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Archive for the ‘oppression’ Category

This post is dedicated to those who lived and died. Especially, on this day, those who died in the name of politics, fear, and hatred of the other.

My dear friend and mentor Father John McNeill told me a story about being in the war and when he tried to give food to a starving so-called “enemy” he was chastised and punished heavily and tagged an enemy of the state.  But it never deterred him from being the kind and loving man he was. Thus, for me he was the epitome of peace, love, and compassion on planet Earth.  If only all people treated each other as Father John did there would be NO wars, hatred, or killing.

My fiancé Dennis Cama died in Viet Nam he too was a kind and loving man who was forced to kill and die for the politicians of the world.  May they both be in peace on this Memorial Day 2019. My mom and dad both served in the Army Air Corp during WWII and dad earned the Silver Star as a belly gunner on a B17 bomber.

More thoughts on the passing of my mentor and friend: Father John J. McNeill

Wednesday September 22, 2015 Father John J. McNeill went to meet his friend and guide, Jesus.  When I heard the news I thought it was just what Father John would have wanted—to make his transition the day that Pope Francis was in the country voicing his support for the LGBT community around the world.  Good going John!

Father John was silenced, sanctioned, and finally asked to leave the Jesuit Order by the former Pope Ratzinger because of his support for the LGBT community and for living a life of truth and compassion as a gay man with a wonderful supportive and loving partner Charles Chiarelli.

Father John has written many books and counseled many people in and out of the LGBT community.  He was my mentor and friend for many years as I worked as an associate pastor at Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale, FL and as a hospice chaplain.  As one of the founders of an interfaith clergy group for those serving congregations in the Broward, Dade, and Palm Beach Counties I had the pleasure of picking Father John up for our meetings and events when he needed a ride.

To be with him and hear him talk was an amazing thing.  It did not matter what topic he was speaking about or even if it was just a causal conversation about life–I was blessed simply by being in his presence.  If you have not had the opportunity to read any of his books I recommend them highly.  His knowledge of scripture and Christianity was amazing.  Two of my favorite books by Father John are Both Feet Firmly Planted in Midair: My Spiritual Journey and Sex as God Intended.gassho

In memory of Father John, Dennis, my Dad and Mom and all those who have died in war I would like to leave you all with this poem by Kuan Hsiu, Zen Buddhist monk and master poet who lived from 832-912.

This is for you my dear friends…

So, say my way differs from yours,
We both have old men’s hair and beards.
They say words can kill faith.
I like to arrange spring blossoms in a rough old
  funeral jar.
In gassho, Shokai

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light-and-dark-poem-mushinIn the wonderful book A Guide to the Buddhist Path Sangharakshita writes about peace in such a beautiful way. In Pali there is a word “Upeksa which is tranquility or, more simply, peace.” He writes:

“We usually think of peace as something negative, as just the absence of noise or disturbance, as when we say, ‘I wish they would leave me in peace.’ But really peace is a very positive thing.  It is no less positive than love, compassion, or joy—indeed even more so, according to Buddhist tradition, Upeksa, is not simply the absence of something else, but a quality and a state of its own right.  It is a positive, vibrant state which is much nearer to the state of bliss than it is to our usual conception of peace (page 162).”[1]

And yet most of us have never experienced “bliss” itself.  Sometimes we can feel something similar with help from drugs or alcohol but that is not the Buddhist idea of “bliss” for sure.   But we all have experienced the idea of peace. What would the world be like if every morning every person on the planet woke up filled with peace, joy, and compassion for self and all others?  No one would go hungry because if we had one piece of bread–we’d share it with someone who had none.  There is a very powerful saying, “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”  I cried because I had no peace until I met a family who lived in a war zone, or walked thousands of miles with their children to leave gangs and death, rape, and poverty.

