O! my heart now feels so cheerful as I go with footsteps light
In the daily toil of my dear home;
And I’ll tell to you the secret that now makes my life so bright—
There’s a flower at my window in full bloom.
It is radiant in the sunshine, and so cheerful after rain;
And it wafts upon the air its sweet perfume.
It is very, very lovely! May its beauties never wane—
This dear flower at my window in full bloom.
Nature has so clothed it in such glorious array,
And it does so cheer our home, and hearts illume;
Its dear memory I will cherish though the flower fade away—
This dear flower at my window in full bloom.
Oft I gaze upon this flower with its blossoms pure and white.
And I think as I behold its gay costume,
While through life we all are passing may our lives be always bright
Like this flower at my window in full bloom.
— Lucian B. Watkins
Spirituality can be defined broadly as a sense of connection to something higher than ourselves, something larger than simply the mundanities of everyday life. This is not to be understood as something separate from the mundane, quite the contrary. We are called to live and find that divine connection in the everyday mundane activities and challenges, in our world as it is, and not as we might expect it to be.
Watkins poem begins, “O! my heart now feels so cheerful as I go with footsteps light In the daily toil of my dear home; And I’ll tell to you the secret that now makes my life so bright—There’s a flower at my window in full bloom.” It points to the presence of “the flower at my window in full bloom,” as the source of joy for the observer. However what it does not consider is that it is the “observer” in the poem who is “able” to notice the flower in all its glory — “As I go with footsteps light In the daily toil of my dear home.”
The sense of transcendence, experienced in spirituality is a universal experience, but one which requires much more than imagination, (which so often can be misleading), or chance. Thomas Merton reminds his brother and sister Christians, “The fact remains that our task is to seek and find Christ in our world as it is…”. The saying, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” speaks to the fundamental “practice” of living spiritually in the world. “The secret that now makes my life so bright,” is that I have developed a way of seeing the world that allows for joy, for faith, for confidence, for steadfastness, for love and for personal fulfillment. My sense of fulfillment is not a function of what is in the world but, of “how I see what is in the world”. “The Secret,” is in how I approach “the daily toil of my dear home”. It’s never about “how the world is,” it’s always about “how I am approaching the daily toil of my dear home.”
Living Spiritually is a shift from depending on the world to be this way or that way for my happiness to, realizing that my happiness is completely dependent on how I live in the world. Beauty is everywhere, but do we have the eyes to see it. Love pervades the entire Universe, “Revealing right here right now.”
Developing the “Eyes to See, and the Ears to Hear”
“It is almost impossible to overestimate the value of true humility and its power in the spiritual life. For the beginning of humility is the beginning of blessedness and the consummation of humility is the perfection of all joy. Humility contains in itself the answer to all the great problems of the life of the soul. It is the only key to faith, with which the spiritual life begins: for faith and humility are inseparable. In perfect humility all selfishness disappears and your soul no longer lives for itself or in itself…In humility is the greatest freedom. As long as you have to defend the imaginary self that you think is important, you lose your piece of heart. 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 humility is the greatest and only true freedom.” — Thomas Merton
“One has to be alone, under the sky, Before everything falls into place and one finds his or her own place in the midst of it all. We have to have the humility to realize ourselves as part of nature, as part of something larger than ourselves.”
The late Charlotte Joko Beck once wrote that, “Enlightenment is growing up.” Living Spiritually, living authentically, demands the most heroic labor; it demands an unyielding faithfulness to what is true, to what is essential, and an unprecedented purity of consciousness. One enters into a new sphere — a new way-of-being in the world. One which is grounded in a sense of one’s personal place in the universe and how one’s singular responsibility is authenticity which inevitably leads to benevolent service, compassion for oneself and others, and love as a force of nature and not just some sentimental or romantic notion.
Back to The Future
There is a great deal of chatter about “getting back to normal”. I ask, “What normal?”
“Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack.”
The present moment is a function of individual and collective ways-of-being which includes our priorities, choices, and actions in the past. We did not just show up here. We’ve been heading here for decades. The only course of action which will lead us “through the valley of the shadow of death” and to the “promise land,” is to change our current course of action.
If we are ever going to recover, if we are ever going to successfully create a more enlightened, loving, compassionate, and inclusive society, we need to stop lying about the past, we need to own our mistakes and then; Forget the past, especially the one you think existed. Let it all go! This is how we begin to heal from this pandemic and all the pre-existing suffering it brought out into the light.
“We have been given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and the whole of nature.”
No matter who occupies 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue come January 2021, if we return to the normalization of greed, hatred, and indifference — the only thing that will change are the actors and we will see suffering far greater than what we are witnessing today. Not only do we need new actors we need a new script, a new direction, a new way-of-being in the world. One which reflects “our place in the universe,” “our designed purpose for existence,” “our true-nature,” which reflects Nature’s way-of-being.
