Skip to content

May 27, 2016

“The Difference”

by Seijaku Roshi

“It’s Up to You!  It’s Always Been!  What Do You Want?”

In his book “A Monk in The World” Wayne Teasdale makes reference to one of several versions of a story told to me many years ago.  When I first heard it, it defined for me what I call “The Difference,” that one ingredient which separates novelty and authenticity.  My version tells the story of an encounter between a Zen master and one of his students.  The student in a rare opportunity approached the master challenging him about the notion of enlightenment.  “How is it possible to be truly free?”  “To live an unencumbered life, free of the mind’s distractions, worriments, and fear?”  The master invites the novice to walk with him and together they enter the forest surrounding the monastery.  The young person continues probing the master while he remains completely silent offering no response.  They eventually arrive at one of the lakes on the property and it is then the master speaks inviting his companion to join him as he cools off in the body of the lake.  No sooner they are waist deep in the lake and suddenly the master grabs the student and pushes him under the water, holding him there.  You can imagine the surprise and eventually the fear rising in the novice’s body.  It is almost to the moment when the student would naturally pass out and only then does his teacher lift him out of the water.  Gasping and kicking, obviously angry and afraid, he screams at the teacher, “What was that about?” “How could you do that to me?”  The Zen master walks to the shore with the screaming novice, shakes himself off and turns to the student saying to him, “When you truly want enlightenment as badly as you wanted your next breath, then and only then will all of your questions be answered and you will know the answers in your very body just as your body knew to choose life.”

There is a similar story about a young Hebrew who approaches a Rabbi, not just any Rabbi but Jesus of Nazareth.  He asks the Teacher, “How may I enter the Kingdom of God?”  (Now for Buddhist, Heaven and Nirvana are states of mind or consciousness, so he might as well have asked the same question as the Zen student.)  The Rabbi replies,“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your power and all your mind.  Second, love your neighbor as yourself.”  In other words, “When you truly want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of love and compassion, forgiveness, and harmony; when you want that so badly that your whole being hungers for it and you are ready to forget this false self you call your-self and love everyone as your true-self, you will find yourself in the Kingdom of God.” 

When Moses leads the people of God out of slavery into the Promise Land, he also answers the question by delivering the well known “Ten Commandments”.  The first among that ancient “Noble Path” is, “I AM, the Lord thy God, thou shall not have any other God’s before me.  Second, thou shall not create unto thee any idols and worship those idols before me.”  The first ingredient of any genuine spiritual path either for the Monk, the Spiritual Warrior, the layperson, is “renunciation”.  We are not going to find God or Buddha in the “idols” of the world, in great wealth, power, fame, or security.  We must first renounce the idols of “greed, hatred, and folly” and leave Egypt, make the journey required, and then “practice” and never stop “practicing” the Noble Path.

So if all of the Masters, Teachers, Buddha’s, and Messiahs have said the same thing, then why do we keep doing it differently? 

In his book titled “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism” the late Chogyam Trungpa wrote, “We have come here to learn about spirituality.  I trust the genuine quality of this search but we must question its nature.  The problem is that ego can convert anything to its own use, even spirituality.”  I have never been satisfied with the notion that all that I am are feelings and emotions, or just a body which is aging and has already gotten sick and met the fact of its own mortality on several occasions and will continue to, or that the purpose of my everyday living is the “pursuit of happiness”.  “Spirituality” is about something deeper and more profound than the novelty or just another means toward self-gratification called and packaged as “Spirituality”.  I tell anyone who will listen when they first come to Pine Wind, “Ego got you here, it will not keep you here.”  More accurately the novelty will run thin after a while and if as one of my monks calls it, there is “no depth” to your pursuit, you’ll find yourself “in pursuit” again and again, until your entire lifetime is nothing more than the “pursuit of happiness” and never really being happy.

In America and around the globe today people continue to try to find real meaning for their lives and a grounded sense of true-identity.  As Americans we are naturally fascinated by and attracted to the “novelty of freedom,”  but like many people who have entered this Temple and the one’s before it, when the novelty and fascination begins to wear off and the realities of what it will take to be truly free begin to become evident, the numbers in the audience also begin to thin.  We want freedom but we don’t want the work that’s involved, just like we want loving relationships but we don’t want to work at it.  So when the novelty of being in love wears off and the honeymoon is over so many of us just cut and run.  We will elect anyone, anyone, who promises to do the work for us offering us their magical solution to a most complicated problem, a problem which cannot be solved by just any one person.  We are all in this together and it will take all of us.  We’ll spend any amount of money on that promise of an easy magical solution, that spiritual diet pill, that corporate guru, anyone who will offer us “Mac-enlightenment”; it tastes great on our palates, but in the end always proves to be fattening.  Someone once said, “It’s beautiful underneath the ocean, but if you stay there too long you will drown.”

Charlotte Joko Beck probably one of the greatest American Zen Masters of the 20th Century once wrote, “In the end all enlightenment really is, is growing up…we’re constantly waking up to what we’re about, what we’re really doing in our lives. And the fact is, that’s painful.  But there’s no possibility of freedom without this pain.”  Like the prophets of ancient Biblical times, Moses, Jesus, the Buddha, Rumi, they all took us in a direction we don’t want to go.  Everyone wants to go to the promised land but would rather not make the journey.  Everyone wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die.  “But there’s no possibility of freedom without pain.”  There’s no enlightenment without real transformation.  And no one gets into heaven with the stuff of hell. 

Every one of us without exception are “Parts of a Whole, called by us Universe.” Einstein wrote.  We are trapped in what often appears as an endless delusion: Ego-delusion.  We have forgotten who we all truly are and what we truly are.  We have lied to ourselves for so long that we don’t see the truth even when it is all around us.  Einstein also wrote, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.”, and “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.”  Whenever we try we become the dog chasing its tail because the mind which created the problem will not be capable of seeing the solution even when its right in front of it. 

The first step on the Path of a Spiritual Warrior is “change,” the second step is “change,” the third and fourth and fifth and so on.  Until finally we’ve changed so much we’ve become who we really were in the beginning.  And you will know that has happened when it does, through and through in your “all your mind, all your body, and all your soul.”

I love you,

– Seijaku Roshi

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Note: HTML is allowed. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to comments

Nicole Belopotosky

Everyday Art Blog


San Francisco Bay Area portrait and nature photographer


Pure food rules. Artificiality drools.

Awesomely Awake

A field guide to living an intentional, creative and fun life -- with children.

%d bloggers like this: