We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned,
so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
Authentic Spirituality can be defined broadly as a sense of connection to something higher than ourselves, something larger and more profound than our relationship with sensual satisfaction. In Zen, any type of sensual satisfaction of any kind including “feeling more peaceful” is viewed as a byproduct rather than an ends to a means. Initially almost every person who has shown up at Pine Wind over the years, are motivated by one form or another of the “pursuit of happiness”. Often I warn everyone that, “Ego got you here, but it will not keep you here.”
Spirituality is universally connective in the realization that suffering is a part of human existence. Establishing a real ground or foundation for your spiritual practice which seeks a connection with that larger self, often referred to in Zen as one’s “Buddha-Nature,” or even perhaps “God,” or “Universe,” will prove to be difficult at first but is essential, for longevity and sustainability of any genuine practice including, meditation or mindfulness. Unlike so many other cultural or social efforts toward finding some kind of peace-of-mind, or happiness, or satisfaction, Zen-Buddhism points to “taking refuge” in times of difficulty in one of the Three Refuges — “Buddha-Nature, Dharma Teachings, and finally Community or Sangha;” in the end it all comes down to “You” Your “personal effort,” in maintaining a devotion to the practices, no matter the circumstances or situations rising in our lives at any moment. It means remaining true to the Fourth Vow of “The Vows For All” — “The Buddha-Way is endless, I vow to follow it.”
When we are truly willing to transcend our lifetime attachments to “egocentric emotions and feelings” we discover a kind of set of “transcended emotions” which are not a part of the ego’s bureaucracy. The realization of self-transcendent emotions followed by learning how to nurture oneself to maintain a connection with these emotions, often leads to strengthening the longevity and sustainability of ones spiritual life or practice; apart from which sustainability and growth will prove to not be possible.
In describing these emotions one needs to remember that our connection with them are a function of what Joseph Campbell calls, a “Willingness to forget the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” We must as Zen Master Dogen explains, “Forget the Self” we are far too familiar with, in order to discover this “Higher Self” which results in actualizing “Cessation” from our discontentment created by our attachment to ego. The Buddha taught that, “Dukkha” (discontentment or suffering) is a function of our relationship with, or our attachments, to those feelings, emotions, cravings and desires in our life which, often prove to be the real “Cause” of our dissatisfaction (Second Noble Truth). If our intention for our spiritual practices is only to appease ego’s desires well, that’s just the “dog chasing its tail”. Even the dog eventually grows tired of the chase and go in search of something “more, better, or different”.
Transcendent moments are often experienced as peace, awe or reverence, and contentment—emotional and spiritual wellbeing overlap, like most aspects of wellbeing. The “higher or transcendent emotions — pervade the whole universe, revealing right here right now, every here and every now”. We need only the ability, which training and practice provides, to see them, or more accurately experience them wherever we are and at any moment. We do not have to go in search of them. In fact “searching for them” is a formula for loosing them or not seeing or experiencing them entirely. We need only to learn how to “stop, stay, listen, and experience” this moment exactly as it is, and exactly as it is not. Through Shikantaza, “Just Sitting” meditation of Japanese Soto Zen, we train first in developing and actualizing this posture and then, nurturing and sustaining it throughout regular and consistent practice into an ”endless future”.
At Pine Wind there is a kind of motto which from the very beginning has informed the life of The Monks and those members and students which make up our “Community,” it reads — “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.”
This motto informs everything, every decision, every program, everything we do. Authentic Spirituality takes us out of our conditioned—self which is egocentric in nature, removes us from the bureaucracy of ego, and re-connects us with our Original-Self, our True-Self, which is “Relational” by nature.
“Self-transcendent emotions connect us all through prosocial behavior.” Human Beings are relational by nature. Somewhere in the course of our life we “disconnect” with our True-Nature while not entirely, learned behavior interrupts any direct experience of our “Interconnected and Interdependent” reality. This explains why such contemporary psychological and emotional dysfunctions characterized by a sense of “separateness,” “not belonging,” and “alienation,” continue to lead to low self esteem issues and depression for so many of us today.
Self-Transcendent emotions include: Compassion, Awe or Reverence, Gratitude or Appreciation, Inspiration, Admiration, Joy, and Love. Self-Transcendent emotions naturally inform human behaviors such as acts of Kindness, Benevolence, and Charity. Self-Transcendent emotions are “Others-Focused,” “More Meaningful,” and “Purpose-Filled”.
Too much of what is often mistaken as spirituality is “self-focused,” or “egocentric”. Until we are able to transcend the illusion of “Me, Myself, and I” as the center of the Universe, any possibility for any real transformation and cessation is not possible. The very self we strive through practice to appease, is the very cause of our discontentment. Albert Einstein wrote, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”
I Have written and spoken extensively on the matter of fact that, “I can only offer the world what I have.” Initially, authentic spiritual practice aims to restore the inherent virtues required for any healthy process aimed toward maturity and eventual well-being. Among the virtues referenced in ancient texts are: Hope, Gratitude, Forgiveness, and Self-Compassion. In Zen we understand that cessation from our discontentment or suffering(Third Noble Truth), or true-happiness, is not the function of some supernatural event, nor is it, to be found in some person, place, or thing. True and sustainable happiness is a function of a transformational process. Happiness is an ongoing process involving regular challenges which result in psychological, emotional, and spiritual growth and maturity. In the Buddha’s prescription or process which leads to the aforementioned results (Fourth Noble Truth), He explains that the process begins with “Right Point-of-View,” which is sometimes interpreted as “Right Attitude,” followed by “Right Thoughts,” “Right Speech,” and “Right-Action” and others, behaviors designed to sustain happiness.
