Freedom from Religion - Silhouette of person breaking free of the chains of religion

Freedom from Religion

Freedom from religion? Social media, and often times, our press is rife with posts clamouring for so-called “religious rights” — often a thinly veiled justification for a group’s desire to discriminate against others. And while the false claim that this country was founded upon the idea of freedom of religion continues to be embraced by the superstitious, the uneducated and the fundamentalist alike; history reveals that the real bedrock of a progressive society remains those who recognise the importance of freedom from religion.

I have recently come under renewed attack by those who feel that I have somehow betrayed my vocation, by formally renouncing all forms of organised religion. I’ve been called heretic, despicable, evil and my personal favourite, the antichrist by some, and an embarrassment, bad example, and disgrace by others. Most recently, a man who pretends to be a “Catholic priest” (despite having had no proper formation, and highly irregular “holy orders” at best), admonished me that I should “prayerfully consider” the vows I took, fourteen years ago today, when I was consecrated as an archbishop, and sworn to live a life exemplary of our roles as “priest, prophet and king”.

Why is it that my insistence that freedom from religion is an evolutionary leap forward represents such a threat to those who cling to their superstitions, dogma and beliefs so tightly that anyone whose path differs threatens them?


Releasing Toxic Anger

The process of releasing toxic anger is essential if we are going to find peace and forgiveness within ourselves. At times, we might resist doing so, because we somehow feel “justified” in our anger. After all, the indignity with which we believe we were treated was unfair and perhaps even inhumane.

I get it. Having been savagely raped and beaten for more than an hour by four assailants, in 1983, certainly left me feeling violated and angry for many years. But there came a time when that anger no longer served me or any other purpose.

“What is anger?” an enlightened Teacher was once asked. His poignant and powerful response was, “Anger is a punishment we inflict upon ourselves for someone else’s mistake.”


Fire Feeding Upon Fire – The Purpose of Sangha

fireThere is an expression in the Taoist tradition, known as “fire feeding upon fire,” which explains why practitioners of that tradition, like the Buddhist, Hindu and Zenkondo paths, value participation in a community of practitioners, or sangha.

While wood (or another substance) might burn and produce a fire, there is nothing which produces the intensity of energy and illumination that occurs when the fire feeds the fire itself.

Take a single candle, and you can illuminate a room. But bring the wicks of two candles together, that the intensity of the flame grows exponentially.

And so it is with the Dharma path. When we engage our spiritual practice, and begin serving others, with the intention of alleviating suffering and the causes of suffering for ourselves and for all sentient beings, we fill the space around us with illumination — Sacred Light or Pure Awareness — the unquantifiable energy that Einstein refered to as “zeropoint energy” from which all matter arises.

And so the work of the solo practitioner serves the world well.

seshin-tekina_kyokaiBut when we come together and practice as part of an intentional community… When we serve with fuller, more open hearts, because we have united in purpose, in truth and in awareness itself… the space around us, which becomes illuminated is exponentially larger, and we literally fill the multiverse with that Pure Awareness and Light.

The focus of fire feeding fire is not assimilation, but rather integration. Each bringing that which is uniquely their gift to offer, but forgetting the self, and allowing the common good to be served without losing sight of our individual responsibilities, paths, and insights.

The sangha is an opportunity for bring that insight to the table, where we can offer it freely and with pure love, not out of an egoistic need for recognition, but rather as a simple offering… a spiritual tithe, if you will, to be used by the whole community as fuel, or what Ram Das calls “grist for the mill”.

My Root Guru, Ma Jaya, would tell us that the key to longevity of spiritual practice was to learn how to “drink as you pour”.  And that metaphor is simply another metaphor for the Taoist “fire feeding fire”.

“Purify your mind,” Ma would tell us, “with your heart of love.” And when we come together as sangha, that is what we do… We purify our minds, and become One Heart of Love.

Anger – Let It Go

angerThe Buddha is said to have taught, “Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

Anger is part of the experience of life. It’s a benign emotion, which only becomes harmful when we act irrationally upon it.

