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Rely On Your Self!

During his final days the Buddha was committed that his monks and nuns fully understood what he had taught them over the past forty-five years. His final words included, “Rely on Yourself. Do not rely on any outside source. Rely on the Dharma. You are the Dharma.” What specifically did the Buddha want his monks and nuns to understand by these words. I have concluded that His final words, like all of his teachings, are as relevant today, especially during these most turbulent and uncertain times, just as much as they were during his lifetime. “Be the master of our minds, do not be a slave to our minds.”

“My disciples, the teachings that I have given you are never to be forgotten or abandoned. They are always to be remembered and treasured, they are not to be thought about, they are to be practiced. If you follow these teachings you will always be happy. The point of my teachings is to control your own mind. Keep your mind from greed, and you will keep your behavior right, your mind pure and your words faithful. By always thinking about the transiency of your life, you will be able to resist greed and danger, and will be able to avoid all evils. If you find your mind is tempted and so entangled in greed, you will have to suppress and control the temptation, be the master of your own mind do not be the slave. A man’s mind may make him actualize his Buddha-Nature, or it may make him be a beast. Misled by error, one becomes a fear-filled demon. Led by enlightened, one becomes a Buddha a free master of his or her mind. Therefore, control your mind and do not let it deviate from the right path.” {Be the master of your mind. Do not let the mind be your master} (Para)

Christ regularly reminded his followers to “Pick up your cross (suffering) and follow me.” He taught that God exists within us and that the Kingdom of Heaven was all around us. That what was necessary was to “practice what he preached by example”. Not just to believe in Him or His teachings but to “apply” those teachings by accepting that, “Life involves Suffering,” “Life is transitory” and that the solution for cessation from suffering was “practice” or “applying the teachings”. This is what I believe Christ meant by “real faith”. It had nothing to do with “belief” and everything to do with “following his examples”.

The Buddha says to us that, we alone are the bearers of our suffering and the solutions to our suffering. That whenever we rely on any other source for our relief or happiness, we will be disappointed. That, “Practice” was a “Way-of-Life” to be applied daily and regularly. He says to us that, “The teachings are not to be thought about, but to be practiced.” And, “The point of my teachings is to control your own mind. Keep your mind from greed, and you will keep your behavior right, your mind pure and your words faithful. By always thinking about the transiency of your life, you will be able to resist greed and danger, and will be able to avoid all evils. If you find your mind is tempted and so entangled in greed, you will have to suppress and control the temptation, be the master of your own mind do not be the slave.” Admonishing each of us he insisted that we, “Be the master of our minds, do not be a slave to our minds.” This would include our feelings, desires, and emotions. We understand that, “Having feelings both positive and negative, desires, and emotions is to be expected as human-beings.” The problem too often gone unrecognized is that our “feelings, desires, and emotions have us.” We are often unconscious that what is “running our lives” is the “master of our lives” which are our “thoughts about life, our feelings, desires, and emotions”. Enlightenment here, can be understood as a conscious-based choice to take back control of our minds and therefore take back the power over our minds and our lives.

The first step toward “Mastering our Minds,” is to see for ourselves how much our daily choices and priorities are based almost exclusively on “what we are thinking about life,” “what we are feeling in the moment,” and “what we are desiring.” Zen Master Dogen said that, “Zen is the study of the self.” He used the term “Zen” to mean the specific form of meditation used throughout the generations to achieve this awareness and enlightenment. In Japanese, we call it “Shikantaza” or “Just Sitting”. We take the upright enlightened posture, bring our awareness to a natural process of breathing in and breathing out, and we simply “observe”. Observe what? We observe what I often refer to as the “Bureaucracy of Ego”. We observe, taking no position for or against, thoughts as they flow into our awareness, feelings, emotions, and our reactions or desires. We sit as if we are watching all of this take place on a movie screen in front of us. Master Dogen went on to say that, “We study the self by forgetting the self.” By taking no position for or against the thoughts, feelings, emotions or desires, we “bear witness” and simply experience them in our bodies. We feel whatever is present and remain detached by following our breath as we breathe in and as we breathe out. A practice so simple yet proven to be the most difficult thing you will ever do; So we – Just Do It. Eventually, and no one can measure the exact moment, “This self I call myself” drops away and, “We are enlightened by the myriad of forms.” Dogen said. We remember who we truly are, we see the world as it really is, not the one we have created, and we begin to experience our True-Nature our Buddha-Nature.

