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August 29, 2012

Mending the Tear in the Fabric of Humanity

by Seijaku Roshi
“Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”  – John F. Kennedy

When all is said and done, no matter one’s political, cultural, or religious identity, the reality is that we are all breathing the same air.  The same life force runs through the veins of a Christian or a Jewish person, a Republican or a Democrat, a Caucasian or a Person of Color.  Right now President Obama and the House Speaker are breathing the same air, and their life span is governed by the same Life Force.  When all is said and done, we have more in common than we don’t.  In the words of President Kennedy, “We all cherish our children’s future.”  In the words of his Holiness the Dalai Lama, “Because we all share this planet earth, we have to learn to live in harmony and peace with each other and with nature. This is not just a dream, but a necessity.”

Regularly I hear people say, “We are all one.” It certainly doesn’t seem like it when you turn on the news anymore, not only when our political leaders speak but also the when the people in the audience speak. Most, not all of the people, who have come to Pine Wind over the years, and Jizo-an in Cinnaminson, tend to look for the differences not the commonality of the message. As the lyrics of the song says, “They come to hear but never listen.”

Our entire planet finds itself these days in what I call “survival mode”, and rightfully so. I know what it is to have one’s day consumed with just needing to survive, to keep ones head above the water, and the fear it generates about so much uncertainty. We are all struggling just to get by, to pay the bills, and to maintain any sense of hope for the future, not to mention “our children”. This is a most difficult time with difficult problems to solve. But all of our problems are man-made, and so they can be solved by man.

But there is one problem too often overlooked, or placed on the back burner, when “times get tough”. Webster defines “humanity” as, “the quality of being humane; kindness; benevolence; sympathy, tenderness, goodwill.” What makes us human is not just the power of the intellect, but something about us which the Buddha identified as “being human”. We humans possess the greatest capacity for loving-kindness, generosity, compassion, and so much more. At the same time we also possess the greatest capacity and ability to destroy ourselves, nature, and life as we know it. No other species except possibly a “virus” has such capacity, (but a virus cannot help itself, it can’t make a choice – we can).

At all times we are operating from either an “open heart” (Buddha-Mind, God-Likeness, Christ-likeness, Love), or in times of great struggle, “survival mode” (a basic primordial response to the experience of fear). Too often we tend to accept that in the darkest hour, as they say, “all is fair in love and war.” We tend to so easily accept that, behavior that is unpleasant or not fair, or even malicious, is somehow acceptable or justified during an argument or competition or, to survive either a real or perceived threat to one’s life. For the truly spiritual person, this is like taking two steps forward and ten steps backwards.

Authentic spirituality can never be reduced to simply an intellectual theory or formula. This has been the fundamental problem with “religion” in the world. Most people “intellectually” believe in God, the basic religious tenets of their particular faith, but never reach what the Buddhist would call “enlightenment”, simply because spirituality or being religious must, be rooted in our “experience”. That is to say it’s in the walk, not the talk. The world around us including the personal circumstances of our lives, will always be changing. There will always be “good times and bad times” and, our experience however is never just a function of these changes but is always tempered by where we are on our journey. I remain a firm believer that, this doesn’t mean our “humanity” has to change as well. For the authentic spiritual practitioner or religious person, “All, is not fair in love, and certainly war.” When tough times come around we need to go to the center, that place of the human heart, not off on some political, philosophical, or religious mountain.

From Buddha to Jesus we see the potential each of us inherently possess to rise above any difficulty, take on any adversity, and meet any challenge, without having to surrender our “humanity”. The Buddha, Christ, the Prophets, St. Francis, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and all the rest faced impossible odds and similar adversity, yet never “lost their center”. Or, if they did recovered it before any more was lost. In my life, especially the last nine months where I have experience some of the worst suffering, when all is said and done, no matter how many times I have “lost it”, I always return to the same place. As Lennon wrote, “The long and winding road, always leads me to your door.” The door that opens to what Rumi called, “Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing there is a field, I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase each other, doesn’t make any sense.”

skilful and at the same time hold us up, pick us up, and will not allow us to forget who we are. Jesus taught, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We certainly don’t see that in all the political rhetoric. Why do we keep nominating and electing political figures, in both isles, that always want to “hurt our neighbors” or “leave them behind”. The Buddha taught, “A family is a place where minds come in contact with one another. If these minds love one another, the home will be as beautiful as a flower garden. But if these minds get out of harmony with one another it is like a storm that plays havoc with the garden.” When will we insist that our leaders live up to our national identity, “The United States of America”? When will we stand firmly on the principal that, whatever we do to the least among us we do to all of us?