The author goes on to write, “We shall have to regard ourselves as citizens of the world in a more concrete sense than before, and rid ourselves of even the faintest vestige of nationalism.  We shall have to identify ourselves more closely with all living things and love them with a more ardent and selfless love.  We shall have to be a louder and clearer voice of sanity and compassion in the world (page 132).”[2]

If it’s to be it’s up to me!  I must be it, live it, and honor it in all that I do, and think, and say.  I must be the example of peace and love and not to just the nice lady down the street, or the kind man who held the door for me when my hands were full of packages.  Not just when the person agrees with me.  There is a great story attributed to Mahatma Gandhi and told by Chuan Zhi in 2003.

“When we achieve true restorative balance within ourselves, we are happy and content and can live without regret, remorse, or guilt. We are at peace. The enlightened approach is to always be vigilant, to guard against committing sins—those violations of our Buddhist Precepts.  But when we slip and fall into error, we must go that extra mile into positive areas and not only make restitution and correct the damage, but we must also correct ourselves.”

Chuan Zhi goes on to write:

Gandhi is near death from starvation when a crazed man, a Hindu, arrives with food that he insists Gandhi must eat. He demands, “Here! Eat! Eat! Eat! I’m going to hell—but not with your death on my soul!” Gandhi replies, “Only God decides who goes to hell.”  “I killed a child!” the man confesses.  “I smashed his head again a wall!” Gandhi asks, “Why?”

“Because they killed our son…my boy! The Muslims killed my son!” Gandhi sees the man’s unbearable grief and remorse.  He gently tells him, “I know a way out of hell. Find a child, a child whose mother and father have been killed—a little boy- and raise him as your own.  Only be sure that he is a Muslim…”

And thus, came peace in the heart of the man and the child that he raised.  What do you need to do to find peace in your heart?  Now go do it….

[1] Sangharakshita, A Guide to the Buddhist Path, Windhorse Publications: Birmingham England

[2] Ibid.

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adult asian bald buddhism

Pema Chodron in her book Awakening Loving-Kindness wrote, “The point is not to try to change ourselves.  Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better.  It’s about befriending who we are already (page 3).[1] Often times I find myself not being very kind to myself, questioning my abilities, my finances, my friends or lack thereof, and I could go on and on.  But of what value is that and what peace derives from it?

There is a situation going on in our neighborhood where many are trying to harm others because of their loneliness and personal pain for which they have no answer or insight. They are sad and mad and lonely and have lost all connection with peace, love, and compassion.  They feel if they put you down and make you feel as lonely and helpless as they do it will make them feel better, or more in control, or righteous.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work and thus they end up on the merry-go-round whirling through a lonely and desperate life with no way out.

I am a Zen Buddhist priest and thus I find solace in the teachings of the Buddha as Pema Chodron writes, “Gentleness is a sense of goodheartedness toward ourselves (page 5).”[2]  When we practice this principle, we enter into an awareness of peace that is in us and has always been in us even when we thought otherwise.  Our world is enmeshed in fear and hate and pain but the solution is not out there in others.  The solution lies within me in my heart, my words, and my deeds.  Until I recognize and become aware of who I really am I too will be led by my fears and anxieties and not my joys, and passions, and love.

She goes on to write, “Basically, making friends with yourself is making friends with all those people too, because when you come to have this kind of honesty, gentleness, and goodheartedness, combined with clarity about yourself there’s no obstacle to feeling loving-kindness for others as well (page 6).[3]

Peace in the world begins with me right here right now with who I am not with who I wish I was. I hope you’ll join me in this awareness of being who you really are…loving-kindness itself.

[1] P. Chodron (1996) Awakening Loving-Kindness Shambhala Publications: Boston & London
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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buddha-quote-thinkingWe feed our mind with many things and what we feed it with can determine who we are, how we treat others, and what will manifest in our lives.  Words can be sweet like the taste of a ripe apple in Spring or sour like a pickle that has been soaked in brine for many weeks or months.  But it is always up to us which we will eat and which we will share with others.  And how we share it…

While I was going through my mail from the prison ministry the news of the bloody massacre of the Muslims in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand came on the news. As I listened I opened an eight-page letter from one of my pen pals “behind the fence.”

