Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is closed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
— William Butler Yeats
Everywhere you go there is talk of a revolution. Even His Holiness Pope Francis as well as The Dalai Lama has suggested that what the world needs now is some kind of “spiritual or moral revolution”. The difference between these two holy men and those around the neighborhood bar or attending a political rally, is that they understand as I do that, the revolution they point to must come from within each person desiring real and sustainable change in our current world conditions. For centuries past we have for too long engaged the wrong-notion that the world around us needs to change when, all the evidence shows that the “world around us” is in fact the world man has created and; that creation finds it roots in mans current or historical state of mind or consciousness.
The dictionary defines “rev-o-lu-tion” as: a dramatic and wide-reaching change in the way something works or is organized or in people’s ideas about it. By nature any authentic spiritual approach to life is “revolutionary” or “transformational”. What authentic spirituality really does, is plant the seed of ancient wisdom within the person or, more accurately nurtures the existing Seed of Consciousness inherent in every individual, which in turn “causes” a “wide-reaching change in the way something works or is organized or people’s ideas about it.“
Most peoples idea of spirituality is in reality another form of “modern day marketing and consumerism.” You take the world’s idea about life such as, “the pursuit of happiness, or pleasure, material possessions, or financial security” and repackage it in a box with pretty colors and great slogans, (usually quotes from Zen or the Tao, not to forget that symbol “Yin-Yan”) and label it —“Being Spiritual”. The aim of both “modern marketing” and what is often “marketed” as “spirituality” is just another way of luring the individual to a product that is designed to “appease the ego’s desires”; whether it be “better and improved feelings and emotions,” “financial wealth and security,” or just the notion that “if you buy this you will become more, better, or different in no time whatsoever, requiring little to no changes in your behavior”.
The confusion, anxiety, stress, self-doubt, worriment, fear of uncertainty, political polarization, and all the rest, is now as it has been through the centuries, less about the content in a persons life, and more about the lack of or complete absence of discipline and integrity (context). It is a “crises of identity”. What the Buddha, and Christ, the Prophets, and Sages, have all been saying to us while society continues to ignore it or put a blind eye to it (Ignorance: what the Buddha identifies in the Second Noble Truth as the cause of our discontentment.). It’s no wonder we regularly feel confused and uncertain about our footing in the world; our society has dissolved into a myriad of disparate and conflicting images and notions about what it means to be human, let alone “E Pluribus Unum — Out of many — One”.
If the Western world today appears to lack a commitment to a life of real-faith and integrity, “it may be because that the terms of that faith have lost all purchase in their memory and imagination.” In Yeats’s poem he suggests that, even those with “the best” intentions lack the necessary conviction to fully realize and actualize their faith, lost “to a generation completely spellbound by the glitter of technology, the lure of consumerism, and the surreal whirlwind of change in a global, media-saturated environment.”
(This was never more evident to me than a recent trip to Disney World with my 10 year old daughter and her mother. The planning of which took months, and the execution of which took four days. My intention was to enjoy a time I may not have many more opportunities for, to witness in my daughters eyes the “wonder and amazement” I experienced, as a small child of the 50’s and 60’s watching Walt Disney World on our family’s black and white TV every Sunday evening. While I admit that there certainly were opportunities for that, the reality was that the designed environment was clearly intended to “spellbound the visitor by the glitter of technology, the lure of consumerism, and the surreal whirlwind of change in a global, media-saturated environment.” You were lured into a theme of wonder, beauty, and promise, only to be ushered out at the end to the next theme through a maze of “merchandise” which would leave any one person bankrupt after a short while. And not just financially. Everywhere, not only the technology required to create the surreal experience of “Soaring Around The World,” or actually “Being a citizen of the Empire” was evident, and there were as many I-Phones “the citizens” carried with them distracting them even more from any possibility of any real human contact. That and the numbers of “All the Lonely People” that populated the small spaces provided in the lines and the parks themselves, standing and waiting sometimes hours on end for what would be a 15 minute sensational experience, rarely looked up enough from there cell-phones to see each other let alone have any genuine contact with other. At the end of the day you found yourself even in the best physical condition, as opposed to my own, too exhausted to even have that “family conversation” either on the bus ride back to your room or after you arrived.)
