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March 23, 2020

Calling On All Bodhisattvas

by Seijaku Roshi

Buddhism teaches that there is nothing we can do to stave off aging, illness, loss, or death. It is inevitable that they will come. How we conduct ourselves during and after is the definition of who we are as human-beings. An essential quality of a fully mature human being, of a fully realized enlightened being, especially during difficult times, is to have the heart of a Bodhisattva. The traditional definition of a Bodhisattva is, “someone who chooses not to enter the state of perfect peace, called nirvana, in order to help all sentient beings to liberate themselves from suffering and its causes.” Here the use of the term “perfect peace” does not mean the complete absence of anxiety. It points to how the Bodhisattva responds to stressful and anxious moments like the one we find ourselves in today. Traditionally Buddhism teaches the every being possesses “basic goodness,” therefore every being is a potential Bodhisattva.

While no one including myself welcomes physical pain or mental anxiety, the heart of the Bodhisattva is large enough to hold both pleasure and pain; both the loved-one and the enemy; both the friend and the stranger, in compassionate equanimity. The Bodhisattva embraces his or her kinship not only with those he or she loves, but also with those we may not love or even hate, or with the stranger, and with the whole of nature which sustains all of us. We are related, to all beings past, present, and future. We are also interconnected through our relatedness; therefore what happens to one-being, happens to all of us. We are interconnected biologically, ecologically, economically, and politically. We are interdependent as well. We are in this together, we always have been. We need to support one-another, communicate everyday, says the things you’ve been putting off all of your life.

If there ever was a time in human history, (and there have been other times) once again, now is a time to “Call On All Bodhisattvas”. While fear and anxiety tend to dominate the hearts and minds of so many fellow human beings during this global crises, the heart of the Bodhisattva offers an avenue toward calm, a border point-of-view (options) healing, and possibility, during what feels so impossible. Qualities such as patience, tolerance, loving-kindness, compassion, generosity, and benevolence, applied to how we respond to this crises, can do us all much good. These qualities nurture not only one-another when practiced, science tells us our mental attitude can either weaken or strengthen the human immune system. These qualities though inherent in all of us, sometimes far too often, prove to be difficult to embrace and actualize; requiring practice or regular application and renewal through a daily practice of quiet reflection (contemplation); meditation; and living more purposefully and mindful, not only of our thoughts and emotions, but also of how we communicate with our words and with our actions.

COVID19 is real. Everyone must, follow the recommendations of the experts: regularly wash your hands, keep a safe “social distance” from others, and stay out of public gathering places with more than ten people. Following these recommendations can help prevent you and others from contracting this virus.

COVID19 however, is not the only thing that isolates and separates us. We were divided long before this virus ever touched our shores. We need to be honest with ourselves and each other about this if we are ever going to defeat this virus and other deadly diseases such as: economic inequality, injustice, all forms of discrimination, polarization, poverty, religious and political intolerance, and other social diseases which have made their way through the population long before COVID19.

Alienation, resentment, greed and hatred have never dispelled darkness in our world. Only the truth of loving-kindness; compassion; generosity; mercy; and benevolence, the most ancient and inexhaustible truth which has time and time again proven to bring light, into the darkened corners of our world. From this Truth, we begin to align our priorities including our choices and our behavior and endeavor to dissolve all forms of oppression, doing our part as Bodhisattvas to help all sentient beings liberate themselves from suffering and its causes. Through solidarity we are present for one-another (if not physically), and care for each other (regulasrly pick up the phone, email, write a letter, or text), drawing from the best of our angels, of our — True-nature.

In Zen, especially in times of uncertainty, we can create some certainty in our lives. We do not just abandon years of practice and training because of the fear and anxiety we may be experiencing or because of desperation. We “respond” to the moment by bringing to the moment our practice and training. You and I have no power over what the world may be, or any person for that matter, at any given time whether they be simpler times or complex such as these. What we do have power over, is, our own actions and behaviors.

We can bring some certainty to the moment by being in the present moment with integrity. Here I find the emphasis on having a “daily routine” helpful.