Al the while as we make our way “back home” we need to be prepared to face a lifetime of unwholesome habitual behaviors which must be corrected. “The teachings are not to be thought about, but to be practiced.” We must confront the minds tendency to distract us from “the moment” by drawing us into a narrative which takes place in the mind and, is alway evaluating life, qualifying it, testing and judging it. We have responded to this distraction long enough that we have come to believe that the “narrative” is life when all the while it is an illusion, a fabricated translation of life. The Buddha says to us that in these moments, “You will have to suppress and control the temptation”. Next we have to be diligent to “Keep your mind from greed.” Often we think of greed as having to do with money. We are to understand that, “Greed” is any moment we find ourselves entrapped in the “habitual behavior” of comparing this moment to some other moment or idea about the way life should be. This is when we are being “driven by” desires for something more, something better, something different that what is in the moment. This is when the Mind is the Master and we are the Slave.

“If you find your mind is tempted and so entangled in greed, you will have to suppress and control the temptation, be the master of your own mind do not be the slave.” We consciously without criticism or judgment of ourselves notice the Bureaucracy of Ego at work, come back to focusing on our breath, breathe, and return to the moment just as it is and, “take care of business.”

Another tool the Buddha gives us is something like a mantra. He says to us, “By always thinking about the transiency of your life, you will be able to resist greed and danger, and will be able to avoid all evils.” When challenges and difficulty rises we remind ourselves, “This too shall pass.” Another approach is to ask ourselves, “Given the transiency, the impermanence of my life and the lives of those I love and wish to spend time with, is the investment of my time and energy in this desire worth it?”

“Brothers and Sisters, permit me to respectfully remind you: Birth and Death is the Supreme Matter. Everything, Everyone, is of the Nature of Impermanence. Gone. Gone. Forever Gone. Opportunity is too often Lost. Do Not Squander Your Life.”

“Be the master of your minds, do not be a slave to your minds.”

I Love You,
Seijaku Roshi


The End of The World – Is It?

There are those who say that the world is broken, on the verge of total collapse, dying, never to recover. Is it? Twenty-five-hundred years ago during the time of The Buddha, the world looked very much like ours today. Poverty was everywhere, even acceptable. If you were born into poverty it was considered your fate, your karma. You, as the generations before you, the generations that would follow you were condemned at birth to a life of hard labor, low class citizenship, often homelessness, and cultural and social discrimination and racism. Nations were regularly at war. By nations I mean family clans who claimed that they, not others, were rightful aires to the wealth and power available at that time and were wiling to do to others whatever was necessary to gain it. Don’t even talk about pollution, to this day the Ganges or Ganga River, considered the holiest sight in India, is also where human waste and other waste is deposited, and where lower class citizens gather water to bathe in and drink.

In this environment The Buddha was born, raised, and eventually would set out on his personal journey for “enlightenment”. Later on, on the day of his enlightenment he would declare that, “The world is perfect and complete, including its myriad forms.” Twenty-five-hundred years later the late Dr. Wayne Dyer would say something similar, “Everything is perfect in the universe – even your desire to improve it.”

On Tuesday of this past week I was rushed to the ER At Cooper Hospital in Camden NJ by a friend of mine. It would not be the first time, I prayed it would be the last. Later I would be admitted and learn that my “lobster-like appearing” body which felt completely on fire was caused by a condition called “Neutropenia”. My body was having a horrific reaction to the current chemotherapy I had received exactly one week ago. My WBC, RBC, and Platelets, had all dive-bombed. My Blood vessels were dilating and my fever was off the wall. I was admitted and for next 48 hours, “waited” until my body would heal itself. All the doctors could do was “treat the symptoms caused by my body reacting to the chemo”. By Thursday I would recover well enough to go home – A most welcoming prognosis. During this experience yes, it felt like my world which included cancer for nearly twenty-five months was indeed coming to an end. It felt that way. It felt real. But something inside me as it had for all those months reminded me that what felt as if my world was ending, was just “another reaction to a horrific detail of my life’s current circumstance”.