The singular goal of any authentic spiritual approach to living ones life is, “to awaken in human beings a sense of original innocence, or what Buddhism calls the Original Self.” That “True-Self” which while may not yet be realized by the individual, yet exists and awaits to be re-awakened. In the book titled, “The Way of Peace,” Morihei Ueshiba, the father of the ancient Japanese martial art Aikido writes, “You are here for no other purpose but to realize your inner divinity and manifest your inner enlightenment.” Here is where the revolution begins, where transformation is possible.
What I call “The Principle of Identity” is the ground, the cornerstone, of any authentic spiritual practice or approach to living one’s life spiritually. The principle states that, “whatever you identify with, you become.”
If you know yourself as Chardin suggested as, “a spiritual being immersed in a human experience,” your lifestyle will reflect this and your experience both of yourself and your place in the world will reflect this as well. What follows is your views of yourself, the meaning of your life, your life’s purpose, and the world around you will also reflect this. Remember what I said earlier, if we are going to have any kind of global revolution or transformation, it must begin with you, it must begin with me. It must emerge from within and “realize and actualize itself in the world” through you.
Zen, and its practices, too often are mistaken to be passive in nature. Rather, Zen is a living tradition vibrantly responding to the issues and circumstances as well as the signs of the time. In Mahayana (Zen) Buddhism there is the emphasis about the life of the “Bodhisattva” – a person who is able to reach nirvana but delays doing so out of compassion in order to save suffering beings. The Bodhisattva is fully engaged in the world for the benefit of all sentient beings, while not being of the world. (Here “of the world” means, “the world man created”.) His or her view of themselves and their place in the world transcends all modern day images and ideas about what a man or woman, a citizen, a worker, a person, truly is. (The literal translation of the word “bodhi satt va” means: Sanskrit: one whose essence is enlightenment, from bodhi – enlightenment + sattva – essence.) It follows that a Bodhisattva “vows” to live his or her life as a benefit for others, as a conduit for cessation from all forms of suffering. It also follows that every serious practitioner of Zen, is a Bodhisattva and, at once mystical and political, spiritual and intellectual, personal and transcendent, sacrificial and life-giving.
Make no mistake about it, contrary to contemporary western representations of spirituality, Zen calls us and, sometimes drags us, out of our comfort zones; while inviting us into a more fluid realm, a contemplative experience, mystery. Awakening the memory of our “inner divinity,” whether through the employment of new kinds of language and behavior (etiquette), new and also ancient forms of prayer (chanting), disciplines (virtue), and liturgy, make no mistake about it will require risk. Like the mystical image and meaning of the life of the butterfly, the caterpillar must cease to be before it can fly free. Free of its old form, sacrificed or laid down in order to fully realize the complete meaning and purpose of its existence, and in fully realizing it may truly thrive.
Zen is, and must, if its ever to continue to retain its ancient yet modern viable identity, insist on the practitioners willingness to die to the old image of themselves and the world, and open their hearts to the possibility of a new yet ancient reality living and hungering within us to be alive; to sacrifice that socially acceptable image of “me, myself, and I” in order to actualize and manifest that enlightened, True-Self, in the world, for the world’s benefit.
Toward the objective of “Zen Training” or practice, which I have already pointed to, Zen employs four basic vehicles — “The cultivation of Wisdom through meditation, contemplation, and mindfulness (awareness); the study of ancient teachings; living a virtuous life, and benevolent service.” Once again, Morihei Ueshiba reminds us, “The Art of Peace begins with you. Work on yourself and your [appropriate] task in the Art of Peace. Everyone has a spirit that can be refined, a body that can be trained in some manner, a suitable path to follow…Foster peace in your own life and then apply the Art to all that you encounter.”
Zen can be described as a “way-of-life,” or more accurately a “way-of-being” in the world. “One does not need buildings, money, power or status to practice the Art of Peace. Heaven is right where you are standing, and that is the place to train.” In Zen, we do not look for God or Buddha outside ourselves, they are within us. It is because of this fundamental truth that we train how to “live in the kingdom of heaven,” which is always “right wherever we are standing” at anytime. The world is our Zendo. While we may come together as Sangha or Community to train in a specific Zendo (Pine Wind), our training or practice, does not end when we exit. We train together at Pine Wind in order that we may be able to “return to the market place,” and be a “light in the darkened corners of the world”.
