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November 28, 2016

Back to The Future

by Seijaku Roshi

“In the twenty-first century if we ever expect to fully realize peace of mind and body, we must cultivate a way-of-living which transcends religious and political ideology, and detach from our expectations on governments and religious institutions of themselves to ever bring about the transformation which leads to a loving-kind and compassionate society; one which is deeply rooted in personal responsibility, the practices of contemplation, and moral or ethical living.” 

  Seijaku Roshi

Often visitors to Pine Wind mistaken the fundamental aim and objective of the Zen practice of turning the most commonplace activities of daily living, the mundane, into a thing of spiritual beauty capable of transforming this place and time into the Kingdom of Heaven with, what they often identify with as just rituals of “another religion”.  There is a saying, “You don’t have to be a monk to live like a monk,” and I say, “but you have to live like a monk” if you are ever going to fully realize true and sustainable peace of mind and body.  The whole world needs to become your Zendo, a place of contemplation and prayer, where inner and outer charity, forgiveness, and loving-kindness, is our religion and way-of-life.  The conventional paradigm for “religion” and “religious affiliation,” like that of “political ideologies” and “political affiliations” in the modern culture has failed us and, will not be sufficient for the future if we ever expect to realize what people often refer to as, “The Oneness of Things”.  We cannot ever expect to know for sure that we are One People, One Nation, or One World as long as we cling to the “identities of religion and politics” which too often serve to separate us from the other.  They re-direct our attention and demand that our focus be on our “differences” rather than our “commonality”.  Love, equality, compassion, kindness, justice, freedom, equanimity, and abundant prosperity are not religious beliefs or political ideologies reserved for just believers or party members, they are the very essence of all life and humanity.  They are qualities of what Buddhist refer to as Buddha-Nature.

“Lord of all pots and pans and things…Make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the plates”.  – Brother Lawrence. 

Zen spirituality or what I often refer to as “Authentic Spirituality” is about cultivating the vision to see the Kingdom of God everywhere by the way we prepare and eat our meals, clean our homes, wash the dishes, say hello and goodbye, and listen to and communicate with each other.  It has to do with living in a manner which takes us out of our egocentric consciousness that dominates most people’s moment by moment experience, creating the experience of separation and isolation from the rest, reconnecting us to both the divine and to each other.  It is only here, where we can possibly realize “The Kingdom of God on Earth,” or that, “this very place is The Pure Land, and this body, The Body of Buddha.”  As long as we limit our religious practices only to a specific day and time of the week, and a specific location and address, and certain holidays of the year, it is no wonder that the rest of the time we are hungry and thirsting for a deeper and profound experience of living.

The very purpose of religion was intended to be a means toward cultivating the ground for the unity of heart and mind in the individual, and the unity of the individual and God or the Divine; and finally but certainly not least of all, the “Unity of Saints” or unity with others.  Instead religion often creates disunity in the individual’s mind and heart and with his or her fellow saints.  It was intended to “lighten ones burdens,” instead it often proves to be a burden. It was intended to be the means of knowing God’s presence in the here and now, God’s Love and Mercy, instead it is preoccupied with guilt, blame and shame; a God of judgment and criticism rather than a God of Mercy or Forgiveness and, a Heaven after Earth.  Instead of uniting humanity into “The Kingdom of God on Earth,” it has managed to establish numerous Kingdoms and Principalities throughout history, and is often the principal cause for so much human pain and suffering. 

Instead of being places for refuge and retreat from the world, which is obsessed with self-gratification often mistaken for happiness; sanctuary’s where pilgrims may experience some peace and tranquility, our churches, synagogues, and wellness centers tend to be a circus of endless activity, programs, and obligatory meetings, which too often prove to only appease ego’s insatiable appetite for distraction, promoting self-indulgence.

The purpose of political parties, was intended to be a means for identifying one peculiar groups platform or vision for the nation from another’s, and to be a force for “uniting” that particular group’s effort toward making a better union according to that party’s vision.  Instead it has become a means toward dividing the nation, pitting one party against another with little regard for promoting the unity of the people, “One nation under God,” (e pluribus unum), while alienating and disenfranchising its most vulnerable.  Politics and politicking was intended to inform the masses as to the options available in a democratic society by giving people a choice.  Instead it turns the masses against each other creating chaos and confusion, resentment and fear, whose members too often mistaken “partisanship” or “nationalism” for “patriotism”.  Instead of being a call to, and a force for unity and change for the betterment, party politics has become a platform to demean, disgrace, blame, and shame, the opposition and, to distract the masses from the real issues which starve for the people’s attention.

“Why go looking for the world you want if you can create it?”

I have long been convinced, in the words of Pierre De Chardin, that we are “Spiritual beings immersed in a human experience. Our duty, as men and women, is to proceed as if limits to our ability did not exist. We are collaborators in creation.”   We are meant to “realize” the world we want, to “create” it, not to wait upon others whether they be “princesses or principalities” to create it for us.  We are not only responsible for what we want, we are responsible for what we get, including our leaders.  The world is either the making of our own creation or a creation of our complacency and indifference.  We take way too much for granted, especially our own inherent power to be the “masters of our destiny,” which is our birthright.  If we never wake up to how we have waisted precious time and energy depending on others to “lead us to the promise land,” we cannot expect to ever know the peace of mind and body which results in the clarity required to make our own way home and; we will always be nothing more than “citizens” in another’s world.