My pen pal had a lot of words rolling around in his head about the principles of Zen until he got confused.  I quickly came upon two poems that I thought he could use in his time of contemplation of Zen principles and how he uses them in his life.

Asukai  Masatsune (1170-1221)

I walked among stones
Through mountains of mountains,
Paying no mind
Until the flower-trail behind
Turned into drifting white clouds (page 117).[1]

Dogen Kigen (1200-1253)

Cast away all speech.
Our words may express it,
But cannot hold it.
The way of letters leaves no trace,
Yet the teaching is revealed (page 119)[2].

Had the killer paid no mind to his thoughts and the writings he was reading about hate for others of a different faith and had he cast away his hate filled words and left no trace of it and replaced it with peace and love for all human life those people would be alive today.

Be aware of your thoughts and words as being “food for the mind” they can give life or take it away. How many times has someone said to you “you’re going to eat those words someday?” Simply use your words of peace, love, and compassion for all and the complexity of life will winnow down to simply loving life and all humanity.  And you’ll never have to eat your words again because they will have turned into “drifting white clouds.”

[1] Hamill, S. and Seaton, J.P. The Poetry of Zen. Shambhala Boston & London 2007

[2] Ibid.

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book cover Teachings of Zen Thomas ClearyIn the introduction chapter of the book Cleary talks about the influence that conventional religions had on Buddhism.  “On a deeper level, Zen masters sought to restore and express the living meaning of religion and philosophy; the Zen teaching was to ‘study the living word, not the dead word.’ Not only did Zen reawaken Buddhism in this way, but it also revitalized Taoism, Confucianism, Shintoism, and Shamanism bringing out their higher spiritual dimensions (page xiv).”[1]

And thus our charge today is to use these revitalized teachings in our lives so that we can live a more centered life through the philosophy of Buddhism in all its forms.   He goes on to write, “People are born with nothing but the unconceived buddha mind, but because of self-importance they want to get their own way, arguing and losing their temper yet claiming it is the stubbornness of others that makes them mad.  Getting fixated on what others say, they turn the all-important buddha mind into a monster, mulling over useless things, repeating the same thoughts over and over again (page xv).”[2]

What a sad state of affairs we have created for ourselves.  Just remember what it was like when you brought that new born baby home from the hospital.  They had no likes, dislikes, or preferences except to have their diapers changed and to be fed.  What ever you fed them they ate even if it was some nasty tasting concoction like Enfamil or Similac! Yikes!    And thus they lived in the “unconceived buddha mind” not filled with delusions.

As adults we have been deluding ourselves over and over every day, week, and year.  Where have your delusions taken you today?  Where will they take you tomorrow?  Want to turn your life around? Cleary suggests: “The most important thing is not to be self-centered; then you cannot fail to remain in the buddha mind spontaneously (page xvii)?”[3]

When was the last time you did something that was not self-centered? When was the last time you did something spontaneously—jumped in a puddle of water, or ate a fried pickle at the country fair, or ran outside without an umbrella to enjoy the summer rain?  How about stopping in the middle of a heated discussion to take three breaths and dive into your “unconceived buddha mind.”  When was the last time you did that? Remember that is where all the answers exist when you stop looking for them they will appear!

I know that everyone has been searching for a name or a number or a thing and no matter how hard you tried it would not come!  But sometime later in the middle of washing the dishes, or mowing the lawn, or eating lunch the answer popped up in your mind.  Yes, Fred that was my sister’s third husbands name!

Cleary goes on to say, “The following pages contain essential Zen teachings on realizing this original buddha mind in all of us (page xviii)”[4] I hope you take this adventure with Professor Cleary and me and discover your “original buddha mind.” Let’s bring out your “higher spiritual dimensions!” You’ll be glad you did! And so will all the people around you! And that’s the MAGIC of ZEN…

[1] Cleary, T. (1998)   Teachings of Zen. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.

