The Contemplative Response – For All Who Seek Refuge
All throughout history the Monastic and Contemplative Community has served as a “quiet yet powerful force for good in the world”. The monastery is not only home to the Monks but, a place of refuge for visitors and pilgrims seeking refuge and, a conducive and appropriate environment for nurturing and awakening the best of human nature.
I have often been heard to say, “You don’t have to become a monk to live like a monk but, you have to live like a monk.” Living authentically and spiritually in the world – matters; Living a principled and purposeful life – matters, Community and a devotion to benefiting the lives of others and a commitment to something larger than just yourself – matters. Not only does it “matter,” it is the “difference” in life that so many continue to search for endlessly.
“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.”
There is a simple code for the life of the Monk and the Contemplative Community: “Train Together and Take Care of Each Other”. I believe that there is no other better prescription, for healing the global illness we are witnessing in our world today: Good Communities of like-minded friends; Devoted to Training Together in order to awaken our deepest and best intentions; manifesting our basic goodness and desires to Be of Benefit to all Beings, embracing and celebrating diversity – leaving no-one behind.
“No matter who we think we are, no matter our cultural, religious, or political affiliations, we all, long to belong.”
Until we resolve this longing, suffering will continue to compound in the world, and nothing will ever really change. Herman Melville once wrote, “We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results.” The notion of interconnection and community is not new, neither is it limited to any one religious belief system. We find this fundamental teaching throughout numerous religious traditions as well as science. The Buddha declared 2500 years ago, each of us without exception exist, “interconnected and interdependent”. Paraphrasing Thomas Merton, “We are never going to find ourselves or our place in the world alone. We can only find the solution to this longing, with others.”
Authentic Spirituality has to do with the “discernment of relationship”. Spiritual training takes us on a journey through the self I call “myself” and beyond; dismantling all of the myths and barriers preventing us from realizing the solutions for our discontentment, into the mystery of “interconnectedness” or “relationship,” in order to discover our “True-Self”. What is this True-Self? It is certainly not “Me,” but rather “We”.
“Dreaming of the way the world can be…”
The contemplative is a visionary, promoting a more compassionate world; a world that celebrates diversity; a world which lifts up humanity, leaving no one behind. However the true contemplative must never be mistaken for merely being an idealist. He or she dreams of a better world because it can be, if we really want it to be, if we are willing to work at it. The contemplative is both an idealist and a pragmatist, and that is why we “train together”. Understanding the nature of the “fettered mind,” we need, to meditate and learn to live more mindful, so that our actions heal and not harm, liberate and not promote the ignorance generated by a culture of fear. We “train together” because we understand that the Universe is “relational” by nature. Everything exists in a “paradigm of interconnectedness and interdependence,” therefore we “need each other” to manage and to navigate the ship of life.
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Recently in April of this year I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I began chemotherapy shortly afterwards. As I sit in the waiting room every other week to be called to the infusion room, I am joined there by people I never met before. Beyond the conventional “Hello.”, “How are you?” “Take care.”, we never really spoke to each other, yet I feel a connection with each and every one of them in a deeper and more profound way. Each day we would pass each other, look into each others eyes, and witness the courage, the fear, the doubt that fills you, until you take that seat, and finally – surrender. We may appear to each other to have been strangers, but I have come to know exactly who each one of these persons really are.
“Yea though I walk through the Valley of The Shadow of Death…”
Cancer takes you on a journey, one that even the most seasoned pilgrim may not be prepared for. It takes you where most of us have spent our entire lives trying to avoid, to avert, to by-pass. It takes you where you do not want to go, but go you must. It takes you beyond yourself, not apart but beyond, it liberates you from the “narrow confines” of conventional thoughts about the meaning and purpose of life, to the “broader concerns of all humanity”. I have travelled and, continue my journey, “Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death”. I have walked, and stood, and suffered, and cried and agonized in its “darkness”. I have also, seen the “Light which shines in and through that darkness”.
“Follow the Rainbow…”
I have always been interested by our fascination with “Rainbows”. Whenever they appear, we stop in awe, captured by their presence. We imagine what it would be like to “Follow a Rainbow”. We wonder, “What it is?” “Where does it come from?” “Where does it begin?” “Where does it end?” I believe that our fascination is a product of our deepest understanding of what the “colors of the rainbow” represent. When we witness a rainbow we are in the presence of our True-Nature. While I laid in my bed one evening late at night, agonizing in the “The Valley of The Shadow of Death,” I also saw that “Light” which shines in and through the darkness. Yes, it was bright however, Its color was, the colors of the Rainbow. I suddenly knew in that moment, who those people in that room with me were – they were “Me”. The Light revealed for me what I always “idealized” but never fully “realized” until then. The True-Nature of the Universe is – “Diversity”. Innumerable, immeasurable, individual manifestations of One Reality, expressing Itself in a diversity of individual expressions. Whenever we pretend otherwise, our actions “run as causes and return to us as results,” and suffering compounds in the world. Robert Kennedy wrote, “Ultimately, America’s answer to the intolerant man is diversity.”
“We do belong, We belong to each other.”
“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
Leaving no-one behind and living our lives as a benefit to others is central in the life of The Contemplative Community. All are welcome, all who seek peace, who seek refuge in these times of challenge and heightened uncertainty, who also dream of a better world and who are willing to work for it. Again, paraphrasing Thomas Merton, “We are never going to find ourselves or our place in the world alone. We can only find the solution to this longing, with others.” The contemplative strives to reflect on what we have in common and to focus his or her efforts on realizing our commonality as the driving force for real change.
We all inhabit this planet we call Earth, whenever any part of it dies we all die, therefore we must take care of our Mother Earth; “We all breathe the same air.” When we do not resist the efforts of government and corporations to discount the absolute necessity for clean air, clean water, and uncontaminated food, we are complicit in the deaths of both our human brothers and sisters and the destruction of the Natural World and; “We all are mortal.” We all suffer. Our suffering is “our basic common link”. We must never be indifferent to our own suffering as well as the suffering of others.
“The Bodhisattva Vow is the commitment to put others before oneself. It is a statement of willingness to give up one’s own well-being, even one’s own enlightenment if necessary, for the sake of others. A Bodhisattva is simply a person who lives in the spirit of that vow, perfecting the qualities known as the Six Paramita’s [Perfections]—Generosity, Discipline, Patience, Exertion, Meditation, and Transcendental Knowledge (Wisdom)—in his or her effort to liberate beings.
Taking the Bodhisattva Vow implies that instead of holding our own individual territory and defending it tooth and nail, we become open to the world that we are living in. It means we are willing to take on greater responsibility, immense responsibility. In fact it means taking a big chance. But taking such a chance is not false heroism or personal eccentricity.
It is a chance that has been taken in the past by millions of Bodhisattvas, Enlightened Ones, and Great Teachers. So a tradition of responsibility and openness has been handed down from generation to generation, and now we too are participating in the sanity and dignity of this tradition.”
– Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
I would like to close with the words of another great teacher whose words continue to inspire both my vocation and my life:
“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.
I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”
– George Bernard Shaw
I hope that you have found my words helpful, and I invite you to join me in “The True Joy of Life,” as I continue to make my pilgrimage home to you. Pray for me.
I Love you,
Pine Wind Zen Community, is a School for Spirituality and Contemplation and home to Seijaku Roshi and The Monks of Pine Wind. Everyone is welcome to find refuge in this time of challenge and heightened uncertainty, by joining us in our daily devotion to a life of prayer, contemplation, and service. Pine Wind offers numerous educational and enlightening programs to the public. To All Who Seek Refuge, We Welcome You.