We must, we can only, resolve these man-made problems, by beginning with ourselves. Only you and I can be the catalyst for real and sustainable change. We cannot be complacent or lazy. This is the hour to get to work. Any authentic spirituality is work. We can begin by replacing old habits that habitually show up and keep going “ten steps backwards”, with some of these:

  • Start with “one thing” (at a time) about your behavior you would like to change. Work on it until you have achieved your goal. His Holiness the Dalai Lama says, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” If you think you are not capable of bringing real change for the better, that’s part of the habitual conditioning you must change. Maybe that’s where you need to start.
  • Be Deliberate. Don’t just see it as another “chore” or “something to do”. Do it as if “your life depended on it”. Because it does! Not only your life!
  • Finish What You Start. A lot of people speak about their lives feeling “incomplete”. I often to them “it is”, when you never “complete what you start”. Don’t move on to the next thing until you completed the very thing you are working on now.
  • Simplify. As the song says, “It’s a gift to be simple…” We do too much everyday of our lives and never seem to have enough time to do it all. Most of what we invest our energy into is a “waste of our time and attention”. Take inventory – Simplify!
  • Widen the space between this thing and that thing. In the beautiful artwork of Sumi-e painting, the master teaches, “Don’t paint the lines, paint the space between the lines.” It is that space which brings it alive. Slow down you keep moving too fast. Create space between you and the next thing you have to do. If you simplify you’ll not only have less to do and get everything you really want to do done, you’ll also have time to breathe.
  • Ritual awakens the beauty within us and all around us. We need a deeper appreciation of the place ritual has not only in the church or synagogue, or the zendo, but in our own homes and daily lives. Everything in zen training has a ritual because it keeps us connected to the deeper and more profound place within us and in the Universe.
  • Prioritize. Designate or make times of the day just for certain things. Map out your day so that “the things that really matter” are never neglected or pushed aside for “busyness”.
  • MEDITATE. “Even if the sun were to rise in the West, the authentic spiritual practitioner, knows one way.” Every day for the rest of your life MEDITATE! Even if for just 5 minutes.
  • Be Generous. Most of us find ourselves pulling in during these times, when we should be helping wherever we can. Dana (generosity) is the bedrock of any authentic spiritual practice, and fundamental to all Buddhist teachings.

“When we practice generosity, many supportive qualities of mind are being developed that lead us to ever-deepening happiness and freedom. We are cultivating loving kindness because we are caring for the welfare of others. We are cultivating compassion because we want to alleviate any suffering. We are cultivating the understanding of interconnectedness because we realize that we depend on the generosity and kindness of others, and they also depend upon ours. Most of all, we are cultivating non-attachment, the ability to let go, which is essential to understanding and experiencing freedom from suffering.”

  • Be Helpful. Whenever we are helpful toward others, we may not realize it but we are helping ourselves as well. As we get older, science has proven that longevity is best supported by the knowledge of being needed and wanted. So help yourself to a longer life, get out and be helpful wherever you can.
  • Smile when you do that. Smile even when you are cleaning the toilet. Whatever you do, do it with gratitude and excellence. This practice cultivates confidence and the ability to see the sacred everywhere. No need to look for God or Buddha, they are within us, and are best realized in how we do whatever we are doing.
  •  Eat only the foods that say I Love You. The Buddha said, “You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” You can only give to the world or any person for that matter, what you have. If you do not take care of yourself the world won’t believe it matters to you, therefore the world will not take care of you. As the title of the movie says, “Eat (well), Pray (meditate), and Love (be kind to your body it’s the only one you get.)
  • Think about, Talk about, and act only on what is Necessary. Think for a moment about all the things we think about, talk about, and invest our energy into. Now consider how much of that is really necessary. Now consider how much more you would achieve when you focus on only what is necessary. Think about all of the stuff in your house. Now how much of it do you really require or need. Then think about how much money you would have today if you only purchased what you really needed. I know I do. I could retire today. When you focus on only what is necessary, you make room for what is essential for your life, what is most important to you.
  • Always Love, Always Forgive, Always Learn. The three essential ingredients for what the Buddhist call, “The Supreme Meal”. Your Life. Always love yourself and others. Whenever you’re not loving yourself and others, you’re robbing yourself of the best things in life. Always forgive yourself and others. Say to yourself the next time you are criticizing yourself or another person, “Just another lie.” None of us have a clue, so why pretend you do. Always be learning. “In the beginners mind there are many possibilities. In the experts there are few.” According to Science learning something everyday also adds years to our life.

So this is what I’ve learned and what I am still learning. Oh there is one more thing…Don’t give up your dream for anyone!

– Seijaku Roshi

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