“Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.”
― Jalaluddin Rumi
Several years ago I wrote an article titled “The Love which Never Dies,” it was during the worst period of my life to date. I had yet to experience then the two heart attacks and several bouts with pneumonia which would follow in the years ahead. This was a battle of the worst kind of ailment or disease possible – “A Broken Heart”. Eventually I did have those heart attacks, I did battle with pneumonia four times, and as some of you know a wrestling match recently with a virus that landed me in the hospital for a few days. I continue to fight the good fight of staying alive and well, I still know of no other battle more painful than when the heart is broken and left to make its way from the battlefield and thereafter.
Yesterday we all woke to one of those strange “climate change” effects, “Summer in February”. As I too enjoyed the day with my daughter and friends, (who had not been to my home in a very long time, a kind of “reunion” of friendship), like so many of you I was impressed by the budding of trees and the presence of daffodil’s breaking through the winter soil. Perhaps like me you thought, “How Strange, how mysterious.” Well, later that evening I would conclude it was Mystery, the greatest one of all, and it was speaking to me, to all of us. Perhaps you may have heard Its voice as well.
My Mother made the greatest meatballs and spaghetti sauce, or gravy as we called it, I ever tasted. The recipe of which was one of those “family secrets” except it was entirely my Mother’s secret. You never saw my Mother making the gravy, you’d wake up one morning and sitting on the stove was this large pot with about three inches of gravy at the bottom which increased by the time we ate dinner later that evening. Later in the day when we returned home from school, my siblings and I, would immediately notice the aroma of the meatballs cooking in the gravy which immediately drew you toward the stove like ancient pilgrims toward the holy grail. You raised the lid on the pot with one hand and a with a piece of Italian bread in the other you proceeded to “dip”. Suddenly you’d hear my Mother say, “Hey, get out of their, dinner’s not ready yet.” Once I asked my Mother what she put in her gravy, all she would say is, “Everything”. She never would tell us and I suspect that it was because she found pleasure watching us enjoy eating her creation and, she also believed that if she did tell us we would somehow mess it up.
“A Tree gives glory to God… by being a Tree.” – Thomas Merton
Each of us are Spirit, manifestations of the One with our own signatures; Authentic Spirituality is the means by which we awaken from a lifetime of ego delusion to realize our True-Self and to manifest our own enlightenment in the world. “In setting off in search of true identity, one steps into a labyrinth, a maze, a tunnel of love, a hall of mirrors, a derelict graveyard, a long-neglected archeological site.” This “awakening” is not easy and results as a function of entering a process, a kind of “path” which takes us through a “hall of mirrors” and challenges us to confront our many false identities we have accumulated.
Authentic Spirituality, Zen is life-it’s our life, and our journey begins right where we are, with our lives exactly as it is and as it isn’t. One of the barriers presenting us from entering the path and liberating ourselves from our suffering is the myth that, “I’ll start when…”, or “I need to wait until…” There’s never going to be any more appropriate time to begin your journey than now. There are no required preconditions or circumstance, just the desire to be free and the willingness to make the journey no matter the circumstances or situations ahead. Even if you have begun and failed to continue, start again. As Jesus taught, “Pick up your cross and follow.” As the ancient masters would ask, “If not now, when?” Even if you lack the courage or the strength. You know how many people in the world are weakened by life’s challenges facing and confronting life every day. Hospitals and cities are filled with such people.
As a youth I grew close to the parents of a friend of mine from high school, we kept in touch for many years after graduation. “Mr. Fitz,” as I called him was much like (the famous 70’s sitcom character) Archie Bunker type personality with smoother edges. “Mrs. Fitz,” was indeed much like Edith Bunker, Archies wife, without pretension, beautiful, sweet, and with that quiet wisdom overshadowed by her humility. I remember one occasion when I stayed for dinner, afterwards the news with Walter Cronkite came on the television. The “Fitz’s” made it a point to sit together on the “davenport” or the sofa together, sometimes holding hands if she wasn’t knitting. At the end of the news broadcast Walter Cronkite would always say, “And that’s the way it is.”, to which Mr. Fitz would respond, “No it isn’t Walter, no it isn’t.”
“C. S. Lewis taught, if the devil were to succeed in England, he would need to wear a three-piece suit and speak with the Queen’s English, and surely never appear as a red demon with horns and a pitchfork.” This morning like most Americans I woke to the news of yesterdays current events, a practice I have limited now to approximately 3 minutes at best, only to hear the same news from the day before and days before that. Nothing much had changed. Hatred, distrust, accusations, true or false, blaming, promising, hopes, doubts, more hatred, more accusations, and more promises that have been made for decades by others who, hated, suspected, and mistrusted someone other than themselves or their party or particular group. Like the saying goes, “The more things are supposed to change, the more they stay the same.” I immediately observed my muscular skeleton retract in pain with the kind of feeling you get when you’ve tasted something that always turns your stomach. My reaction was to pick up my aging and almost near dying dog sitting near me and hold her close to me telling her, “I love you girl.” I needed to find refuge in my humanity and something that was real, my dog.
