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Father Leo Booth in his book Meditations for Compulsive People writes these words about love: “So many of us love our pets not because they speak of unconditional love, but becauAnnie and Bubbles at doorse they live it (page 135)!”[1]  And yet you’ll see so many times on the news about the police shutting down a puppy mill or rescuing animals left out in the yard during a blizzard.  I have a wonderful book, Dogs Don’t Bite When a Growl Will Do, in it I read a story about a German shepherd who ran in front of a taxi cab driver and refused to move.  He got the driver to follow him to a poodle lying nearly frozen in the snow.  Oddly enough the cab driver had just recently given up looking for the dog for one of his customers.

The author continues by writing: “Those feelings—concerns, empathy, and distress—led the dog to perform an act of kindness and compassion (page 271).”  Yes, the dog!  He goes on to write, “The world is full of opportunities for all of us to demonstrate our compassion.  I believe that when we learn to match the compassion shown by our canine companions—or for that matter, unknown German shepherds and anonymous drivers who encounter stray dogs on the road—then the world will be a far better place to live (page272).”[2]

You cannot separate the word peace from unconditional love.  Peace and love are like vanilla ice cream and apple pie, or peanut butter and jelly they are inseparable and delicious and necessary for a world to be a peaceful and safe place to live. Pema Chodron in her book Awakening Loving Kindness writes, “It isn’t a sin that we are in the dark room.  It’s just an innocent situation, but how fortunate that someone shows us where the light switch is. It brightens up our life considerably (page 25).”[3]  Even if that someone is a most unusual team: a German shepherd and a cab driver.

You cannot have peace without love and you can’t have love without peace. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that this is true.  You don’t have to be anything but a human being who cares about others and puts them first and NOT twenty first.  As Father Booth so aptly describes in these words about Winston:

“There was a time when I abused him.
Gave him a dog’s Life!
In my drinking days when I was lost in self-pity;
Lonely,
Afraid,
Miserable,
Confused,
Angry,
I was hurting. So, I hurt others.
 
I abused my family.
Disappointed the congregation.
Angered the bishop.
And kicked the dog.
Yes, I kicked my dog—
When I really wanted to kick the bishop?
I can still see those large eyes staring at me.
Winston. Please forgive me.
And I know he did.
Winston watches,
Waits,
Comforts,
And loves in perpetual silence.
A companion and friend.
My dog.
It may seem odd, but I see God in Winston.
Something in that selfless love is divine.
In his silence I am healed
In his play, I am revitalized.
In his expression, I am accepted.
My dog.
His example taught me how to let go of resentments;
Enjoy serenity,
Live humility.
My dog became my mentor (page 136-7).”[4]

And peace arrived…when Annie and Bubbles entered my home.

[1] L. Booth (1995) Meditations for Compulsive People. SPC Limited: Long Beach, CA
[2] M Weinstein, L Barber. (2003) Dog’s Don’t Bite When a Growl Will Do. Perigee: NY, NY
[3] P. Chodron. (1996) Awakening Loving-Kindness. Shambhala: Boston & London
[4] L. Booth (1995) Meditations for Compulsive People. SPC Limited: Long Beach, CA

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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.

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buddha-quote-thinkingToday as I was looking on my bookshelf for another great book on peace I came across The Kwan Um School of Zen’s Chanting and Temple Rules workbook.  Near the back of the book on page 52 there is a section entitled “On Conduct.”  After reading it I realized that if I just followed these rules each and every day I would definitely end up with a peaceful life and positive relationships with everyone I meet and especially with my family and friends. Below is what they have written.

  1. On conduct
  • Always act with others. Do not put yourself above others by acting differently. Arrogance is not permitted in the temple.
  • Money and sex are like a spiteful snake. Put your concern with them far away.
  • In the dharma room always walk behind those seated in meditation. At talks and ceremonies, keep the proper posture and dress.  Do not talk or laugh loudly in the dharma room.
  • If you have business outside the temple which causes you to miss ceremonies or meals, notify one of the temple officials before you leave.
  • Respect those older than you. Love those younger than you.  Keep your mind large and open.
  • If you meet sick people love and help them.
  • Be hospitable to guests. Make them welcome and attend to their needs.
  • When respected people visit the temple, bow to them and speak considerately to them.
  • Be courteous. Always let others go before you.
  • Help other people.
  • Do not play games with other people.
  • Do not gossip.
  • Do not use other people’s shoes and coats.
  • Do not cling to the scriptures.
  • Do not oversleep.
  • Do not be frivolous.
  • Let older and more respected people be seated before you.
  • Do not discuss petty temple matters with guests.
  • When visiting outside the temple, speak well of the temple to others.
  • Drinking to produce heedlessness or acting out of lust will only make bad karma and destroy your practice. You must be strong and think correctly. Then these desires cannot tempt you.
  • Do not delude yourself into thinking you are a great and free person. This is not true Buddhism.
  • Attend only to yourself. Do not judge the actions of others.
  • Do not make the bad karma of killing, stealing, or lust.

