“Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.” – Pope Francis I “Laudato Si”
Basic to all Buddhist teachings is the “interconnected and interdependent” nature of all of creation. Nothing happens in a vacuum. The threats of climate change and the increase of natural disasters across our globe are directly interconnected with the current state of consciousness of all sentient beings, especially the human family. Our Mother Earth is ill and crying out for healing, healing which can only come from us. As we become more and more polarized and alienated from each other, we can expect increased natural disasters and the Earth continuing to strive to survive the threat of total extinction. Her healing and renewal depends entirely on our willingness to heal the rift between us, to learn to live together with each other and the natural world, and commit wholeheartedly to global programs, not only here at home but everywhere, that guarantee not only the sustainability of life on Earth but also, insuring that all its inhabitants are guaranteed an opportunity to thrive equally.
Often you have heard me say, “Quiet Mind, Quiet Body; Quiet Body, Quiet Environment; Quiet Environment – Peace on Earth.” Both in theological and wisdom teachings we find the teachings that, “The Garden of Eden is everywhere.” Or as in Buddhism we say, “The Pure Land is everywhere.” However, if we do not see it within ourselves, if we do not see it where we dwell, we will not see it anywhere. Jesus said, “Though you may have eyes to see, you cannot see.” Furthermore we, human beings, are “co-creators,” what we create becomes a part of Nature, good and bad. Therefore as the Buddha taught, our thoughts, our words, and our actions not only make a difference but become a “reality” not only in our lives but also in the lives of all sentient beings. “What we think or dwell on, we become.” Not only “me” but everyone, the whole world. So when we look outward, what we see in the World is merely a reflection of the state of mind of the human family. We need to heal the World from within. Peace, friendship, equality, justice, the end of poverty and conflicts. Must begin with us, with “Me”.
“Ponlop Rinpoche said, “In the process of uncovering Buddha-Nature, in the process of uncovering our open, un-fixated quality of our mind, we have to be willing to get our hands dirty.” In other words, he was saying that we need to be willing to work with our disturbing emotions, the ones that feel entirely dark. But Ponlop Rinpoche added something really important to this statement. He said that without having a direct experience of our emotions, we can never touch the heart of Buddha-Nature. We can never actually hear the message of awakening.” If we are ever going to heal the Earth, if we are ever going to transform social consciousness, we need to stop pointing out the “darkness” we see in the world and see the darkness “within ourselves,” and begin the work of transformation there. And, this means, “getting our hands dirty”. We need to give up the false notion that spirituality is this kind of blissful ride into heaven. It never was for any one of the Great Masters, including Buddha or Moses, or Jesus; or for Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr., and others. Only now have so many come short of full realization because they consider spirituality as an escape from the problems of the World, rather than the solution, which requires our full participation and engagement in, “getting our hands dirty”. (Actually, a lot of people have the misunderstanding that this is what meditation is about. They believe meditation includes everything except that which feels uncomfortable or takes us out of our bliss zone.)
Engaging Authentic Spirituality, in Buddhism particularly, emphasizes the importance of maintaining an holistic balance in life. While there is a history of personal salvation or liberation taking precedence in the Buddhist schools, the rise of the Mahayana (Zen) school particularly in the doctrine of The Bodhisattva Ideal, reaches past the individual to relate Buddhist soteriology to society as a whole. The Bodhisattva achieves his or her own salvation or liberation from suffering and its causes, only to Vow to return lifetime after lifetimes, to aid and assist other sentient beings to achieve theirs. As The Monks of Pine Wind recite regularly, “One for All, All for One,” and “Community is the Spirit, The Guiding Light” of everything we do and strive to achieve.
Albert Einstein, in his efforts to describe what he saw as the “real condition” of The Universe wrote, “A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” Our spiritual work or “task” is to free ourselves from this “optical delusion, a kind of prison” in order that we may then be able to, “widen our circle of compassion” and help to bring about the total transformation of the human family who in turn can then heal “the whole of nature and its beauty.”
Buddha-Nature includes opening to all of these things, beginning with the fundamental truth we so much strive to avoid, “Life is Suffering,” and our salvation or liberation is to be found in the midst of the many forms of suffering we have created in our world. We must not turn our hearts and our minds from the reality of the all pervasive suffering going on in our planet today. We must as Pema Chodrin writes in her book, “Dealing with Uncertainty,” that spiritual practice or way-of-being in the world begins with “cutting off all escape routes”. We must be willing to “get our hands dirty”.
As I began, allow me to finish by quoting Pope Francis I as he spoke years ago before the United Nations emphasizing that, “Ecological catastrophe under the effective explosion of industrial civilization…requires an urgent need for a radical change in the conduct of humanity, inasmuch as the most extraordinary scientific advances, the most amazing technical abilities, the most astonishing economic growth, unless they are accompanied by authentic social and moral progress, will definitively turn against man.”