The first step toward recovery and reconciliation is to own the problem and the source of the problem. While I wholeheartedly agree it is necessary to VOTE so much more of us is required toward bringing about personal and global recovery and healing. We cannot just expect the actors on the stage to bring about this recovery. “We the People,” each and every one of us must own the vision for the future.
We must say, “No” to “Greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack,” as an acceptable way-of-being in the world. We begin by taking inventory and recognizing how these behaviors have defined our own lives or way-of-being in the world.
“Living Spiritually, Living Authentically, demands the most heroic labor; it demands an unyielding faithfulness to what is true, to what is essential, and an unprecedented purity of consciousness.”
We begin right where we are. Without criticism or judgement, we merely make necessary corrections in the way we think of ourselves and others; the way we communicate love for ourselves and others, and the way we behave, especially during the most difficult and challenging times.
The Buddha taught, “We become what we dwell on.” (Para) If we are always dwelling on “how bad the world is,” we become fearful, suspicious, and mistrusting. If we are only focused on what needs to be done to correct the world, we become judgmental and critical. If we are focused on thinking and communicating what is needed to heal ourselves and others, we become Bodhisattvas.
The Way of The Bodhisattva
“You who see that experience has no coming or going, Yet pour your energy solely into helping beings, My excellent teachers and Lord All Seeing, I humbly and constantly honor with my body, speech, and mind. The fully awake, the buddhas, source of joy and well-being,
All come from integrating the noble Way.”
“Right now, you have a good boat, fully equipped and available — hard to find. To free others and you from the sea of samsara, Day and night, fully alert and present, Study, Reflect, and Meditate — this is the practice of a Bodhisattva.”
“Don’t engage disturbances and reactive emotions gradually fade away; Don’t engage distractions and spiritual practice naturally grows; Keep awareness clear and vivid and confidence in the way arises. Rely on silence — this is the practice of a Bodhisattva.”
Living a Meaningful and Purposeful Life is the Only Life Worth Living
“While the understanding of spirituality differs across religions and belief systems, it can be described by finding meaning and purpose in life…Seeking a meaningful connection with something larger than yourself can result in increased positive emotions. Transcendent moments are filled with peace, awe, and contentment—emotional and spiritual wellbeing overlap, like most aspects of wellbeing.”
Shall we begin?
I Love You,
“We do not want you to copy or imitate us. We want to be like a ship that has crossed the ocean, leaving a wake of foam, which soon fades away. We want you to follow the Spirit, which we have sought to follow, but which must be sought anew in every generation.” — 1st Generation Quakers
“Community is The Spirit, The Guiding Light…” — St. Benedict
Zen, Authentic Spirituality, is characterized by an emphasis of abundant simplicity—Simplicity grounded in the absence of the pursuit of any person, place, experience, thing, desire, or ideal, as the source of our joy. There exists for the Zen Contemplative a simple and profound yearning for complete union with “not knowing” or life as it is recognized in Zen which is fundamentally “Empty” and “Mystery,” removing all obstacles to the deepening of this relationship with one’s true-self, with this moment, and ones immediate environment.
As Rumi once wrote, “Our true work is not to go in pursuit of Love, chasing after it in people, places, objects, and experiences, but to inquire within ourselves as to the emotional, psychological, and spiritual obstacles we have built up in our lifetime preventing us from seeing Love where it always has been — within us and all around us.” (Para)
Thus, we find the Buddha’s emphasis on — “Right Point-of-View; Right Thought and Intention; Right Speech and Action; Right Effort and Concentration, and so on.” All designed to cultivate the ground for helpful attitudes and motives, with the emphasis of avoiding unwholesome and habitual ways-of-being learned in ones lifetime, which prove to be obstacles toward liberating oneself from a life driven by fear, emotional and sentimental ties, that only complicate the inner journey.
For the ancient Zen masters and their students, relationships were “non-attachment”: They cared for others without any expectation of reciprocity. Concern for personal gain or self-aggrandizing was discarded. While feelings or emotions were acknowledged, with an emphasis on fully experiencing them, they were subjected to the discipline of the heart’s goal to awaken and to liberate oneself from the false-self and egocentric self which operated from a place of fear and craving.
Integrity was utmost, followed by an unrelenting devotion to prayer, contemplation, meditation, and benevolent service. Sacrifice was expected and understood to be essential. Ones vocation was to sacrifice this small self, this egocentric self, so that, “The person we were always meant to be,” could surface and get on with the real business of the spiritual life — “The liberation of all sentient beings from suffering and its causes.”