I often say to the students of Pine Wind Zen Community, “You need to be able to tell the difference between what you’ve brought with you, and what you have picked up along the way.” Also, “What is often referred to as the real world, and the universe, is really ‘the world mankind has created, you need to look much closer to see the real world.” The world we witness daily on cable news is not that world. It is, no matter how difficult we find it to admit, it is “The world we have created”. What is before us are “symptoms” of a cancer which entered our worldly body timeless centuries ago. Currently we need to be treating the symptoms until we are willing to look close enough, courageously enough, audaciously enough, and with a great faith in our ability to see and treat the real causes of the cancer.

I have come to understand “cancer” in its many forms well enough to know that, you can’t just cut some of it out, you can’t just treat some of the body. You must treat the whole body and surgically remove all of the cancer, for there to be any possibility for real healing and renewal. The process is time consuming, requiring skill and sacrifice, and regularly painful. It also requires all parties to be willing to fully participate in applying the cure.

I did not enjoy what was happening to my body these past few days anymore than I look forward to chemo-therapy every other week. But my training as a Zen monk has enabled me to take the right position. To maintain “right attitude,” for example, life or the cancer doesn’t care about the narrative running in my head about how much “I hate this.” In one of his teachings Wayne Dyer wrote, “The way to a peaceful life is to notice the perfection in God’s world and in ourselves, and nurture that perspective.” So I practice dropping my attachment to the present narrative and “look for the perfection in God’s world,” and “nurture that perspective”. Looking for something, is different, from denial and, replacing the existing narrative with some idealistic dream for life. It requires a willingness on my part to see first what is really so and, to see beyond that to what is also so.

Whenever I have found myself in the hospital with and emergent situation, I purposefully make it a point to forget the limitations presented by my own pain or discomfort and deliberately engage with everyone coming into my room to participate in my healing. “Hi, how are you?” “How are you doing?” “Please take care of yourself.” The “perfection” I have found over the past twenty-five months and most of my life is the loving, and compassionate care others are so willing to step up and give to strangers. Not only does this practice benefit me but, in emulating these Bodhisattvas behaviors, no matter the circumstance, no matter the situation, no matter how I am feeling, gives back to our sick and wounded world the medicine it needs.

As I sat in the ER waiting to be admitted I witnessed so much of the suffering of strangers. At one point I thought of Christ on the cross after a lifetime of witnessing the suffering of his day, and now witnessing his Mother’s and family’s suffering as they bear witness to his own. I was caught by the vision of a Mother bringing her paraplegic son into the ER for help while trying to comfort his panic and pain. How patient she was with him, how present to his needs and, not what had to be present in her, perhaps her own fear, anger, and resentment. Then there was the Lesbian couple, the one partner in so much pain and perhaps fear, perhaps it was the symptoms of an already diagnosed condition, which caused her to shake and bolt uncontrollably. I watched her partner doing all that she could do to forget herself in order to bring some comfort and assurance to her love. Her care for her friend which required so much patience was a mastery to envied.

We are not living in a world which is broken. It is we who are broken, we who are on the verge of total collapse. But we can and we will recover, just as we have in times past. But, is “recovery” all we really need or want? Is it time? Is it time for a complete healing of ourselves? Is that what we want? Is this what we need? Or do we need to “bear witness” to the suffering for a little while longer until we “really get it”? Or, as a dear friend of mine use to say, “Enough is enough and too much is plenty.”

Since the day of my diagnosis I have had only one intention, “To stay alive. To conquer this cancer,” so that I may continue to be a Father to my daughter; a son to my Father; a sibling to my Sister, and a fellow Zen monk with my brother and sister monks working together, to bring about the healing and renewal of our fellow human beings. Those I know and those who appear as strangers. For as often as I visit Cooper Hospital and MD Anderson for chemo, the fog which creates the illusion of separateness becomes clearer and clearer each time, and I can only see my brother, my sister, in pain just like me, filled with hope, and courage, and the audacity to trust in life and its miraculous ability to remain alive against all odds.

