We are living in a time of great uncertainty marked by fear. In times like these, it is essential to realize that my first responsibility is to liberate myself from discontentment (Suffering) and its causes. Why? “I can only give to others what I have.” If I want a world full of peace, I must know peace. If I want a more compassionate world, I must know compassion.
If I want a more kinder, a more gentler world, I must know kindness and be gentle. When I know how to take care of my own discontentment, to take care of my-Self, then I will know how to meet the inevitable challenges life will present, I will know how to take care of the world around me.
When we commit to a devoted regular meditation practice we are creating the context, the conditions, for “cessation from suffering and its causes” to arise; we are laying the ground for awakening, building a bridge between the “false-self”, the ego-self we have come to identify with and, our True-Self.
We are on a journey each of us, not to some far away destination, to some “visionary flower in the sky,” but to our true home, which is never far away. Whenever we hear that small voice within us, and, if we listen, *(Samahdi Meditation, the meditation of the Buddha serves as a conduit for listening), it is always “calling us home to our Self.” What we are really searching for is that True-Self Buddha called “Buddha-Nature”; Christ called, “Children of God,” The Torah refers to as, “God’s People,” and what the ancient Zen masters referred to as, “Your face before your parents were born.”
What is essential, is to understand that there is no separation between your own liberation from suffering and its causes, and liberating the world from Its suffering and Its causes. There is no separation between your True-self and Others. Everything and everyone is interconnected. Once you are truly aware of the interconnectedness and interdependency of all phenomena, ego, that false-self we have come to identify with, naturally drops away, along with it the illusion of separateness. When the “illusion of separateness” drops away, “We are enlightened by the Ten Thousand Things”.
The “interconnected and interdependent” reality of all things, teaches us that my own happiness or my own discontentment, is dependent on the happiness or suffering of others, and likewise. This is the meaning of the words spoken by Jesus when he said, “It is better to give than to receive,” and “Whatsoever a person sews, so shall they reap.” “Loving your neighbor as yourself,” is not an ends but rather a means, a practice, when applied regularly brings us into a deeper realization of the interconnectedness of all things, of the true-relationship between others and me. With this deeper realization I know how to relate to the world around me, I know how to “be” in relationship with others.
Zen spirituality or what I call “Authentic Spirituality,” is not an idea or a belief, or something you understand intellectually. The only real understanding available is a function of applying the methods, you have to practice and train, every moment of every day of your daily living. We learn, and grow, and mature, only through application. This is why Zen is often referred to as “A Way-of-Life,” or what I prefer, “A Way-of-Being,” in a reality marked by interconnectedness, interdependency, and, impermanence. The realization of these Three Markings become the ground or foundation of our Lifestyle or Way-of-Being in the world. First through realizing the interconnectedness, interdependence, and impermanence of all things, and then the application of “skillful means” well-honed over many generations and proven to work; my speech and my actions become means for avoiding suffering and its causes and, creating the conditions for True-Happiness and Love, for myself and others to arise.
During these times of so much uncertainty and fear, these are times for Love, times for the Compassionate Heart of The Bodhisattva.
Most people like to say that the most important matter in their life is Love; “To Be Loved,” and “To Love Others”. But what is “Love”? I must admit that I have concluded that even I did not fully realize the answer to these questions until I became a parent, and later when diagnosed with cancer. As a Father there is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect and care for my daughter. When I was diagnosed with cancer she was my immediate inspiration to not only conquer cancer, but to be the very best parent, the very best person, I could ever be for however long I had to be.
We often think of Love as some sentimental or romantic experience or sensation in the body. At moments in our lives when certain events or situations are present, there is a sense that Love is something far more deeper, and something other than just a sensation in the body.
