The Journey – Rebuilding The World On A Spiritual Foundation
I choose to live the “life of a monk” not because I wish to go to heaven after I am finished here, or because I want to accumulate enough good karma to somehow escape the wheel of samsara or suffering; or because I believe, which I do not, that somehow the Universe is my personal ATM or offers me “The Secret” to abundance or prosperity, but because everything inside me has always and, continues to convince me that, thus is the better way.
I cannot remember a time in my life since I was seven years old that my vocation did not call me to, “Dare to seek on the margin of society,” to live Nobly, Grounded in Virtue, Honor, and a sense of Benevolent Responsibility to the World. A vocation I believe not limited to priests, rabbi’s, or those in religious life. Like Albert Einstein, I have always and continue to, “Desire only to know the thoughts of God. Everything else, is simply details.”
Today we are confronted with what seems like a world in disintegration. We have within our power not only the complete destruction of the human species, but the planet as well. Alienation and polarization continue to dominate society and compound suffering for so many. Our political leaders with the exception of a few brave statesmen and women, continue to fuel the fires of hatred and resentment, choosing party over country, the past over the future, and their own self-serving, self-righteous agendas over the welfare of the people. So many “God Fearing,” Americans continue to “Love God,” while hating the “Children of God,” indifferent to suffering and the causes of suffering; the poorest members of our society; victims of injustice, discrimination, and a culture of greed which continues to promote economic inequality. The continued inability of our leaders to take decisive actions to the violent disintegration of our cities, massive violations of basic human rights as well as constitutional rights, the decline of universal access to health care and a real education and, real and dangerous threats caused by the destruction of the natural world, all mark a society on a path to eventual extinction.
My “spirituality” has never discriminated between the “Things of Heaven and the Things of Earth.” Fundamental to my beliefs and the Teachings of Zen is that, “This place where we live is The Pure Land. It is The Kingdom of Heaven.” Spirituality is not a path toward a Heaven apart from Earth which one arrives at in some distance future. Spirituality is the work of the Monk, or the Mystic, the life of the Contemplative, to sort out the distinctions between those “thoughts, points-of-view, and behaviors which cause suffering,” and those thoughts, points-of-view, and behaviors, which cause “cessation from suffering”. Spirituality is the means by which we realize and actualize the Things of Heaven on Earth, like “seeds of consciousness,” manifesting Love, Kindness, Compassion, and Benevolent Responsibility, everywhere and toward everyone.
“You do not have to be a monk to live like a monk but, you have to live like a monk.”
I would shout these words from the rooftops if I could, or perhaps the mountaintops if there were mountains in southern New Jersey. As the rising of the Sun awakens the world to the possibilities of a “new day,” it is the “lifestyle of the monk,” the “life of the contemplative” which awakens the world to the possibilities of a “new world”. It is the contemplative who lives his or her life as an expression of all sentient beings true meaning and true purpose for existence; in doing so cultivates the ground for our hearts to receive the seeds of wisdom and the essential nourishment which is love, supporting and sustaining all life.
“Even if the Sun were to rise in the West, the Bodhisattva knows only one-way.”
Each of us share a singular meaning and purpose for our existence. While we may express and manifest that purpose in our own unique way, it is a shared and common purpose, shared by all sentient beings. The meaning for our very existence, the very fact that we are born at a specific hour, on a specific day, of a specific month, of a specific year, is to live our lives “authentically.” It was Thomas Merton who wrote, “A tree gives glory to God by being a tree.” What the world needs is “authenticity.”
It follows that the “purpose” for our lives which I have always believed to be “self-evident,” if you have the eyes to see, is a common purpose. Like the Eco-systems of the natural world, a world each of us are a part of, (even though we live as if the opposite is true), each part of that system exists to support each and every other part of the system, nourishing and supporting the entire forest; we are born to “live our lives as a benefit to others.” It is because “our modern culture of individualism which cultivates greed in the hearts of men and women” and which informs so many human actions and decision, that suffering continues to compound. The only solution is to awaken to the reality of our “interconnectedness,” and “interdependency,” which is our only true-reality. Because we “live unrealistic lives with unrealistic priorities and unrealistic expectations,” history continues to repeat itself and human-life continues for so many to “be the way it always has.” What the world needs is “benevolence”.