There is a popular saying which has risen out of the current pandemic situation, “We are all in this together.” If that true, or if it is ever going to be fully true, we must remember that the “body” infected by this “cancer” centuries ago, is in “All of us together.” We must remember that healing cannot be focused on just the few. It must be inclusive. Including those who oppose or disagree with us; Those complicit in spreading the cancer, either by their own ignorance, greed, and indifference. We have to, we must, change the conversation to really mean, “We Are All In This Together.” Or, I promise you, I’ll bet whatever money I may have, We Are Truly Destined to Only Recover and To Never Really Heal – To Repeat History Again and Again.

I have both written and spoken about “The Gift of This Cancer”. I have learned so much more in the past twenty-five months than in all the forty-five years of my life as a monk. The gifts it has given me in the lessons I have learned remain immeasurable. It has helped cut through my own ignorance, leaving me with a vision of my fellow human beings and of the real world which has left me with great faith that while we are the co-creators of the history of mankinds suffering, we are also the co-creators of the medicine required for full recovery and complete healing. All that is required for us to begin the healing process, is understanding the words of Albert Einstein, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” And, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

We need a different conversation, one that comes out of being “In This Altogether”. One of “family” though estranged yet still related. I will not claim to know how to get there. I cannot rewrite what history has already written. I cannot change anyone who does not wish to be changed. I can only change myself and I as do with an open and faithful heart, I do believe, that in some unexplainable mystery, me, you, whenever you and me do, somehow we change the world.

I am in this with you and, without a single doubt, I believe in yours and my ability to bring about the healing of each other and all of Nature.

I Love You,

Seijaku Roshi


Building Your Life on A Spiritual Foundation

We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned,
                        so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

                                                         —Joseph Campbell

Authentic Spirituality can be defined broadly as a sense of connection to something higher than ourselves, something larger and more profound than our relationship with sensual satisfaction. In Zen, any type of sensual satisfaction of any kind including “feeling more peaceful” is viewed as a byproduct rather than an ends to a means. Initially almost every person who has shown up at Pine Wind over the years, are motivated by one form or another of the “pursuit of happiness”. Often I warn everyone that, “Ego got you here, but it will not keep you here.”

Spirituality is universally connective in the realization that suffering is a part of human existence. Establishing a real ground or foundation for your spiritual practice which seeks a connection with that larger self, often referred to in Zen as one’s “Buddha-Nature,” or even perhaps “God,” or “Universe,” will prove to be difficult at first but is essential, for longevity and sustainability of any genuine practice including, meditation or mindfulness. Unlike so many other cultural or social efforts toward finding some kind of peace-of-mind, or happiness, or satisfaction, Zen-Buddhism points to “taking refuge” in times of difficulty in one of the Three Refuges — “Buddha-Nature, Dharma Teachings, and finally Community or Sangha;” in the end it all comes down to “You” Your “personal effort,” in maintaining a devotion to the practices, no matter the circumstances or situations rising in our lives at any moment. It means remaining true to the Fourth Vow of “The Vows For All” — “The Buddha-Way is endless, I vow to follow it.”

When we are truly willing to transcend our lifetime attachments to “egocentric emotions and feelings” we discover a kind of set of “transcended emotions” which are not a part of the ego’s bureaucracy. The realization of self-transcendent emotions followed by learning how to nurture oneself to maintain a connection with these emotions, often leads to strengthening the longevity and sustainability of ones spiritual life or practice; apart from which sustainability and growth will prove to not be possible.

In describing these emotions one needs to remember that our connection with them are a function of what Joseph Campbell calls, a “Willingness to forget the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” We must as Zen Master Dogen explains, “Forget the Self” we are far too familiar with, in order to discover this “Higher Self” which results in actualizing “Cessation” from our discontentment created by our attachment to ego. The Buddha taught that, “Dukkha” (discontentment or suffering) is a function of our relationship with, or our attachments, to those feelings, emotions, cravings and desires in our life which, often prove to be the real “Cause” of our dissatisfaction (Second Noble Truth). If our intention for our spiritual practices is only to appease ego’s desires well, that’s just the “dog chasing its tail”. Even the dog eventually grows tired of the chase and go in search of something “more, better, or different”.