Another widely held misconception of the spiritual life is, that while we are admonished to “be in the world but not of it,” the spiritual life somehow exists apart from the world and our daily lives. The fact of the matter is, that, “our lives just as they are, is the spiritual life”. If we understand the words from the Art of Peace, “Heaven is right where you are standing, and is the place to train.” Our lives and everything about our lives, is our training. We are to “work on ourselves and our appropriate task in the Art of Peace.”
Usually when I ask people what their practice is, they will tell me, “Oh I meditate.” Or “I do Yoga.” Or “Reiki.” Authentic spiritual training takes place in your daily life, “your life” is the training or practice. Spirituality and daily living are not separate from each other. “Not Two” as we say in Zen.“All things, material and spiritual, originate from one source and are related as if they were one family. The past, present, and future are all contained in the life force. The universe emerged and developed from one source, and we evolved through the optimal process of unification and harmonization.” We are to work on our lives as they are at the moment, remembering that “Everyone has a spirit that can be refined, a body that can be trained in some manner, a suitable path to follow…” We work with our uncomfortable emotions, reactions, fears, worriments, self-doubts, criticisms, judgements, and all the rest. “Fostering peace in your own life and then applying the Art to all that you encounter…Heaven, earth, humankind, United in the path of harmony and joy, following the Art of Peace, across the vast seas, and on the highest peaks.”
In short, living spiritually, living a Zen Inspired Life, is “to become fully impregnated in a mystical and truly mysterious tradition,” to “manifest fully the mystical dimensions of this ageless and timeless way-of-being in the world, hence to help us do what we must really do in order to bring about real and sustainable change in the world: live our faith — fully, deeply, in its totality.”
“The Art of Peace is medicine for a sick world. We went to cure the world of the sickness of violence, malcontent, and discord — this is the Way of Harmony. There is evil and disorder in the world because people have forgotten that all things emigrate from one source. Return to that source and leave behind all self-centered thoughts, petty desires, and anger. Those who are possessed by nothing possess everything.” — Morihei Ueshiba
Viva La Revolution!
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.
I am a cage for monkeys while I sit, scatterbrain is my name. My monkey mind wants my attention. Like with my seven year old I just acknowledge that. I’ll give it something to do. What it doesn’t know is doing will do it but only for a little while. Doing and having is of the nature of impermanence. It wants to go somewhere. What it doesn’t know is that there is nowhere to go. Up, down, left, right, there I am Up, Down, to the Left, to the Right. Where is there to go?
Our work is not to manipulate the moment, this Sacred Passing Moment, this way or that way. The world comes to us just as it is, and just as we don’t want it to be, except sometimes. Our work is to welcome it and make peace with it and for it, just the way we are. Ahhh. There it is. Peace. The monkey has settled down to – just Be.
To Be or Not to Be – there really is no choice.
“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.
“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”.
“It’s Up to You! It’s Always Been! What Do You Want?”
In his book “A Monk in The World” Wayne Teasdale makes reference to one of several versions of a story told to me many years ago. When I first heard it, it defined for me what I call “The Difference,” that one ingredient which separates novelty and authenticity. My version tells the story of an encounter between a Zen master and one of his students. The student in a rare opportunity approached the master challenging him about the notion of enlightenment. “How is it possible to be truly free?” “To live an unencumbered life, free of the mind’s distractions, worriments, and fear?” The master invites the novice to walk with him and together they enter the forest surrounding the monastery. The young person continues probing the master while he remains completely silent offering no response. They eventually arrive at one of the lakes on the property and it is then the master speaks inviting his companion to join him as he cools off in the body of the lake. No sooner they are waist deep in the lake and suddenly the master grabs the student and pushes him under the water, holding him there. You can imagine the surprise and eventually the fear rising in the novice’s body. It is almost to the moment when the student would naturally pass out and only then does his teacher lift him out of the water. Gasping and kicking, obviously angry and afraid, he screams at the teacher, “What was that about?” “How could you do that to me?” The Zen master walks to the shore with the screaming novice, shakes himself off and turns to the student saying to him, “When you truly want enlightenment as badly as you wanted your next breath, then and only then will all of your questions be answered and you will know the answers in your very body just as your body knew to choose life.”
“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.