Beginning with establishing “Right Point-of-View,” we can connect with the divine, that larger or greater self and purpose for living, which inevitably results in improving one’s wellbeing. We move from fantasy and sensationalism into reality-based practice or training. We begin to experience our interconnectedness and interdependent relationship with others, the whole of Nature, and the Cosmos. Eventually, Hope is reestablished, and a sense of Gratitude for life’s sake naturally surfaces. Forgiveness becomes instinctual and realized as essential for any real sustainable happiness. Self-Compassion defined as:
- Expressing kindness toward oneself and viewing one’s shortcomings with a non-judgmental attitude.
- Connecting one’s experience of suffering with that of the collective human experience.
- Becoming mindful of suffering without becoming attached or making it a part of one’s identity.
Finally after a lifetime of self-criticism, and judging, Compassion is extended to include others and realized as quintessential for any personal or global healing process.
Today the world is experiencing increased social stressors which for centuries have been linked to dis-ease of the mind and the body. Levels of depression continue to be on the rise. There remains a body of evidence that a real “spiritually based lifestyle” is said to have a healing effect on stress filled, anxious, and depressive symptoms. Any effort to establish a “spiritual or religious foundation” for living one’s life is significantly and positively associated with increased sense of well-being and longevity. People live longer, have more satisfying, meaningful or purposeful lives, and have lower rates of low self-esteem, anxiety, and discontentment. Devotion to a regular meditation practice, has proven to lower instances of depression. Becoming more mindful, reduces occasions for depressive thoughts in real-time.
Forming connections with others in troubling times, or any other time for that matter, weakens the strength of fear-driven reactions to external stimuli, eases stress, contributes to reducing the effects of a sense of loneliness, and increases immune response. Both science and spirituality agrees, human beings are relational creatures, therefore “Community is not only the Spirit, and the Guiding Light,” it is the medicine the world has always needed and increasingly needs to meet todays challenge and any increasingly new challenges in the future.
We Really Are – More Together Than Alone!
I Love You,
We are living in a time of great uncertainty marked by fear. In times like these, it is essential to realize that my first responsibility is to liberate myself from discontentment (Suffering) and its causes. Why? “I can only give to others what I have.” If I want a world full of peace, I must know peace. If I want a more compassionate world, I must know compassion.
If I want a more kinder, a more gentler world, I must know kindness and be gentle. When I know how to take care of my own discontentment, to take care of my-Self, then I will know how to meet the inevitable challenges life will present, I will know how to take care of the world around me.
When we commit to a devoted regular meditation practice we are creating the context, the conditions, for “cessation from suffering and its causes” to arise; we are laying the ground for awakening, building a bridge between the “false-self”, the ego-self we have come to identify with and, our True-Self.
We are on a journey each of us, not to some far away destination, to some “visionary flower in the sky,” but to our true home, which is never far away. Whenever we hear that small voice within us, and, if we listen, *(Samahdi Meditation, the meditation of the Buddha serves as a conduit for listening), it is always “calling us home to our Self.” What we are really searching for is that True-Self Buddha called “Buddha-Nature”; Christ called, “Children of God,” The Torah refers to as, “God’s People,” and what the ancient Zen masters referred to as, “Your face before your parents were born.”
What is essential, is to understand that there is no separation between your own liberation from suffering and its causes, and liberating the world from Its suffering and Its causes. There is no separation between your True-self and Others. Everything and everyone is interconnected. Once you are truly aware of the interconnectedness and interdependency of all phenomena, ego, that false-self we have come to identify with, naturally drops away, along with it the illusion of separateness. When the “illusion of separateness” drops away, “We are enlightened by the Ten Thousand Things”.
The “interconnected and interdependent” reality of all things, teaches us that my own happiness or my own discontentment, is dependent on the happiness or suffering of others, and likewise. This is the meaning of the words spoken by Jesus when he said, “It is better to give than to receive,” and “Whatsoever a person sews, so shall they reap.” “Loving your neighbor as yourself,” is not an ends but rather a means, a practice, when applied regularly brings us into a deeper realization of the interconnectedness of all things, of the true-relationship between others and me. With this deeper realization I know how to relate to the world around me, I know how to “be” in relationship with others.
Zen spirituality or what I call “Authentic Spirituality,” is not an idea or a belief, or something you understand intellectually. The only real understanding available is a function of applying the methods, you have to practice and train, every moment of every day of your daily living. We learn, and grow, and mature, only through application. This is why Zen is often referred to as “A Way-of-Life,” or what I prefer, “A Way-of-Being,” in a reality marked by interconnectedness, interdependency, and, impermanence. The realization of these Three Markings become the ground or foundation of our Lifestyle or Way-of-Being in the world. First through realizing the interconnectedness, interdependence, and impermanence of all things, and then the application of “skillful means” well-honed over many generations and proven to work; my speech and my actions become means for avoiding suffering and its causes and, creating the conditions for True-Happiness and Love, for myself and others to arise.
During these times of so much uncertainty and fear, these are times for Love, times for the Compassionate Heart of The Bodhisattva.
Most people like to say that the most important matter in their life is Love; “To Be Loved,” and “To Love Others”. But what is “Love”? I must admit that I have concluded that even I did not fully realize the answer to these questions until I became a parent, and later when diagnosed with cancer. As a Father there is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect and care for my daughter. When I was diagnosed with cancer she was my immediate inspiration to not only conquer cancer, but to be the very best parent, the very best person, I could ever be for however long I had to be.
We often think of Love as some sentimental or romantic experience or sensation in the body. At moments in our lives when certain events or situations are present, there is a sense that Love is something far more deeper, and something other than just a sensation in the body.