In Buddhist teachings, Love begins with a level of maturity which results in a capacity to take care of your life, to make the right choices which will protect you from suffering and its causes, and to nourish the ground beneath your feet to live life fully and authentically, as who you truly are. Remembering that, “I can only give what I have.” if you are not capable of taking care of your own life—if you are not capable of making life-choices that protect you, that nourish and empower you to meet life’s challenges—it is very difficult to take care of another person. In the Buddhist teachings, it’s clear that the Love of ones-Self and the love of another are — “Not Two”. Likewise, Loving others, whether they be family, neighbors, or strangers — as your-Self is — loving your-Self. Love is truly The Practice we call “Living Spiritually in The World”.
I believe that the suffering we witness daily in the world comes from not being able to, or not having the maturity, to Love our-Self. I keep returning to a fundamental reality, “I can only give what I have.” The world is a reflection of what I have or what I lack within myself such as a genuine Love for my-Self, and what I’m bringing to the world through my intentions, my words, and my actions.
Thomas Merton wrote, “Every moment and every event of every persons life on earth plants something in his or her soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of invisible and visible winged seeds, so the stream of time brings with it germs of spiritual vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of men and women. Most of these unnumbered seeds perish and are lost, because so many are not prepared to receive them: for such seeds as these cannot spring up anywhere except in the good soil of liberty and desire.”
Merton goes on to challenge us by asking, “For how can I receive the seeds of freedom…if I am a prisoner and do not even desire to be free…and have hardened my heart against true love?” So what is an Act of Love? It is nothing other than having an open heart and mind to receive the seeds of Love and, with maturity, to be able to offer the seeds of Love I have received to another or others. But I must first have a heart which can identify Love and is open to receive It. One is not capable of either receiving or giving Love unless there is reciprocity. Love is never meant for me alone, it is meant for me to receive so that I can learn and grown and mature in Love and, give it to another, to others.
The Buddhist icon or ideal for both receiving and giving love is — The Bodhisattva. The Bodhisattva is someone who vows to live their lives as a benefit for others; to alleviate suffering and its cause within themselves first, in order to hear the sounds of, and see the suffering in the world and alleviate the suffering of the world by bringing blessings of Love wherever it is needed. A Bodhisattva radiates compassion, integrity and courage, and most especially this Selfless Benevolent Love and Kindness, which is the medicine for the world’s suffering, wherever they find themselves.
Avalokiteśvara, or Quan Yin in Chan Buddhism, or Kanzeon in Japanese Buddhism (English): is a Bodhisattva who, “embodies the Compassion of all Buddhas”. Avalokiteśvara is one of the most famous Bodhisattvas in Buddhism, Who hears the world’s cries, never turning her/his heart from the sounds of suffering, responding with skillful means to come to their aid. In the Mahayana tradition (Chan or Zen) we are all Bodhisattvas, fully-realized or not. As Bodhisattvas we are asked to hold a certain measure of the tragedy of the world in our hearts and minds and to respond wherever we find it with Love and Kindness; with Compassion and Benevolent Service. This is true whether we are speaking about our immediate relationships with our spouses or partners, with our siblings and family, as well as with our neighbors and, the stranger.
As human-beings we bring to our lives as Bodhisattvas a level of our own uncertainty, our own fears, and doubts. This is only natural. In Zen the solution is often something like, “Fake it until you make it.” Part of what we have to offer the world is, our personal experience of fear and apprehension, our uncertainty and sense of helplessness. When we acknowledge what is so in our hearts and minds, never “spiritually bypassing” it or denying it, then our fears and uncertainty can be transformed into powerful means for acts of Love. Kanzeon, not only hears the worlds suffering, but embraces it in his or her own heart and mind, fully experiencing it, so that he or she may respond not with just some idea but rather with the right medicine for transforming suffering into the means for true-liberation or cessation.
We can learn that to Love ourselves is “to take care of these feelings and emotions,” rather than always avoiding or denying them. We can learn to sit quietly everyday and acknowledge what’s so in the moment. It doesn’t matter what the feeling, or the narrative, or the emotion is; we simply sit with “what’s so” without criticism or judgement, holding all of it with a compassionate heart-mind. When we learn to do this daily and at every moment and “find refuge” in our potential to rise above the grip feelings and emotions, and the narrative may have on us, we can begin to feel ourselves as part of something much larger, something generations of sentient beings have not only survived but, have learned to transform into means for real changes in the world.