Transcendent moments are often experienced as peace, awe or reverence, and contentment—emotional and spiritual wellbeing overlap, like most aspects of wellbeing. The “higher or transcendent emotions — pervade the whole universe, revealing right here right now, every here and every now”. We need only the ability, which training and practice provides, to see them, or more accurately experience them wherever we are and at any moment. We do not have to go in search of them. In fact “searching for them” is a formula for loosing them or not seeing or experiencing them entirely. We need only to learn how to “stop, stay, listen, and experience” this moment exactly as it is, and exactly as it is not. Through Shikantaza, “Just Sitting” meditation of Japanese Soto Zen, we train first in developing and actualizing this posture and then, nurturing and sustaining it throughout regular and consistent practice into an ”endless future”.

At Pine Wind there is a kind of motto which from the very beginning has informed the life of The Monks and those members and students which make up our “Community,” it reads — “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.”
This motto informs everything, every decision, every program, everything we do. Authentic Spirituality takes us out of our conditioned—self which is egocentric in nature, removes us from the bureaucracy of ego, and re-connects us with our Original-Self, our True-Self, which is “Relational” by nature.

“Self-transcendent emotions connect us all through prosocial behavior.” Human Beings are relational by nature. Somewhere in the course of our life we “disconnect” with our True-Nature while not entirely, learned behavior interrupts any direct experience of our “Interconnected and Interdependent” reality. This explains why such contemporary psychological and emotional dysfunctions characterized by a sense of “separateness,” “not belonging,” and “alienation,” continue to lead to low self esteem issues and depression for so many of us today.

Self-Transcendent emotions include: Compassion, Awe or Reverence, Gratitude or Appreciation, Inspiration, Admiration, Joy, and Love. Self-Transcendent emotions naturally inform human behaviors such as acts of Kindness, Benevolence, and Charity. Self-Transcendent emotions are “Others-Focused,” “More Meaningful,” and “Purpose-Filled”.
Too much of what is often mistaken as spirituality is “self-focused,” or “egocentric”. Until we are able to transcend the illusion of “Me, Myself, and I” as the center of the Universe, any possibility for any real transformation and cessation is not possible. The very self we strive through practice to appease, is the very cause of our discontentment. Albert Einstein wrote, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”

I Have written and spoken extensively on the matter of fact that, “I can only offer the world what I have.” Initially, authentic spiritual practice aims to restore the inherent virtues required for any healthy process aimed toward maturity and eventual well-being. Among the virtues referenced in ancient texts are: Hope, Gratitude, Forgiveness, and Self-Compassion. In Zen we understand that cessation from our discontentment or suffering(Third Noble Truth), or true-happiness, is not the function of some supernatural event, nor is it, to be found in some person, place, or thing. True and sustainable happiness is a function of a transformational process. Happiness is an ongoing process involving regular challenges which result in psychological, emotional, and spiritual growth and maturity. In the Buddha’s prescription or process which leads to the aforementioned results (Fourth Noble Truth), He explains that the process begins with “Right Point-of-View,” which is sometimes interpreted as “Right Attitude,” followed by “Right Thoughts,” “Right Speech,” and “Right-Action” and others, behaviors designed to sustain happiness.

Beginning with establishing “Right Point-of-View,” we can connect with the divine, that larger or greater self and purpose for living, which inevitably results in improving one’s wellbeing. We move from fantasy and sensationalism into reality-based practice or training. We begin to experience our interconnectedness and interdependent relationship with others, the whole of Nature, and the Cosmos. Eventually, Hope is reestablished, and a sense of Gratitude for life’s sake naturally surfaces. Forgiveness becomes instinctual and realized as essential for any real sustainable happiness. Self-Compassion defined as:

  • Expressing kindness toward oneself and viewing one’s shortcomings with a non-judgmental attitude.
  • Connecting one’s experience of suffering with that of the collective human experience.
  • Becoming mindful of suffering without becoming attached or making it a part of one’s identity.