In Buddhist teachings, Love begins with a level of maturity which results in a capacity to take care of your life, to make the right choices which will protect you from suffering and its causes, and to nourish the ground beneath your feet to live life fully and authentically, as who you truly are. Remembering that, “I can only give what I have.” if you are not capable of taking care of your own life—if you are not capable of making life-choices that protect you, that nourish and empower you to meet life’s challenges—it is very difficult to take care of another person. In the Buddhist teachings, it’s clear that the Love of ones-Self and the love of another are — “Not Two”. Likewise, Loving others, whether they be family, neighbors, or strangers — as your-Self is — loving your-Self. Love is truly The Practice we call “Living Spiritually in The World”.
I believe that the suffering we witness daily in the world comes from not being able to, or not having the maturity, to Love our-Self. I keep returning to a fundamental reality, “I can only give what I have.” The world is a reflection of what I have or what I lack within myself such as a genuine Love for my-Self, and what I’m bringing to the world through my intentions, my words, and my actions.
Thomas Merton wrote, “Every moment and every event of every persons life on earth plants something in his or her soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of invisible and visible winged seeds, so the stream of time brings with it germs of spiritual vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of men and women. Most of these unnumbered seeds perish and are lost, because so many are not prepared to receive them: for such seeds as these cannot spring up anywhere except in the good soil of liberty and desire.”
Merton goes on to challenge us by asking, “For how can I receive the seeds of freedom…if I am a prisoner and do not even desire to be free…and have hardened my heart against true love?” So what is an Act of Love? It is nothing other than having an open heart and mind to receive the seeds of Love and, with maturity, to be able to offer the seeds of Love I have received to another or others. But I must first have a heart which can identify Love and is open to receive It. One is not capable of either receiving or giving Love unless there is reciprocity. Love is never meant for me alone, it is meant for me to receive so that I can learn and grown and mature in Love and, give it to another, to others.
The Buddhist icon or ideal for both receiving and giving love is — The Bodhisattva. The Bodhisattva is someone who vows to live their lives as a benefit for others; to alleviate suffering and its cause within themselves first, in order to hear the sounds of, and see the suffering in the world and alleviate the suffering of the world by bringing blessings of Love wherever it is needed. A Bodhisattva radiates compassion, integrity and courage, and most especially this Selfless Benevolent Love and Kindness, which is the medicine for the world’s suffering, wherever they find themselves.
Avalokiteśvara, or Quan Yin in Chan Buddhism, or Kanzeon in Japanese Buddhism (English): is a Bodhisattva who, “embodies the Compassion of all Buddhas”. Avalokiteśvara is one of the most famous Bodhisattvas in Buddhism, Who hears the world’s cries, never turning her/his heart from the sounds of suffering, responding with skillful means to come to their aid. In the Mahayana tradition (Chan or Zen) we are all Bodhisattvas, fully-realized or not. As Bodhisattvas we are asked to hold a certain measure of the tragedy of the world in our hearts and minds and to respond wherever we find it with Love and Kindness; with Compassion and Benevolent Service. This is true whether we are speaking about our immediate relationships with our spouses or partners, with our siblings and family, as well as with our neighbors and, the stranger.
As human-beings we bring to our lives as Bodhisattvas a level of our own uncertainty, our own fears, and doubts. This is only natural. In Zen the solution is often something like, “Fake it until you make it.” Part of what we have to offer the world is, our personal experience of fear and apprehension, our uncertainty and sense of helplessness. When we acknowledge what is so in our hearts and minds, never “spiritually bypassing” it or denying it, then our fears and uncertainty can be transformed into powerful means for acts of Love. Kanzeon, not only hears the worlds suffering, but embraces it in his or her own heart and mind, fully experiencing it, so that he or she may respond not with just some idea but rather with the right medicine for transforming suffering into the means for true-liberation or cessation.
We can learn that to Love ourselves is “to take care of these feelings and emotions,” rather than always avoiding or denying them. We can learn to sit quietly everyday and acknowledge what’s so in the moment. It doesn’t matter what the feeling, or the narrative, or the emotion is; we simply sit with “what’s so” without criticism or judgement, holding all of it with a compassionate heart-mind. When we learn to do this daily and at every moment and “find refuge” in our potential to rise above the grip feelings and emotions, and the narrative may have on us, we can begin to feel ourselves as part of something much larger, something generations of sentient beings have not only survived but, have learned to transform into means for real changes in the world.
Once again Merton speaks to us saying, “The true-inner-self must be drawn up like a jewel from the bottom of the sea, rescued from confusion, from in-distinction, from immersion in the common, the nondescript, the trivial, the sordid, the evanescent.”
Again he continues to challenge us with, “In humility is the greatest freedom. As long as you have to defend the imaginary self that you think is important, you lose your peace-of-heart and mind. 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 our contemporary society which insists that each of its members think alike, act alike, make similar choices, and fulfill one exclusive expectation, these words literally rock every preconception of what makes us human. What is that? Certainly our “diversity”. I have always believed that what is missing in any effort to end global suffering and its causes, has always been “the individual”. While we may share 99.9% of the same DNA, perhaps the same cultural or social history, what is also true and not only ignored but punished at times for even asserting is, our uniqueness, our diversity. Believing this I have always thought that what is missing in the world and necessary for its salvation has been and always will be — You! You, along with everything psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually, which makes up the Whole-Authentically-Unique-You!