Once again Merton speaks to us saying, “The true-inner-self must be drawn up like a jewel from the bottom of the sea, rescued from confusion, from in-distinction, from immersion in the common, the nondescript, the trivial, the sordid, the evanescent.”
Again he continues to challenge us with, “In humility is the greatest freedom. As long as you have to defend the imaginary self that you think is important, you lose your peace-of-heart and mind. As soon as you compare that shadow with the shadows of other people, you lose all joy, because you have begun to trade in unrealities and there is no joy in things that do not exist.”
In our contemporary society which insists that each of its members think alike, act alike, make similar choices, and fulfill one exclusive expectation, these words literally rock every preconception of what makes us human. What is that? Certainly our “diversity”. I have always believed that what is missing in any effort to end global suffering and its causes, has always been “the individual”. While we may share 99.9% of the same DNA, perhaps the same cultural or social history, what is also true and not only ignored but punished at times for even asserting is, our uniqueness, our diversity. Believing this I have always thought that what is missing in the world and necessary for its salvation has been and always will be — You! You, along with everything psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually, which makes up the Whole-Authentically-Unique-You!
As the veil of separation begins to part, and the reality of our interconnectedness, interdependency, and the impermanence of both the moment, which is “too often squandered,” and of the “opportunity too often lost” to make real and sustainable changes in the world; the Call for All Bodhisattvas and the urgency to learn to Love ourselves so that we may turn our hearts and minds towards the suffering around us, and serve to help those near to us and those who may still be strangers, grows louder and louder. The question for our times is an ancient one which has resounded in the hearts and minds of men and women everywhere, and in the heart and mind of The Bodhisattva, is “Who will go?” Who like Avalokiteśvara, will open their minds and hearts with courage and audacity, to hear the sounds of the worlds suffering, and be the medicine for its healing and renewal, its transformation and rebirth?
“I, the Lord of sea and sky
I have heard my people cry
All who dwell in dark and sin
My hand will save
I who made the stars of night
I will make their darkness bright
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?
Here I am, Lord
Is it I, Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night
I will go, Lord
If You lead me
I will hold Your people in my heart
I, the Lord of wind and flame
I will tend the poor and lame
I will set a feast for them
My hand will save
Finest bread I will provide
‘Til their hearts be satisfied
I will give my life to them
Whom shall I send?
Here I am, Lord
Is it I, Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night
I will go, Lord
If You lead me
I will hold Your people in my heart
I will hold Your people in my heart.”
I believe in You!
I Love You,
“If we permit the times to defines us we are forever lost to the times. We were not born for the times, the times are born for us.” — Seijaku Roshi
“Breakthroughs are created by heroes, by people who will take a stand for the result while it is still only a possibility, people willing to create the path to the result in action. They are willing to see and act on a possibility beyond what is predictable, beyond what the circumstances and rationalizations would allow. Heroes are ordinary people who call on themselves to reach beyond themselves, ordinary men and women who dare to be related to possibilities bigger than themselves.”
In Zen prior to developing a greater awareness of how this mind and body are operating from moment to moment, we so often experience ourselves at the mercy of the circumstances and situations arising daily from moment to moment in our lives. We tend to either operate on auto-pilot or like firemen spending our days reacting to immediate situations going about our lives simply putting out the fires. Prior to such an awareness there are no possibilities except the ones defined for us according to the current circumstances and situations.
So much of the emotional and psychological stress and anxiety, feelings of helplessness, people experience in their lives has everything to do with how they see themselves and their place in the world. The vision or lack of any real vision, they hold for themselves and for the world is too small to permit any notion of one being able to truly be the master of their destinies as well as the world’s destiny. While we may have limited or even no power over our external environment we find ourselves in, we do possess unlimited capabilities when it comes to our internal environment. We can learn and train to “respond” or “to be responsible” for our reactions to current events, rather than simply reacting to every stimuli and experiencing ourselves as victims of these events.
