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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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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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tea and typewriterWhen I was growing up my mother would never allow us to have coffee, not sure why, but she said not until we were in high school? Hmmmm

So we could have water, milk, juice, soda, and yes tea!  Hot tea or cold tea and Lipton tea, of course.  I learned a lot about tea, as I’ve said, from Aaron Fisher’s book The Way of Tea Reflections on a Life with Tea.  Thus this blog post…

Once I was allowed to drink coffee, I decided that I would try it.  Mom had an old metal coffee pot with a glass window in the top so you could see the coffee perking.  Not sure why that was there but it was fun watching the coffee going up and down in the pot.  Kept me out of trouble for a few minutes anyway!

The day finally came, and I got the coffee cup and the hot pot of coffee off the stove and poured some into the cup.  I saw mom put cream and sugar in her coffee so I figured that was how it was to be fixed before drinking it.  It was very hot and so I figured I’d better blow on it a little before taking my first sip and finally I jumped into the coffee with great expectations.  Yikes!  Was I shocked it was awful, it tasted like mud to me.  It was not light and flavorful like the tea or transparent enough to see to the bottom of the cup. It’s kind of like life our “great expectations” don’t always turn out as we had expected…

Thus I did not drink coffee until I was grown up…I mean really grown up!  I was working in the Emergency Room in the local hospital as a Unit Secretary.  My shift was 3-11 PM on weekends and holidays.  Thus the cafeteria closed at 7 pm and if I wanted a hot drink, I had to drink what was in the nurse’s lounge.  Yes, you guessed it!  A giant old coffee pot filled with that nasty dark concoction!

Such is life and how it affects our eating, drinking, and way of living.  Fisher writes, “The Chinese, always so fond of making lists—of virtues, of bests and worsts, and even of benefits—made a list of the ten virtues of tea and it became common knowledge:

  1. Tea is beneficial to health, as the “Qi” clears all blockages and cures ailments.
  2. Tea helps refresh one after a night of drinking alcohol.
  3. Tea, mixed with other things like nuts or even milk can provide nourishment.
  4. Tea can cool one off in the heat of summer.
  5. Tea helps one slough off all fatigue and drowsiness, promoting an awakened mindset.
  6. Tea purifies the spirit, removes anxiety and nervousness and brings ease and comfort, conducive to meditation.
  7. Tea aids in the digestion of food.
  8. Tea removes all toxins from the body, flushing out the blood and urinary system.
  9. Tea is conducive to longevity, promoting longer, healthier life.
  10. Tea invigorates the body and inspires the mind to creativity (page 54).”[1]

So for me I’m going to drink more TEA!  Can’t wait to see if the benefits of tea can make me healthier, live longer, be more creative and inspired by life!  How about you? Care to join me!?

 

[1] Fisher, Arron, The Way of Tea Reflections on a Life with Tea, Tuttle Publishing, North Clarendon, Vermont, 2010

[2] Picture is from Pixabay website

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Once again I opened up this wonderful book “Teachings of Zen” getting ready to write the next section of my newest blog.  It is the first week of our new year 2019 and I was thinking about what I accomplished in 2018 and what I might accomplish in 2019 and then I read these words:

book cover Teachings of Zen Thomas Cleary“You do not plunge into sentiments of the ordinary, nor do you fall into the understanding of the sage. Empty and spiritual, serene and sublime, you do not tarry anywhere but attain fulfillment everywhere.

At this time you should know there is a final statement; only then are you a mature person. Completing the task of the mature person is called transcending the world in the midst of the world, highest of all. Hai-yin (page 142).”[1]

The first paragraph resonated with me as I thought about the juxtaposition of these two ideas. The ideas that we hold in Zen Buddhism are just exactly as Hai-yin describes: empty and yet spiritual, serene and at the same time sublime.  It is exactly like all of our lives the opposites that seem to attract each other, the time on the cushion when we attempt to “empty” the mind and yet think of our spiritual character and that being the reason we are trying to “empty” the mind.  Yikes!  The juxtaposition of the conundrum of the teachings of Buddhism.