As the veil of separation begins to part, and the reality of our interconnectedness, interdependency, and the impermanence of both the moment, which is “too often squandered,” and of the “opportunity too often lost” to make real and sustainable changes in the world; the Call for All Bodhisattvas and the urgency to learn to Love ourselves so that we may turn our hearts and minds towards the suffering around us, and serve to help those near to us and those who may still be strangers, grows louder and louder. The question for our times is an ancient one which has resounded in the hearts and minds of men and women everywhere, and in the heart and mind of The Bodhisattva, is “Who will go?” Who like Avalokiteśvara, will open their minds and hearts with courage and audacity, to hear the sounds of the worlds suffering, and be the medicine for its healing and renewal, its transformation and rebirth?
“I, the Lord of sea and sky
I have heard my people cry
All who dwell in dark and sin
My hand will save
I who made the stars of night
I will make their darkness bright
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?
Here I am, Lord
Is it I, Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night
I will go, Lord
If You lead me
I will hold Your people in my heart
I, the Lord of wind and flame
I will tend the poor and lame
I will set a feast for them
My hand will save
Finest bread I will provide
‘Til their hearts be satisfied
I will give my life to them
Whom shall I send?
Here I am, Lord
Is it I, Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night
I will go, Lord
If You lead me
I will hold Your people in my heart
I will hold Your people in my heart.”
I believe in You!
I Love You,
“Anger, annoyance, and impatience deplete energy. Patient effort strengthens our resources. We need to practice cooling emotional fires and alleviating fierce disruptions from our lives.”
“There is nothing I can give you which you do not have; but there is much, very much, that while I cannot give it, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts can find rest in today. Take Heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in the present instant. Take Peace!
The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within reach, is joy. There is a radiance and glory within the darkness, could we but see, and to see, we have only to look. I beseech you to look.” – Fra Giovanni
In an effort to further clarify “Authentic Spiritual” practice or training, we need to cut off our stereotypical ideas about what being spiritual is really about. It has nothing to do with “finding our bliss,” unless finding it will support us in being more patient with ourselves and others, more loving and kind, more empathetic and compassionate, and move us toward a genuine desire to be of benefit to our immediate environment and the world at large. Ultimately, all the meditation and mindfulness practice and trainings have no value what so ever if they do not contribute to awakening within us what The Buddha identified as our True-Nature or Buddha-Nature. We are by “nature” Loving, Kind, Compassionate, Empathetic, and Benevolent beings. If our spiritual practices are not about cultivating the ground for these qualities to awaken and thrive, we are just fooling ourselves and others who think otherwise.
Our work towards awakening and cultivating these qualities begin by recognizing the years of unconscious and sometime conscious embracing of conditionings or habitual behaviors we have accepted as normal and have reinforced at the cellular level over the years. We have become “reactionary machines” operating most of the time on “auto-pilot”. When we finally take to the cushion, or the chair, or just standing, to reflect on our behavior and commit to come and know “ourselves” thoroughly through-and-through, we become more “aware” of this reactionary conditioning. The more aware we become, we can begin to work with this energy in order to transform it from “reactionary” or “mechanical” behavior, to “responsible” behavior. By responsible I mean that through meditation and mindfulness, first we develop a keen awareness of the difference between the two and its effects on our experience and our environment, then we can “choose” to replace the habitual reactionary behavior with more “beneficial” behavior. Until we “seriously” commit to this effort nothing, and I mean nothing, about our lives will change. The same is true about our immediate environment and the world. Remember what I often said in the past, “The surest way to have life go on the way it has up and until this moment, is to keep doing it the way you always have.”
Authentic Spirituality is taking responsibility for the life I dream of and no longer allowing it to be at the mercy of years of conditioning or life circumstances and situations arising from moment to moment. We really are the “masters of our destiny,” personally and globally.
Can we get down to the business of making the changes necessary for changing the world now?
“I pray for those who dance with life in the face of death.
For those whose unkind visitor brought them great limitation, for whom the plague is real.
For the child, the woman, the old man, the banker, the teacher, the prisoner, the priest, for the artist, the musician, the player. For the worker, the lover of imagination, the dreamer of dreams.
For those who were told not to love, and dared to love anyway. For those who hid for a lifetime, and for those who bravely ventured out.
For those who die alone, and those who leave surrounded by love.
For all the victims of the dark night, that they may reach the dawn of victory.
To them I bow inwardly.
They are with me, now and in memory, and in the hope of the new day.”
I Love You,
“When I proposed the theory of relativity, very few understood me, and what I will reveal now to transmit to mankind will also collide with the misunderstanding and prejudice in the world.
I ask you to guard the letters as long as necessary, years, decades, until society is advanced enough to accept what I will explain below.
There is an extremely powerful force that, so far, science has not found a formal explanation to. It is a force that includes and governs all others, and is even behind any phenomenon operating in the universe and has not yet been identified by us.
This universal force is LOVE. When scientists looked for a unified theory of the universe they forgot the most powerful unseen force. Love is Light, that enlightens those who give and receive it. Love is gravity, because it makes some people feel attracted to others.
Love is power, because it multiplies the best we have, and allows humanity not to be extinguished in their blind selfishness. Love unfolds and reveals. For love we live and die. Love is God and God is Love.
This force explains everything and gives meaning to life. This is the variable that we have ignored for too long, maybe because we are afraid of love because it is the only energy in the universe that man has not learned to drive at will.
To give visibility to love, I made a simple substitution in my most famous equation. If instead of E = mc2, we accept that the energy to heal the world can be obtained through love multiplied by the speed of light squared, we arrive at the conclusion that love is the most powerful force there is, because it has no limits.
After the failure of humanity in the use and control of the other forces of the universe that have turned against us, it is urgent that we nourish ourselves with another kind of energy.
If we want our species to survive, if we are to find meaning in life, if we want to save the world and every sentient being that inhabits it, love is the one and only answer.
