Zen-Buddhism refers to this bureaucracy as “ego-delusion”. All suffering, stress, and anxiety, fear and worriment, low self-confidence, a sense of personal lacking, are a function of “ego-delusion”. This is when ego-mind is running a story based on the delusion of separation.
This experience of separation also includes everything I perceive I need to be happy or satisfied. Ego perceives all needs and solutions to one’s life as existing “apart from the being”, therefore – “the pursuit of happiness”. Whenever we feel stress or anxious it’s because ego is convinced that I lack something and I don’t know where to find it, so I go looking for it. What follows is a never-ending pursuit of happiness, looking in all the wrong places. There’s an old familiar fable about this. “One day the god’s of Olympia got together for a conference. The
god’s were concerned that human-beings if allowed near the Truth would harm it. So they deliberated on where they could hide the Truth in order that humans would never find it. You could imagine the suggestions. One suggested high on the highest mountain top; another in the deepest part of the ocean; another among the stars, and so on. Everyone also agreed that someday humans would travel to all those places. Finally (And isn’t always the way in these stories?), the oldest among them stood and said, “I have the perfect place! Humans would never consider looking for it there, and even if they do go there they won’t believe it. Let’s place the Truth in each of them.” They all agreed and remain correct until this day.
Whenever Buddhist talk about “suffering” it refers to a state of mind – anguished, stressed, worried, and delusional. In resolving “suffering” for ourselves and others we begin by recognizing that “the suffering is within us”. It is not happening “to me” as if someone else is doing it to me, it is my perception (“the process by which an organism detects and interprets information from the external world by means of the sensory receptors.” – dictionary.com) my interpretation of what is happening in the world around me. This is not some “denial” about the external events or triggers, but understood as an “interpretation” of the events, not based on fact as much as my ideas, beliefs, and/or expectations, which are always personal. Next, we look at what it is we are “desiring” in order to resolve the suffering, and ask ourselves, “Will it really resolve the suffering?” If not we apply the Teachings of “Right View”, “Right Thought or Intention”, “Right Speech”, and “Right Action”, (The Eightfold Noble Path, the Buddha’s “prescription for cessation from suffering.) It could go something like this:
- Am I seeing this from every possible point-of-view?
- What is my real intention? Do I want to be freed up or do I want to be stuck in resentment, blame, shame, etc.? In other word do I want a solution or revenge?
- If someone were speaking to me that way would I want reconciliation? Are my self-criticisms loving, compassionate, kind, or am I not prisoner of my own words, judge and jury, and executioner all at the same time?
- #3 just replace speech with actions.
Whenever I find myself “suffering”, I am always telling myself a story. When I examine the story, usually “Stephen King” is somewhere in there. No wonder I’m afraid. So I have a choice, I can either keep reading Stephen King’s story in the darkness of ego-delusion, or stop reading the story all together, or rewrite the story with loving, forgiving, compassionate, kinder thoughts and words. There is another choice but after nearly forty-years of teaching I find it to be almost impossible for people to choose, including me at times – “Stay out of your head!”, “Don’t indulge the stories!” Part of our conditioning has taught us that “life is a story” we tell ourselves or others. No it’s not. Life is always happening outside the story, the story we tell ourselves and others is just an “interpretation” of what happened. Once you really know this to be true about life, you realize that there really is a whole “way-of-living” where you get to write the script and act in your own life. It goes something like this:
- Beings are numberless, I vow to love them all.
Another impossible promise, but with “right intention”, we arouse skillful effort, and with “right desire” our “way-of-living” this way, outside the story, extends us beyond the limits of our personal identities. Which are also delusional.
I Love you, (No not “you” – YOU!)
Albert Einstein wrote, “I fear the day when technology overlaps with our humanity. The world will only have a generation of idiots.” The dictionary defines “idiot” as, “an utterly foolish and senseless person.” Ring any bells? Recently on a talk show another scientist pointed out that the internet and modern technology, such as smartphones and personal computers, and MAC, are intended to be tools for connecting us and bringing our world closer together. The results have been exactly the opposite. It is not my intention to knock Apple or Microsoft, I too enjoy these sometimes magical inventions of the 20th and 21st Century that continue to rise out of the evolving consciousness of mankind. No, this article is about the “humanity” part of Einsteins words.
“The ultimate aim of the spiritual life, is not to be happier or more peaceful , it has to do with the perfection of the character of the being.” – Seijaku Roshi
Spirituality is a Way of Living one’s life based on character, honor, integrity, and service. It is the life of the Spiritual Warrior who lives his or her life by higher standards than the average person. A life guided by the “Principle of Identity”, rooted in virtue, and a genuine sense of benevolence towards all sentient beings.
In The Principle of Identity, I discuss the markings of a truly spiritual life which play an essential role in the warriors lifestyle. It is the spiritual warrior’s view that every human being possesses an inherent character or fundamental nature of Loving-kindness, Compassion, and Wisdom. This Nature can only be cultivated through a serious commitment to train the mind through meditation, adapting and living by ancient principles and practices, and benevolent service or living ones daily life as a benefit for others, so that it radiates out into the world. The warrior does not leave his or her character to chance. Over the years he or she understands that they will meet unexpected circumstances and situations which will challenge them and, that early on in life fear left unchecked, can and will weaken it.
“Happiness is imperative for my health and well-being, the health and well-being of others, and the sustainability of the species. But so often our attempts to find happiness end up causing more pain to ourselves and others, because we keep looking for it in all the wrong places.” – Seijaku Roshi
The global crises in our world today is not an “economic crises”, but rather an “identity crises”. We are living in the “culture of not enough for everyone”, not because there “is not enough for everyone”, but because we have created a dualistic mentality whereby there is always enough for some but not enough for everyone. Abundance is the true spirit and the essence of all life. (Not the abundance people mean when their spirituality is about “their next Mercedes”.) I call this the “Spirituality of Enough”. I believe the “spirituality of enough” is “self-evident”. We need only to, “Behold the lily’s of the field, and the birds of the air.” By “enough” I mean not only enough for the basic necessities of life, but also “enough time”; “enough patience”; “enough understanding”, “a big enough heart”.