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Archive for the ‘prison system in America’ Category

What does it mean to be free?  There will be different connotations if you live in the middle of a war zone in the Middle East, or in a job that you feel chained to that is joyless and boring, or if you are incarcerated in a prison “behind the fence” as we say.  Then there is the prison of our minds and emotions that keep us from being free of our thoughts of lack, limitation, and ill health.

As a college professor I have seen that fear in my students eyes when they enter my developmental English class and know that they will not be free to take the “for credit courses” and earn a degree in their favorite area of study if they don’t pass my class. And yet at some time during that semester I can see the light go on in their minds when they finally “get it.”  They are finally free of their negative thoughts and fears and able to move on with their education.

H. Emily Cady in her book Lessons in Truth wrote:

You may think that something stands between you and your heart’s desire, and so live with that desire unfulfilled, but it is not true.  This “thing” is a bugaboo under the bed that has no reality.  Deny it, deny it, and you will find yourself free, and you will realize that this seeming was all false.  Then you will see the good flowing into you, and you will see clearly that nothing can stand between you and your own [good/freedom].[1]

You will be free!

Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years and yet he was still able to be a powerful symbol of black resistance to apartheid. On February 11, 1990 he was released by President de Klerk and in 1991 he was elected president of the African National Congress. In 1993 Mandela and President de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work toward dismantling apartheid.

A similar story can be told in our country about Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Susan Bright Eyes LaFlesche (Omaha Native American civil rights activist.) and R.C. Gorman painter, sculptor and Native American the first Native American to be internationally recognized as a major American artist.

R.C. Gorman Native American artist

Freedom: Nothing stood in the way of their “hearts desire.” Do not let anything stand in yours either. Freedom is not a place—it is a consciousness.

Be free to meet your good today!  Let me know how that goes!

In gassho,

Shokai

[1] Cady, H.E. (1903).  Lessons in Truth. Unity Village, MO: Unity House

 

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What is love in the spiritual sense?

We see that this love is not something far-off, nor is it anything that can come to us.  It is already a part of our being, already established within us; and more than that, it is universal and impersonal.  As this universal and impersonal love flows out from us, we begin to love our neighbor, because it is impossible to feel this love for God within us and not love our fellow man (page 66-67.)[1]

~Joel S. Goldsmith

It just happens to be Father’s Day when I am writing on this topic of “love.”  Some of us have been born lucky into a family where our father was a great dad, loving, kind, sharing, supportive and more and for others not so much.  But in everyone’s life there is a person who fills that roll.  It could be a friend, uncle, grandfather, teacher, minister, neighbor, or coach.  So this blog is dedicated to everyone who has inspired someone to be the best they can be, consoled someone when they were sad or afraid, and loved someone just for who they were—a perfectly divine and lovable being. They see a person that is loved beyond their actions or words in a given situation or in spite of them.

Every time I walk into our prison sangha to share the teachings of Buddhism with our members “behind the fence” I am reminded of that truth.  If I did not know that I was in a prison and I was just dropped into the room unaware of its location I would have thought that I was in the midst of a study group of monks and priests practicing and living a life of peace, love, and compassion for all.  They are such a great demonstration of what some might term “fatherly love.”  They support each other, share, praise, and love each other as the divine beings that they were created to be.

Love is not something that you get out of a bottle or can create in a high school science lab.  It is not something that you can buy in a store or on line from Amazon.  It does not come from the US Post Office or FedEx. It comes from each individual when their hearts and minds meld together supported by feelings and actions that are loving, compassionate, and sometimes firm when need be. All the money in the world could not buy it.  It is not for sale. It does not have to be earned, nor can it be.

Love simply exists in the universe as an energy that we are born with, an energy that exits everywhere and thus in everything.  When we open our hearts and minds to this truth of our being all doors can be opened and all hearts can be repaired.  I have seen it with my own eyes in our prison ministry each and every day.

I encourage you all to meet your good today and every day by living your life through the words of Emmet Fox and watch your life be transformed!

emmet-foxs-Love

In gassho, Shokai

[1] Goldsmith, J.S. (1958) Practicing the Presence: The Inspirational Guide to Regaining Meaning and A Sense of Purpose in Your Life HarperSanFrancisco:CA

 

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I thought about what to write for my next blog on “The Mystery of the Moment”  as Merle Haggard sang: “I’ve got heartaches by the number, troubles by the score, every day you loved me less each day I loved you more.”

You can listen all day on the radio or on your iPhone or computer about the loss of love, the finding of love, the happiness of love, and the pain of love.  Endless poems, movies, songs, and books have been written about it.

Eventually the word loses its passion and meaning when we begin to say “I love my new car, new house, this food I just cooked, or the way my hair looks in the mirror.” With the presidential race going on in America I can hear more words of animosity, hatred, and vitreal than about love.  I hear hate words projected on all races, people, religions, political opponents, and more.

