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.
“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.
I am often mistaken for being a Buddhist, just as in my younger days a Catholic. It’s understandable why people would make that mistake, today I am a “Zen Monk” and have been for some time, and before that I was born and raised in the Catholic Church, baptized, confirmed, and attended Mass regularly (actually more regularly than most). However my true religion has always been and continues to be “Love and Community”. What I teach is “Love” what I strive to create here at Pine Wind and everywhere in my life is “Community”.
“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!)
People tell me often, “I have no time.”, and I believe them but not the reasons they give me. Having no time is contrived, perhaps unintentionally, but twenty-four hours a day really is enough. Having no time is what happens to us when we allow the dominant culture to have us, when we have lost our intuitive knowledge of life, and trapped in a life for ourselves and our family of “no choice”, which we created.
There is a Zen saying that goes, “If you have time to breathe, you have time to meditate.” or to just sit, to listen, to eat right, to talk to your children, to rest, and all the other things you “don’t have time for”. When you live among the natural world as I do here in the Pinelands, it becomes your teacher, ever reminding you about the true meaning of a life fully lived. One of the lessons is that we are called to face our lives “proactively”. I am always surprised and in awe of how the deer face, every day, the growing population of cars and humans. They find a way, with the exception of the occasional road kill. They make it work. Never losing a beat. It is also clear that everything in the natural world “lives intentionally”. Active in the cycle of life, not just reactive. I often say that most people’s daily living can be compared to the life of a firemen. Just going around putting out fires, reacting to one crises after another. Life is meant to be lived deliberately. The very notion “I have to.” points to the uncomfortable fact that most people’s lives are not their own. They are just following a script, given to us first by the dominant culture of our time, and second reinforced by our conditioning, cross-purpose identities, and our complacency.
How many times have you heard the phrase, “The Journey is the Destination”? Over the years, hundreds of people have come to me asking, “How can I live a more fuller life?” I would tell them, “You have to live your life, all of it. Not just the parts you like.” The part that makes life fulfilling is often the part we often try to avoid. It’s usually the part which my three year old daughter runs toward. She never complains that her life is not fulfilling.