Practitioners of Zenkondo follow the advice of my beloved Root Guru, Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, who taught us to calmly explain to the person who angered us how that makes us feel, and why.

She would tell us that when you explain your anger, instead of expressing it, we open the door to compassionate solutions, understanding and a deepening of the love that we are, instead of arguments and the battleground of the ego.

Anger left unresolved is as harmful or more harmful than inappropriately expressed anger. For the Enlightened One again reminds us that we are not punished for our anger, but by our anger.

Through the practice of mindfulness we can begin to realise that this journey is not so much about what we gain, but about all that we lose… Anger, Depression, Insecurity, Attachment, Fear, Anxiety and Hatred.

So how do I deal with anger when it arises? Like this…

Not only do I mean that I “let it go”, but when it’s something deep-seated, I find that taking a ten minute walk and listening to music is the simplest, healthiest and most effective way to diffuse the hostility and attachment, leaving me in a frame of mind, where I can think through solutions, and see the other person’s perspective more clearly.

Be well. Breathe. And know that you are loved.



Never Let the Sun Set on Your Anger

1111-averyWhen someone you care about hurts you, you can hold on to anger, resentment and thoughts of revenge — or embrace forgiveness and move forward.

“Never let the sun set on your anger,” my Root Guru, Ma Jaya would tell us, “You don’t want to bring all of that toxic shit into your sleep.”

She was right. Learning to let go of my anger has been one of the most important steps I have ever taken toward liberating myself from my past.


By What Spiritual Authority Do I Teach?

DC-Michelangelo-JeremiahThere exists an interesting misconception, in my opinion, about how things in the spiritual realm operate. The notion of spiritual authority is one of those aberrant ideas that illustrate how far from truth our misconceptions can carry us.

This misconception is neither exclusive to the Abrahamic traditions nor to Eastern Thought, and can be found equally among religious fundamentalists, Buddhist sectarians, and even some whom one would expect to be more intelligent than to play this game.

In a most interesting conversation this afternoon, I was asked by a woman (who is notably affiliated with a powerful religious cult, I mean sect, which is fundamentalist and literalist in nature), “By what spiritual authority do you teach?”

She was, of course, attempting to set me up for a debate on how I could be an apostolic successor and Buddhist abbot, but I was way ahead of her little agenda…

I answered that the sole authority by which I teach is my personal experience.

I neither acknowledge nor answer to any spiritual authority, institution, lineage, person, book or tradition, because nothing outside the fullness of personal spiritual experience is capable of bringing about personal and spiritual transformation or awakening.

That said, I have always gratefully acknowledged the lineages from which my teaching is derived, without whose gracious and very generous teaching, I would not have certainly struggled a great deal more in my own spiritual journey. I view my spiritual lineages, as documented backward to the original disciples of some of the Ascended Masters, as the “family tree” from which the download of wisdom was generously imparted to me.

As such, my lineage becomes akin to DNA, rather than being the source of “authority” or “orthodoxy”. DNA establishes us as legitimate human descendants, but doesn’t give us authority over any other beings. And so it is with our “spiritual DNA”, which lend legitimacy to the spiritual paths we travel, but which grant us neither authority nor supremacy over another sojourner.

dharmalineageI don’t believe the answers anyone seeks can be found anywhere but within themselves, and so I am not a spiritual authority myself, nor do I consider myself as being associated with any institution or religion at all, but rather see my role as that of a spiritual “lamp”, whose sole purpose it to help illuminate the way for the seeker, who chooses and creates the path for themselves.

Not a day passes that I do not offer profound gratitude for the gifts given to me by my Root Guru, Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati; from the holders of the spiritual lineages from which I have gained so much, including Robert Danza Sensei, Lama Thubten Yeshe, Swami Dayananda, Swami Abishiktananda, Maharaji Neem Karoli, Albino Luciano (Pope John Paul I), Dr. Louise L. Hay, Dr. Kennedy Shultz, and so many others.

