“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,
“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.
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.
As a youth I grew close to the parents of a friend of mine from high school, we kept in touch for many years after graduation. “Mr. Fitz,” as I called him was much like (the famous 70’s sitcom character) Archie Bunker type personality with smoother edges. “Mrs. Fitz,” was indeed much like Edith Bunker, Archies wife, without pretension, beautiful, sweet, and with that quiet wisdom overshadowed by her humility. I remember one occasion when I stayed for dinner, afterwards the news with Walter Cronkite came on the television. The “Fitz’s” made it a point to sit together on the “davenport” or the sofa together, sometimes holding hands if she wasn’t knitting. At the end of the news broadcast Walter Cronkite would always say, “And that’s the way it is.”, to which Mr. Fitz would respond, “No it isn’t Walter, no it isn’t.”
“C. S. Lewis taught, if the devil were to succeed in England, he would need to wear a three-piece suit and speak with the Queen’s English, and surely never appear as a red demon with horns and a pitchfork.” This morning like most Americans I woke to the news of yesterdays current events, a practice I have limited now to approximately 3 minutes at best, only to hear the same news from the day before and days before that. Nothing much had changed. Hatred, distrust, accusations, true or false, blaming, promising, hopes, doubts, more hatred, more accusations, and more promises that have been made for decades by others who, hated, suspected, and mistrusted someone other than themselves or their party or particular group. Like the saying goes, “The more things are supposed to change, the more they stay the same.” I immediately observed my muscular skeleton retract in pain with the kind of feeling you get when you’ve tasted something that always turns your stomach. My reaction was to pick up my aging and almost near dying dog sitting near me and hold her close to me telling her, “I love you girl.” I needed to find refuge in my humanity and something that was real, my dog.
“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief…” – The Talmud
The words of The Talmud and the words of my dear friend I shared with you in my last meditation, “We are not to be absorbed by the suffering of the world…,” continue to dominate my thoughts and experience these days. When I add Chardin’s words which point to our true identity: “You are not a human being in search of a spiritual experience. You are a spiritual being immersed in a human experience.” – This is where I must always continue my journey in this temporary existence we call “life”.
What does it mean to “not be daunted” or “to not be absorbed”? Given the horror of global current events and its consequences, the uncertainty about the future which dominates all our lives, the reality of a way-of-life we all were told was a “dream” only to discover it’s really a nightmare; is it at all possible to practice these two essential teachings? And when I move from out there to right here in Shamong, NJ and even closer to home in my own heart and mind, “What’s a Monk to do?” “What can anyone do?”
“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