Lately I have felt like I have been living under and endless stream of clouds. Winter has certainly taken its toll. But clouds unlike the light which shines behind them, are impermanent, no matter how long they may linger. But more importantly they are deceptive, and when we look up and only see cloudy skies, we must keep looking until we see the whole truth. The Sun does not go up or down, in or out, it is always shining, always bright, always in its appropriate place in the Universe. The light is never dispelled, only hidden at times by obstructions both natural and manmade. No matter what direction we look, if our vision is big enough, wide enough, high enough, we must and we will eventually, discover the light.
“Todays, post-modern Zen Buddhism in the West must be about groundedness in practice (training) and service – Neither a Self-Improvement Program nor a personal Wellness path.”
– Joan Halifax, Roshi
One day the Buddha found himself challenged by seekers with numerous inquiries about heaven and earth. After listening for a period of time he replied, “What I teach is suffering; the cause of suffering; cessation from suffering, and the path which leads to cessation from suffering.” What was important in his reply was not necessarily the content of his answer but rather the context. He expressed a “single minded devotion” which characterized his commitment to “liberating all beings from suffering and its cause” which was for him as it must be for each of us, a lifetime dedication to learn, to grow, and to opening our hearts and minds to change, to be transformed, and to awaken from our lifetime delusional view of ourselves and our place in the world.
Roshi Joan Halifax, founder of the Upaya Zen Center words, define The Way of Zen and the meaning and purpose of a “zen center” or “community”. Zen is not intended to be a “self-improvement program”; a zendo is not a “wellness center” but rather, a unique and exclusive conducive environment for “awakening from the cause of suffering”. We understand that, “Cause” to be “A lifetime attachment, rooted in ignorance, to ego-delusion.” We begin with the ground for our efforts, “All sentient beings are Buddha (Enlightened)”. There is no need for “self-improvement”. No need to become “more, better, or different”. While the results of “training and practice” may be a sense of self-improvement and certainly well-being, these are byproducts. The ultimate results of Zen training are for more deeply profound and transformational, “Incomparable, and All Pervasive”.
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.
“Our love, or lack of it…will in the end be an expression of ourselves: Of who we think we are, of what we want to be, and what we think we are here for.” – Thomas Merton
Love, like Authentic Spirituality is “not dualistic”. You cannot “be spiritual” or love anyone or anything within the context of ego, which is always viewing the world from a dualistic point of view, from a fear based narrative.
Love always tells us more about the lover than it does about the beloved. We love others only and according to how we love ourselves. We can only give what we have and to the extent we can love ourselves unconditionally, we will love others the same. To the extent we love ourselves unconditionally, we will accept others and will be able to embrace the world just as it is and as it is not. Love is the parent of such virtues as patience, and our ability to embrace impermanence. Love does not fear change. For love there is no loss or gain.
Love is not just some sentimental or romantic notion or emotion, it is a force driven towards action by a real sense of purpose, and sustained by integrity. In Zen we say, “May I at all times, both now and forever, live my life as a benefit for others.” While we may not love others with the same emotional intensity we might love a few closes to us however, love always loves with the same intention. Love is by nature benevolent, it seeks to always benefit the moment, to relieve suffering, and to bring support and hope to any crises.
It is only in loving others from a place of benevolence that I am able to experience love. Love seeks only one thing, to be a benefit to others. It is for this reason that love is its own reward. When I am truly and fully engaged in loving others I cannot be bored, worrisome, or discouraged. Loving gives my life meaning and purpose. Love is the meaning and purpose of my very existence.
Where ambition ends love begins. It is not until I stop seeking to have, will I ever have anything of any real substance. When I cease trying to “find love” or wanting to be loved, wanting the whole world to “devote itself to making me happy,” I will find true happiness, and I will be able to see that love was always right here. Loving others is the gateway to the Kingdom of Heaven, to Nirvana. The story about the healing of the blind man by Jesus was never fully told. I am convinced that all Jesus did was to convince the man of his worthiness, of his “lovability,” and immediately he was able to see.
So in the end the world does not need more leaders, saviors, certainly not more politicians. What the world needs more of now is what the world always needs: “More Lovers”.
“So dearly beloved let us love one another… for Love is God.” – John 4:7
“The way to happiness is to keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry. Live simply, give much. Fill your life with love…” – Buddha
I Love You,
“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.
“It’s Up to You! It’s Always Been! What Do You Want?”
In his book “A Monk in The World” Wayne Teasdale makes reference to one of several versions of a story told to me many years ago. When I first heard it, it defined for me what I call “The Difference,” that one ingredient which separates novelty and authenticity. My version tells the story of an encounter between a Zen master and one of his students. The student in a rare opportunity approached the master challenging him about the notion of enlightenment. “How is it possible to be truly free?” “To live an unencumbered life, free of the mind’s distractions, worriments, and fear?” The master invites the novice to walk with him and together they enter the forest surrounding the monastery. The young person continues probing the master while he remains completely silent offering no response. They eventually arrive at one of the lakes on the property and it is then the master speaks inviting his companion to join him as he cools off in the body of the lake. No sooner they are waist deep in the lake and suddenly the master grabs the student and pushes him under the water, holding him there. You can imagine the surprise and eventually the fear rising in the novice’s body. It is almost to the moment when the student would naturally pass out and only then does his teacher lift him out of the water. Gasping and kicking, obviously angry and afraid, he screams at the teacher, “What was that about?” “How could you do that to me?” The Zen master walks to the shore with the screaming novice, shakes himself off and turns to the student saying to him, “When you truly want enlightenment as badly as you wanted your next breath, then and only then will all of your questions be answered and you will know the answers in your very body just as your body knew to choose life.”
A Course in Spirituality
“In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; its none of my business.”
– Pope Francis
All of the joy, all the happiness, and any sense of fulfillment we spend our lives in pursuit of will be realized only when we return to the Path of Our True Destiny – We were born to connect with each other and to take care of each other. “Community is Spirit” it is “The Guiding Light” of the Universe, forever calling us Home. However, like the way we keep looking for the solutions to our personal suffering in all the wrong places, our Home is not a place or a destination – It is Each Other. We will find our Home and Our True Self when we find Each Other.
“In giving of yourself, you will discover a whole new life full of meaning and love.” – Cesar Chavez
“You cannot be useful and bored.” – Seijaku Roshi
Zen Buddhism is based principally upon the path of a bodhisattva. A “bodhisattva” is anyone motivated by compassion who generates bodhicitta and the singular desire to realize the highest enlightenment “for the benefit of all sentient beings”. From Buddha who spoke about generosity (Dana), to Jesus who emphasized charity (Love), all the great teachers point to living one’s life “as a benefit for others” as the only true spiritual path (authentic spirituality), source of contentment (true happiness), and the key to the kingdom of God on earth (global transformation).
Today we are witnessing one of the greatest global revolutions in human history, not one brought about by some great army or civil uprise, but one born of and flowing from the chaotic forces within everyone. A profound spiritual and moral crises manifested largely by our growing cynicism of, and realization that, the socio-economic, religious and political institutions, we came to rely on for some kind of personal salvation for so many generations, as well as our historical cultural, social, and spiritual definitions for life, are today revealing themselves for what they truly are — complete shams. I believe that the reemergence of Spiritual Communities throughout the world offers each of us a way out of the madness, and a real possibility for a new tomorrow.