“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.
“Man is spirit.” — Winston Churchill
If we are ever going to rebuild and renew the world and humanity, it must begin with personal responsibility and a real commitment to the principles of peace, loving-kindness, compassion, benevolent service, and the cultivation of real Wisdom. This will require real effort toward establishing lasting peace within one’s own heart and mind first. When this self I call “Myself” changes, the world will naturally change. The individuals healing and renewal, becomes the worlds healing and renewal, just as the Buddha declared on that day of his own healing, “All beings are Buddha.”
All Life Has Meaning and Purpose
Shikantaza — “Just Sitting” reveals the meaningfulness of life. We will never come to know the meaningfulness of life in our comings and goings, our striving, and our craving. Shikantaza is about accepting ourselves, accepting our world, just as it is, and just as it isn’t. Without adding, without detracting, we embrace, we hold, we experience, we simply accept ourselves. This is the first gate on the Path. Accepting yourself will be the hardest thing you will ever do. Accepting your world will be even harder. This is why we sit. You can study the Dharma, the Sutra’s, the ancient teachings of the Masters, all the way back to Shakyamuni, for your entire life and still remain in ignorance, until you have accepted yourself and your life. Shikantaza is the light that will guide you in your darkness. It is the truth which will set you free.
You may think you understand, but words cannot describe it, its essence is immeasurable. It is not something one can understand. It is not dependent upon human intellect. The fullness of Shikantaza cannot be taught, cannot be acquired, it can only be known. You will not believe me until you have experienced it for yourself. Then no one will believe you, until they experience it for themselves.
Shikantaza is, in all things and matters of life, the relinquishment of dualistic views and approaches. We may “think” of the mind as separate from the body, but neither can exist without the other. There has always been persons who think of themselves separate from Nature. Our very existence is, the natural world. So, we sit to reawaken to our true-nature. Our true-nature is non-dualistic. Dualism is the breach between reality and our ideas about reality — but not to be mistaken as “two”. Like neighbors, dualism and non-dualism live side-by-side. No road or path runs through the middle. In order to realize this we must learn to embrace dualism and non-duality in equanimity. By dualism I mean, the individuals responsibility to find their “Way Home”. By non-dualism I mean, what follows personal responsibility is always “relationship” or “community”. We all need each other. This is the marking of a true and authentic spiritual path or practice. We must make the journey on our own two feet, only to meet others, making the journey on their own two feet, along the way who will help us complete our journey.
Whenever the Monks of Pine Wind come together for a meal we pray:
“This food is the gift of the whole Universe, each morsel is a sacrifice of a life, may we be worthy to receive it… As the lotus flower does not adhere to water, we will feel no rain, for each of us will be shelter for the other; We will feel no cold, for each of us will be warmth for each other; There will be no more loneliness, for each of us will be companion to the other.”
This is the journey and the destination, and the vehicle is Shikantaza.
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.
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
– Abraham Lincoln
We are at a critical moment in the history of the nation and make no mistake about it, these are clarifying times; the world, we will bequeath to our children will be shaped and formed by our response or lack thereof to current events. I believe that what will be required of both the monk and the layperson, who claim any identity with being spiritual, with being moral, is the putting aside of business as usual, and waking up, stepping up, showing up.
Happiness is temporarily suspended. If we are ever going to be “the change we want in the world,” we have work to do to prepare ourselves to confront the Greed, Hatred, and the Indifference, embedded within a structure where “profit” is the bottom line, the context for governing the nation, and required by the both historical and current system to perpetuate itself. Our preparation and training must begin by confronting these “Three Poisons” wherever we find them, beginning with ourselves, our practice, and our relationships.
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.
I have spent more than half my lifetime inquiring about and observing the space I occupy and beyond. Science teaches us that the very material which makes up the known Universe can be found in a single human cell. With that I have always felt that the journey has always been one within and, if I cannot find it within me I cannot expect to find it anywhere out there. When I do find it within me, I will then find it everywhere out there.
“Underneath all we are taught, there is a voice that calls to us beyond what is reasonable, and in listening to that flicker of spirit, we often find deep healing.”
– Mark Nepo “The Book of Awakening”
Spirituality is not a vacation but rather a vocation. Meditation and Yoga, were never meant to be a means of escaping the world but rather, a means for entering into life more deeply and profoundly. While both the monk and the pilgrim may retreat from the world for a brief period of time, it’s not to escape but rather to train, to renew, to reconnect, in order to re-enter life more skillfully and with understanding and clarity developed while in retreat, learning to “be in the world more fully, intimately, and without reservation or self-preservation.”
The contemplative is not interested in either novelty or variety. He or she seeks a deeper meaning of life than the cultural or social definition accepted by so many. We train in the spiritual practices to learn “not to be daunted by the things of the world,” so that we can be present to our lives as they are, including our families, our friends, and our neighbors; and to the world as it is, and to the endless evolving and ever-changing circumstances of life, not as a victim of change but rather as a healing and reconciling force of Nature.
“Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.”
― Jalaluddin Rumi
Several years ago I wrote an article titled “The Love which Never Dies,” it was during the worst period of my life to date. I had yet to experience then the two heart attacks and several bouts with pneumonia which would follow in the years ahead. This was a battle of the worst kind of ailment or disease possible – “A Broken Heart”. Eventually I did have those heart attacks, I did battle with pneumonia four times, and as some of you know a wrestling match recently with a virus that landed me in the hospital for a few days. I continue to fight the good fight of staying alive and well, I still know of no other battle more painful than when the heart is broken and left to make its way from the battlefield and thereafter.
Yesterday we all woke to one of those strange “climate change” effects, “Summer in February”. As I too enjoyed the day with my daughter and friends, (who had not been to my home in a very long time, a kind of “reunion” of friendship), like so many of you I was impressed by the budding of trees and the presence of daffodil’s breaking through the winter soil. Perhaps like me you thought, “How Strange, how mysterious.” Well, later that evening I would conclude it was Mystery, the greatest one of all, and it was speaking to me, to all of us. Perhaps you may have heard Its voice as well.
“We will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. We will not hate you, but we cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws. But we will soon wear you down by our capacity to endure suffering, and in winning our freedom, we will so appeal to your heart and conscience, that we will win yours in the process.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Whether one is a Buddhist, a Christian, or Jewish, there exist certain universal convictions that the founders and their disciples of each of these paths held and continue to hold to be inviolable.
“Every human being without exception possesses intrinsic dignity; everyone without exception should be treated with fairness, loving-kindness, and compassion; that each of us has the responsibility, and this includes how we treat the stranger, to protect those who cannot protect themselves, to lift up the fallen and provide them with basic tools to rebuild and flourish once again; and finally, the delicate web of the natural world should be handled with respect, and all natural resources should be used appropriately.”
Our nation and the world finds itself once again in tumultuous times marked by so much uncertainty and instability, accompanied by threats of increased violence and assaults on personal freedoms and basic human rights. This time, however, it will not be enough to simply assign these dramatic changes which have already begun and the ones that are still ahead, to just the ruling party’s political platform or vision for the nation. No, we are witnessing a dynamic effort to thwart the evolution of human consciousness that has been moving toward a more loving-kind and compassionate society, an inclusive society where no one is left behind or forgotten, a real and imminent threat upon the social fabric of our society and all humanity.