Perhaps we are not yet ready to make a bomb of love, a device powerful enough to entirely destroy the hate, selfishness and greed that devastate the planet. However, each individual carries within them a small but powerful generator of love whose energy is waiting to be released.
When we learn to give and receive this universal energy, dear Lieserl, we will have affirmed that love conquers all, is able to transcend everything and anything, because love is the quintessence of life.
I deeply regret not having been able to express what is in my heart, which has quietly beaten for you all my life. Maybe it’s too late to apologize, but as time is relative, I need to tell you that I love you and thanks to you I have reached the ultimate answer!”
(I must first note that since the public appearance of this letter in 2015, several pundits have questioned whether or not Einstein is the author, or at least whether or not he wrote that, “Love is a Force of the Universe”. Nonetheless I think you will agree the letter has meaning and is itself a force for real insight and change.)
I was sitting in a chair receiving chemo at MD Anderson Cooper in Camden when I received an email from an old friend. I was already there for about 2 of the 6 hours and, I was already reflecting on my experience as the chemo flowed through my veins and the side effects began to surface. You need to know that I am not as unpredictable as people may think, at least on some factors of my behavior. Whenever I am alone, when I am feeling alone or lonely, my thoughts always go to the same place. I think of you; I think of those who I love and who I am blessed by their love. I think of my Vow I made years ago to “live my life as a benefit for others,” and my choice to actualize that Vow as a Zen-Monk and Teacher. I am truly, with you always, and you are truly the object of my love and my affections. No matter how difficult it gets, especially during chemo week, I never forget you my friends and supporters, my fellow monks, and our beloved Community of Pine Wind. These thoughts along with my thoughts of course of my daughter, are the driving force within me that keeps me determined to beat this cancer, to win the good fight, to stay around until my work is truly complete.
Whether or not Einstein wrote this letter in its entirety, or whether he ever wrote the line that “Love is a Force of the Universe,” I will leave up to the pundits to entertain. There is so much script in history including Biblical script in Western and Eastern theology which can be put to the same test. It is the message and its ability to help us wake up which matters, not the author. For today I am going to operate from and with the opinion that Einstein did write it or, he would have.
So, I would like to focus on my reflection on one particular set of lines:
“This universal force is LOVE. When scientists looked for a unified theory of the universe they forgot the most powerful unseen force. Love is Light, that enlightens those who give and receive it. Love is gravity, because it makes some people feel attracted to others. Love is power, because it multiplies the best we have, and allows humanity not to be extinguished in their blind selfishness. Love unfolds and reveals. For love we live and die. Love is God and God is Love.
This force explains everything and gives meaning to life. This is the variable that we have ignored for too long, maybe because we are afraid of love because it is the only energy in the universe that man has not learned to drive at will.”
While no one in their right mind would find chemotherapy a desirable experience, after nearly more than two years of receiving it I have made friends with it. Every time I anticipate its monthly arrival I prepare myself to welcome it and sit for however long I must not only in Camden but afterwards at home for the two more days I receive it through a pump attached to my body and, the weeks ahead I wrestle with its side-effects. I must report to you while as difficult an experience it is, and anyone who has experienced will tell you it is, I have been able to make use of it as a kind of “gate” a “portal for self-reflection and insight”. I have learned to use “suffering” rather than fight it or reject it, as a “vehicle” for learning and growing. I deliberately use this time as a lens for seeing myself, my place in the Universe, and my environment, and I am so grateful for everything I have seen and continue to see through that lens, no matter how dark or painful it has been at times.
Every time I have looked, every time I have reflected, while wearing that lens, whether pain or darkness or just the desire for it all to stop, I have always arrived at the same place. “In the end its ALL about Love.” When I trace that experience I find that its not just “the end,” it’s the beginning and the middle. The force we’ve experienced from time to time connected to our will to “survive” is “Love”. I want to survive this cancer so that I may continue to love you, my daughter, the world. And make no mistake about it, to continue to experience the Love I experience from you, my daughter, and the world. It doesn’t matter who wrote it, “the universal force is LOVE.”
“Love is Light, that enlightens those who give and receive it. Love is gravity, because it makes some people feel attracted to others. Love is power, because it multiplies the best we have, and allows humanity not to be extinguished in their blind selfishness. Love unfolds and reveals. For love we live and die. Love is God and God is Love. This force explains everything and gives meaning to life.”
“This is the variable that we have ignored for too long, maybe because we are afraid of love because it is the only energy in the universe that man has not learned to drive at will.”
Yes, “we have ignored too long…” and, our work, as spiritual beings, begins only when we stop ignoring it and start “learning to drive it at will”.
This pandemic I believe is both a curse and a blessing if we take the time to step out of ourselves (ego) and sit with it offering it a “cup of tea”. It has forced us all to slow down, to stop, and to be in the very situations we need to be in after generations of arranging our lives in order that we can avoid being in those places. It has forced us to not only “see the selves we have become,” but to also “see the true-selves we must resurrect and be” in order for the future to even happen.
“Love is Light, that enlightens those who give and receive it. Love is gravity, because it makes some people feel attracted to others. Love is power, because it multiplies the best we have, and allows humanity not to be extinguished in their blind selfishness.”
“After the failure of humanity in the use and control of the other forces of the universe that have turned against us, it is urgent that we nourish ourselves with another kind of energy. If we want our species to survive, if we are to find meaning in life, if we want to save the world and every sentient being that inhabits it, love is the one and only answer.”
This pandemic has certainly brought to light mankind’s failure with all its advancements in technology, industry, medicine, to perfect the one advancement that completes us and adds to our ability to be a positive force of the Universe —Love. Love binds us, love leaves no one behind. Whatever plans mankind puts in place as governments, religious and secular institutions, science, communities, and neighborhoods,
“If we are to find meaning in life, [after our current global state] if we want to save the world [including the whole of nature] and every sentient being that inhabits it, love is the one and only answer.”