Finally after a lifetime of self-criticism, and judging, Compassion is extended to include others and realized as quintessential for any personal or global healing process.

Today the world is experiencing increased social stressors which for centuries have been linked to dis-ease of the mind and the body. Levels of depression continue to be on the rise. There remains a body of evidence that a real “spiritually based lifestyle” is said to have a healing effect on stress filled, anxious, and depressive symptoms. Any effort to establish a “spiritual or religious foundation” for living one’s life is significantly and positively associated with increased sense of well-being and longevity. People live longer, have more satisfying, meaningful or purposeful lives, and have lower rates of low self-esteem, anxiety, and discontentment. Devotion to a regular meditation practice, has proven to lower instances of depression. Becoming more mindful, reduces occasions for depressive thoughts in real-time.

Forming connections with others in troubling times, or any other time for that matter, weakens the strength of fear-driven reactions to external stimuli, eases stress, contributes to reducing the effects of a sense of loneliness, and increases immune response. Both science and spirituality agrees, human beings are relational creatures, therefore “Community is not only the Spirit, and the Guiding Light,” it is the medicine the world has always needed and increasingly needs to meet todays challenge and any increasingly new challenges in the future.

We Really Are – More Together Than Alone!

I Love You,

Seijaku Roshi


“I Can Only Give What I Have” – The World Awaits Your Compassionate Heart

We are living in a time of great uncertainty marked by fear. In times like these, it is essential to realize that my first responsibility is to liberate myself from discontentment (Suffering) and its causes. Why? “I can only give to others what I have.” If I want a world full of peace, I must know peace. If I want a more compassionate world, I must know compassion.
If I want a more kinder, a more gentler world, I must know kindness and be gentle. When I know how to take care of my own discontentment, to take care of my-Self, then I will know how to meet the inevitable challenges life will present, I will know how to take care of the world around me.

When we commit to a devoted regular meditation practice we are creating the context, the conditions, for “cessation from suffering and its causes” to arise; we are laying the ground for awakening, building a bridge between the “false-self”, the ego-self we have come to identify with and, our True-Self.

We are on a journey each of us, not to some far away destination, to some “visionary flower in the sky,” but to our true home, which is never far away. Whenever we hear that small voice within us, and, if we listen, *(Samahdi Meditation, the meditation of the Buddha serves as a conduit for listening), it is always “calling us home to our Self.” What we are really searching for is that True-Self Buddha called “Buddha-Nature”; Christ called, “Children of God,” The Torah refers to as, “God’s People,” and what the ancient Zen masters referred to as, “Your face before your parents were born.”

What is essential, is to understand that there is no separation between your own liberation from suffering and its causes, and liberating the world from Its suffering and Its causes. There is no separation between your True-self and Others. Everything and everyone is interconnected. Once you are truly aware of the interconnectedness and interdependency of all phenomena, ego, that false-self we have come to identify with, naturally drops away, along with it the illusion of separateness. When the “illusion of separateness” drops away, “We are enlightened by the Ten Thousand Things”.

The “interconnected and interdependent” reality of all things, teaches us that my own happiness or my own discontentment, is dependent on the happiness or suffering of others, and likewise. This is the meaning of the words spoken by Jesus when he said, “It is better to give than to receive,” and “Whatsoever a person sews, so shall they reap.” “Loving your neighbor as yourself,” is not an ends but rather a means, a practice, when applied regularly brings us into a deeper realization of the interconnectedness of all things, of the true-relationship between others and me. With this deeper realization I know how to relate to the world around me, I know how to “be” in relationship with others.