It’s amazing how the universe works!  I turned around to my very large bookcase behind my desk looking for something on “love” to add to my blog post and I was drawn to pull down a book by one of my favorite Zen teachers Robert Kennedy, Zen Gifts to Christians (2004).  I open the book up at the back looking for an index to see if he had anything about love in it and sure enough the page was not an index but a page with a quote on it about love!  What are the chances that in this moment I would find the perfect quote on love?!

Kennedy shares a quote by …Etty Hillesum, a Jewish woman, who was swept up by the Germans in Holland in 1941 and sent to her death in Auschwitz in 1943. Though she knew nothing of Zen, her Interrupted Life parallels the final poem of our ox herder poet and puts a modern face on Zen teaching. In it she writes (page 121):

And a camp needs a poet, one who experiences life there, even there, as a bard and is able to sing about it.

At night, as I lay in the camp on my plank bed, surrounded by women and girls gently snoring, dreaming aloud, quietly sobbing and tossing, and turning, women and girls who often told me during the day, ‘We don’t want to think, we don’t want to feel, otherwise we are sure to go out of our minds,’ I was sometimes filled with an infinite tenderness, and lay awake for hours. . . and I prayed, ‘Let me be the thinking heart of these barracks.’  And that is what I want to be again. The thinking heart of a whole concentration camp.

I know that those who hate have good reasons to do so.  But why should we always have to choose the cheapest and easiest way? It has been brought home forcibly to me here how every atom of hatred added to the world makes it an even more inhospitable place (pages 121-22).[1]

How many atoms of hatred have you added to the world today, how many of love, peace, and compassion?

What will you do in each and every moment today to make your life and surroundings “a more hospitable place?”  Keep me posted on that!

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

[1] Kennedy, R. (2004) Zen Gifts to Christians, Continuum: NY, NY

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The problem with me is that in this moment I am often not mindful about what is going on in me, around me, and through me. My monkey mind is busy reflecting on the past, thinking about the future, and wandering hither and yon. Thus, I am not actually living in this “moment.” Unbeknownst to me I have lost a significant portion of my day, my life, and my joy. Whoever that “me” is has been deprived of experiencing the moment, of living a life of focus. Instead I am living a life lost and filled with grasping at the straws of the unknown.

Today my desire is to live in the moment mindfully aware of the food that I eat and its taste, texture, smell, and temperature. To be fully present as I attend a jukai ceremony for one of the men at our prison ministry. To bask in his joy and freedom as he accepts the Buddhist precepts as his way of living. To be fully present to enjoy the cookies and drinks that I will have after the ceremony and to celebrate fully and wholly with him and his friends in the Zen group where he sits each Tuesday.

McCown and Micozzi in their book New World Mindfulness wrote, “…the Buddha’s first teaching is revealed as essentially relational and experiential. It is possible to image him actually saying, “Don’t take my word for it; check it out for yourself (p. 71)!” As Walt Whitman in his “Song of Myself” wrote, “Looking with side-curved head curious what will come next, both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it (p. 78).”[1] To be present in the moment, to be there for others, for self, and beyond is what Whitman is enticing us to do.

Check it out for yourself! Be mindful of your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and actions. Don’t be so quick to take other people’s viewpoint of your life. Don’t be so quick to take other people’s word for it either. Simply be honest with yourself about your life and what you like–keep and what you don’t like–change. To do that you must be mindful in the present moment!

Take time each day to sit in the quiet of your breath. Open yourself to feeling “worthy” of taking time each day to simply sit and “contemplate your navel” if that is what you want to do! Finally, simply “be,” whatever that means to you.

I learned many years ago that I am not a human “being.” I am a human “becoming.” Which are you? Be mindful of that and your life could be transformed.

Keep me posted!

In gassho

ingassho

Shokai

[1] McCown, D. and Micozzi, M.S. (2012) New World Mindfulness from the Founding Fathers, Emerson, and Thoreau to Your Personal Practice. Healing Arts Press: Rochester, Vermont

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Metta Karuna Prayer

 Oneness of Life and Light,
Entrusting in your Great Compassion,
May you shed the foolishness in myself,
Transforming me into a conduit of Love.
May I be a medicine for the sick and weary,
Nursing their afflictions until they are cured;
May I become food and drink,

During time of famine,
May I protect the helpless and the poor,
May I be a lamp,

For those who need your Light,
May I be a bed for those who need rest,
and guide all seekers to the Other Shore.
May all find happiness through my actions,
and let no one suffer because of me.
Whether they love or hate me,
Whether they hurt or wrong me,
May they all realize true entrusting,
Through Other Power,
and realize Supreme Nirvana.
Namo Amida Buddha [1]

 

Today I came across this beautiful prayer entitled “Metta Karuna Prayer.”  I had not read or seen it before. So I looked up what the two words meant. Metta means kindness and karuna means compassion. However, it is said that it must be combined with wisdom in order to be effective. The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen says “Compassion extends itself without distinction to all sentient beings. It is based on the enlightened experience of the oneness of all beings (page 113).” As you will discover when you read and use the prayer the combination of these three ideas kindness, compassion, and wisdom makes this a very powerful prayer.