Love which is: inclusiveness, justice for all, the end of all forms of hunger, poverty, exploitation, greed, and hatred, must be the “context” of future planning. No matter how this may seem to be a heavy menu, it is only our “willingness” or lack of, which will determine our success.
As always, these literally “transformational” steps must begin with individuals, with you, with me. We can be the force behind the reckoning that, “We are not now, or ever will we be, willing to go back to the status-quo, to the “old normal”. Not Now! Not Never!
We begin with serious and difficult questions: “How am I contributing to the decisions made by government and our social and religious institutions in this country which sustain suffering and its causes?”
We then must answer the question with “actions” and not just hope and or good wishes and prayers.
Our spirituality is not simply to be, but to work in harmony with others and for others; to work first on our own life, our own identity, our own destiny and then to work in the world while not of it, on mankind’s destiny, on humanity’s destiny. Thomas Merton reminds us, “If I can understand something of myself and something of others, I can begin to share with them the work of building the foundations of spiritual unity.” and, “In living out that destiny, it means much to have the example of someone who not only talks the talk, but walks the walk. “
Remember, “We Are More Together Than Alone.” With that again I extend my hand, my personal commitment, out to everyone.
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
- Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude
I Love You,
Buddhism teaches that there is nothing we can do to stave off aging, illness, loss, or death. It is inevitable that they will come. How we conduct ourselves during and after is the definition of who we are as human-beings. An essential quality of a fully mature human being, of a fully realized enlightened being, especially during difficult times, is to have the heart of a Bodhisattva. The traditional definition of a Bodhisattva is, “someone who chooses not to enter the state of perfect peace, called nirvana, in order to help all sentient beings to liberate themselves from suffering and its causes.” Here the use of the term “perfect peace” does not mean the complete absence of anxiety. It points to how the Bodhisattva responds to stressful and anxious moments like the one we find ourselves in today. Traditionally Buddhism teaches the every being possesses “basic goodness,” therefore every being is a potential Bodhisattva.
While no one including myself welcomes physical pain or mental anxiety, the heart of the Bodhisattva is large enough to hold both pleasure and pain; both the loved-one and the enemy; both the friend and the stranger, in compassionate equanimity. The Bodhisattva embraces his or her kinship not only with those he or she loves, but also with those we may not love or even hate, or with the stranger, and with the whole of nature which sustains all of us. We are related, to all beings past, present, and future. We are also interconnected through our relatedness; therefore what happens to one-being, happens to all of us. We are interconnected biologically, ecologically, economically, and politically. We are interdependent as well. We are in this together, we always have been. We need to support one-another, communicate everyday, says the things you’ve been putting off all of your life.
If there ever was a time in human history, (and there have been other times) once again, now is a time to “Call On All Bodhisattvas”. While fear and anxiety tend to dominate the hearts and minds of so many fellow human beings during this global crises, the heart of the Bodhisattva offers an avenue toward calm, a border point-of-view (options) healing, and possibility, during what feels so impossible. Qualities such as patience, tolerance, loving-kindness, compassion, generosity, and benevolence, applied to how we respond to this crises, can do us all much good. These qualities nurture not only one-another when practiced, science tells us our mental attitude can either weaken or strengthen the human immune system. These qualities though inherent in all of us, sometimes far too often, prove to be difficult to embrace and actualize; requiring practice or regular application and renewal through a daily practice of quiet reflection (contemplation); meditation; and living more purposefully and mindful, not only of our thoughts and emotions, but also of how we communicate with our words and with our actions.
COVID19 is real. Everyone must, follow the recommendations of the experts: regularly wash your hands, keep a safe “social distance” from others, and stay out of public gathering places with more than ten people. Following these recommendations can help prevent you and others from contracting this virus.
COVID19 however, is not the only thing that isolates and separates us. We were divided long before this virus ever touched our shores. We need to be honest with ourselves and each other about this if we are ever going to defeat this virus and other deadly diseases such as: economic inequality, injustice, all forms of discrimination, polarization, poverty, religious and political intolerance, and other social diseases which have made their way through the population long before COVID19.
Alienation, resentment, greed and hatred have never dispelled darkness in our world. Only the truth of loving-kindness; compassion; generosity; mercy; and benevolence, the most ancient and inexhaustible truth which has time and time again proven to bring light, into the darkened corners of our world. From this Truth, we begin to align our priorities including our choices and our behavior and endeavor to dissolve all forms of oppression, doing our part as Bodhisattvas to help all sentient beings liberate themselves from suffering and its causes. Through solidarity we are present for one-another (if not physically), and care for each other (regulasrly pick up the phone, email, write a letter, or text), drawing from the best of our angels, of our — True-nature.
In Zen, especially in times of uncertainty, we can create some certainty in our lives. We do not just abandon years of practice and training because of the fear and anxiety we may be experiencing or because of desperation. We “respond” to the moment by bringing to the moment our practice and training. You and I have no power over what the world may be, or any person for that matter, at any given time whether they be simpler times or complex such as these. What we do have power over, is, our own actions and behaviors.
We can bring some certainty to the moment by being in the present moment with integrity. Here I find the emphasis on having a “daily routine” helpful.