Zen spirituality or what I call “Authentic Spirituality,” is not an idea or a belief, or something you understand intellectually. The only real understanding available is a function of applying the methods, you have to practice and train, every moment of every day of your daily living. We learn, and grow, and mature, only through application. This is why Zen is often referred to as “A Way-of-Life,” or what I prefer, “A Way-of-Being,” in a reality marked by interconnectedness, interdependency, and, impermanence. The realization of these Three Markings become the ground or foundation of our Lifestyle or Way-of-Being in the world. First through realizing the interconnectedness, interdependence, and impermanence of all things, and then the application of “skillful means” well-honed over many generations and proven to work; my speech and my actions become means for avoiding suffering and its causes and, creating the conditions for True-Happiness and Love, for myself and others to arise.

During these times of so much uncertainty and fear, these are times for Love, times for the Compassionate Heart of The Bodhisattva.

Most people like to say that the most important matter in their life is Love; “To Be Loved,” and “To Love Others”. But what is “Love”? I must admit that I have concluded that even I did not fully realize the answer to these questions until I became a parent, and later when diagnosed with cancer. As a Father there is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect and care for my daughter. When I was diagnosed with cancer she was my immediate inspiration to not only conquer cancer, but to be the very best parent, the very best person, I could ever be for however long I had to be.

We often think of Love as some sentimental or romantic experience or sensation in the body. At moments in our lives when certain events or situations are present, there is a sense that Love is something far more deeper, and something other than just a sensation in the body.

In Buddhist teachings, Love begins with a level of maturity which results in a capacity to take care of your life, to make the right choices which will protect you from suffering and its causes, and to nourish the ground beneath your feet to live life fully and authentically, as who you truly are. Remembering that, “I can only give what I have.” if you are not capable of taking care of your own life—if you are not capable of making life-choices that protect you, that nourish and empower you to meet life’s challenges—it is very difficult to take care of another person. In the Buddhist teachings, it’s clear that the Love of ones-Self and the love of another are — “Not Two”. Likewise, Loving others, whether they be family, neighbors, or strangers — as your-Self is — loving your-Self. Love is truly The Practice we call “Living Spiritually in The World”.

I believe that the suffering we witness daily in the world comes from not being able to, or not having the maturity, to Love our-Self. I keep returning to a fundamental reality, “I can only give what I have.” The world is a reflection of what I have or what I lack within myself such as a genuine Love for my-Self, and what I’m bringing to the world through my intentions, my words, and my actions.

Thomas Merton wrote, “Every moment and every event of every persons life on earth plants something in his or her soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of invisible and visible winged seeds, so the stream of time brings with it germs of spiritual vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of men and women. Most of these unnumbered seeds perish and are lost, because so many are not prepared to receive them: for such seeds as these cannot spring up anywhere except in the good soil of liberty and desire.”

Merton goes on to challenge us by asking, “For how can I receive the seeds of freedom…if I am a prisoner and do not even desire to be free…and have hardened my heart against true love?” So what is an Act of Love? It is nothing other than having an open heart and mind to receive the seeds of Love and, with maturity, to be able to offer the seeds of Love I have received to another or others. But I must first have a heart which can identify Love and is open to receive It. One is not capable of either receiving or giving Love unless there is reciprocity. Love is never meant for me alone, it is meant for me to receive so that I can learn and grown and mature in Love and, give it to another, to others.

The Buddhist icon or ideal for both receiving and giving love is — The Bodhisattva. The Bodhisattva is someone who vows to live their lives as a benefit for others; to alleviate suffering and its cause within themselves first, in order to hear the sounds of, and see the suffering in the world and alleviate the suffering of the world by bringing blessings of Love wherever it is needed. A Bodhisattva radiates compassion, integrity and courage, and most especially this Selfless Benevolent Love and Kindness, which is the medicine for the world’s suffering, wherever they find themselves.

Avalokiteśvara, or Quan Yin in Chan Buddhism, or Kanzeon in Japanese Buddhism (English): is a Bodhisattva who, “embodies the Compassion of all Buddhas”. Avalokiteśvara is one of the most famous Bodhisattvas in Buddhism, Who hears the world’s cries, never turning her/his heart from the sounds of suffering, responding with skillful means to come to their aid. In the Mahayana tradition (Chan or Zen) we are all Bodhisattvas, fully-realized or not. As Bodhisattvas we are asked to hold a certain measure of the tragedy of the world in our hearts and minds and to respond wherever we find it with Love and Kindness; with Compassion and Benevolent Service. This is true whether we are speaking about our immediate relationships with our spouses or partners, with our siblings and family, as well as with our neighbors and, the stranger.