The prayer ends with “Namo Amida Buddha” which translated means “Praise Amida Buddha.” Amitabha symbolizes mercy and wisdom in the Pure Land school of Chinese and Japanese Buddhism. Calling upon Amitabha Buddha is a perfect closing to the prayer since it is all about compassion, kindness, and wisdom.

It is not easy to have compassion for some people, it is not easy to be kind to some people as they try our patience and our ethics and sometimes even our laws. And yet with wisdom we can see beyond the physical, the mundane, the prejudice, the fear, and the pain. We can see them as someone who is in special need of kindness and compassion. That can only be done when we allow wisdom to be part of the equation. Visualize these three ideas as a three legged stool, without the three legs the stool would not stand. What do you stand for? Only one or two of the three legs of this stool?

Imagine what would happen within us and around us if we said the prayer every day. Imagine our heart being opened to every living being on the planet. Imagine our heart being open to the earth, the animals of the earth, the rivers, oceans, and streams, and the mountains and the valleys.

I am not asking anyone to be “perfect” what I am hoping for is that I and all others will be moving toward enlightenment which can only come when we sit on the stool with all three legs intact, strong, and stable.

I hope you’ll sit with me this week as we use this beautiful prayer to help us live a life of kindness, compassion, and wisdom for all.

Let me know how it goes!

ingassho

Shokai

[1] http://buddhistfaith.tripod.com/buddhistprayer/id2.html

[2]The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen (1991) Shambhala Dragon Editions, Shambhala: Boston, MA

 

 

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The way we recite this verse/gatha at our zendo and with our prison ministry groups in Florida is as follows:

All harmful karma ever created by me of old,
on account of my beginningless, greed, anger, and ignorance,
born of my conduct, speech and thought,
I repent of it now.

This is a very powerful gatha. As I’m reciting it things come into my mind very quickly where I violated the gatha. Sometimes I feel like I’ve violated it many times during that day or week. I might have done something that may have been harmful to myself or another. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I robbed a bank or anything like that, but it can be something as simple as speaking in a demeaning tone of voice, or gossiping about someone, or even thinking a not so nice thought about him or her. How about this one, “Oh my god, doesn’t she look in the mirror when she gets dressed in the morning?”

How about you? Do these types of thoughts and behaviors keep you from practicing the principles of love and compassion for all beings?

So why is it “harmful karma?” Because as my friends Armand and Angelina sing in their song “Love is a Boomerang” the verse goes:

“Love is a boomerang, give it away and it comes right back, so is anger so is judgment, give it away and it comes right back. Love is a boomerang. When you wake up in the morning try a different attitude instead of drinking coffee fill yourself with gratitude. Try loving everything you see it will change the way you live. Love is a boomerang, give it away because it comes right back!”[1]

If you follow Armand and Angelina’s advice you’ll see that what you give out comes back at you each day so make the giving peace, kindness, love, and compassion. Now that’s the perfect boomerang for me!

Remember that boomerang runs both ways and can come back at you pretty fast! So say this gatha as often as you need to it will help remind you of the power of your conduct, speech, and thought. Good luck with that!

Let me know how that boomerang works!

In gassho

ingassho

Shokai

My dear friends Armand and Angelina

armond and angelina

[1]You can find Armand and Angelina at their website: http://www.armandandangelina.com/

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Metta
May I be happy.
May I be free from stress and pain.
May I be free from animosity.
May I be free from oppression.
May I be free from trouble.
May I look after myself with ease.

May all living beings be happy.
May all living beings be free from animosity.
May all living beings be free from oppression.
May all living beings be free from trouble.
May all living beings look after themselves with ease.[1]

Kazuaki Tanahashi, in his book, Zen Chants Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary, writes this:

Buddhaghosa does not recommend that the practitioners simply focus on an aspiration that they themselves be happy or attempt absorption. Instead, the meditators are urged to use themselves as an example: “Just as I want to be happy and dread pain, as I want to live and not die, so do other beings, too.” And thus when we pray the Metta we pray and chant for self and others (page 136).[2]

As we watch the news each evening and see the students on campuses around the country protesting for things that I thought would not still exist in 2015: hiring discrimination, race discrimination, hate speech, unresponsive administrations, sexual assaults, and more. Each of these protesters want for themselves the list of things we recite in the first verse of the Metta and they also want it for everyone else on planet earth. And thus, we chant for them in the second verse.

We can add those in the prison system in America and those in the Middle East who are being killed and bombed in their countries and homes, and in airplanes flying through the air after a family vacation. As a human race we need to work at learning how to live together with our diversity and cultures and religions or we will soon be an extinct species and all that will be left are the birds, the bees, and the trees.

Besides chanting this verse each and every day with love and passion, what can you do each day in your families, homes, workplaces and communities? Think small or think big but please think and then act. You just may save someone’s life. You never know.

May you be happy and find ways to share your happiness with everyone you meet.

In gassho,

ingassho
Shokai

[1] Tanahashi, K. (2015) Zen Chants Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary. Shambhala: Boston & London

[2] Ibid.

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