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?

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Our Purpose

As we begin a new year, we’ve begun to contemplate once more what it is that our community strives to bring to the world.

A recent discussion yielded some interesting insights. Before we were able to really unpack our purpose, most of us were very clear in our minds about what we did not wish to represent, and who we were not:

  • Our purpose is not to represent religion or other forms of superstition, no matter how popular and profitable those things might appear.
  • We are not interested in hierarchical structure or governance.
  • We do not seek to draw more lines in the sand.
  • We do not consider ourselves as belonging to any one country, state or nation.

We fundamentally believe that every moment can lead to value. And that the discovery of value within ourselves and others is one of the highest purposes to which we can subscribe as a society. We hold that each of us can transform society, by living in the world as peaceful revolutionaries — who serve the needs of those less fortunate, and who bring value to one another in every transactional encounter.

Our purpose, as secular humanists and New Thought practitioners, is to free ourselves from those things which divide us, and to embrace that which recognises our essential unity. For us, it’s not about freedom of religion, which we see as an important right for all persons… it’s about freedom from religion, that we devote our efforts and resources to creating.

We believe that a truly purpose-driven life is one that is informed by its past, not hostage to it. As Rick Warren puts it, “Experience is not what happens to you. It is what you do with what happens to you. Don’t waste your pain; use it to help others.” (The Purpose Driven Life)

We do not need to pretend that we are healers, because no one has ever healed another, and no one ever will. Healing arises from within, and is an organic process of becoming more aware of the innate balance that is our True Nature (homeostasis). We do not need to be priests or prophets, for the world needs no more professional hypocrites, predators or charlatans. It’s had more than enough of those over the past several millennia. We do not need to be in the spotlight, because the most important work is always done in secret and quietude.

We choose to be decentralised… fluid… post-denominational… rebels and revolutionaries of Love Itself.

Remembering My Friend, Louise Hay

Next to my Root Teacher, Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, there has likely been no one else in my life who has had a more profound impact on my personal and spiritual growth than my friend and teacher of eleven years, Dr. Louise L. Hay.

I first met Louise in 1987, shortly after being released from the hospital with a rare form of pneumonia for the second time. Four years earlier, I was brutally attacked, raped and beaten by four men in South Florida.

At the time, I was a young Franciscan-Buddhist contemplative, walking back to the monastery, when these men, who themselves had endured unthinkable discrimination and abuse at the hands of the police, since immigrating to this country, left me for dead on the streets of Hollywood, Florida.

But it would be in another Hollywood… this time West Hollywood, California, that my friend (and major crush) Louis Nassany, would take me and my boyfriend, Ronn, to a beautiful, poised and unassuming woman’s apartment on Santa Monica Boulevard, where about 20-30 other men were sitting, standing, and hanging on her every word, as she talked about our capacity for healing our lives.

Two weeks later, we were in a community centre in West Hollywood, and there were over 75 guys, then 90, and then more than 100 of us gathered for what had become known as “the Hay Rides”.

We were most men living with the dis-ease that had become known AIDS, and we were fighting for our lives.

Soon, the eighteen months in which doctors said I would be dead had come and gone. I’d begun healing my relationship with my family, with my spiritual tradition, and for the first time in my life, began unapologetically living a more authentic, loving and vibrant life as an openly-gay man.

Everything in my life began to become more “whole” during the eleven years that Louise was my teacher. Her monthly cards and letters encouraged me, inspired me, and resulted in my being privileged to become the founder of the Zenkondo Centre, and host of a weekly radio show, “Inner Alchemy – the Science of Spiritual Living”.

This morning, August 30th, 2017, my beloved friend, teacher and inspiration to millions, Louise L. Hay transitioned from this life in her sleep, at the age of ninety.

She will be missed, and her legacy will live on for generations.

Moving from Resentment to Forgiveness

CaptureToday, I choose to shift my focus from resentment toward forgiveness. I recognise that forgiveness is a gift I give to myself. It is an opportunity for me to release the energy that holds me hostage, and distracts me from growth. As I forgive myself, it becomes easier to forgive others.

Each moment is an opportunity for me to release a limiting belief or fear, and to forgive myself for holding me back from experiencing the full potential of that moment in the past.

I know that my experiences are the result of my thoughts. And without a need for blame, I recognise that there are times my thoughts take a less productive turn. And that’s alright, because it’s part of the experience of learning. But I also realise that I am free to choose new thoughts.

forgiveAnd so today, I choose thoughts which free me from the decisions of my past… which bring new possibilities and reinvigorate my journey, rather than distracting me from it.