I first met Thomas Merton after he died. It was around the same time I fully realized my vocation which he called, “Seeking on the margin of society”. While my memory fails me as to how I first came to read his words, it was Merton’s book “Seeds of Contemplation” which spoke deeply to me and, today those very same words continue to inform my life and my practice. I knew immediately I had met a kindred spirit, someone who understood “my experience” which first gave life to my vocation at the very young age of seven and later shaped and formed by much of Merton’s teachings; he was someone who understood me better than anyone, perhaps even myself. Merton, became my spiritual mentor helping me to understand, what only someone who has travelled to “the margin of society,” can understand. In 1968 while attending a most historical gathering of both Catholic and Buddhist monks in Bangkok, Merton addressed his brother and sister monks with these words:
“…I stand among you as one who offers a small message of hope, that first, there are always people who dare to seek on the margin of society, who are not dependent on social acceptance, not dependent on social routine, and prefer a kind of free-floating existence under a state of risk. And among these people, if they are faithful to their own calling, to their own vocation, and to their own message from God, communication on the deepest level is possible. And the deepest level of communication is not communication, but communion. It is wordless. It is beyond words, and it is beyond speech and beyond concept.”
During that same talk, Merton quoted a Tibetan monk fleeing the horrors of the Communist invasion of Tibet:
“From now on, Brother, everybody stands on his own two feet…We can no longer rely on being supported by structures that may be destroyed at any moment by a political power or a political force. You cannot rely on structures. They are good and they should help us, and we should do the best we can with them. But they may be taken away, and if everything is taken away, what do you do next?”
The five major institutions in rural sociology are “political, educational, economic, family and religion.” Since the dawn of civilization and society, human beings have come to rely on these institutions to inform their social relationships and to meet such basic needs as stability, and law and order. I am convinced that we can no longer be so dependent on their fractured state of affairs we are currently witnessing. It is most certainly time for each of us to heed the words of Thomas Merton, “From now on, Brothers and Sisters, everybody stands on his or her own two feet.” It is up to each of us individually to find Noble Ground and stand their whether our political leaders stand there with us or not. (We can begin by electing candidates which are “statesmen and women” and not just members of commerce); to educate ourselves on the “facts” that are real and true, (Which will require us to step outside our comfort zones of dependency on social media and cable news as our only sources of information.); to establish personal and global economic stability by ending the culture of “consumerism” and learning to live more simply and within our current means; and to learn to better appreciate and care for our families as well as the global family of mankind, and finally to move from a religion of beliefs toward a religion of action, engagement, rooted in a real compassion for others, and one which is inclusive.
The Way of Zen
Fundamental to Zen spirituality or as I prefer to call it, “Authentic Spirituality” is the emphasis on “personal responsibility.” We understand that no Buddha, Zen Master, Sage, Prophet, Holy man or Holy woman, not even God can save us; awaken us from a lifetime of ego-delusion. Only we can. At the moment of his death the Buddha told his disciples, “Atta Dipa” translated, “Rely On Yourself.” He continued, “You are the Light, You are the Dharma, Rely on Yourself.” Each of us are to “Be a Light Unto Ourselves,” and to those who may have not yet realized this for themselves, “a Lantern to Light Their Pathway Home.” While the Buddha may have laid down a “support system” which he referred to as, “The Three Refuges,” where we can “find refuge” when needed, (Buddha-Nature, Dharma Teachings, Community and/or Sangha), we must make this journey “on our own two feet”; side by side, hand in hand, supporting and empowering each other to continue, to never give up, until “all beings are free of sorrow and suffering and the causes of sorrow and suffering”; Until The Pure Land, The Kingdom of Heaven, is realized and home to all who inhabit this great planet.
“From the moment we are born, we are by nature relational beings.”
