“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” ― Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
My life’s journey has been one of creating clarity, first for my own life and then as a teacher for others, and continues to be that way. I believe that’s what’s so for all of us, the only difference may be is that we either consciously participate in that process or as the ancient Zen masters suggest, “We are dragged.” From my earliest days I have preferred not to have scarred knees.
Since I can remember I have always felt a “calling” to spirituality and religious life, or as a young Catholic we called it a “Vocation,” and as a young Catholic feeling the inspiration I thought it was to the Priesthood. It was, but not the Catholic Priesthood. Do not misunderstand me, there never was a conversion for me though I no longer and haven’t for a number of years been a “practicing Catholic” I still hold very deep affections for the “community of saints” I have come to know and love over the years, and continue every year to entertain the desire to attend Christmas Eve Mass. It is also important that you understand that even though Zen Buddhism has been my “vehicle of choice” for making this journey, I do not consider myself to be a Buddhist (in the conventional sense of the term) anymore than I was comfortable identifying with Catholicism or any “ism” as my religion. In the end my True Religion has always been “Freedom”. Zen Buddhism has and continues to prove to be the best fitting vehicle for both my nature and my heart’s desire.
“In the Buddhist tradition, the purpose of taking refuge is to awaken from confusion and associate oneself with wakefulness. Taking refuge is a matter of commitment and acceptance and, at the same time, of openness and freedom. By taking the refuge vow we commit ourselves to freedom.” – Chogyam Trungpa
Fundamental to Buddhist Spirituality is the practice of “taking refuge”. When I find myself in times of trouble, in times of uncertainty, in times of pain, what is my reaction, where do I turn?
We are most certainly living in troubled times marked by uncertainty and dominated by what Buddhist call The Three Poisons of life – Greed, Anger or Resentment, and Indifference. Many of us, myself included, often find ourselves stressed by the news of current events and the unknown about where we are headed both as a species and a country. The historical resources we have relied on in the past to support us by providing unbiased and well informed, fact-based information, continue to disappoint us. We are bombarded everyday not with information designed to inform and empower, but rather biased opinions and propaganda of a few whose agenda is exclusively a personal self-serving one. Even when we turn to our neighbors and friends we can find ourselves more frustrated and frighten of the future when our conversation is rooted in fear and distrust rather than hope and vision.
“The beginning is the destination. Any distance between now and then, here and there, is an illusion. Aware and fully engaged here and now, without pretense, without reason, is what we call Enlightenment.”
– Seijaku Roshi
What does it really mean to be fully present, here and now; to be present to our life which is always and only happening now? We do not exist in the past and even when we arrive at tomorrow it’s now.
Webster’s dictionary defines “Being” as “The quality or state of having existence: the most important or basic part of a person’s mind or self.” If we are ever going to experience the fullness of life, of being truly and fully alive we need to “be” where life is happening – Life is Always Happening Now.
We face a complexity of issues today: challenges in the workplace; rising individualism and materialism; broken families and communities; an increasing divide between rich and poor, climate change and the list goes on.
Beneath all these challenges lies a most fundamental question and solution for Disciples of The Buddha-Way:
What does it mean to live the Buddha-Dharma? To Live a “Zen-Inspired Life”?
- Ordinary people choosing to live extraordinary lives.
- A “way-of-being” is not the same as a “way-of-living”.
- “Theravadin teacher Achaan Chah once remarked that the Buddha-Dharma has three aspects: dana or (giving), sila or (precepts), and bbavana or (cultivation or meditation training). But when Westerners come to practice, they are not interested in giving or in precepts.” – “Being Upright” by Reb Anderson Roshi
- “By a certain sure instinct the ancients regarded Truth (Dharma) less as a gift bestowed than an inherent knowledge (Wisdom) to be realized. For those who have the hunger and the discipline the Truth is as clear as sunlight, and for those who have neither, the Truth would still be foreign even if it was shouted from the highest mountain. Awareness of Truth (Dharma) is dependent upon the wholehearted effort of the individual and his or her willingness to discipline themselves fit to know It. The ancient saying applies here, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears. Another saying equally applies, “The mind sees only what the heart is looking for.”
– Seijaku Roshi
- “Fitness for the Truth (Dharma) cannot be conferred; it must be developed.” – Joseph Fort Newton
- The teachings whether taught by The Ancients or Modern Spiritual Teachers is less a doctrine than it is a discipline; a method of organized spiritual culture well-honed over centuries and proven to work.
- “The singular and exclusive objective of Zen-Training and Living a Zen-Inspired Life is the awareness of that Living Truth (Dharma) which pervades the whole Universe and once attained — the fulfillment of every human need. This awareness is realized only when it has becomes a person’s heart; the reigning reality of his or her thought; the inspiration of his or her actions, the very Being-Nature of his or her life.”
– Seijaku Roshi
I have always cared deeply about things and have always found myself attracted to others who do as well. I have no patience for complacency or indifference. I feel deeply about things, especially individual and personal freedoms and inherent rights of all sentient beings to live authentically without fear of government or religious institutions interference or retribution; I revere Beauty and Creativity; the Mystery I first discovered at the age of seven and continue to about the Nature of the Universe, Life, and Love. I made a choice at the young age of seven, rather than seek to understand any of It as if I or anyone could actually possess such understanding, to remain blissfully ignorant of any explanation just to sit in Its company.