“Nowhere else but here and now, no other time than the present.”

Before Siddhartha would awaken to his own Buddhahood he realized that he needed to stop searching for the answers to his questions in persons, places, and things, and “drop anchor”.  On that historical day which led to his own awakening or enlightenment he realized that there was, “Nowhere else but here and now, no other time than the present.”  Enlightenment was not some future event that will take place “when”.  He knew in that moment, that he could no longer rely on others no matter how profound their insights, that he had to risk the possibility without any evidence or guarantees, to rely on his “true-self” if he was ever going to be free of his own personal suffering.  Siddhartha had exhausted himself and advanced beyond all horizons, where there were no directions to continue to travel.  He sensed that the journey itself was a myth, there was nowhere to go, that what he was in search of could only be discovered by sitting still.  That the discovery was right where he always was.  I do not mean any specific location or address but rather, he was the location the only place his journey was ever going to take him.

“Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.” ― Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Before he died the Buddha answered one last question from his monks and disciples, there feared what would happen to them after He was gone.  “What should we do?” they asked their Teacher; He replied, (Atta Dipa) “Rely on your self”.  The true spiritual journey begins when we stop searching for the answers in others, stop pursuing happiness in places and things, and drop anchor to train the mind or practice in learning to be happy, to “be content”; harnessing the only real power which lies within ourselves for Love, Transformation, Healing, Renewal, and Reconciliation.  The journey begins with the willingness to experience myself as cause for the results I want in my life and for the world; choosing to be my own solution for my discontentment and for the worlds suffering. 

”Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.”

In his book “Seeds of Contemplation” Thomas Merton writes, “You will never find interior solitude unless you make some conscious effort to deliver yourself from the desires and the cares and the interests of an existence in time and in the world.  Do everything you can to avoid the amusements and the noise and the business of men.”   Whenever you come to Pine Wind and enter Jizo-an Zendo you are expected to remove your shoes.  I tell people, “We are not trying to be Japanese.”  The tradition of “removing your shoes” is symbolic of “leaving the way of the world outside,” of not dragging in anything “you’ve picked up along the way” which might pollute your mind and your heart, let alone contaminate the sacred space you have entered.  “Keep your eyes clean, your ears quiet and your mind serene.”  The spiritual practices are not supplements to be taken after consuming a diet of greed, resentment, and indifference.  It requires real changes in your lifestyle.  The ways of the world will always prove to be insufficient toward any effort to liberate oneself from fear and anxiety.  Fear is the means by which the world, created by men, imprisons the hearts and minds of its citizens, entrapping them in the delusion of endlessly pursuing “more, better, and different,” an habitual behavior which results in anxiety, of which a constant diet of results in chronic illness and even early and sudden death.

Learning to be content with ourselves as we are, and our lives as they are, will require “simplicity” and, “minimalism” or learning to live with fewer material things.  The other day my 87-year-old Father commented on how he could not understand how he accumulated “so much stuff” over the years, while asking himself “Why?”  Why do we always have to “buy the next newest thing?”  That doesn’t mean there’s anything inherently wrong with owning material possessions. The problem lies in the meaning and value we assign to our stuff: we tend to give too much value in the pursuit of things and consuming things, often forsaking our health, our relationships, our passions, our personal growth, not to mention our spiritual life practices.

“The air we breath isn’t the only thing toxic.”

So where to begin?  There’s a lot of talk in the school of health and well-being these days about the power in detoxing the body as a requisite to any new diet or exercise program.  I’m all for detoxing but, “We breath in more than air and digest more than food.”  So here is a program for detoxing the mind and the heart:

  1. Avoid gatherings where people deceive and insult one another; exploit each other; criticize and mock each other, and make promises they never intend to keep.
  2. Turn off cable news.  Or if you must watch it, limit it to either just a few minutes a day or whenever it insults your soul or your intelligence.  And, always remember it’s not really News.
  3. Do not listen to radio or TV talk shows which exploit suffering for profit and promote self-indulgence and ignorance.
  4. Stop being obsessed with the way your body looks.  Take care of it only for the sake of taking care of the only means you have to be in the world.
  5. Stop ALL criticisms of yourself and others.  Just notice your mistakes and take care of business.  Anything else is a lie anyway.
  6. Detach from anything which upsets your heart and insults your soul.  Leave behind the people in your life who do not at all times love you unconditionally and, love others the way you want them to love you.
  7. Focus on what you have and do not waist a precious moment lamenting over who you don’t have.  This includes the people in your life who love you unconditionally.
  8. Love the one you are with.  But Really Love Them!
  9. Take care of yourself.  Take care of those you love, especially your children.  Take care of your house and possessions (the one’s you have no throne’s you don’t need to buy).  Take care of your job or your career; always give 100% of your effort and attention,  whether it’s a good day or not.
  11. Think of others everyday and how you can benefit them by your thoughts, words, and actions.

“Everything is of the nature of impermanence.” – Buddha

It’s gonna be OK.  You’re going to be OK.  We’ve been here before and in a lot worst times.  We are designed for this stuff.  To meet it, be challenged, and then find within ourselves everything we need to rise above it.  Really.  Really.

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing 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.” – Rumi

I’ll be waiting for you there, but not forever…

– Seijaku Roshi

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Nicole Belopotosky

Everyday Art Blog


San Francisco Bay Area portrait and nature photographer

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An educational website about the styling, care and display of bonsai.


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