“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief…” – The Talmud
The words of The Talmud and the words of my dear friend I shared with you in my last meditation, “We are not to be absorbed by the suffering of the world…,” continue to dominate my thoughts and experience these days. When I add Chardin’s words which point to our true identity: “You are not a human being in search of a spiritual experience. You are a spiritual being immersed in a human experience.” – This is where I must always continue my journey in this temporary existence we call “life”.
What does it mean to “not be daunted” or “to not be absorbed”? Given the horror of global current events and its consequences, the uncertainty about the future which dominates all our lives, the reality of a way-of-life we all were told was a “dream” only to discover it’s really a nightmare; is it at all possible to practice these two essential teachings? And when I move from out there to right here in Shamong, NJ and even closer to home in my own heart and mind, “What’s a Monk to do?” “What can anyone do?”
June 14, 2016
Seijaku Roshi’s Meditation
“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
– The Talmud
Once again like millions my heart broke at the news of another mass shooting, senseless, without mercy, hateful. I immediately began contacting old friends who I thought were potential victims. Thank you God they weren’t. Dear God what about those who were? What about those who could be in the future? What about my daughter? What about the children? Why?
I do not know the solutions to ending the plague of terrorism and war in our world and I do not want to pretend that I do. I do know my heart hurts more and more for the victims of this madness; I am fearful for my daughter and her little friends, I want her Mom not to take her to the shore in a couple of weeks. I had second thoughts about taking her and her new BFF to see TMNT at the Marlton 8 yesterday. I’m a parent and the suffering of the world becomes more crisp for me everyday, I feel it in my bones, running through my veins. It’s not over there, it’s right here. What’s a “parent-monk” to do?
The words of The Talmud resonate for me. As a person who has dedicated his life to the principles of love, kindness, and compassion; the principles of justice for all, equality, mercy, all the while working at walking humbly, I have always felt, “Obligated to complete the work,” and I cannot find it within me even though I am tempted at times, to “abandon it”.
“When the student is ready the teacher will appear.” I’ve thought a great deal about that and how it sounds a little like a saying that showed up in the 70’s, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” – And everyone I knew began procrastinating. The previous quote is actually a koan. Like all koans it is designed to “not make any rational sense, and are used to ‘blow the minds’ of trainee monks in order to trigger their enlightenment.” If you read it and interpret its meaning as it is, the problem with that is that after forty-one years teaching it is my experience that, “The student is never ready,” and that any lesson of any value, any lesson that is really transformative always appears as a kind of “inconvenient truth”. God knows we don’t like to be inconvenienced.
The way most of us live our lives, making choices, or committing to anything is usually a function of how we feel at the moment. If I were to do much of what I do let’s say just in the course of one day, according to how I feel, I wouldn’t accomplish much. The first thing to realize is that our “feelings” about the moment are often unreliable and have nothing to do with this present moment. They are almost 100% of the time connected to some past (unresolved issue) experience. Relying on my feelings and I would include my opinions and points-of-view, as well as the beliefs I have formed about my life, is like relying on the other person to change before I can be happy.
Certainly the student should “be ready to learn,” but what does that really mean; To “be ready” to learn? When are we “ready”? Again I have found that we are never really ever ready for those transformative lessons in life. Those lessons are either always heaped upon us at any unexpected and sudden moment or, we decide to apply what I always call “Nike Buddhism” or “Nike Zen” if you prefer: We learn to “Just do it”.
“The single most important task we have in our lifetime is to cultivate the ground of our very being. That being, our inherent capacity to love seamlessly, unconditionally, with a profound sense of responsibility to end suffering for ourselves and others. We must be about the business of opening our hearts to become intimate with the suffering we encounter rather than to avoid it or avert it. When we do we will discover a natural response which in itself is our only path back to each other and the whole of Nature.”
– Seijaku Roshi
Throughout time the greatest changes in human history have come when mankind listened to and responded to the voice of suffering. When we are willing to drop all pretense and every effort to impress ourselves and others as to how tough we are, we are left with the only truth that can set us free, and that Truth is that, just like the planets and the stars each of us without exception are made of the stuff of creation and that stuff is Love.
“We say Buddha Nature pervades the entire Universe or God is Omniscient, Everywhere. Therefore we cannot say, “Not now” or “Not here.” For wherever we are there is Buddha or God. In Zen we do not look for Buddha or God outside ourselves, they are within us. We are the gateway. Everywhere we are is The Pure Land, the Kingdom of God. What are you waiting for? If not now, when?”