I feel deeply about the personal responsibility we all share to ourselves, our families, friends, neighbors, our ancestors who made supreme sacrifices for all of us to live and enjoy this life, and most of all our children. I believe that the only legacy worth having in the end will be to have lived my lifetime doing whatever I can, wherever I can, however I can, to insure that the same rights, freedoms, beauty, and opportunities afforded me by the Mystery some call God and the brave citizens of our World yesterday and today who “Prepare the Supreme Meal” and make the “Supreme Sacrifice”, living my life as a Benefit for others and a responsible Caretaker of these gifts including the Whole of Nature.
“Love seeks one thing only: the good of the one loved. It leaves all the other secondary effects to take care of themselves. Love, therefore, is its own reward.”
You and I are designed for relationship, we are born to be “in relationship” with everyone and everything else. The purpose of life, and if we are ever going to find any meaning, is found in relationship, living my life as a benefit for others. “Community is the Spirit, the Guiding Light…” which when lived functions as a compass, a means of navigating through a reality marked by impermanence and uncertainty. Thomas Merton wrote, “It is therefore of supreme importance that we consent to live not for ourselves but for others. When we do this we will be able first of all to face and accept our own limitations. As long as we secretly adore ourselves, our own deficiencies will remain to torture us with an apparent defilement. But if we live for others, we will gradually discover that no one expects us to be ‘as gods’. We will see that we are human, like everyone else, that we all have weaknesses and deficiencies, and that these limitations of ours play a most important part in all our lives. It is because of them that we need others and others need us. We are not all weak in the same spots, and so we supplement and complete one another, each one making up in himself for the lack in another.”
Community is not just some nice sentimental idea or romantic notion but a force for fulfillment and sustainability. It is a context which naturally creates confidence, courage, true self-esteem, contentment, and love as the content of our lives. Community is the only conducive environment for personal and global fulfillment and spiritual practice.
Enlightenment, is to live one’s life at the level of full self-expression. The work of “being spiritual” is to discover who I am and realize my true self. The first step toward Enlightenment begins with the realization that, “Who I think I am is not” that the self I call “myself” is conditional or what Buddhist call “the conditioned self” and is not my “true self”. This self is who I have come to identify with after years of cultural, social, religious and political conditioning, including the most unyielding of all false identifications, identification with my parents. My happiness as well as my emotional and psychological maturity and well-being is dependent on distinguishing between this self I call myself which is conditional, and who I truly am. Our hearts will remain restless until we do.
“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”.
“Prosperity cannot be measured by possessions. It can be measured only by who you are in the process of attaining them. Most people ignore what they do to themselves because they are driven exclusively by what they think, they want from the world and from others. Their focus is object bound, purely external. This false prosperity, created by the ego mind, is unconscious prosperity. Otherwise known as success…”
Synonymous with the word “squander” is “to scatter”, which means, “to throw loosely about, distribute at irregular intervals.” Squandering ones life is to live ones life “unconsciously” without “awareness”, and certainly not “on purpose”. Nothing robs us more of any opportunity for authenticity and meaning.
The reason so many people who have so much still pursue more, better, or different, is a function of what happens to us when our focus shifts from “what really matters” and becomes “object bound”. When we forget that the solutions to our lives as well as the worlds are never going to be found “in the world”, they are “within us”, suffering (stress and anxiety) compounds.
“Even if the Sun were to rise in the West, the Bodhisattva knows only One Way.” These words have always resonated within me especially in times of uncertainty or difficulty, and I have always tried to respond to them authentically and to the best of my ability. I have always been attracted to the monastic or contemplative realms of religious or spiritual life. In fact I continue to hold a firm belief that these paths alone are the “One Way”, the only Authentic Spiritual Practices. Much of what people practice today called “spirituality”, or “religion”, is a “path of convenience”. The problem lies in the fact that, that which the heart seeks is never convenient even though it is always everywhere we go, “pervading the entire Universe”. I have always imagined the first “monastic” who looked up into the heavens while at the same time toward that which was calling him or her, within them from where their experience rang, had no words for their experience and chose not to. For them “the experience” itself was sufficient, more than sufficient, it was “wondrous and mysterious”. This is the Nature of Authentic Spirituality. One inspired by the Zen-Life and other traditions like it, understands that no matter how much we think we have or can explain it, well as the Korean Zen Master told his students, “The moment you open your mouth, you are wrong.” As if that is not bad enough, the moment we seek to understand it or explain it we rob ourselves of any possibilities to know it and betray the purity of the invitation. We are called to experience life not explain it. The Mystery that Life really is, can only be known by “living it”. The Prophets, Buddha, Jesus, all called us to “the desert experience”, where the journey is by no means convenient, and requires one’s full attention or commitment. How we ever got to the idea that “convenient spirituality” was an option I’d rather not waste a moment trying to explain.