When I wake up in the morning I take a moment to reflect and assess my experience. I apply the basic techniques of living mindfully. I take a breathe or few and bring my awareness to my body and any mental formations. I offer my prayers of gratitude. When I get out of bed I go to the bathroom and with “mindful attention” I wash my hands, my face, and sometimes my entire body; quietly, reflectively, gratefully. I then make my bed. (Never leave your bedroom without making your bed. It makes a hell of a lot of difference when you seek refuge for a nap or when you retire later that evening.) I Turn off all electric items such as the lamp, air filter, and radio. I then make my way down the hall greeted by my cats, I take the time to respond to their needs, then eventually my dog and her needs. While I make it a practice to leave no dirty dishes in the sink except sometimes, I take care of what is needed there. I heat the teapot full of water and prepare my morning matcha tea with honey. I continue from there throughout the day. When I’m hungry I eat. When I’m thirsty I drink. When there’s dishes to clean, I clean the dishes. When it’s time to pray or meditate, I pray and meditate. When it’s time to rest, I rest. When it’s time to write these words, I sit and write. Routine gives us a sense of “living our lives our way.” I do not “do” anything because I “have to”, I always bring an attitude of, “This is my home. My pets are part of my family. My home protects me, keeps me sheltered, warm, and creates a space for me to be. So as I always tell my ten-year old daughter, “The house takes care of us, our pets give us happiness and joy, they take care of us, so we take care of the house and our pets, and friends, guests, and other family members.”
I can remember the arrival of the first computer. The geeks in my class had a field day. It was like the heavens opened and God sent manna. As time went on and we all began to learn how to use a computer one of my friends, one of the geeks, was heard to say, “Garbage in, garbage out.” Later, I like so many learned he was referring to the mechanics of a computer. A computer can only give us whatever is on its hard drive and in its memory. Likewise, a human-being can only react or respond according to whatever is on his or her “hard-drive and in his or her memory”.
So, watch what you expose yourself to while isolated in your homes.
I strongly encourage everyone to “go on a strict diet” of watching cable news. I personally limit it to just at best a half-hour in the morning, a half-hour at night, and sometimes less. The same is true about social media. “Garbage in, garbage out.” Not that there is no value whatsoever in checking in with the rest of the world. But as you know, it’s not like the days of “Walter Cronkite,” “just the facts”. When you randomly just listen to others without filtering the information and blindly accepting it as fact you open yourself to, many other forms of viruses neither good for the mind and the body. Remember that the body takes its cues from your “state of mind”. Do whatever keeps it calm, quiet, and prepared to respond, not just react, to the challenges rising up from moment to moment. As I write these words I am listening to channel 443 on the Comcast cable network. I recommend it.
Finally, having been diagnosed nearly two years ago with pancreatic cancer, I refused to let the cancer, the chemo-therapy, radiation, my daily exhaustion, any side effects, and yes my own fears, to define me.
I fell in love many years ago with The Great Mystery, call it God or Buddha; with this beautiful beautiful planet we occupy together; with my daughter since the first day she was born ten-years ago; with my ninety-year old parents; my sibling; my friends; my fellow monks and students, and the many persons who have visited Pine Wind over the years. What defines me are the Vows I’ve taken and, recite regularly to myself and in the liturgy. They are my personal promises, not just traditional precepts of a Student-of-Dharma. They can be summed up with my experience I have had on numerous occasions including during this part of my journey with cancer.
“It is and continues to be a privilege to be alive. I am honored and grateful for the number of lessons I have learned from everyone I have had contact with in one form or another. Every breath I breathe is gift. Every person who come through these doors, who make the choice to be here when they could be anywhere else in their world, is gift. I am grateful that perhaps whatever days I have left I will get to live them in the heart of the natural world; that I will continue to be called to a life of benevolent service. That I will not be and am not ever alone. I will continue to make this journey with my fellow monks, my brothers and sisters, loved and selflessly supported by friends of Pine Wind and that, like Robert Frost once wrote of himself, in the end: “If I would have it writ upon my stone, let it say, “I had a lovers quarrel with the world.” This, is what defines me. I pray that I will always have the strength and mental fortitude to never fail in my definition and, like my relationship with my dog I hope, “That I will always be the person you think I am.”
“We are so much more together than alone!” Let this be our hope for the future, to realize this. Let this be our only intention, to actualize this everywhere.
I love you,
One of the Three Pillars of Zen training is “The Cultivation of Wisdom,” which results in a better understanding of the psychological forces at work in ourselves and in society. The current divide and political polarization we are witnessing in America today is, rightfully so, frightening and confusing to all of us. It sometimes feels like the whole world is plunging itself into self-destruction. If we are to find answers, we must embrace the power of the “Truth” which liberates us from the causes of confusion and desperation. We cannot rely on emotions, or opinions, or even our personal beliefs when those beliefs only prove to further the power of ignorance and widen the divide.
Whether we can see it or not, whether we want to see it or not, each of us has had a hand in the making of the problem(s) which cries out for a solution. We must stop looking for the causes of the worlds suffering in others. His Holiness Pope Francis writes, “We are witnessing the globalization of indifference, there is a culture of conflict which makes us think only of ourselves…We’ve become use to the suffering of others, it doesn’t effect me, no one in our world feels responsible. Who is responsible for the blood of our brothers and sisters? The refugees washed up on the shores of the Mediterranean? [In cages at the southern borders of our Nation?] ’I don’t have anything to do with it, must be someone else. Certainly it’s not me.’ Then who is responsible? Everyone is responsible.”
What is the place of the monastic, the contemplative, in all of this? What is the place of the truly spiritual person in all of this? Are we to simply resign ourselves to the worst? Should we simply fortify our spiritual centers, monasteries, churches, mosques, and synagogues, taking a hard-headed position in opposition to all opposing positions? Satisfying our “egos” with our meditations, yoga, prayer life, energy practices, and sense of piety and goodness, while millions of “our brothers and sisters” perish in the rush of ignorance, hatred, and greed?