– Seijaku Roshi
I often say that in our modern world, “A persons word is equal to their excuses.” It would also follow that, “A persons potential is equal to their excuses.” This would include our potential for real changes in our lives which would result in ending our pursuit of and search for what is and always has been with us, and finally enjoying our birthright — joy, contentment, and love. The only thing that prevents us from “here and now” is our deluded perceptions of “when and where”.
One of the many myths about Buddhist spirituality is the notion that all desires or desiring is “bad”, and that the aim of meditation is to eradicate desiring. When reciting the (four) Bodhisattva Vows for All the third vow is, “Desires are inexhaustible, I vow to end them.” An impossible promise, therefore what do we do with this cause for suffering? Robert Aiken, Roshi teaches us, “I have heard people say, “I cannot recite these vows because I cannot hope to fulfill them.” Actually, Kanzeon, the incarnation of mercy and compassion, weeps because she cannot save all beings. Nobody fulfills these “Great Vows for All,” but we vow to fulfill them as best we can. They are our practice.”
Zen-Buddhism teaches that the key to cessation from suffering begins with understanding how Mind is operating from moment to moment, by becoming intimately familiar with its nature and, what we call “the bureaucracy of ego”. All sentient begins live life from an ego-centric point of view (“regarding everything only in relation to oneself; self-centered.”- dictionary.com) where one experiences themselves as separate from other beings, other dharma’s. Zen-Buddhism refers to this bureaucracy as “ego-delusion”. All suffering, stress, and anxiety, fear and worriment, low self-confidence, a sense of personal lacking, are a function of “ego-delusion”. This is when ego-mind is running a story based on the delusion of separation.
This experience of separation also includes everything I perceive I need to be happy or satisfied. Ego perceives all needs and solutions to one’s life as existing “apart from the being”, therefore – “the pursuit of happiness”. Whenever we feel stress or anxious it’s because ego is convinced that I lack something and I don’t know where to find it, so I go looking for it. What follows is a never-ending pursuit of happiness, looking in all the wrong places. There’s an old familiar fable about this. “One day the god’s of Olympia got together for a conference. The
god’s were concerned that human-beings if allowed near the Truth would harm it. So they deliberated on where they could hide the Truth in order that humans would never find it. You could imagine the suggestions. One suggested high on the highest mountain top; another in the deepest part of the ocean; another among the stars, and so on. Everyone also agreed that someday humans would travel to all those places. Finally (And isn’t always the way in these stories?), the oldest among them stood and said, “I have the perfect place! Humans would never consider looking for it there, and even if they do go there they won’t believe it. Let’s place the Truth in each of them.” They all agreed and remain correct until this day.
Whenever Buddhist talk about “suffering” it refers to a state of mind – anguished, stressed, worried, and delusional. In resolving “suffering” for ourselves and others we begin by recognizing that “the suffering is within us”. It is not happening “to me” as if someone else is doing it to me, it is my perception (“the process by which an organism detects and interprets information from the external world by means of the sensory receptors.” – dictionary.com) my interpretation of what is happening in the world around me. This is not some “denial” about the external events or triggers, but understood as an “interpretation” of the events, not based on fact as much as my ideas, beliefs, and/or expectations, which are always personal. Next, we look at what it is we are “desiring” in order to resolve the suffering, and ask ourselves, “Will it really resolve the suffering?” If not we apply the Teachings of “Right View”, “Right Thought or Intention”, “Right Speech”, and “Right Action”, (The Eightfold Noble Path, the Buddha’s “prescription for cessation from suffering.) It could go something like this:
- Am I seeing this from every possible point-of-view?
- What is my real intention? Do I want to be freed up or do I want to be stuck in resentment, blame, shame, etc.? In other word do I want a solution or revenge?
- If someone were speaking to me that way would I want reconciliation? Are my self-criticisms loving, compassionate, kind, or am I not prisoner of my own words, judge and jury, and executioner all at the same time?
- #3 just replace speech with actions.
Whenever I find myself “suffering”, I am always telling myself a story. When I examine the story, usually “Stephen King” is somewhere in there. No wonder I’m afraid. So I have a choice, I can either keep reading Stephen King’s story in the darkness of ego-delusion, or stop reading the story all together, or rewrite the story with loving, forgiving, compassionate, kinder thoughts and words. There is another choice but after nearly forty-years of teaching I find it to be almost impossible for people to choose, including me at times – “Stay out of your head!”, “Don’t indulge the stories!” Part of our conditioning has taught us that “life is a story” we tell ourselves or others. No it’s not. Life is always happening outside the story, the story we tell ourselves and others is just an “interpretation” of what happened. Once you really know this to be true about life, you realize that there really is a whole “way-of-living” where you get to write the script and act in your own life. It goes something like this:
- Beings are numberless, I vow to love them all.
Another impossible promise, but with “right intention”, we arouse skillful effort, and with “right desire” our “way-of-living” this way, outside the story, extends us beyond the limits of our personal identities. Which are also delusional.
I Love you, (No not “you” – YOU!)