And finally, they end it with these powerful words:

Originally there is nothing.

But Buddha practiced unmoving under the
Bodhi tree for six years,
And for nine years Bodhidharma sat
Silently in Sorim.

If you can break the wall of your self,
You will become infinite in time and space.

 

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one-world-family-logo-jpgIn Zen Buddhism there are so many wonderful teachers and writers that you could spend the rest of your life reading their original books and their translations of the ancient writers. Plus, we have the current teachers and writers taking a particular point of view or sutra or teaching and creating a blog or a book or a lecture from the information.  I, of course, happen to be one of them.

Today I begin my new workbook on the world of “peace” as envisioned in my head.  The current world is creating peace, love, hatred and fear at an amazingly fast pace due to the internet and social media. Regardless of where others may stand, I stand for peace and love.

Dharmachari Abhaya writes in the preface of Sangharakshite: A Guide to the Buddhist Path, these words:

A fact that is often glossed over in books on Buddhism is that there are two basic modes of conditionality, not just one: two ways in which we can act, one unskillful, the other skillful.  The first is known as the circular or, in Sangharakshita’s term, ‘reactive’ mode.  This is the mode in which we operate for much of the time, and it is the cause of all our suffering. But there is also a spiral or ‘creative mode,’ in which we can make spiritual progress experience ever-expanding states of happiness and bliss.[1]

For me bliss is the kissing cousin of peace!  I’ve never heard anyone say after a meditation where they went in to samadhi…  I felt such anger or hatred or fear!  No, they haven’t, but they sure do say I felt peaceful, alive, happy, joyous, content, and as many positive descriptive adjectives as you can think of.

It is not easy in America today to live a peaceful life.  With what is going on in our politics, wars around the world, poverty and prejudice in America increasing daily and I could go on.  It could make you mad, sad, or revengeful and thus not at PEACE!  So how do we handle this?  By balancing our lives with Buddhist principles, meditation, and mindfulness.  By living the teaching, not just by teaching it or reading about it.

Dharmachari Abhaya goes on:

…one should approach Buddhism with one’s total being. One should not just try to feel and not understand, nor just try to understand and not feel.  One should not always look within and never look without, nor, on the other hand, always look without, never pausing to look within, there is a time and place for all these things. If possible, we should try to do all of these things all the time.  As we ascend higher and higher in our spiritual development, we shall tend more and more to think and feel, act and not act, simultaneously.  It sounds impossible, but that is only because of the limitations of our present way of thinking.[2]

What way are you thinking? Will it bring you to a peaceful life and world or bring you to a world of anxiety, hatred, and fear?  It’s all up to you.  You shape your world by your thoughts, words, and actions…what shape is your personal world in? Love filled or Hate filled…or somewhere in between?

[1] Sangharakshita, (1990). Windhorse Publications: Birmingham, England. page 11
[2] Ibid. page 22
[3] The picture is the logo from an interfaith organization in Fort Lauderdale, FL to which I belonged they have merged with another organization JAM & All where I am a board member. Check out their Facebook page at JAM and All Interfaith.

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cookie with sunglassesJan Chozen Bays in her wonderful book Mindful Eating writes about something she calls “heart hunger.”   She wrote, “I became aware of heart hunger through the comments of participants in our mindful eating workshops. They talked longingly of foods they had eaten for family holidays, foods their mothers had made for them when they were ill, foods eaten with people they loved.  It was clear that the particular foods were not as important as the mood or emotion they evoked.  Hunger for these foods arose from the desire to be loved and cared for.  The memory of those special times infused these foods with warmth and happiness (page 60)”[1]

I know that this idea has worked both in a positive loving way sometimes and also in a negative fearful way in my life depending upon the person who made the food and/or the way it was cooked, what it tasted like, or what ingredients were involved in the dish.  I’m sure you have had similar relationships with food throughout your life as well.

So this may be a great time to stop and take a look at your relationship to food, why you have that relationship, and what can you do with the things you discover from this personal inquiry.  I only had very limited relationships with my two grandmothers.  My maternal grandmother lived in Kansas and we lived in New Jersey I only saw her twice once when we visited her in Kansas and once when she visited us in New Jersey.

When we went to Kansas, I finally found out why my mother was a such a bad cook.  The first night in Kansas my Grandmother told us she was going to make chicken for dinner.  I thought, great I like chicken.  So I decided I would watch to see how she made hers.  First thing she did was take out some flour and cover all the pieces.   Yeah, we’re going to have a wonderful fried chicken dinner!  NOT! She then proceeded to put it in a pot of water throw a few veggies in and turn on the stove…yikes.