But that gratitude arises from the Ground of Experience, not from honouring some paper or oral lineage, recognition by this Lama or that Swami. And it also takes its foundations from seeing the good that has demonstrated in the lives and hearts of hundreds, possibly thousands of my students, over the past three decades.

Just as the goldsmith refines the metal to separate the gold from other elements, the spiritual path allows us to separate that which is non-essential from our True Nature as Pure Awareness.

You need no authority to enter the path, because you are the creator of the path, and the path itself.

For the seeker of liberation and awakening, there is nothing to do, but to open your heart, serve those who are hungry and in need, and be still.


The Jade Emperor

Jade_Emperor_(WO3U)On this ninth day of the new year, we commemorate the birth, according to the Taoist tradition, of the Jade Emperor, Yu-huang Shang-ti, who is said to be the Supreme Ruler of the Cosmos.

The Taoist mythos does not embrace the kind of mythological “creator gods”, such as YHVH from the Abrahamic tradition, but instead sees the Supreme Ruler of the Cosmos as an anthropomorphic representation of the compassion, right action and mindfulness with which balance and awakening is achieved, to which we should all aspire. Our understanding of the “creation” is that the universe came into existence from the union of matter (Ki) and movement (Li) which, according to the principle of yin and yang, infinitely alternate to produce the five elements of metal, wood, water, fire and earth.


Reflecting Back Over the Past Thirty-two Years

dc-gmAt times, it seems hard to believe that it’s been that long, but reflecting back over the past thirty-two years since I took my vows, on the night that Franciscan Companions of the Immaculata (which would later become the Contemplative Order of Compassion), has been a bittersweet journey.

I couldn’t imagine doing things any differently, and can honestly say that it has been a humbling privilege to have walked this path for a little more than three decades.

Our lives were entrusted to the Divine Mother, whose embodiment of the Immaculate Heart of Mary would remind us that a life of surrender to the Dharma, and serving those who suffer was the path to which we’d been dedicated body, mind and soul. It wouldn’t always be the easiest path, and it would require untold sacrifices, but it was the only path I could imagine for myself.

1972copyThis special day reminds me of so many people who served along side of us, but especially of the three co-founding brothers, and the fourth, who would join us shortly thereafter. They’ve all left their bodies now, as have the two bishops who presided with me over the community in those earlier days.

A few months after my profession of vows, I met my upa-guru, Lama Thubten Yeshe for the first time (in this life), and it would be some years later, that Lama Yeshe would point me in the direction of meeting my Root Guru, Ma Jaya (Tenzin Yangchen Ma).

Nine years of serving as the abbot six monastic houses, and 29 years of serving as the spiritual director of the Order itself, brought me into direct contact with so many dedicated men and women, for whose service to the sick, the poor and the dying I will always be grateful. Some left us to pursue more traditional paths. Others left because they didn’t find the demands of monastic/ordained life suitable. Still others, lacking the commitment to their practice, couldn’t handle the decimation of ego and the demands of accountability, and felt like they were being “picked-on”. All will remain my spiritual children for lifetimes.

At one time, students fought over who would do what, to personally and financially support the work we’re doing. Today, only one student donates all that she possibly can. The others all have convenient excuses for why they do nothing to support our work. And that has severely limited the reach of that work around the country. Yet through this medium, I can continue to try to inspire others to do what they can to alleviate suffering, and teach them to recognise the causes and conditions in their own minds, which create that experience of suffering, so that they might eliminate them in themselves.

For those precious few who still walk the path in these degenerate times, I thank you. And for the one, precious child, who continues to support our work, I offer my heart-felt gratitude and love.


Compassion and Wisdom in the Zenkondo Tradition

WisdomWhen we imagine that wisdom and compassion are somehow separate qualities we develop or adopt, we are caught up in delusion, for these two qualities are the essence of the Enlightened Mind itself.

If we attempt to cultivate wisdom, without compassion, we are left with meaningless platitudes and intellectual masturbation. The Tao tells us that without compassion, “(W)isdom degenerates into an escapist entanglement in concepts, theories and dogmas.” (In other words, wisdom without compassion degenerates into religion.)