June 14, 2016
Seijaku Roshi’s Meditation
“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
– The Talmud
Once again like millions my heart broke at the news of another mass shooting, senseless, without mercy, hateful. I immediately began contacting old friends who I thought were potential victims. Thank you God they weren’t. Dear God what about those who were? What about those who could be in the future? What about my daughter? What about the children? Why?
I do not know the solutions to ending the plague of terrorism and war in our world and I do not want to pretend that I do. I do know my heart hurts more and more for the victims of this madness; I am fearful for my daughter and her little friends, I want her Mom not to take her to the shore in a couple of weeks. I had second thoughts about taking her and her new BFF to see TMNT at the Marlton 8 yesterday. I’m a parent and the suffering of the world becomes more crisp for me everyday, I feel it in my bones, running through my veins. It’s not over there, it’s right here. What’s a “parent-monk” to do?
The words of The Talmud resonate for me. As a person who has dedicated his life to the principles of love, kindness, and compassion; the principles of justice for all, equality, mercy, all the while working at walking humbly, I have always felt, “Obligated to complete the work,” and I cannot find it within me even though I am tempted at times, to “abandon it”.
“When the student is ready the teacher will appear.” I’ve thought a great deal about that and how it sounds a little like a saying that showed up in the 70’s, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” – And everyone I knew began procrastinating. The previous quote is actually a koan. Like all koans it is designed to “not make any rational sense, and are used to ‘blow the minds’ of trainee monks in order to trigger their enlightenment.” If you read it and interpret its meaning as it is, the problem with that is that after forty-one years teaching it is my experience that, “The student is never ready,” and that any lesson of any value, any lesson that is really transformative always appears as a kind of “inconvenient truth”. God knows we don’t like to be inconvenienced.
The way most of us live our lives, making choices, or committing to anything is usually a function of how we feel at the moment. If I were to do much of what I do let’s say just in the course of one day, according to how I feel, I wouldn’t accomplish much. The first thing to realize is that our “feelings” about the moment are often unreliable and have nothing to do with this present moment. They are almost 100% of the time connected to some past (unresolved issue) experience. Relying on my feelings and I would include my opinions and points-of-view, as well as the beliefs I have formed about my life, is like relying on the other person to change before I can be happy.
Certainly the student should “be ready to learn,” but what does that really mean; To “be ready” to learn? When are we “ready”? Again I have found that we are never really ever ready for those transformative lessons in life. Those lessons are either always heaped upon us at any unexpected and sudden moment or, we decide to apply what I always call “Nike Buddhism” or “Nike Zen” if you prefer: We learn to “Just do it”.
“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.
“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.
In his book, “The Book of Awakening” Mark Nepo quotes Parker J. Palmer who writes, “The spiritual life is about becoming more at home in your own skin.” Nepo says, “The aim of all spiritual paths, no matter their origin or the rigors of their practice, is to help us live more fully in the lives we are given.” This is contrary to most contemporary spiritual approaches which are too often rooted in emotional greed, resentment, or what Chogyam Trungpa called, “Spiritual Materialism”.
There is another saying older than Palmers, “When the student is ready the teacher appears.” Here the reference to the “teacher” may or may not necessarily be a person. We are to understand that, “Life” as it is showing up in our lives and in the world is “the teacher”. As a young Catholic I remember the Sisters and Priests often saying, “God never gives us more than we can handle.” If both sayings are true, and I believe they are, then the only matter left is whether or not the student is going to attend class.
“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”.
“In the domain of Spirit, potential is not achieved by how much we know or believe, neither is it realized by the level of empathy or compassion we may feel toward others, or by how sincere we may be. Potential is achieved by our willingness to train regularly and the quality of our “steadfastness”, which is measured only in “times of trouble”, and requires that we come down from the mountaintop, because no one achieves their potential up on the mountaintop.”
– Seijaku Roshi
Authentic Spirituality is for the long distance runner only. It is for those who by the time they take to running the race have resolved for themselves “never to give up”, to stay “steadfast” even if it means I come in last, I finish the race. But not just finish the race, rather I finish the race with all the integrity, honesty, and commitment of a true warrior. I don’t let difficulty dissuade me, the allure of escape distract me, or the fear of failure motivate me. The runner of the race has trained for many years, changed his or her poor habits, and yes sacrificed much just for the sake of running the race. He or she is mature enough to know that difficulty will come, it is expected but as long as we train regularly, have the right coach, and a strong heart, we will meet the challenges with “all victorious mastery”.