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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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Emerson:  “Place yourself in the middle of the stream of power and wisdom which animates aajahn-brahmll whom it floats, and you are without effort impelled to truth, to right, and a perfect contentment.”[1]

Zen Ajahn Brahm: “Contentment is the opposite of a faultfinding mind.  You should develop the perception of contentment with whatever you have, wherever you are, as much as you can (page 44).”[2]

Wow!  What a concept!  In America we find ourselves often in a place where contentment seems impossible.  Especially during times like Christmas.  From the time we are very little until we die we make lists all year long asking for the newest toy on TV or the bike like your best friend has, or a new car like the neighbor down the street just got.  We long for material things and money and trips and more.

When was the last time you were content with what you had?  When was the last time you spent time in meditation and prayer where your mind was not drug off into thoughts of discontent?  Discontent with your relationships, your job, your income, with your health, or the world in general.

Don’t get me wrong there are a lot of people in need all over the world. In need of food, shelter, and safety from floods and bombs and more.  And we should do all we can to help them from supporting peace not war, supporting food banks, homeless shelters, veteran’s benefits, and more.  However, we must start with ourselves and our own consciousness.  Start with the little things and work your way up to the big things!  If you need to lose weight and you create a plan to do so celebrate even the smallest improvement be it losing three pounds, exercising three days in a row, or changing your diet to healthier foods this week.

Be open to “baby steps—baby steps” as Dr. Leo Marvin (Richard Dreyfuss) told his patient Bob Wiley (Bill Murry) in the movie “What about Bob.”  Find contentment in the little things wherever you can—whenever you can.   Longing for things that are out of reach makes you discontented with life and robs you of your contentment and your peace and joy in the present moment.  It doesn’t matter whether that discontentment is about things, places, or people.

We attract what we think about the most.  So if you want peace meditate and focus on peace and like a magnet you will draw it to you!  Remember contentment is hiding within it! If you want better health, or a different more fulfilling job, or a new relationship do the same and watch what happens!  Open your mind to receive your good by placing yourself in the middle of contentment!

Let me know how it goes!

In gassho,

Shokai

 

[1] http://www.azquotes.com/author/4490-Ralph_Waldo_Emerson/tag/contentment

[2] Brahm, A. (2014) Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond A Meditator’s Handbook. Wisdom Publications: Boston

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My special friend, Dr. Davele Bursor, and I went on Sunday to the beautiful Center for Spiritual Living (formerly Science of Mind Church) in Boca Raton and when I opened the bulletin they had a little prayer card in there with this affirmation on it: Today I use kindness plentifully in every thought, act, and circumstance.

Yet, when I got home and turned on the TV there was very little kindness being projected toward people of all political persuasions, religions, ethnic groups, and professions.  It seems that we’ve forgotten the basic ideas of what it takes to make a country livable, one that will grow and prosper and be a safe place in which to grow up, raise our children, and live a happy, healthy, peaceful, and successful life.

Civility has left the discourse and simple religious and spiritual principles have gone out the window. There are “Dragons in the Trees” as one of our Zen members, Lawrence Janssen, writes in his book of poetry Zen Paradox: No Knowing.

Mara the prince of darkness
Exuberantly dances from cloud to cloud
Dragons silently wait in withered trees
No howls of approval or broken rice bowlsbridgewood-white-tree-flower.b
Only swords readied for an execution
Nobel truth twisted and distorted
With cunning argumentation
We witness the ritual of self immolation
As vultures circle endlessly
Overwhelmed by shame and guilt
The teacher raises a flower in hope
The compassionate words and nurturing spirit
Of Bodhidharma echo in the land (page 23)![1]

Too few voices “echo in the land” for kindness for our brothers and sisters around the world—so let us be the voice of reason, of love, and of kindness during this troubling time.  Begin by being kind to yourself.  Then move that energy out into your family, friends, co-workers, and strangers.  Be the voice of reason; raise the flower of hope with your compassionate words as Larry encourages us to do!

