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29
Dec

Missing the Forest For The Trees

A Song of Hope

By Charles Bertram Johnson

Day is at the gate,
    I am risen late;
Clouds laze in the air,
    Clouds sleep on the grass;
I have song to spare
    Till the shadows pass.
Day is at the noon,
    No thread of bow or moon;
Rain is in the air,
    Drenched and limp the grass;
I have song to spare
    Till the shadows pass.
Day is at the close,
    Faith no logic knows;
Rain-clouds blur the air,
    All the world is dun;
I have song to spare
    Till to-morrow’s sun.

Reflection

Our lives these days for at least the past few centuries but mostly the last year, have become so entangled with the day-to-day challenges we find ourselves willingly or perhaps not so willingly to have to meet. The dictionary defines “Missing the Forest For The Trees” : “to not understand or appreciate a larger situation, problem, etc., because one is considering only a few parts of it.” While having an awareness of the “details” in our daily lives attending to the mundane with full awareness, is part of the spiritual practices, balancing our awareness between the day-to-day challenges and the experience that leaves us with at times and “The Larger Reality” is the heart of the spiritual practices.

When I was diagnosed with cancer in January 2018, my “experience” of myself and my place in the universe shrank almost immediately. Part of my own spiritual work I had ahead of me and continue to have everyday, compounded by the arrival of COVID19, was to learn to “see through” the immediate experience in order see the “View” I had most of my life which kept me connected with “What Really Matters”. I was caught up then and need to be really mindful of it even now with the conundrum of — “Missing the Forest For The Trees”.

While every tree in the forest matters, our work is to learn to balance the time we give to the mundane and that quality of that time and, what I refer to as the “Greater Reality”

What Matters, Really Matters?

Tragedy has a way of waking us up to the answer to the question, “What Matters?” but often time proves inadequate in sustaining our realization. This is where the “spiritual practices” are vital along with, “a code for living” “that you must live by”.

Most of the time when you ask people how they are doing, the first thing they refer to is, “How they are feeling”. While feelings play an important role of our daily living as well as the bodies survival, I personally feel we have elevated there importance in modern society and a culture marked by hyper-individualism to dangerous levels.

When you have cancer you learn that feelings are important to the degree that they help you in knowing what the body needs to protect itself. It is to this degree I feel that, “Personal feelings” are to be understood and acted on skillfully and appropriately. Or like my first primary medical doctor use to always remind me, “Finish the prescription.” As a “general barometer” of “how my life is” they can often prove to be both unreliable and an impediment.

His Holiness The Dalai Lama teaches that, “Pain is inevitable, Suffering is optional.” As a form of matter our bodies like everything else in the Universe are always in flux. When we feel something odd or different then the way we think we should be feeling, we immediately think, “There is something wrong with our lives.” Like a small child running and playing then suddenly tripping and falling scraping the knees and elbows, our mind immediately thinks, “Our world is coming to an end.” When all that is needed is immediately shown to us, which happens to also be “What Matters”. As a child we turned to someone we trusted, perhaps a parent or an older sibling or friend; we reached out, then suddenly the world felt like it was coming back together again.

Connection, matters! More than ever before in my life, these past three years and still counting, battling cancer crystalizes the for me 24/7. Gratitude for another day, not just another day, but a day again to spend with those I love and cherish; my Daughter; my remaining Family; my Fellow Monks and Community, and all the friends and supporters who surround me with their unique perfections and imperfections, which feed and help me heal day-by-day. Some of whom I may never see, yet I know that in a moment of “tripping and falling” they will be there.

Connection or relationship with others is primary for human-beings and spiritual beings. Science again and again presents the evidence of how the power of “Right Relationship,” “Loving Relationships,” “Committed Relationships,” rooted in “Right Intention” and a genuine desire for the happiness and well-being of others, go farther than any medication ever can. And, as my first primary medical doctor reminded me often, take and “Finish the Prescription”.

The Prescription

A skillful life is one of a “Set of Priorities”.