As human-beings we bring to our lives as Bodhisattvas a level of our own uncertainty, our own fears, and doubts. This is only natural. In Zen the solution is often something like, “Fake it until you make it.” Part of what we have to offer the world is, our personal experience of fear and apprehension, our uncertainty and sense of helplessness. When we acknowledge what is so in our hearts and minds, never “spiritually bypassing” it or denying it, then our fears and uncertainty can be transformed into powerful means for acts of Love. Kanzeon, not only hears the worlds suffering, but embraces it in his or her own heart and mind, fully experiencing it, so that he or she may respond not with just some idea but rather with the right medicine for transforming suffering into the means for true-liberation or cessation.

We can learn that to Love ourselves is “to take care of these feelings and emotions,” rather than always avoiding or denying them. We can learn to sit quietly everyday and acknowledge what’s so in the moment. It doesn’t matter what the feeling, or the narrative, or the emotion is; we simply sit with “what’s so” without criticism or judgement, holding all of it with a compassionate heart-mind. When we learn to do this daily and at every moment and “find refuge” in our potential to rise above the grip feelings and emotions, and the narrative may have on us, we can begin to feel ourselves as part of something much larger, something generations of sentient beings have not only survived but, have learned to transform into means for real changes in the world.

Once again Merton speaks to us saying, “The true-inner-self must be drawn up like a jewel from the bottom of the sea, rescued from confusion, from in-distinction, from immersion in the common, the nondescript, the trivial, the sordid, the evanescent.”

Again he continues to challenge us with, “In humility is the greatest freedom. As long as you have to defend the imaginary self that you think is important, you lose your peace-of-heart and mind. As soon as you compare that shadow with the shadows of other people, you lose all joy, because you have begun to trade in unrealities and there is no joy in things that do not exist.”

In our contemporary society which insists that each of its members think alike, act alike, make similar choices, and fulfill one exclusive expectation, these words literally rock every preconception of what makes us human. What is that? Certainly our “diversity”. I have always believed that what is missing in any effort to end global suffering and its causes, has always been “the individual”. While we may share 99.9% of the same DNA, perhaps the same cultural or social history, what is also true and not only ignored but punished at times for even asserting is, our uniqueness, our diversity. Believing this I have always thought that what is missing in the world and necessary for its salvation has been and always will be — You! You, along with everything psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually, which makes up the Whole-Authentically-Unique-You!

As the veil of separation begins to part, and the reality of our interconnectedness, interdependency, and the impermanence of both the moment, which is “too often squandered,” and of the “opportunity too often lost” to make real and sustainable changes in the world; the Call for All Bodhisattvas and the urgency to learn to Love ourselves so that we may turn our hearts and minds towards the suffering around us, and serve to help those near to us and those who may still be strangers, grows louder and louder. The question for our times is an ancient one which has resounded in the hearts and minds of men and women everywhere, and in the heart and mind of The Bodhisattva, is “Who will go?” Who like Avalokiteśvara, will open their minds and hearts with courage and audacity, to hear the sounds of the worlds suffering, and be the medicine for its healing and renewal, its transformation and rebirth?

“I, the Lord of sea and sky
I have heard my people cry
All who dwell in dark and sin
My hand will save
I who made the stars of night
I will make their darkness bright
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?
Here I am, Lord
Is it I, Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night
I will go, Lord
If You lead me
I will hold Your people in my heart
I, the Lord of wind and flame
I will tend the poor and lame
I will set a feast for them
My hand will save
Finest bread I will provide
‘Til their hearts be satisfied
I will give my life to them
Whom shall I send?
Here I am, Lord
Is it I, Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night
I will go, Lord
If You lead me
I will hold Your people in my heart
I will hold Your people in my heart.”

I believe in You!

I Love You,

Seijaku Roshi

Nicole Belopotosky

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