Let’s do it! You’ll meet your good today when you help others meet theirs!

In gassho,

Shokai

[1] Janssen, L.I. (2013) Zen Paradox: No Knowing. Xlibris.com

2 http://listeningwiththeeye.squarespace.com/galleries/bridgewood-white-tree-flower

 

 

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All of the world’s major religions have a Golden Rule included in them and yet the rule is not practiced by many of their followers. Today is yet another important day to send out the message of peace and love so ardently spoken about in one breath and then not practiced in the very next moment by the people who profess to practice a “religion.” Some young impressionable men who felt hopeless and helpless in a world that gave them nothing to live for conspired and perpetrated a siege on the people of Paris on November 13, 2015 in which hundreds were killed or wounded.

Where did we go wrong as a society? What were they searching for, screaming for, and ultimately killing for?

Has our world become one of simply “pagan consumerism” and money for the youth of the world? Is this what they live for? And when they do not find a job or a way to express themselves through music, dance, singing, teaching, art, or the love of a companion, their life becomes unbearable and unlivable. Thus they get radicalized by others around the world who feel the same.

We are once again cautioned to not just preach peace and love but to live it, whether we are Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, or secular humanists. Without peace humans will soon destroy the world and all the people in it.

Below are two Buddhist prayers on peace and compassion. I hope you will take them to heart for the victims and the victimizers “who know not what they do.”

Evoking the presence of great compassion, let us fill our hearts with our own compassion – towards ourselves and towards all living beings.
Let us pray that all living beings realize that they are all brothers and sisters, all nourished from the same source of life.
Buddhist Prayer

We Pray for Peace
We pray for peace in all the world;
We pray that evil may be overcome by good;
We pray for harmony in the Sangha [community],
and for the cessation of all disaster.
– From Shasta Abbey [1]

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

[1] http://worldhealingprayers.com/3.html

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Ten-line Life –Affirming Sutra of Avalokiteshvara
Avalokiteshvara, perceiver of the cries of the world,
Takes refuge in Buddha,
Will be a buddha,
Helps all to be buddhas,
Is not separate from Buddha, Dharma, Sangha—
Being eternal, intimate, pure, and joyful.
In the morning, be one with Avalokiteshvara.
In the evening, be one with Avalokitesvara,
whose heart, moment by moment, arises,
whose heart, moment by moment, remains! [1]

In the news each day we hear of the estimated 6.5 million men, women, and children who have been displaced within Syria while more than 3 million have fled to countries like Germany, Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. As we see the heart wrenching pictures of these families walking hundreds of miles in search of shelter, peace, and compassion we may feel overwhelmed and helpless. Besides being able to give our money to the many organizations trying to help them such as the The UN Refugee Agency, Catholic Charities, Muslim Charities, and the like we can use the power of prayer right now right where we are.

The above prayer is a simple example of how we as Buddhists over thousands of years have created chants, poems, and prayers to help those in need. In Sanskrit we hear the name and story of Avalokiteshvara, in Chinese Kuan-yin and in Japanese Kannon, Kanzeon or Kwannon. Avalokiteshvara whether in a male or female body represents great compassion and wisdom. As the story goes the wish to help all beings caused Avalokiteshvara to grow a thousand arms, in the palm of each of which is an eye.[2] This gives him the ability to work for the welfare of many beings at the same time.

The chant above encourages us to respond to the cries of the world with both our words and our deeds. They encourage us to take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma (teachings) and the Sangha (our community). They encourage us not to turn away from or see with a blind eye the suffering of individuals or groups. And finally they encourage us to offer solace where possible, to offer help where needed, and to offer prayers when neither are in reach of our grasp.

I say, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall inherit the Earth.” But without us that may never happen. Your help is needed today and every day to call upon Avalokiteshvara or Kuan-yin or Kanzeon for there is someone in need of your prayers, of food, or shelter, or love, or compassion, and especially for a cessation of war. Why not start each day with this chant to surround the world with peace rather than war, with love rather than hate.

