For much of the past eighteen years, I’ve not awoken in anything less than debilitating pain, living with a burdensome fatigue, intense skin sensitivity that comes and goes for hours at a time, and intermittent, annoying fevers. Since the onset of this hypothyroid challenge, which I don’t believe is anything I will have to deal with longterm, all of these things have intensified.
A few years ago, I posted a question on Facebook, and asked how many people believed that Horus, one of the oldest gods of the ancient Egyptian religion — the Falcon-headed Avenger, was a real being. Fifty people commented saying, “Of course not.”
Speaking at a workshop after the film, “The Avengers”, I asked how many people there believed that Odin, Thor and Loki actually exist, 47 out of 49 people said they did not.
But there is a vast disconnect in the intelligence, rationality and spiritual maturity here in the West, where we are all too quick to suspend reason, and demand that the whole world believe a legend that has been shown time and time again, with empirical evidence sociologically, historically and anthropologically to have been an adaptation of the ancient legends of the “man-god” mythos.
In Christendom, the story of the Last Supper is a poignant and richly meaningful point in the narrative of Rav Yeshua’s last days, before his betrayal and death.
In the Sacramental Movement it is a time when the tabernacle is emptied, and the Presence Light extinguished, the altar stripped of its linens, and the entire sanctuary takes on the stark and lifeless appearance and feeling of a tomb. For me, this was always one of the most profoundly heart-wrenching of liturgies to perform, and would mark the beginning of the three days of contemplation upon impermanence, death and awakening.
One of the casualties of this tendency we have to turn the Dharma into an “ism” (i.e., Buddhism), is that the arts and sciences that make up the Dharma often become homogenised into some sort of “religious doctrine”, stripping away all of the freedom and value the practice once had.
Mindfulness is the art and science of bringing our awareness to the moment. It is the practice of experiencing our True Nature, as Pure Awareness.
The Buddha Śakyamuni is said to have advocated the practice of mindfulness in one’s daily activities, as a means of grounding oneself in the calm awareness of the transitory and impermanent nature of all phenomena, one of the key facets of the path to awakening.
But you see, that’s just it… he didn’t say we need to “believe something about mindfulness”. He didn’t even find it necessary to define mindfulness. He simply said we should practice it.
And that’s where the religion of Buddhism fails in a postmodern world.
As we begin our seven-day celebration of Haru no Higan, the Japanese Zen festival of the Vernal Equinox, and our crossing over the river of samsara, our beloved teacher, Khenpo Gurudas Śunyatananda, offers some insights into the legacy generously given to us by our Spiritual & Lineage Ancestors, and the tradition of Zenkondo.
When I made the decision, a few weeks back, to limit my public teaching, and return my focus upon those who are dedicating their lives to the pursuit of the contemplative practice, one of the things that I was forced to do was to dismantle Western Buddhist University, principally because I was unable to gain the support and assistance of Buddhist clergy and teachers from other traditions, to help make the curriculum at WBU an inclusive, open and uniquely relevant, Western expression of the Dharma. And with no administrative assistance, no financial support, and no community involvement, that which was not valued was lost forever.
This journal is intended to serve both as a means of teaching those who are interested, as well as providing the almost daily tutelage that students in our monastic formation program require, as they prepare for ordination. It will be a simpler teaching on the surface, but will stir and awaken much deeper understanding for the student who applies herself or himself.
As a spiritual path, one might call Zenkondo “decentralised”, in that there is no singular authority, principality or Being at the core of the practice. We embrace the divine principle as being beyond our concepts, and boundless in its diversity.
In many ways, we see the institutional religions of the past two millennia, and sadly recognise that what anthropologically emerged as an expression of the people, has nearly always become a corrupt and clericalist mechanism of control and manipulation. Religion, at its roots is always a folk-religion, but when it becomes institutionalised, the superstitions, traditions, rituals and dogma are generally “reinterpreted” to give central power, control and authority to one person or group of persons.
We’ve seen the result of this kind of corruption in the predatory behaviour of the Roman Catholic Church, and in the centuries of violence and torture of the Tibetan people, at the hands of the Tibetan Buddhist ruling class.
On this nineteenth day of the Chinese New Year, there is often a celebration of “The Hundred Gods”, particularly among certain Zen and Taoist practitioners. This celebration is intended to remind the practitioners that they are to honour the gods and traditions of other practitioners, whether they embrace or recognise such gods themselves or not.
I could not help but think about how virulently Westerners seem to attack those whose beliefs are not like their own; especially those of us for whom the god concept us unnecessary. In their pathetic attempts to define themselves, they become threatened by anything that doesn’t fit into the convenient little compartments our culture and society has created for such things.
For practitioners of Zenkondo, our spiritual path should not only reflect spiritual diversity, inclusiveness and warmth, but should encourage it.
Buddha was not a Buddhist, nor was Rav Yeshua a Christian. And given that seven of the Roman Catholic Church’s popes were Jewish, it would seem that we need to take a close look at the exclusionary, intolerant, sectarian assholes we may have become, in the name of religion!
There will be those who say that our path is heretical, and they may indeed be correct. That has never been of any interest or concern to us. What is essential is that we inspire compassion, accepting all others, and recognise that we need not disparage the practice of another, in order to justify our own. We shall always be there to lend a hand to the poor, the suffering, the sick and dying, and to those marginalised by society, religion, family or the world.
When we encounter another in need, they become the central figure in our practice — an opportunity to serve the indwelling divine principle, and to recognise our essential oneness.