When I wake up in the morning I take a moment to reflect and assess my experience. I apply the basic techniques of living mindfully. I take a breathe or few and bring my awareness to my body and any mental formations. I offer my prayers of gratitude. When I get out of bed I go to the bathroom and with “mindful attention” I wash my hands, my face, and sometimes my entire body; quietly, reflectively, gratefully. I then make my bed. (Never leave your bedroom without making your bed. It makes a hell of a lot of difference when you seek refuge for a nap or when you retire later that evening.) I Turn off all electric items such as the lamp, air filter, and radio. I then make my way down the hall greeted by my cats, I take the time to respond to their needs, then eventually my dog and her needs. While I make it a practice to leave no dirty dishes in the sink except sometimes, I take care of what is needed there. I heat the teapot full of water and prepare my morning matcha tea with honey. I continue from there throughout the day. When I’m hungry I eat. When I’m thirsty I drink. When there’s dishes to clean, I clean the dishes. When it’s time to pray or meditate, I pray and meditate. When it’s time to rest, I rest. When it’s time to write these words, I sit and write. Routine gives us a sense of “living our lives our way.” I do not “do” anything because I “have to”, I always bring an attitude of, “This is my home. My pets are part of my family. My home protects me, keeps me sheltered, warm, and creates a space for me to be. So as I always tell my ten-year old daughter, “The house takes care of us, our pets give us happiness and joy, they take care of us, so we take care of the house and our pets, and friends, guests, and other family members.”

I can remember the arrival of the first computer. The geeks in my class had a field day. It was like the heavens opened and God sent manna. As time went on and we all began to learn how to use a computer one of my friends, one of the geeks, was heard to say, “Garbage in, garbage out.” Later, I like so many learned he was referring to the mechanics of a computer. A computer can only give us whatever is on its hard drive and in its memory. Likewise, a human-being can only react or respond according to whatever is on his or her “hard-drive and in his or her memory”.

So, watch what you expose yourself to while isolated in your homes.
I strongly encourage everyone to “go on a strict diet” of watching cable news. I personally limit it to just at best a half-hour in the morning, a half-hour at night, and sometimes less. The same is true about social media. “Garbage in, garbage out.” Not that there is no value whatsoever in checking in with the rest of the world. But as you know, it’s not like the days of “Walter Cronkite,” “just the facts”. When you randomly just listen to others without filtering the information and blindly accepting it as fact you open yourself to, many other forms of viruses neither good for the mind and the body. Remember that the body takes its cues from your “state of mind”. Do whatever keeps it calm, quiet, and prepared to respond, not just react, to the challenges rising up from moment to moment. As I write these words I am listening to channel 443 on the Comcast cable network. I recommend it.

Finally, having been diagnosed nearly two years ago with pancreatic cancer, I refused to let the cancer, the chemo-therapy, radiation, my daily exhaustion, any side effects, and yes my own fears, to define me.
I fell in love many years ago with The Great Mystery, call it God or Buddha; with this beautiful beautiful planet we occupy together; with my daughter since the first day she was born ten-years ago; with my ninety-year old parents; my sibling; my friends; my fellow monks and students, and the many persons who have visited Pine Wind over the years. What defines me are the Vows I’ve taken and, recite regularly to myself and in the liturgy. They are my personal promises, not just traditional precepts of a Student-of-Dharma. They can be summed up with my experience I have had on numerous occasions including during this part of my journey with cancer.

“It is and continues to be a privilege to be alive. I am honored and grateful for the number of lessons I have learned from everyone I have had contact with in one form or another. Every breath I breathe is gift. Every person who come through these doors, who make the choice to be here when they could be anywhere else in their world, is gift. I am grateful that perhaps whatever days I have left I will get to live them in the heart of the natural world; that I will continue to be called to a life of benevolent service. That I will not be and am not ever alone. I will continue to make this journey with my fellow monks, my brothers and sisters, loved and selflessly supported by friends of Pine Wind and that, like Robert Frost once wrote of himself, in the end: “If I would have it writ upon my stone, let it say, “I had a lovers quarrel with the world.” This, is what defines me. I pray that I will always have the strength and mental fortitude to never fail in my definition and, like my relationship with my dog I hope, “That I will always be the person you think I am.”

“We are so much more together than alone!” Let this be our hope for the future, to realize this. Let this be our only intention, to actualize this everywhere.

I love you,
Seijaku Roshi

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