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”.
“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
“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.
“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.
How many times have you heard the phrase, “The Journey is the Destination”? Over the years, hundreds of people have come to me asking, “How can I live a more fuller life?” I would tell them, “You have to live your life, all of it. Not just the parts you like.” The part that makes life fulfilling is often the part we often try to avoid. It’s usually the part which my three year old daughter runs toward. She never complains that her life is not fulfilling.