I have a dear friend, who sadly whenever they speak about the future of the world, can only see an apocalyptic end quickly approaching. My response is always the same, “I do and I must remain hopeful in the power of goodness, in the power of love, in the power of compassion, and acts of kindness, which is inherent to all human beings. I do and I must continue to believe this.” I believe we hold the power to conquer all adversarial tendencies and behaviors we have learned along the way, that have consistently been proven to bring us closer and closer to my friends “apocalyptic vision,” but I also believe that at any moment we “choose to” humanity will meet evil with good, indifference with benevolence, war with peace. For as many examples of the opposite we can find in history, their exists proof of the true-nature of the human heart.
I believe in you. I invite you also – to believe! One for All, All for One.
I love you,
One of the Three Pillars of Zen training is “The Cultivation of Wisdom,” which results in a better understanding of the psychological forces at work in ourselves and in society. The current divide and political polarization we are witnessing in America today is, rightfully so, frightening and confusing to all of us. It sometimes feels like the whole world is plunging itself into self-destruction. If we are to find answers, we must embrace the power of the “Truth” which liberates us from the causes of confusion and desperation. We cannot rely on emotions, or opinions, or even our personal beliefs when those beliefs only prove to further the power of ignorance and widen the divide.
Whether we can see it or not, whether we want to see it or not, each of us has had a hand in the making of the problem(s) which cries out for a solution. We must stop looking for the causes of the worlds suffering in others. His Holiness Pope Francis writes, “We are witnessing the globalization of indifference, there is a culture of conflict which makes us think only of ourselves…We’ve become use to the suffering of others, it doesn’t effect me, no one in our world feels responsible. Who is responsible for the blood of our brothers and sisters? The refugees washed up on the shores of the Mediterranean? [In cages at the southern borders of our Nation?] ’I don’t have anything to do with it, must be someone else. Certainly it’s not me.’ Then who is responsible? Everyone is responsible.”
What is the place of the monastic, the contemplative, in all of this? What is the place of the truly spiritual person in all of this? Are we to simply resign ourselves to the worst? Should we simply fortify our spiritual centers, monasteries, churches, mosques, and synagogues, taking a hard-headed position in opposition to all opposing positions? Satisfying our “egos” with our meditations, yoga, prayer life, energy practices, and sense of piety and goodness, while millions of “our brothers and sisters” perish in the rush of ignorance, hatred, and greed?
There can be no question that unless the current culture of fear, the worship of money and power, and indifference is transformed, we will remain in a constant state of insanity and desperation; and the danger of catastrophe, either through war or increasing natural disasters, will continue to be imminent at every moment of our lives.
Do not misunderstand my passion to mean I have answers, this is a problem of terrifying complexity and magnitude, one that I myself do not see clear and decisive solutions. Yet I am convinced that you and I must be the pathway toward the abolition of this current state of affairs. That we must be active in every possible way of lowering the temperature of the debate, mobilizing all our resources for the healing of humanity, and the whole of Nature.
We must at least face this responsibility and do something about it. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote, “Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.” In whatever manner we find ourselves inspired to do our part, we must never allow others to deter us from our commitment to living lives of Peace, Loving-kindness, Compassion, and Benevolence. Prepared to restrain and transform our own instincts for violence and aggressiveness in our relations with other people. We must be vigilant, empowering ourselves and others to meet this most urgent challenge, engaging regular and consistent practices of meditation, prayer, and random and deliberate acts of good works. The survival of the human race and the natural world, the continuing life of the planet itself, depends upon it.
I believe that the modern monastic and truly spiritual persons are called to an openness to a radical personal and global transformation. We cannot continue to rely on the models of the past. We can no longer rely on institutions and structures which can be destroyed or changed in any moment. In the words of the dying Buddha, “Atta Dipa.” We must, “rely on ourselves”. We must, each of us, stand on our own two feet and “be the change we want for the world.”
We begin, by first understanding the psychological forces at work in ourselves and in society. “We are more together than we are alone,” and so let us take that first step and each following step together and, together I believe if not in my lifetime, someday we will “awaken the best of angels within us” and become The Pure-Land, The Kingdom of God, on Earth.
I Love You,
At all times whether we are aware of it or not, we live and exist in “A Circle of Grace”. The aim and objective of any Authentic Spiritual practice or training is, to develop an experiential awareness of our existence within this Circle at all times. At all times, no matter the current circumstance or situation Grace is always available to us unconditionally. We need only to be “aware” of its presence and reach within to be infused by its Loving power.
Never is there a moment in which we exist outside the Circle, or fall from It. But far too often we find ourselves unaware of our existence within the Circle. Because of this absence of awareness, we regularly forget “who we are” and, our “place in the Universe”. Because of this “forgetfulness,” we fall into roles contrary to our ”true nature,” behaving in manners contrary to our deepest desires; wandering, distracted from our true purpose and meaning for our lives. What follows is a measure of discontentment and suffering.