I let go of resentment I have felt toward those who have let me down. I release the need to punish those who have hurt me. I know they were doing the best they could, and their mediocrity and lack of commitment is their business… their lesson to learn… not mine.

I am limited only by the barriers I create in consciousness. And so I release those barriers now, and recognise my essential nature as Pure Awareness.

Today, I allow ease and compassion to guide my thoughts and energise my actions. I celebrate the limitless potential that exists in the present moment, and choose to mindfully turn my awareness to that moment… to live from that place alone… which is the source of my power and potential.

I forgive myself and others effortlessly, and let go of the old stories that held me captive.

The wisdom of the Buddha points out that holding onto anger is like holding onto hot coals, but hoping that the other person is the one who feels the pain. It’s like drinking poison, and expecting the other person to die from it. And so it’s time for me to let go of these foolish endeavors and resentments.

I’ve allowed another to hold the pen that was writing my story. Today, I choose to write a NEW STORY, in my own hand…

And as that story unfolds the joy and abundance that are my birthright begins to express in every experience… every turn.

Forgiveness comes easy and release gently follows.

Finding Clarity in the Midst of Terror

terrorI won’t pretend to understand why some New Thought and Dharma teachers have gone silent about the concerns that so many are facing right now, especially in the United States.

I’ve personally been dismissed by some of them, when I shared that I too struggle with emotions that are very real, over the prospects of one of the most dangerous sociopaths this world has seen since Adolf Hitler taking office in one of the most powerful roles in the Western World.

Sometimes I think it’s that they don’t know what to say, and are not really willing to allow themselves to go down that road. That’s where New Thought gets a bit mixed up with New Age fluff — where we pretend that we have to think all unicorns and rainbows and everything will be magically OK.

fearThe difficulty I have with that is that magick can be a temporary fix, where the transformative power of the Science of Spiritual Living is permanent and universal in scope.

I also think that sometimes experience (or lack thereof) plays a role, as does a fear of being controversial and unpopular. Those whose White Privilege has never caused them to experience real prejudice or oppression might not have the personal framework with which to truly empathise with the men and women whose civil rights and human rights are at stake.

This doesn’t mean that those teachers are not concerned, nor that they wouldn’t be first to step forward and stand on the front lines with us in solidarity. But when the going gets tough, I don’t honestly believe I can count on them not to turn and run either.

So where do we go from here?

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A New Year begins…

black_buddhaAs a new year begins, I am reminded of something the Enlightened One once taught his students,

“An enemy can hurt an enemy, and one who hates another can harm him; but one’s own mind, if wrongly directed and undisciplined, can do far greater harm than either of these.”

Are you willing to discipline your mind in 2015?

There is a prescription in the Tao, which says, “Kneel down, open your heart and hands. Give. Only emptied hands can then receive.”

If we take the time to still ourselves, and enter the fullness of the present moment, where our hearts, minds and hands can open and offer the world whatever we can to alleviate suffering, we free ourselves of those attachments, which may be preventing us from receiving the abundance that is our birthright.

We’ve all made mistakes in the past. Some of us have run away from our spiritual practices, when we didn’t like how uncomfortable it became to be held accountable. Others turned their back on community, when we couldn’t have our way. Some didn’t want to give up the extravagance of our materialistic world, or the abuse we were putting our bodies and minds through, and so we pushed our spiritual practice out of the picture.

None of that matters right now.

We are given a new opportunity in this present moment to step back onto the path. We have the beauty of this moment to make new choices, and to forgive ourselves and others, so that those things we cling to… which cause our hands to be so tightly clenched… can be released, and our open palms can receive the good that has been waiting for us all along.

Karmapa_prayer

And that is why, each year, on January 1st, and again at the start of the Lunar Year (Chinese New Year), we open the doors to our contemplative community and welcome back anyone who has previously gotten off-track, taken a break, or walked away.

No need for explanations. No need for apologies or drama. You are and always have been welcome here.

This year is especially poignant, because the Contemplative Order of Compassion will begin a new chapter in its organic unfolding and evolution, and for this reason, we want to welcome home anyone who is ready to help redefine what it means to be a post-denominational, post-religious, contemplative community, dedicated to sustainable living, the six dimensions of wellness and cultivating the disciplined mind.

Jai Ma!

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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.

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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.