Every morning whenever I enter the Zendo (meditation hall) at 4:00 AM, I enter a “sacred space,” but not for the reasons that may seem obvious to some. A Zendo and a Zen Monastery for that matter is a reflection, an outer representation, of the hearts and minds of those who occupy it. While it is designed to be a place for training the mind-body toward “awakening,” and “transformation,” those in training already possess everything needed to achieve this lifetime, sometimes arduous challenge, even though they may not know it when first entering.
Zen spirituality, including meditation and mindfulness training is about what I call “creating space”. It has very little if nothing at all to do with transcending or escaping the world’s problems, stresses, and anxieties. Quite the opposite, it has everything to do with creating space or to “Hold Space” for oneself and the world, including all the stuff our ego prefers averting and avoiding. The Buddha taught that, the heart and soul of the Buddha-Way is “friendship.” Authentic Spirituality is about “making friends with ourselves, with others, and with the world,” as we; and they; and the world is, rather than some idealistic notion about the way the world should be. This does not exclude engaging in efforts toward making the world more loving or kind. For me the question surrounding our efforts is always about, “How do we best do that?”
“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.
“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!)
“When sorrow comes, let us accept it simply, as a part of life. Let the heart be open to pain; let it be stretched by it. All the evidence we have says that thus is the better way. An open heart never grows bitter. Or if it does, it cannot remain so. In the desolate hour, there is an outcry; a clenching of the hands upon emptiness; a burning pain of bereavement; a weary ache of loss. But anguish, like ecstasy, is not forever. There comes a gentleness, a returning quietness, a restoring stillness. This, too, is a door to life. Here, also, is a deepening of meaning – and it can lead to dedication; a going forward to the triumph of the soul, the conquering of the wilderness. And in the process will come a deepening inward knowledge that in the final reckoning, all is well.”
-A. Powel Davies
On Thursday October 24th at 11:00 PM I was awakened from a sound sleep by a pain I will never forget. It would be nearly fifteen hours later that a very attractive cardiologist would inform me that I had a heart attack. I realized immediately that my life had changed just 15 hours earlier and nothing was the same, and nothing was going to be.
After days of wreaking horrific havoc all along the east coast of the United States on Monday October 29th, hurricane Sandy came ashore only miles away from my hospital bed, and what millions of Americans had already experienced came to the tri-state area. By the time it was finished young and old, parents and children, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives, friends and neighbors lives changed and would never be the same again.
- I wrote the following post the day after the shooting of innocent Amish Children in Paradise, PA. I have pulled it from my Archives because I believe we need to read it again.
The sound of the horses hooves were heard across the cornfields as they pulled the carriages carrying the Mothers and Fathers, Sisters and Brothers, Aunts and Uncles, and fellow neighbors of the Amish Community of Paradise Pennsylvania making their way to the funeral of the man who, just two days ago, senselessly murdered their daughters. “They had already forgiven him.” the press wrote that morning, and now they were on their way to console the wife and children of this man, and to stand at his gravesite and pray that he would find the peace in death that he could not find in life.