“In a time of domestic crisis men of good will and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics. This is not even a legal or legislative issue alone…law alone cannot make men see right. We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution…One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. And this Nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free.”
— President John F. Kennedy June 11, 1963
Buddhism teaches us that, “Social injustice exists when individuals treat each other unfairly based on discrimination according to some socially constructed label (race, class, gender, age, language, ability, etc.) and/or systemic government practices and policies which directly or indirectly treat different groups unfairly (housing, health, policing, labor, voting, environmental, education laws).” The path toward correcting such injustices is the same path toward peace for the individual and all sentient beings. We cannot and will not have Peace-on-Earth until truly all men and women regardless of their racial, social, cultural, religious, or political identities, share equally in the ”Right to Life, Liberty, Equal Opportunity and Happiness”.
Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “Mindfulness must be engaged. Once we see that something needs to be done, we must take action. Seeing and action go together. Otherwise, what is the point in seeing?”
“The American monk venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi has also spoken of the need for Buddhist practitioners to engage in the world of social injustices as an extension of the Buddha’s teachings on social and community harmony (Bodhi).”
Anyone who identifies with “living spiritually in the world,” must understand that our very existence, the very meaning and purpose of our lives is, “To realize our inner divinity and manifest our inner enlightenment. Fostering peace in your own life and then apply the Art of Peace to all that you encounter.” The “enlightenment” of engaged acts of Loving-Kindness, Compassion, and Benevolent Service; of “Charity towards All and Malice towards None” is the means by which we establish a real and sustainable Peace on Earth.
It would be a grave error to consider the upcoming election in November as just another political election, a battle between two dominant and equally opposite political parties. Make no mistake about it, the election is a referendum, if not the most important referendum of modern times — “We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution…” — What kind of world, what kind of society, do we want to live in and to raise our children in?
“The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated…We preach freedom around the world, and we mean it, and we cherish our freedom here at home, but are we to say to the world, and much more importantly, to each other that this is the land of the free except for people of color; that we have no second-class citizens except for people of color and the poor; that we have no class or caste system, no ghettoes, no master race except with respect to people of color and the less fortunate?” –(JFK 1963 para.)
Authentic Spirituality is “a journey toward waking up to a truth that releases everyone, not a chosen few, from suffering.” Once again as President Kennedy stated fifty-seven years ago:
“We face, therefore, a moral crisis as a country and a people. It cannot be met by repressive police action. It cannot be left to increased demonstrations in the streets. It cannot be quieted by token moves or talk. It is a time to act in the Congress, in your State and local legislative body and, above all, in all of our daily lives. It is not enough to pin the blame on others, to say this a problem of one section of the country or another, or deplore the facts that we face. A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all. Those who do nothing are inviting shame, as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right, as well as reality.”
One hundred fifty-seven years ago since President Lincoln freed the slaves, the moral questions of life continue to challenge the very fabric, the heart and soul, of our Nation. Once again we are faced with a great opportunity, infinite potential, to once and for all “answer the call to freedom” not just for a chosen few, not just for the more fortunate, but for all sentient beings.
History has proven time and time again that, silence is complicity, inaction empowers evil in the world and, only when individual men and women who come together in unity of purpose resolved to right what is wrong in our world, has always proven to be victorious over tyranny and the many causes for suffering.
I Love You,
To pull the metal splinter from my palm my father recited a story in a low voice. I watched his lovely face and not the blade. Before the story ended, he’d removed the iron sliver I thought I’d die from.
I can’t remember the tale, but hear his voice still, a well of dark water, a prayer. And I recall his hands, two measures of tenderness he laid against my face the flames of discipline he raised above my head.
Had you entered that afternoon you would have thought you saw a man
planting something in a boy’s palm, a silver tear, a tiny flame.
Had you followed that boy you would have arrived here, where I bend over my wife’s right hand.
Look how I shave her thumbnail down so carefully she feels no pain.
Watch as I lift the splinter out. I was seven when my father took my hand like this, and I did not hold that shard between my fingers and think, Metal that will bury me, christen it Little Assassin, Ore Going Deep for My Heart.
And I did not lift up my wound and cry, Death visited here!
I did what a child does when he’s given something to keep.