And yet Hai-yin ends these thoughts saying: Empty and spiritual, serene and sublime, you do not tarry anywhere but attain fulfillment everywhere…. Completing the task of the mature person is called transcending the world in the midst of the world, highest of all (page 142).”[2]

Your challenge of this year will be transcending the world while being in the midst of it.  Let’s not be bogged down in this process and adding to our troubles and woes.  Let us just be aware of the juxtaposition of life and stroll through it with ease, peace, and compassion for self.  Let’s look down on our selves as if we were out of our bodies simply watching and listening without judgment.  Let’s transcend our fears, likes, and dislikes and remember it’s “just this” and nothing more and nothing less.

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

[2] Ibid.

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Yin-an (d.1163) is to have said, “This mind cannot be transmitted but can only be experienced in oneself and understood in oneself. When you get to the point where there is neither delusion nor enlightenment, you simply dress and eat as normal, without a bunch of arcane interpretations and lines of doctrine jamming your chest, so you’re clear and uncluttered (page 89)”[1] No picking and choosing as we often say in Zen.

Sometimes I think that people misunderstand Buddhism and think that it is the way and the answer to all of their troubles and woes.  They believe that if they can just meditate enough, chant enough, pray enough, eat the right foods enough their life will be transformed by some “Magic of Zen.”  Then when it doesn’t happen, they stop sitting, meditating, practicing, and begin to disparage the teachings as if “they” were the problem.

When they got to the point where they felt their practice did not bring them perfect health, wealth, happiness, and peace of mind they threw away their cushion and their Buddhist books and went their merry way looking for the next quick fix.  But Buddhism is not a quick fix it is a way of life.  It gives us the tools to deal with all of our challenges and joys. It offers us some time in stillness and quiet. Both of which are lacking in our society for sure. So no matter how we feel before we sit down or how we feel after we get up, we are changed by simply taking the time to go within and quiet our minds if only for a nanosecond!

Mark twain picThis mind is a dangerous thing!  Mark Twain is quoted as saying “I must have a prodigious amount of mind; it takes me as much as a week, sometimes, to make it up!” I wonder what would happen in our lives if we let our hearts be in charge instead of the silly old mind?! That can happen with the Magic of Zen…one breath at a time.

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

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Cleary writes a section in this wonderful book entitled “Evaluating Teachers.”  Being a teacher for most of my life I was excited to read what he had to say about us.  I was not surprised at the wisdom that he shared from Ta-sui who lived between 834-919.  He is quoted as saying:

baby monk walkingWhen I was journeying, I didn’t choose communities on the basis of whether or not they had material provisions; I was only concerned with seeing whether their perception indicated some capacity.  If so, then I might stay for a summer or a winter; but if they were low-minded, I’d leave in two or three days. Although I called on more than sixty prominent teachers, barely one or two had great perception.  The rest hardly had real true knowledge—they just want your donations (page 28).[1]

Thus to find the right teacher for you is not easy.  There are so many people sharing their spiritual adventures, knowledge, thoughts, ideas, and feelings today on line everywhere.  There are people who offer classes and write books and profess spiritual awakening or knowledge and charge huge amounts of money to attend their classes or webinars or lectures.  I am not suggesting that they are all charlatan’s, but my mom always reminded me “buyer beware.”

I remember when my nieces were teenagers and the Moonie’s were everywhere trying to recruit members to their cult a neighbor tried to warn my sister about them.  She simply laughed and responded, “Are you kidding there is no way my two daughters would stand on the street corner for free and handout flyers!”

As a Buddhist we don’t proselytize and stand on corners or in airports handing out flyers. We spread our wonderful teaching by living it.  By providing an environment of peace, love, and compassion in our words and deeds.  Then someone might say, “Wow you have such a peaceful energy about you. How are you able to do that when there is so much negative energy in the world today?

Then and only then do I bring up my studies in Buddhism and meditation.  Their question can open a conversation at which time I offer my card for the person to check out my blog, or join us at the Zendo for a meeting, or share one of my workbooks with them.  No pressure, no proselytizing, nothing but information, compassion, and love which is the greatest teacher of all. And it’s Free!  Yes, I do donate money to my zendo to keep the lights on and the doors open but it is a gift, not a requirement and thus I give freely.

Live your truth and you’ll shine like the morning star for all to see.  You’ll be the light of peace wherever you go and unknowingly make a positive difference in someone’s life.  It’s a quietly simple yet powerful way to make a difference in the world in which we live.  Be the peace you want in your life…simply be it—that is the greatest teacher of all.

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

[2]Picture Gateless Gate-Page 6- Seon Buddhism http://www.buddhism.org

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