One of the tools used by the contemplative is a deep inquiry into the meaning of what The Buddha called, “Right Point-of-View,” which included how one viewed himself or herself and, his or her place in the world. One cannot endeavor to achieve this without eventually arriving at the realization of our’s and all sentient beings “interconnected and interdependent” relationship. We are not born for ourselves alone, we are born for each others benefit. Our place in the Universe is defined by the level of true-self realization — that the real meaning and purpose of my life was and is to live my life as a benefit for all other sentient beings and the whole of Nature. This could not and cannot be achieved apart from living morally and with a mindful awareness of not only my needs but the needs of my brothers and sisters with whom I coexist and co-create the world around me with. The solution to which is what followed or more accurately, which was embedded in the contemplative life — “Community”.
“Life in community is no less than a necessity for us — it is an inescapable “must” that determines everything we do and think. Yet it is not our good intention or efforts that have been decisive in our choosing this way of life. Rather, we have been overwhelmed by a certainty — a certainty that has its origin and power in the source of everything that exists…We must live in community because all life exists in a communal order and works toward community.” (Para)
The truly spiritual, the true contemplative, lives his or her life deeply committed to the “belief in the overwhelming power of life, the power of love to overcome, and the ultimate triumph of truth…This deeply committed belief is not a theory; neither is it a dogma, a system of ideas, or a fabric of words…We must live in community for only in such a positive venture can it become clear how incapable of living life fully the individual is and that community is that life-giving force which makes all things possible.” (Para)
Community answers the social-political crises our Nation and the World finds itself in today. While millions of individuals, religious and political organizations, are engaged in the battle against tyranny and injustice, the contemplative cannot fight their battles in their way.
“With them we stand side-by-side with those who have little or nothing, with the underprivileged and marginalized, and with the degraded and depressed. And yet we must avoid the kind of class struggle that employs violent means to avenge lives taken through exploitation. We reject the defensive war of the suppressed just as much as the defensive war of nations…We live in community because we take our stand in the spiritual fight on the side of all those who fight for freedom, unity, peace, and social justice.” (Para)
While the contemplative remains committed to living a life benefitting all sentient beings and to laboring for the liberation of all sentient beings from suffering and its causes, he or she realizes that they can “only give what they have achieved for themselves”. All that, restricts and limits human consciousness and humanity, all that possesses the minds and hearts of millions, their attachments and compulsions, and which must be healed and reconciled, must first be achieved by the monk, the nun, or student of Zen, themselves. Before I can be of any benefit to others I must move toward inner freedom and detachment from those thoughts and cravings which bind me. The cultivation of the individuals inner freedom was and remains vital to the deepening of their experience of suffering and its causes in the world. “As they deepened their interior freedom, all aspects of their false self were removed and a clearer understanding of their truest self emerged.” It is this “true-self” that dwells deeply within the minds and hearts of all beings, and hungers to be realized and manifested in the world. Whenever and wherever we find tyranny and suffering, we find that this Self is restricted or limited in one form or another. For it is in the liberation of all sentient beings and the elevation toward Full-True-Self expression, we will finally realize personal and global freedom and experience our deepest joy.
We must live in community because when all obstacles are removed we will, as those before us have, find that same Spirit that has led mankind toward community since the beginning of time.
Shall we begin?
I Love You,
“We had a kettle; we let it leak:
Our not repairing it made it worse.
We haven’t had any tea for a week…
The bottom is out of the Universe.”
― Rudyard Kipling,
I never imagined that all the years I have trained as a monk would be tested in the crucible of the last twenty-eight months. Living with cancer is an invitation to pay attention to the life given us, life before cancer, and life as I learn to live with cancer. At its best and most useful, it forces us to look inside ourselves and confront the essential questions of birth and death, to see wherever we have dropped the ball, and in whatever time we have left, to fix what is broken in us and, in our world.
“The truth about one’s mortality challenges us to reach down into the muck of our hurtful, broken past, broken relationships, broken promises, and our broken selves, where we hide so much, and promise we will blister our hands in the heat and the cold and fix what needs to be fixed — not simply throw him, her, or it, or ourselves away, shrug, and move on.”
Most people don’t fix much of anything anymore. We have become a “throw away society”. (I also know that not everything that is broken can be fixed.) When you are challenged however with the choice to either get on with living or to get on with dying, for some the choice is clear while others hope that someone or something will come along and make that choice for them. Unfortunately even if it is made for us, in the end — we must do the living or the dying.
“Tibetan Buddhists say that a person should never get rid of their negative energy, that negative energy transformed is the energy of enlightenment, and that the only difference between neurosis and wisdom is struggle. If we stop struggling and open up and accept what is, that neurotic energy naturally arises as wisdom, naturally informs us and becomes our teacher.”
We find our salvation not in some ideal but rather, right in, the world we have; in both our personal suffering and the suffering of the world. We are called to “bear witness” to our suffering and others. To hold that suffering within our hearts and through applying the principles of loving-kindness, compassion, and benevolence, transform it into the energy that will heal and transform our world.