I kissed my father. — The Gift, Li-Young Lee
The last two months have been very difficult for me. Chemo-therapy has shown no mercy. Often I found myself responding to the pain with bitterness and resentment. By the time my next round of chemo arrived only yesterday, I found myself exhausted, not only physically but mentally as well. It is not an easy task to carry a backpack full of resentment or anger, or desire. I know so many people these days with and without cancer, who share with me their mutual experience. On Monday evening I sat in my bed anticipating Tuesday. I can’t tell you exactly what hour it came when I consciously decided to choose gentleness, patience, and gratitude, as the ground for my being no matter what came during chemo-therapy. I surrendered to what I believe to be yours and my “better angels”.
I woke up early on Tuesday and followed my usual routine but this time I started by taking into account my “first-light attitude”. I made some adjustments and left my bed. As I left the house and made my way to the car, I stopped to notice that the air was gentle, that there was beauty everywhere, I stopped to pray a simple prayer, “Thank You!” I got into my car and made my way down Route 70 to MD Anderson-Cooper, I focused my thoughts about those on the road with me. Where were they going? Were they in a rush or was this their choice? I eventually arrived at the hospital and as I regularly do I thanked the valet for taking my car; I greeted everyone I met with “Hello” and “How are you doing?”, I thanked the nurses who checked me in after checking me for a fever or any signs of COVID-19, asking them before I left, “Please take care of yourselves?” After retrieving my sandwich for lunch from the small cafe I made my way to the third-floor waiting room. Checked in. Waited. It wasn’t long before I was greeted by a nurse and ushered to my chair for the next four hours. All the while I could feel my cellular-memory warning me about what was to come. I took notice and took charge about what thoughts I would allow to join me during the day.
Gentleness is not an easy practice where pain is involved and yes with fear shadowing your every moment but, it is essential. In a world that appears to be marked by the opposite, when the opportunity to receive gentleness or to offer it arrives — it is “Gift”. As I have learned as a man and as a Zen monk, one cannot go looking for it, neither can one wait for it, it must be initiated, only then can it be recognized. Once initiated the moment becomes like a great closed iron door which suddenly opens and what one unexpectedly finds behind it, is exactly what one needs.
We can get lost in the news that the world is terrible, that the end is near, that the enemy is at the gates. But I can tell you after spending enough time traveling in “the valley of the shadow of death” — Angels live here too. That Christ was correct when he suggested that, “It is in giving we receive.” If you don’t want to go with Christ how about Paul McCartney, “And, in the end The love you take is equal to the love you make.” If you start at first-light determined to see them you will, you will see ordinary human-beings with wings — Angels among us. If you look around you, you will see them, in your home and in your neighborhood. If you look in the mirror with all the intention to see, with all the intention to bring gentleness, and patience, and gratitude for what you have rather than longing for what you don’t, you may be lucky to see your own wings. For I have become convinced that, “Angels” are not beings which exist apart from us while among us. That angels are merely a choice made by ordinary people, a way-of-being, in the world. Angels are known to arrive when something is needed, something is amiss. They show up to correct what needs to be corrected and to supply the missing.
“And I did not lift up my wound and cry, Death visited here! I did what a child does when he’s given something to keep. I kissed my father.” Yesterday I kissed the hearts of all those angels I met. I thanked God for the wings to fly above the pain and discomfort, not away from it, but above it. High enough to see that above the clouds which cover the sky and the ones which often cloud our minds — there is light, there is always light, and if you look you will see wings in flight.
“I should tell you from the outset: this blessing will require you to do some work.
First you must simply let the blessing fall from your hand, as if it were a small thing you could Let easily slip through your fingers, as if it were not precious to you, as if your life did not depend on it.
Next you must trust that this blessing knows where it is going, that it understands the ways of the dark, that it is wise to seasons and to times.
Then — and I know this blessing as already asked much of you —
It is to be hoped that you will rest and learn that something is at work when all seems still, seems dormant, seems dead.
I promise you this blessing has not abandoned you. I promise you that this blessing is on its way back to you. I promise you — when you are least expecting it, when you have given up your last hope — this blessing will rise green and whole and new.” — Jan Richardson
May I be patient to wait, gentle to this moment, toward myself and everyone who appears in this moment, may I be grateful for the waiting and for the return. Amen.
I Love You,