Grace, is relational by nature. While it is always offered “freely,” our “participation,” our “conscious awareness” is required. Given freely, we must accept and embrace It freely. To accept and embrace It freely, is to “live it”. To “live it” is to make it our central desire. Grace is a living being. Infused by It, we are transformed into truly living human-beings. Fully Enlightened. Compassionate. Loving-Beings.
Once infused what follows is a natural awakening and understanding of the real meaning and purpose of our lives. Love is that meaning, and Benevolence is, our purpose for existence. The Circle enjoins a Community of Enlightened Beings, Human Beings, Children of God, Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Mahasattvas. Together with all sentient beings, we exist to sustain and fulfill The Great Mystery of Life which began since the Beginningless Past. It is only through our full participation in this meaning and purpose for our lives we find our fulfillment. There is no other way. As Thomas Merton once wrote, “A tree gives glory to God be being a tree.” So by being Love and living a life which Benefits all beings, we realize our own glory.
The Circle is all inclusive. For everything, whether fully realized at the moment or not, are “parts of a Whole,” called The Circle of Grace. Each part brings to the Circle what is needed, and each contribution, each participant, is satisfied by what the other brings and in return what each participant brings to the other.
The Circle is Self-Sustaining, for within It there is only One-Self, one True-Self. Call it God, or Buddha, or by any other Name, It never ceases to be The Circle of Grace or in any way is it diminished or changed by what we call It, or perhaps buy our own doubts.
Therefore by Its True-Identity, Its True-Nature, we never need to fear, or worry, for no matter what part of The Circle we find ourselves in, there is The Circle of Grace in Its fullness. No part is lacking. No one is lacking. All are One. All that is required is our “Yes”.
I see you, I love you,
In a few weeks it will be my birthday. I will be older than I ever was in this lifetime, and younger than I will ever be again. Today my friend and brother asked me if having cancer has in any way altered or added to my view of life. I don’t know. The past is now a blur to me. I recall living it, but as for the details they are like a visionary flower in the sky.
I will say this. I believe more than I have ever believed that, Love is all there is. Love is all that matters in anyones lifetime. Whence we are born we begin to intuitively move towards Love. For some mysterious reason, unknown to me at least, as we grow older, other desires seem to get in the way. Then, for some of us at least, we grow old and at the same time find ourselves returning to that intuitive desire to Love and to Be Loved. If we are lucky, time and experience has transformed us by then to become Lovers.
“In the Beginning was The Word,” and that Word was Love. It created all sentient beings and the myriad forms of its only offspring, which is Life, precious, precious Life. It is Love which created the world and which sustains it. We humans are but only one form of Its expression. If today, given our current events, we do not wake up to the reality of Love, we will be gone. And I believe that the Universe will simply recreate itself in Its own Image. That image is – Love.
I do remember that when I was younger so many things mattered which today I realize was just youthful ignorance. I took so much for granted, especially time and the space I occupied within it. There is a Buddhist Dharani which remains dear to my heart. I recite at all public gatherings at the end of each gathering. “Allow me to respectfully remind you, Birth and Death is the Supreme Matter. Everything is of the nature of Impermanence. Gone, gone, forever Gone. Opportunity is too often lost. Do not, squander your life.” Oh, if only I had learned the full meaning of this Dharani earlier than I did. But, we are not to dwell on past failures or mistakes. Only to learn from them.
“Birth and Death is the Supreme Matter.” We are to reconcile our way of living, of being in the world, with the One un-negotiable, undeniable, Truth. We are Born, and we are sure to Die. Death comes to all of us. Buddha’s, Christ’s, Prophets, Good, Bad, this Truth does not discriminate. “Time” is merciless, and it too does not discriminate. Everything, everyone, is of “the nature of Impermanence”. From the moment we are Born we begin our path toward Death. Once Death arrives, we are, “Gone, gone, forever gone.” This life, this body, this person, I have come identify with and experience as fixed or permanent, is not.
Because we resist this reality more than anything else, “Opportunity is too often lost.” Too often lost! The opportunity to know Love. The opportunity to express Love. The opportunity to Be Love. The opportunity to be Loved. For it is Love which fulfills me. It is Love which satisfies me. It is Loving other which completes me. In our ignorance we “Squander” so much time, space, and opportunity.
One day we all arrive at that day we are, “Older than we ever have been in this lifetime, and younger than we will ever be again.” The Buddha taught that “every moment” “every now” is an opportunity to “Purify past Karma, and eliminate its effects on the present moment and the future.”
So, every moment, until the day we die, is in fact an opportunity to “learn the full meaning of this precious Dharani. “Carpe Diem,” “Seize the Moment” “Now”. If not Now, When?
I Love you,