In Buddhism as in Judaism and Christianity there is an anticipation of a future coming of a Messiah or in Buddhism the next Buddha.
“Where shall we look for the Messiah?” Asked the ancient sages. “Shall the Messiah come to us on clouds of glory, robed in majesty and crowned with light?” One sage imagines this question posed to no less an authority than the prophet Elijah himself. “Where,” the sage asks Elijah, “shall I find the Messiah?” “At the gate of the city,” Elijah replies. “How shall I recognize him?” “He sits among the lepers.” “Among the lepers?” Cries the sage. “What is he doing there?” “He changes their bandages,” Elijah answers. “He changes them one by one.”
For Mahayana Buddhist a long held belief by some (myself included) but not all, has been that the next Buddha will not necessarily be any one individual. The next Buddha will appear in the world as “Sangha” or “Community” —
“It is possible the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community, a community practicing understanding and lovingkindness, a community practicing mindful living. And the practice can be carried out as a group, as a city, as a nation.”
It is important to recognize that both prophecies point to “behavior” as the force behind the arrival of the new Messiah or Messianic Era or The Enlightened Era of the Buddha. Here we understand that the Messianic Era or the Enlightened Era as in Buddhism, will be a function of first the individual and then, the masses becoming the full embodiment of both the Messiah and or Buddha —
“At the gate of the city,” Elijah replies. “How shall I recognize him?” Asks the sage. “He sits among the lepers.” “Among the lepers?” cries the sage. “What is he doing there?” “He changes their bandages,” Elijah answers. “He changes them one by one.”
“The Buddha body is in us. Using the energy of mindfulness, meditation, and living virtuously, living community for each other, we can touch the body of the Buddha within us and around us at any time. And I know the sangha body is in me and around me. The trees, the grass, the blue sky, the flowers are all elements of the sangha. And you, are my sangha body. You take care of me.” I take care of you.
“Community is the Spirit, the Guiding Light…” In a genuine community of deeply devoted people, the individual finds his or her true-freedom in the free decision of the united — All for One — One for All. Spirit, “Working from within each member as the will for the good of humanity and the whole of Nature, freedom becomes unanimity and concord.” Liberated by the Spirit of Community, Guided by the Light of loving-kindness, compassion, and benevolence, which is the Heart and Soul of Community, each person naturally moves toward the realization and actualization of the good of humanity and the benefit of the whole of Nature.
We must live in Community because the eternal struggle against the destructive and enslaving powers of Greed, Hatred, and a Culture of Indifference toward global suffering and injustice, “Against all the wrong and injustice people do to each other,” cannot be met alone by any one individual, it can only be eventually conquered by the ranks of souls and bodies mobilized to meet this struggle wherever it is found and whenever it is before us.
Today it is clear that,
“The challenge of liberation for unity and the fullness of love is being fought on many different fronts with many different means. So too, the work of community finds expression in many different ways because the Spirit of Community is rich, boundless, seamless and timeless, and inclusive. But no matter the expression there is a common certainty of purpose…and when we possess this certainty we will be given the strength for loyalty and unerring clarity, even in small things, to the very end.”
Perhaps here we need to reflect on what is at the root of what so often seems to be an impossible task. What is missing for so many is I believe to be a “lack of certainty”. A “certainty” that can only be nurtured and reinforced by a singular view of ones self and ones place in the world, and a purposeful approach born and sustained out of that view.
The solution has always been for me, what I call “The Principle of Identity”. In his teachings, “The Art of Peace” Morihei Ueshiba writes,
“You are here for no other purpose than to realize your inner divinity and manifest your inner enlightenment. Foster peace in your own life and then apply the Art to all that you encounter.”
This is the ground for achieving the impossible. No matter how long and how difficult and, how impossible it may seem. Each of us, ordinary beings, called to live extraordinary lives. We are called to meet hatred with love. We are called to meet indifference with benevolence. We are called to meet polarization and the delusion of separation with community. We are called to the impossible task of healing ourselves, our world, the last, the present, and the future. I believe that if we were not capable, the dream of a more loving, kind, and compassionate world would not have ever found its life within us.
I will leave you for the moment with the words of Morihei Ueshiba once again —
“There is no place in The Art of Peace for pettiness and selfish thoughts. Rather than being captivated by the notion of “winning or losing,” seek the true-nature of things. Your thoughts (your words, your actions) should reflect the grandeur of the universe, a realm beyond birth and death. If your thoughts are antagonistic toward the cosmos, this thoughts will destroy you and wreak havoc on the environment… Always try to be in communion with heaven and earth; then the world will appear in its true light. Self-conceit will naturally vanish, and you can blend with any challenge.” (Para)
Act Accordingly…Shall we Begin?
“For as long as space endures, and for as long as living beings remain, until then may I too abide to dispel the misery of the world.” — Shantideva
I Love You,