If it’s to be it’s up to me to make a positive difference in the world! Be Avalokiteshvara today!

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

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

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

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Why can’t we all just get along?

A FEW GOOD MEN
HIGH ON A HILL IN SOUTH VIETNAM,
A HANDFUL OF MEN ARE GROUPED AS ONE,
JUST A LONELY PLACE THAT WILL BRING NO FAME,
THEY HOLD A POSITION WITHOUT ANY NAME,
KNOWING VC ARE ALL AROUND,
THEY WATCH AND WAIT WITHOUT A SOUND,
HE MUST KNOW HIS JOB AND KNOW IT WELL,
EXPERIENCE IS HIS TEACHER, AND THIS WILL TELL,
EACH HAS A THOUGHT OF HIS HOME FAR AWAY,
HOPING AND PRAYING HE’LL RETURN SOMEDAY,
WHAT SLEEP HE GETS IS ON THE LAND,
A HELMET HIS PILLOW, ALWAYS AT HAND,
HIS WORK GOES ON NIGHT AND DAY,
HE DOES A MIGHTY BIG JOB FOR SO LITTLE PAY,
I THINK BY NOW YOU KNOW WHO I MEAN,
THIS COULD ONLY BE A U.S. MARINE.
Corporal, Timothy J. Ives
07/11/1946-04/30/1967

Written by a high school buddy of my cousin Art Bird a few days before he lost his life in Viet Nam in 1967.

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Once again I picked up the book Peace Pilgrim for words of wisdom and came across something that is so relevant today as we watch the killings and destruction of people of different faiths. Some people are even killing others who are the same faith only a different sect or denomination of that faith. Whether you believe in a religion, or a faith, or a spiritual teaching or a God or Supreme Being or not I hope the Peace Pilgrim’s words resonate with you and help you deal with your life and your challenges more easily today.

I am a deeply religious person, but I belong to no denomination. I follow the spirit of God’s law, not the letter of the law. One can become so attached to the outward symbols and structure of religion that one forgets its original intent—to bring one closer to God. We can only gain access to the Kingdom of God by realizing it dwells within us as well as in all humanity. Know that we are all cells in the ocean of infinity, each contributing to the others’ welfare (page 85)[1]

Roshi Robert Aitken in his wonderful book The Mind of Clover Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics writes this about oneness and war and peace.

Acting upon the First Precept [Not Killing] is also the spirit of not harming applied in the natural world. The same poisons that set us apart in families, communities, and across national boundaries—greed, hatred, and ignorance—blight the grasslands, deplete the soil, clear cut the forests, and add lethal chemicals to water and air. In the name of progress, some say. In the name of greed, it might more accurately be said (page 20).[2]

So if we let go of the outward symbols, laws, and structures and move toward the natural world or “God’s World” or the world of the Bodhisattva as Roshi Aitken says, “Compassion and peace are a practice, on cushions in the dojo, within the family, on the job, and at political forums. Do your best with what you have, and you will mature in the process.” You and I can be more like the Peace Pilgrim and the Buddha and be a part of “all cells in the ocean of infinity” contributing to the peace and welfare of everyone and everything.

If only we could feel and see ourselves afloat as an integral part of this infinite sea of creation we could not harm the cell that is in the other because we are that cell as well. Together we are that united one: separate we could not exist. Just imagine how our lives and the lives of those around us could be blessed if we lived each day in that “ocean of infinity.”

How about joining me for a swim!

In honor of our wonderful teachers I post these words:

Doshin and Jundo

Good Friends and good teachers of Zen: Jundo and Doshin

I feel within me a peace

Above all earthly dignities,

A still and quiet conscience.

–William Shakespeare

 

[1] Peace Pilgrim (2004), Peace Pilgrim, Editors Friends of Peace Pilgrim http://www.peacepilgrim.org

[2] Aitken, R. (2000) The Mind of Clover, Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics. North Point Press: NY, NY

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