“Community is the spirit, the guiding light, whereby people come together to fulfill a purpose, to help others fulfill their purpose, and to take care of one another.”
“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone, we find it with another.”
“The whole world needs to find its way toward “life together,” toward life in “community” with one another.”
In any Authentic Spiritual Community we come together to fulfill a shared purpose, supporting and empowering each other in making our way to “the margins of society,” toward “life together”.
Community celebrates diversity, embracing each others uniqueness, with each person committed to helping others to “fulfill their purpose.” Finally, Community is that place of refuge where I am always confident that I will be “taken care of,” “welcomed,” and “appreciated,” as well as encourage and empowered to continue on the path of “becoming” the fullest of who I am and who I can be.
Regrets, I may have a few, but too few to mention… Except this One.
I am convinced that in the end of a man or woman’s life the greatest disappointment he or she will face at that moment, will not be “what they did or didn’t do,” “what they said or didn’t say,” or any of the other “regrets” people may think; It will most certainly be,“having lived someone else’s life, the life of an imposter.” To never fully realize and manifest “True-self” in ones lifetime; that self which was born for the singular purpose to “express and manifest its own enlightenment in the world,” is the greatest regret. With singular intention and devotion to “awaken and fully realize who one truly is” and to learn how to “express ones true-self in the world as a benefit for the entire world,” this is the true joy, this is “cessation from discontentment and suffering”.
Rebuilding on a Spiritual Foundation
“I am learning to be content.”
While the whole world is striving for “this or that,” the contemplative understands that the spiritual life is not to be seen in terms of “either-or.” Like all life forms we are all “perfectly imperfect Buddha’s,” “complete while always on a path toward becoming.” Life, and living spiritually are to “be lived,” “experienced,” “a journey to be travelled”. Our “practice” or “training” is about “learning to be content, with the contradictions,” the paradoxes we will and do encounter throughout our lifetime. We must move from viewing ourselves and the world from a “right” or “left” position toward standing and holding it all from a “middle position,” in “equanimity”. In his book “The Signs of Jonah” Merton wrote,
“I find myself traveling toward my destiny in the belly of a paradox.”
The contemplative does not seek answers or to conclude anything along the way, for he or she understands that, “This moment is complete and at the same time is passing away in order to become.” The contemplative seeks only to “travel” and to “experience the questions,” to embrace every moment along the way “exactly as it is and exactly as it isn’t.”
Making The Journey – The Destination
Albert Einstein reminds us that, “Each of us is part of a Whole, called by us Universe.” We are part of a “Mystery,” a “Larger Reality,” a plan more than just simply the “plans of mice and men.” So you who are on the road, must always remember:
“…Do not depend on the hope of results. …You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.”
In Zen training or practice we are not to be attached to the “results of our efforts,” but rather pour our full attention into whatever task is at hand. In other words “Just take care of business.” “Walk the walk, and forget the talk.”
Faith – The Final Reckoning
Despite the darkness that seems to be enveloping our experience in the world, history has shown and, I am convinced that when it is the darkest, the light has alway surfaced. That human beings seem to be at their best when everything is at its worst. I remain faithful and trusting in the words of Powell Davies who once wrote:
“Whenever sorrow comes, let us accept it simply, as a part of life. Let the heart be opened…let it be stretched… Al the evidence we have says that thus is the better way. An open heart never grows bitter. Or if it does, it cannot remain so. In the desolate hour, there is an outcry; a clenching of the hand upon emptiness…But anguish, like ecstasy, is not forever. There comes a gentleness, a returning quietness, a restoring stillness. This too, is a door to life. Here, also, is a deepening of meaning – and it can lead to dedication; a going forward to the triumph of the soul, the conquering of the wilderness. And in the process will come a deepening of knowledge that in the final reckoning, all is well.”
“Let us travel together, each of us, on our own two feet, side by side. Let us dance and sing; cry and maybe even weep; lose ourselves and find ourselves, find each other, again and again, let us get drunk on life, on both the joys and the sorrows of life. And in the morning after we have recovered from the prior days journey, start again.”
Shall we begin?
I love you,