There can be no question that unless the current culture of fear, the worship of money and power, and indifference is transformed, we will remain in a constant state of insanity and desperation; and the danger of catastrophe, either through war or increasing natural disasters, will continue to be imminent at every moment of our lives.
Do not misunderstand my passion to mean I have answers, this is a problem of terrifying complexity and magnitude, one that I myself do not see clear and decisive solutions. Yet I am convinced that you and I must be the pathway toward the abolition of this current state of affairs. That we must be active in every possible way of lowering the temperature of the debate, mobilizing all our resources for the healing of humanity, and the whole of Nature.
We must at least face this responsibility and do something about it. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote, “Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.” In whatever manner we find ourselves inspired to do our part, we must never allow others to deter us from our commitment to living lives of Peace, Loving-kindness, Compassion, and Benevolence. Prepared to restrain and transform our own instincts for violence and aggressiveness in our relations with other people. We must be vigilant, empowering ourselves and others to meet this most urgent challenge, engaging regular and consistent practices of meditation, prayer, and random and deliberate acts of good works. The survival of the human race and the natural world, the continuing life of the planet itself, depends upon it.
I believe that the modern monastic and truly spiritual persons are called to an openness to a radical personal and global transformation. We cannot continue to rely on the models of the past. We can no longer rely on institutions and structures which can be destroyed or changed in any moment. In the words of the dying Buddha, “Atta Dipa.” We must, “rely on ourselves”. We must, each of us, stand on our own two feet and “be the change we want for the world.”
We begin, by first understanding the psychological forces at work in ourselves and in society. “We are more together than we are alone,” and so let us take that first step and each following step together and, together I believe if not in my lifetime, someday we will “awaken the best of angels within us” and become The Pure-Land, The Kingdom of God, on Earth.
I Love You,
I continue with cancer occupying my body.
Unsure of the future I remain determined to defeat that which aims to defeat me.
I remain confident that God, Whom I, ever since I was seven years old, am convinced lives in me and in all sentient beings will, along with my conviction be the source of my healing.
I believe in miracles.
I remain devoted to being an instrument of Love, Kindness, Compassion, and Benevolent Service.
I continue to believe in the power of Love over Hatred, Kindness over Indifference, Service over Sloth.
I am supported by the very best friends, family, brother and sister monks, and community.
I am inspired by the numbers of people I meet each day who too carry more than anyone should have to carry.
I am inspired by the readiness of those who suffer, to forget themselves to help others who suffer too.
I remain convinced that there is so much more goodness in the world than we are lead to believe.
It is for that reason I limit my exposure to cable and social news media outlets.
I reject living in fear and practice faith, hope, and always looking for the best in others.
I see underpaid caretakers going to their jobs caring for people like my Mother with dementia and the elderly too ill to care for themselves.
I am humbled by their sincere devotion.
I am prayerful, I believe in the power of prayer.
I am hopeful for the future, I believe in the power of humanity, in light over darkness.
I remain awe struck by Nature. Our Mother remains so beautiful, so benevolent, despite how some continue to harm her or take her for granted.
I believe in the power of forgiveness. I forgive all my offenders and ask that whomever I may have offended forgive me.
In this New Year coming upon us, I expect more acts of kindness, more expressions of affection, more generosity, more benefits of the doubt, and gentleness.
We Are More Together Than Alone – Let Community be “The Spirit, The Guiding Light” of 2020 and beyond.
I Love You,
I find myself reminiscing of days gone by, melancholy for a time when the world I’ve known in my heart, was so much different.
The words of our forefather’s and mother’s continue to haunt me, as they do millions of Americans: “We the People.” “E Pluribus Unum.” “With Liberty (Freedom) and Justice (Equality) for all.” “Like an anthem in my heart,” they continue to orchestrate a “vision for the world,” a dream of days go by, “which either happened or not, and if not, “Why Not?”, interrupting and disrupting the world and todays current events.
All throughout history the Monastic and Contemplative Community has served as a “quiet yet powerful force for good in the world”. The monastery is not only home to the Monks but, a place of refuge for visitors and pilgrims seeking refuge and, a conducive and appropriate environment for nurturing and awakening the best of human nature.
I have often been heard to say, “You don’t have to become a monk to live like a monk but, you have to live like a monk.” Living authentically and spiritually in the world – matters; Living a principled and purposeful life – matters, Community and a devotion to benefiting the lives of others and a commitment to something larger than just yourself – matters. Not only does it “matter,” it is the “difference” in life that so many continue to search for endlessly.
“I can tell you deliverance will not come from the rushing noisy centers of civilization. It will come from the lonely places.” – Fridtjof Nansen
I have always felt like a “stranger in a strange land”. I first felt this way when I was seven years old, and after God had stolen my heart, and has yet to return it to me.
In my youth, I often visited the “rushing noisy centers of civilization,” in search of love and glory. I found it for a while, and then the lights would come on at 1:00am as they did hundreds of times, only to find myself in the streets of the city making my way back to that place from whence I was convinced the journey would lead me to what I felt I most needed.
I would occasionally seek refuge in the “Institutes of Knowledge” which I would never underestimate their contributions to civilization. Yet, here we are in the 21st Century still debating the fundamental issues of humanity: The right to life; to live free of the fear of discrimination, injustice, poverty, and illness; the right to full self-expression, freedom from repression and oppression, equality and war.
Being the first-born son of a “conservative capitalist” “meaning of life,” was defined, for me, a definition I would quickly reject and in doing so, be rejected. Early on I was exposed to the “Industries of Commerce,” in an effort to try to shape and form me toward that ends. There I heard Mara’s voice and his promises of wealth, security, and glory? I would not be enticed, well not entirely. Remember God has my heart, and regularly interrupts my thoughts.