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Moon in a dewdrop cover“If you judge others from your own limited point of view, how can you avoid being mistaken? Furthermore, those who had shortcomings yesterday can act correctly today (page 62).”[1]

Yesterday I went to the Pueblo Cooperative Care Center to sign up as a volunteer.  Around me were so many people, young, old, black, white, some in tattered clothes and one young man with a huge blanket draped around him to protect him from the chill of the morning.  As I viewed them I began to visibly see their “shortcomings” in real life.  They were short of housing, clothing, food, medication, compassion, love, help and mostly hope.

Our society will never be empathetic enough or caring enough to get out of their Mercedes Benz or from behind their seat in an elected political office to see what they are doing when they place their priorities in the new “me to movement” above all else. Yes, more for me, less for you—movement.  But at whose and what expense?

Move the poor out of my city, hide them away behind the fences, mass incarceration of children at the borders, build the wall. Give myself more bonuses and less taxes so there is no money for universal healthcare, living wages, free education in all areas from trade schools to medical schools. Little or no help to decrease the opioid epidemic which is simply a symptom of the above…

Kaz  Tanahashi continues to share Dogen’s ideas: You should understand that there are foolish people who do not take care of themselves because they do not take care of others, and there are wise people who care for others just as they care for themselves (page 63).”[2]

And he finished with this quote:

A teacher of old said:
Two-thirds of your life has passed,
Not polishing even a spot of your source of sacredness.
You devour your life, your days are busy with this and that.
If you don’t turn around at my shout, what can I do (page 63)”[3]

The world is shouting… Who am I today—the wise or the fool? And you—who are you?

Yet who am I to judge—with me and my shortcomings so loudly seen and heard by the world.

[1] Tanahashi, K. (1985) Moon in a Dewdrop Writings of Zen Master Dogen North Point Press: New York
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.

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Now that’s a silly name for this chapter when I’ve just spent the last 5 chapters talking about “how to practice Zen!”  Kaz  Tanahashi has a great chapter entitled “Guidelines for Studying the Way.” In it there is a DO NOT DO LIST for students:

imagesStudents! Do not practice buddha-dharma [teachings] for your own sake. Do not practice buddha-dharma for name and gain. Do not practice buddha-dharma to attain blissful reward. Do not practice buddha-dharma to attain miraculous effects.  Practice buddha-dharma solely for the sake of buddha-dharma.  This is the way (page 13). [1]

I am sure you are asking yourself then why am I practicing?  I like to think it is to follow the dharma [teachings] so beautifully shared in the four vows of Buddhism.  I really love the translation that my friends at the Wet Mountain Sangha in Pueblo, Colorado use:

The Four Boundless Vows

I vow to wake the Beings of the world
I vow to set endless heartaches to rest
I vow to walk through every wisdom gate
I vow to live the great Buddha way. [2]

Practice is neither easy nor hard it depends on how you are feeling and what you are thinking in each moment. That’s why they call it practice.  They don’t call it “done” or “finished” or “fulfilled.” As a Buddhist everything we do, every thought we think, every word we speak is “practice.”  So what are you practicing: fear, anger, and animosity or peace, love, and compassion? How about some simplicity of thoughts and words and deeds?

Our practice isn’t just sitting on a cushion with our eyes lowered in the cross-legged position or on a chair, or at the top of a mountain or by a beautiful lake or stream.  It is when we are in the midst of the chaos and noise, traffic and confusion of the “real world” that our practice comes alive through our focus, our breath, and keeping our dharma-eye on the Buddha way. Begin by realizing that we are all one: the moon, the stars, the earth and the people around us are one. When we do this it is so much easier to live the life of the Buddha through peace, love, and compassion for all beings and for our planet.  There are too many preaching it and not enough living it!  Which one are you?

[1] Tanahashi, K. (1985) Moon in a Dewdrop Writings of Zen Master Dogen North Point Press: New York

[2] http://wetmountainsangha.org/

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