“If we permit the times to defines us we are forever lost to the times.” Which accurately describes many persons reactions during this current pandemic and their resistance being demonstrated toward the steps necessary to be taken for survival. While I may certainly understand and sympathize with those persons, demanding that it is their right to exit their homes and gather where they will, without any protection or consideration of others well-being, that “desire” comes from a very small, certainly limited, point-of-view of themselves and their inter-relationship or connectedness with the Whole.
Certainly prior to the arrival of COVID19 we had yet to establish any real kind of global awareness of our true reality. We are not simply individuals with rights and freedoms bestowed upon each of us. We are individuals with rights and freedoms bestowed upon each of us to be exercised for the benefit of the Whole. “E Pluribus Unum”. “Out of Many — One”.
Buddhism like so many of the great Faith-Based Religions, have as their foundation, expressed in different ways the universal notion that we “belong to each other,” we are by Nature “interdependent and interconnected,” and the solutions to life’s various forms of suffering are to be found only in a context for living which is inclusive and benevolent. The true cause of our suffering or dissatisfaction which leaves us regularly stressed and anxious, surfaces whenever we act independent of this reality, whenever we do not consider the consequences of our “reactions” on the Whole. Likewise, the true source of our contentment, the only true-happiness available to us, rests in establishing responsible reactions to difficult challenges which always result in creating “community” or “equal opportunities” for all parties or The Whole.
Whenever I, a “Student of Dharma” look at the real form of the Universe, I am convinced that, “We were not born for the times, the times are born for us.” I have always been a strong believer in what I call “Spiritual Evolution”. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote, “You are not a human being in search of a spiritual experience. You are a spiritual being immersed in a human experience.” Each of us without exception are “immersed in a human experience” to learn what we may, what we must, for our own “spiritual evolution” as well as that of the World. Just as Darwin explained in his “Theory of the Evolution of Nature,” Nature produces a conducive environment each time the next part of the evolutionary process is required or necessary, “The times and every time throughout human history, are “born for us” not “us for the times”. This current time when mankind finds itself once again challenged by what first and always appears as impossible, is offered as an essential lesson to be learned in order that as a whole we can continue to rise, “Beyond what the circumstances and rationalizations would allow…reach beyond our egocentric selves; ordinary men and women daring to be related to possibilities larger than ourselves.”
I am convinced that COVID19 like the so many other impossible and life-threatening events in history before now, presents to us once again unlearned lessons which must be learned if we are ever going to become more than just individuals exercising our rights and freedoms no matter the consequences, and if our point-of-view of ourselves, our place in the world, and others, is ever going to be transformed into the vision we call Universe.
Spiritual people often say, “We are here to learn something.” They say this when the times are convenient. When the times such as current circumstances suddenly and unexpectedly knock us out of our comfort zone, most spiritual people run away from their lessons and choose fear and doubt and worriment; finding themselves “lost in the times”. We need to nurture and develop steadfastness no matter the circumstances or situations. All throughout history numerous examples have repeatedly proven that, “Breakthroughs are created by heroes, by people who will take a stand for the results while it is still only a possibility, people willing to create the path to the results in action.” We need to nurture and develop the courage to be, “willing to see and act on a possibility beyond what is predictable, beyond what the circumstances and rationalizations would allow.” We need to train like monks whose daily training is to be, “Heroes, ordinary men and women who call on themselves to reach beyond themselves; to reach beyond their feelings and emotions and personal desires, ordinary men and women who dare to be related to possibilities larger than themselves.” Until then, history will, indeed, continue to repeats itself again and again until “the student arrives” to finally – learn the lesson. The long, long, overdue lesson to be learned.
May I become at all times both now and forever:
A protector for those without protection; A guide for those who have lost their way; A ship for those who have oceans to cross; A sanctuary for those in danger; A lamp for those without light; A place of refuge for those who lack shelter, And a servant to all in need.
I Love You,