You’ve heard the saying, “If you have you health, you have everything.” That’s about 99.9% correct. It’s alway that tiny subtle percentage which makes the difference. “If you have your health and people to share it with, you have everything.

Take care of your body.
Eat well.
Get plenty of rest.
Exercise when possible.
Expose yourself to as many opportunities to be as helpful as possible.
Laugh a lot.
Don’t underestimate the power of tears. Hopefully they will be happy tears as much as possible.
Say I Love You.
Say I Love You.
Say I Love you.
Never stop saying I love you.
Take nothing for granted.

When you fall, look up, and reach out. NEVER be embarrassed to fall. It’s a gateway to succeeding.
Ask for Help.
Accept Help.
Mop the floors.
Cut the carrots.
Be quiet when eating.
Listen.
You will hear their hearts beating.
La Familia. Whomever they are. All present at the dinner table are family.

Connect with someone, or someone’s, every day.

Make time to be alone and contemplate, meditate, pray.
This is where the ground for both gratitude which leads to strength and a reliable sense of connection is cultivated and nurtured.
What you think, the thought suddenly there, does not matter, not as much as on what thoughts you dwell on. The world you perceive and experience in your body-mind will always be a reflection of what you dwell on. This is why I mentioned earlier that, “Feelings” often prove unreliable and an impediment. Except sometimes…

Always remember the rule, — “Except Sometimes!”
Life is in continual flux, and infinite process, without an end.
Never make any conclusions.
Just Live Your Life, that’s the one in front of you.
Stop running away.
Drop Anchor.
Lend a hand.
Share your heart.
Forget if it’s safe or not. Just do it. A Life Worth Living is One Always Risking.

A Prayer for You

A Golden Day
By Paul Laurence Dunbar

I found you and I lost you, 
   All on a gleaming day. 
The day was filled with sunshine,
   And the land was full of May. 
A golden bird was singing
   Its melody divine, 
I found you and I loved you, 
   And all the world was mine. 
I found you and I lost you, 
   All on a golden day, 
But when I dream of you, dear, 
   It is always brimming May.

I Love You,
Seijaku Roshi

25
Dec

Return of The Jedi

In Hebrew the word “Jedi” means “Beloved of God”. What the world needs now is “The Return of The Beloved of God.”

One of the least known interpretations of the term “Beloved by God” refers to “one human beings love for another human being.” What the world needs so much more than anything, “Is love expressed and shared regularly, randomly, unconditionally, with one another.”

Thomas Merton writes, “Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another…You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope….Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.”

“Worthy” of what? Of Creation? Of a planet which the Japanese often refer to, to describe our Mother Earth, “The Great Benefactor,” Who withholds her gifts from no one?

During this time of prayer, often offered on high in the form of a petition, there should be only one request, one that is powerful enough to meet all petitions, “Dear Lord help me find where love is needed, where love is the cure for what is needed, and give me the courage to be that planter of the Seed which Created the Universe and sustained it long before we forgotten it…make me a Jedi oh Lord.” As Einstein once said, “…The rest is simply details.”

At the very heart of all Buddhist teachings is that, “Understanding is love’s other name” — that to love another means to fully understand his or her suffering. (“Suffering” may sound rather dramatic, certainly not during these days for so many as well as in history, but in Buddhism it refers to any source of profound dissatisfaction — be it physical or psycho-emotional or spiritual.) “Understanding,” requires both on each individuals part, to be open to “intimacy” and “experience”. How can I understand anything I have no intimate experience of? In “The Kingdom of God,” and in “The Pure-land of Buddhism,” there are no strangers, there can be no strangers, all ARE Children of God, ALL are Buddha’s.

Often in practicing spirituality we make the mistake that practice or training is closing ourselves off to the “dark side,” protecting ourselves; while the opposite is true. Our work is to open our hearts and minds to the “suffering which exists in the world.” To welcome it, to receive it with courage and faith, and with our hearts transform it.

