I am a monk. I have had no formal training per se, by choice. What I have had, is a “Vision”. From as far back as I can remember, my “Vision” has been my True Teacher, the Spirit which continues to drive me, my Guiding Light. I have been a student of several great teachers, before, and after their deaths. When they were alive they would say to me this, they would say to me that. Some of “this” I would remember and apply. Some of “that” I would forget and discard. My Vision has been my primary formal training. Everything I have done, everything I do, has been, and continues to be a manifestation of that Vision; an expression of either my understanding of it or my lack of understanding. Either, or, has served me well.
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?”
Like so many, I ponder what life will be for future generations, the future of our Nation, the planet, but most especially humanity. For what is a man’s life without virtue, without honor, without passion, without community, without a heartfelt benevolence, compassion, and love? It is our humanity which permits us to recognize beauty, to experience wonder, to laugh, to dance, to play; to cry, to grieve, to respond to injustice, to care for, and to appreciate life.
On Wednesday, December 28th I found myself in Cooper Hospital’s emergency room. I woke up that morning feeling wonderful, much better than I had felt in several weeks. By noon I was in a car speeding through the streets of Camden until I was ushered to a chair where I would sit for the next hour. I was in convulsions shaking so badly I could barely speak. But I would find no mercy, at least for the next 40 minutes, even though it felt like an eternity. No one enjoys being sick let alone having to go to an emergency room these days, especially over a holiday. The room was packed. I was shaking and waiting for someone to come help. This is where I always say, “Here is where training pays off.”
Yesterday we witnessed the effect of an electorate who believes that, “Reality Shows” are reality; that a nation where malice toward those who are different, hatred or resentment toward those who have what we do not have, and indifference toward the most vulnerable among us is not only the expected but the norm. Yesterday it was confirmed what was long suspected, that the “United” States of America is a myth; that the notion that every citizens life and the life of their daughters and sons matter is a myth; that the rights and liberties of a so called free nation belong to everyone is a myth, and that the “pursuit of happiness” has only been a means toward distracting us from the “man behind the curtain”.
Yesterday was not an election about one personality over another, or one party over another party; yesterday the majority chose hatred, greed, indifference, misogyny, sexism, homophobia, injustice, and nationalism, over patriotism and a united country, inclusiveness, charity, love of thy neighbor (no matter their religious beliefs and political affiliations, their level of income, or the color of their skin) and basic humanity.
The day after like every “day after” the rest of “the people” are faced with a choice. We can either become daunted and discouraged by yesterdays results, ready to throw in the towel, or we can choose to become even more committed and stronger in our convictions. We can be afraid, or learn how to transform our fear into a force of nature which, like Nature when the forest is destroyed by a fire responds with its inherent compassion and life force to renew it for a stronger and better forest for the future.
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.
I will assume that anyone reading this has heard this before, “If you do not find peace within yourself, you will not find it anywhere.” So perhaps you have heard it before or maybe this is the first time, either way, “It’s true!” Our Nation and the World around us would not be witnessing what it is today if everyone were to take this to heart, embrace it, and live it. Peace on Earth really does begin with you, it depends on you. “If you do not find peace within yourself, forget Peace on Earth.” This is not some Buddhist or Spiritual philosophy. Think about it, our actions which create causes which create effects, flow from our thoughts and our emotional state of being. It follows that when I am happy I behave in a completely different manner than when I am sad or angry. When I am content with my life, with who I am, I will treat you in a completely different manner than if I am always craving what you have, jealous of what you have, or resentful for you having and I don’t. Actions not only speak louder than words, they create lasting impressions like seed of consciousness which give rise to the future. Action is “karma” and karma is the energy which gives form to our inner thoughts and emotions. What we see out there began within us.
As I found my seat on my meditation cushion my entire life experience presented itself to me. It was as if a replica of this self I call myself, sat nose to nose with me. Grief and gratitude surfaced within me. We are born and die a thousand times since that initial rise of form, until we meet that final moment when this container can no longer hold us and we are gone, only to return again until we break the shackles the delusion form creates.
I love it all this brith and death ride I’m on. The coming and the going; the having and the losing, falling in love and the broken heart. The sunrise and the sunset; the seasons passing only to come again, and again, and again.
The silence really is golden and abundantly full of wisdom. The aroma of the morning incense entices me. It rises above His crown chakra and suddenly no more. I hear a sound and then I don’t. I feel serene and then I open my eyes, time to ring the bell and speak the words I had already spoken in silence.
I bow to Samsara, it has always been their, like a teacher, a guide, a mentor, and even a friend; it has always been leading me to this, just this.
God I Love You,
– Seijaku Roshi
“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.