My heart was still there for my Grandmother, but my hunger quickly disappeared!  I asked dad for some money to go to the Dairy Queen for supper!  That Dairy Queen hotdog was the best I’d ever eaten!

Our feelings are held deeply in the darkest part of our psyche.  Are yours helping or hindering you?  Don’t let your past affect your present moment—especially if they are based on fear, anger, or ignorance.  Decide where you want to focus your thoughts—in the now or on that silly pot of chicken so long ago?

Be here now! The choice, of course, is fully yours. Lunch time is here for me, where is my “heart hunger”—chicken or hotdogs…hmmm.

[1] Bays MD, Jan Chozen. Mindful Eating. Shambhala, Boulder, 2017

 

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basket of fresh fruitThere are many variations of the prayers that the Buddhist communities use before they eat to bless their food.  This is the one we use at the Southern Palm Zen Group.  I like it a lot as it is simple and to the point.

“Earth, water, fire, air and space combine to make this food, numberless beings gave their lives and labors so that we may eat, may we be nourished so that we may nourish life.”

Thus we focus not on the “food” but the reason that we eat: to nourish our bodies and minds.  It’s really that simple.  As humans became more social beings we began to eat for pleasure and times of sharing, fun, and celebration with our families and friends. We created reasons to eat and to give thanks before the meal to show our gratitude for the food, our families, and our friends.

Brown encourages us to do a little less “picking and choosing” when it comes to food.  He says, “So instead of picking and choosing, as students of life we might at times choose to practice acceptance, gratitude, enjoyment, thanksgiving (page 145-6).” That is easy to do by always blessing your food before you eat.

I used to teach the kids in Sunday school when we had snack time to say, “Ruba dub dub thank you God for the grub.” Some of the parents did not like it but the kids loved it and it started them off on a great practice of giving thanks for the food they had been given–even if they disliked it.  It can also be a time when you can share with them that many children have no food to eat and to be grateful and happy that they have food on their table.  To value the food that they have will help them have compassion for those who have none.

Giving thanks is something we all do at Thanksgiving with our families and friends sitting around the table, but I hope you’re doing it every day not just one or two days out of the year.  You’ll be surprised how much better the food will taste, and how much less Pepto-Bismol you’ll have to take after the meal.  Regardless of who cooked it–the  worst or the best cook in your family–giving thanks will make it go down easily!

Just remember what Mary Poppins said: Just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down or Uncle Joe’s chili…well maybe not Uncle Joe’s chili…but giving thanks may help!

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round white and blue ceramic bowl with cooked ball soup and brown wooden chopsticks

Photo by Buenosia Carol on Pexels.com

I really believe that first I eat with my nose!  Yes, with my nose.  Whether I am doing the cooking or someone else is doing the cooking when I get near the kitchen or the dinning room or the restaurant the first sense that inspires me is the things that I smell.  When I walked into my house as a kid if my dad was making a big pot of stuffed cabbage I could smell that great aroma all the way from the front door.  If mom was cooking a batch of cookies, we’d run down stairs to get the first hot cookie that came out of the oven.  These are wonderful memories triggered by smell. I’m sure you have hundreds of them in your life that you respond to without even thinking about it.

Jan Chozen Bays in her book How to Train A Wild Elephant writes a whole section #31 titled “Notice Smells.”  She says that “…smell can evoke emotion, desire, and aversion (page 130).[1] Chozen reminds us that not all smells bring happy feelings and thus some remind us of painful life experiences like a fire in your home, or the burnt smell of your first and last batch of cookies that you ever made.  For some it could be the smell of a perfume or aftershave of a person that was either a light in your life or darkness.  So when you encounter a particular smell the visual begins to appear right along with the smell.

Chozen goes on to write: “One reason incense is used in meditation halls is that over time a strong link is forged between the fragrance of incense and a quiet concentrated state of mind.  As you enter the scented hall, your mind automatically settles (page 132).”[2]

Foods are famous for having wonderful smells and bringing wonderful memories.  Let’s stop for a moment and take a deep breath.  Close your eyes and think of some wonderful smell that has made you happy, or giddy, or glad.  What comes to mind for me is our family dinners when growing up.

On Sunday we would have a special family outing—going to the Chinese restaurant for dinner.  Dad would choose one item from column A and two from column B and we all waited with great expectations for the food to begin to arrive. I just loved the smell of the wonton soup and the fried rice. But most of all I loved those almond fortune cookies that I used as an edible spoon to scoop up the delicious chocolate ice cream!  What a great ending to a great food adventure—I experienced a beautiful harmony of fantastic smells indeed! How about you….

 

[1] Bays MD, Jan Chozen. How to Train a Wild and Other Adventures in Mindfulness Elephant. Shambhala, Boston & London, 2011

[2] Ibid.

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