We begin with our own “suffering,” our own “discontentment”. We must stop trying to be what we are not. There are times when I, Seijaku Roshi, am filled with “fear and even worriment”. Having grown up in a family of Sicilians and Germans it has taken many, many years to balance the strong from the weak. I had to learn to “be strong” and when afraid, reach out and ask for what I needed. Most especially it has only been recently, since I was diagnosed with cancer, that I have learned the wondrous, miraculous, infinite power of the words, “I Love You.” What followed was a sense of deep connection with “other” which always lead to the words, “Please, please, take care of yourself.” I now know more than ever that the “interconnectedness” we share is truly “interconnected”. “Other’s” well-being is so essential for my own.

The Buddhist word for love is, “Maitrī (Sanskrit; Pali: mettā) means benevolence, loving-kindness, friendliness, amity, good will, and active interest in others.” We cannot truly love one-another apart from an active interest in other’s happiness and well-being. There are days in which it feels so impossible to consider others suffering while I, feel lonely, painful, and fearful. It is then that, always by some great mystery, someone calls me, someone emails me, they share their suffering, and in that moment my own is resolved, at least for the moment.

I realize that I am speaking of a generations old idea —“Love One another.” Perhaps we keep “speaking about it” because we need to stop speaking about it and consciously and deliberately, with audacity, with courage, and with faith, begin to act on it now, “as if our lives depend on it as well as the life of the Great Benefactor, our Mother Earth.” Because it Does!

We can no longer put off to tomorrow what must be attended to today if there will be a tomorrow for any one of us.

Start with yourself. May your words and actions you think and speak when you are speaking to your lifelong “secret friend,” be benevolent, loving, kind, gentle, always forgiving, friendly, always with good will, and patiently interested. Once you have achieved this for yourself, extend it outward to your spouse or partner, then to your sibling; children; grandchildren, your entire family. The your neighbor and finally the stranger you meet everyday everywhere. Do this deliberately and with commitment every single day and as often as possible throughout the day. You and I know when we put down our “sabers” we can never get enough of it — neither can they!

Let’s make a promise to each other. Let’s promise we will do just this. We can start with one another — “I Love You!” “Please, Please take care of yourself!”

I really Do Love You!

Seijaku Roshi

16
Dec

Faith, Hope, Love – Not Two, Not Three

“A Human-Being is part of a Whole called by us Universe…” — Albert Einstein

“May the sound of this bell penetrate deep into the cosmos
Even in the darkest spots
Living beings are able to hear it clearly
So that all suffering in them cease
Understanding comes to their heart
And they transcend the path of sorrow and death.
The universal dharma door is already open
The sound of the rising tide is heard clearly
The miracle happens
A beautiful child appears in the heart of a lotus flower
One single drop of this compassionate water
Is enough to bring back the refreshing spring to our mountains and rivers.
Listening to the bell
I feel the afflictions in me begin to dissolve
My mind calm
My body relaxed
A smile is born on my lips
Following the sound of the bell
My breath brings me back to the safe island of mindfulness
In the garden of my heart
The flowers of peace bloom beautifully.”

I am often asked, “Do you believe in God?” “I do but not the way my words may leave you to believe and, I do not believe what people say about God.”

As a Buddhist I believe there exists realms of consciousness “rarely experienced” larger than this “self I call myself,” this small self which feels, and thinks, has emotions, and concepts and; certainly larger than the mundanities of daily living. A reality or consciousness if you prefer, larger than ourselves — Call it God, Buddha, Dharma, Universe. Whatever name we may choose to, “Point to It,” we are to understand that whatever term we use can be often misleading more than helpful. In my lifetime born into the Catholic faith, I have called It “God,” I have called It by many names. Whatever I call It in the moment has more to do with my “experience,” in the moment than any belief I may or may not have. Dharma is seamless and timeless, boundless, not dependent on either the spoken or written word.

Buddhism teaches us that, our “Ignorance” of this Reality and, that our lifestyles which often expresses itself as something “separated” from this Reality, is the real and true cause of our discontentment and suffering.

Faith (Saddha) in Zen-Buddhism focuses on the “Triple Gem,” that is, “Buddha-Nature; The Dharma (Teachings); and finally, the Community of spiritually developed followers, specifically the Monastic Community or The Saṅgha. The Lay members of the Sangha (The Community of Monks and Nuns) are understood to be part of this “Triple Gem”. The role of the Lay-Community has always been a “supportive” role. Because the layperson may not leave family and home to train day and night, they support the Monks and Nuns to “dedicate” their training and living the Dharma in the world, for the benefit of “all sentient beings”. Therefore, Layperson and Monk or Nun — “Not Two” — we are part of a “Whole” called by many names.

Faith is not meant to be a devotion to any particular person, such as the historical Buddha-Shakyamuni, but exists in relation to Buddhist concepts like — “All beings possess Buddha-Nature, all beings are Buddha.” To personally realize this “Faith” is to realize the “cause” of what the Second Noble Truth calls, “Cessation from Suffering”. To “Realize this Faith,” is to live it. Belief in it alone has no place in Buddhist ideology except to serve as a first step toward “awakening” from the dream of ”separation”. Faith can only be lived and not just believed.

Where there is “Faith,” realized or in the process of being realized, always is followed by “Hope”. Once again we are not to perceive “Hope” as just some sentimental or desperate wish for salvation, but rather a “living” expression or, “context,” for Love, Kindness, Compassion, and Benevolent Service (Charity) to surface.

Hope is the foundation of the Buddhist path. “The Buddha’s teaching is fundamentally hopeful. It affirms that there is a reliable way to release ourselves from suffering, to protect other beings, mitigate harm, and build a better world…Dharma practice or training channels our longing for happiness, harmony, and equity in a skillful way. This begins with ‘Saddha,’ most frequently translated as “Faith” or “Conviction.” Saddha refers to one’s aspiration and confidence in the path. It is the intuitive sense that there is something worthwhile about being alive, that inner freedom is available for each of us.”

Hope and the Path of Loving-kindness, Compassion, and Benevolent Service are — “Not Two”. The fruit of the true path always results in Love. Love for oneself, Love for Life, Love for all sentient beings.

On the Buddhist path “Love” is not just a sentimental or romantic experience or notion; Love manifests itself as “action” as “community”.

“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.”

Love is and must be the ground for any authentic spiritual life, in a world marked by “hyper-individualism” and which increasingly devalues “loving thy neighbor as thyself”.

Love is always realized as action. Community (Love) is the spirit which underlines and informs all actions, it guides us through the darkest moments of life. The Sangha, the Community, join together to fulfill a “shared purpose” — “Liberating all sentient begins from suffering and its causes.” The Community meets and supports each other to fulfill their individual expressions and talents which informs the actions of the whole toward meeting that, “Shared Purpose”.

Finally and certainly not least of all, The Community comes together to “take care of one another.” Authentic Spirituality is “Relational”. Community does not happen in a vacuum. It is inclusive, it is compassionate, it is by nature benevolent. “This is the true-joy in life,” being called to live one’s life as a “Force in Nature”. Committed toward a vision of an ever evolving reality which is always directing us toward Love; toward acts of Kindness which heal rather than harm; toward Compassion for oneself and others in an existence so often marked by pain and suffering; and toward endless Benevolent Service which benefits, acting with Wisdom and a sense of real necessity.

“Let True Dharma Continue…”

I Love You,

Seijaku Roshi
 

5
Dec

Merlon’s Final Voyage

America mourns for the Indian
figure who knelt like a supplicant before dairy,
fatly blessed our milks, our cheeses,
anointed our lands & shores.
The Google tutorials surface—
the “boob trick:” score the box & fold to make
a window for her knees to jut through.
O our butter maiden
brought all the boys to the yard.
Twittersphere so prostrate with grief
petitions are launched for the Dairy Princess:
O our pat O Americana,
O our dab O Disneyesque,
O our dollop O Heritage.
The mourning procession bears witness:
Jolly Green Giant & Chicken of the Sea Mermaid,
Uncle Ben & Aunt Jemimah,
magically delicious leprechaun & Peter Pan—
even the Argo Cornstarch Maiden & Mazola
Margarine “you call it corn, we call it maize”
spokes-Indian raise stalks in solidarity.
Mia, aptly named, our butter girl mascot,
the only Indian woman gone missing
that anyone notices, anyone cares about.

“Distracted from COVID-19, Attention Shifts to MIA Maiden from Land O’Lakes Butter Box”
— Tiffany Midge

I wake up each morning filled with fear that this may be the beginning of my last days here with my Sweetpea, my Sisters and Brothers, and you who honor me, you who are reading this. I weigh myself, “Ah Thank You Pappa, still holding.” I say to myself, “Someday, but not today and not for long while.”

“The mourning procession bears witness,” “I’m not hungry, does this mean something, am I losing my appetite.” “Oh No, there it is.” I make myself a cup of Matcha Tea and take my time to enjoy its flavor and savor its promise, “This is good for you.” Eventually I will make that breakfast and savor it, for it is not just hunger for food, it is hunger for longevity. I remind myself of the mystery, “A thousand years is one day, one-day a thousand years.”

I hear my oncologist words, “As long as you can handle the chemo.” “I can and I will.” I’m not finished here.” “I will see my daughter become a young women, I will see my mission to completion.” “Take that science, you emotionless feelingless — “Shadow of the dark side.” You have no idea what Loving really can do.” I see her smile in the corners of my mind, I hear her voice, “Daddy, will you hold me.” I will see this through, we have, God and I, a mutual agreement that’s older than birth and death itself. I sit before a lifeless statue, a statue of “Infinite Potential”. I have nothing to say, “Just Sitting,” “Gift” more than plenty, whenever I consider “This could be the beginning of my last days.”

There’s a lot of talk these days in homes and streets, in bars and restaurants, in churches and synagogues, and I suspect in Zendo’s too — “How are we going to get through this?” “Will we?” And then, “What’s next?”

“Too many mind’s,” I hear the ancient Zen Masters say. The secret is to know the right question. “Daddy, will you hold me?” Ah yes, there it is. The secret is to have eyes that can see, to notice “What is really missing?” A lot of “ego” these days, smelling of survival – Reason enough! But is it enough? I think not.

We can’t just keep dreaming of a better world, a more inclusive world, a more Loving-kind world, a more Compassionate world. We created the one we’ve got, with its darkness and light, its monsters and heroes; we can, and we must create the one we want. We’ve delayed too long and built our cities and streets, and roads from here to there, over bodies and cemeteries of too many of our family and friends, too many strangers who only wanted to share.

“Faith” Ha! Yeah I hear you — “Love is the most powerful force in the Universe.” Really? Do you really believe that? Someone once said, “If we believed that with as much faith as small as a mustered seed, we could move these damn mountains we keep building between us.” And then there’s the never ending tendency to put it all off, until it gets really bad. Bad enough? 14,041,46 COVID-19 cases as of today. 275,386 deaths. If not now, when?

“Where oh where is love? Does it fall from Skys above? Is it underneath, the willow tree, that I’ve been dreaming of? Where is she, who I close my eyes to see? Will I ever know, the sweet “Hello” that’s meant for only me? Who can say where she may hide? Must I travel far and wide? Till I am beside the someone who, I can mean something to. Where oh Where is Love? (From the Broadway Show – Oliver)

“Oliver” is everywhere, singing the same old tune. In fields and forests; In streets and homes; in bars and restaurants; in statehouses and federal buildings, in schools and in hospitals. “Must I travel far and wide?” No! “Who can say where she/he may hide?” They were never hidden! If you listen inside, and stop chattering outside, you will hear his tune, and you will not be able to help yourself. “Daddy can you hold me?” YES! NOW! ANYTIME YOU ASK? And that will be the beginning of “Creating Heaven on Earth”. And that will be the end of the old-world where no-one saw anyone, or heard anyones voice. Where everyone is familiar and no “Inn is too full” ever again.

Bad Enough? Yet? I think so — “Let’s Begin!”

I Love you,

Seijaku Roshi

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