There 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.
But 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.
There is a Taoist insight that tells us that something is never truly yours until you let it go. And that has, over the years, seemed to be one of the biggest stumbling blocks for students I’ve taught.
One of the things the feral wisdom tradition has always included was the experience of the teacher challenging the student’s attachments, in what often appears (to the student) to be an attempt to take away those things they most cherish.
Sometimes, it occurs by appearing to chastise the monastic, who spends more time in front of the TV or their computer, playing, than they do serving the poor, studying the Dharma or engaging in meaningful spiritual practice.
Other times, it involves asking a student to step outside their comfort space, and to undertake a new project with focused intensity, which might mean less time for doing the things they’re accustomed to doing with their spare time.
And then there are times when the opportunity to make a financial commitment to support the Dharma work, or take care of someone in financial need presents itself as that challenge, because it means less money for happy hour, that bag of weed, or the latest tech toy or shopping spree.
And it’s often disappointing to see that when students and monastics, who will always occupy a precious place in the heart of the guru, refuse to let go, and many times, simply walk away from the teaching, or in more extreme and self-sabotaging cases, to sever their connection with the teacher entirely, pretending the teacher was too demanding, or not respectful of their unhealthy, unwholesome choices and lacklustre commitment to personal and spiritual development.
Imagine if you were that you lived somewhere in Middle Earth, as an apprentice to a wise and powerful wizard, who possessed the secrets of the universe, and the key to your never suffering again.
Imagine that this wizard told you that all you would need to have a happy, satisfying and meaningful life was contained in the little silk pouch, he was about to entrust to you.
When you returned to your home, deep in the forest of Spiritual Practice, you opened the pouch, and discovered in it were a handful of seeds, and small piece of paper with the words, “It’s not yours until you let it go…” emblazoned on it.
Now you have a choice…
You can cling to that pouch, containing the greatest and most powerful magic in all the land, and you can hide it where no one else will see it… You will know that you possess the secrets of the universe, and the key to universal happiness. It’s yours. The wizard gave it to you.
You can then go on with your mundane existence, buying things, over-indulging in food, sex, drugs, or whatever, never acknowledging that the only reason you’re doing those things is to either seek some external form of happiness or to avoid having to deal with something you perceive as painful and unpleasant.
And in so doing, you will, in reality, possess nothing.
Or you can do what very few have the wisdom and courage to do…
You can read that scroll of paper, and awaken to the simple truth that in order to truly possess the secrets of the universe, and manifest real happiness in your life and the lives of others, you have to let it go…
You have to drop that handful of seed into the fertile soil of the Dharma, and then nourish it with sunshine (meditation), water (spiritual study with a qualified master) and tend to the soil itself (serving those who are suffering). Only then will those seeds become anything of real value, and provide you with the secrets of the universe.
Fortunately for us, it doesn’t matter if we’ve lost that bag of magical seeds, or somehow betrayed or rejected the qualified teacher, who entrusted them to us. When the time has come for the student to re-engage, and to take their practice to the next level, a truly compassionate and qualified Dharma master will always welcome them back.
So ultimately, as with all things in this life, the responsibility and point of power is within YOU. When you are ready to possess the secrets of the universe, that realisation is within your grasp. You need only be serious enough to get your priorities in order, and be ready to let it all go.
Don’t worry, letting go doesn’t deprive you of your precious recreational time. The television will still be there. And you will have time to watch it. Your bars, your bong and your other recreational diversions will still be ready for you to indulge, if you so desire. Those things will not have changed… But YOU will have changed…
…and that is where the MAGIC begins.
Note: You can plant that first seed by showing your appreciation for and support of our work among the poor, the marginalised and the hurting, by making a donation here.
During the time of spiritual attack or psychic oppression, it can be helpful to call upon the Universal Mind in the form of mantrayana, to restore balance.
Each of us is an energetic being — an expression of the One, Beloved, the Ek Ong Kaar — and as energetic beings, our thoughts take the form of energy.
If you find that a person or persons are consistently directly negative energy your way, creating what is called a spiritual attack or psychic attack, this mantra is a simple, but powerful way to reflect that energy back upon the one or ones from whom it originates.
“Alak Baba Siri Chand Di Rakh”
Yogi Bhajan would teach us that this mantra calls upon the assistance of Baba Siri Chand, who was the son of Guru Nanak, the first Guru of the Sikhs. Baba Siri Chand was a devoted yogi who renounced the world in favour of spiritual practice. I have always had a special affinity for Baba Siri Chand, from my teens onward.
He would accompany me (in my heart)on my walks around the ashram during the periods between 2 AM and 3 AM, when I would begin Kali puja on the Mother’s Path. He would sit with me in my heart when I sat in the Gurdwara and chanted the Mul Mantra on Kashi’s sacred grounds.
Mindful of what’s taking place around me and mine tonight, I lift my voice and chant, “Alak Baba Siri Chand Di Rakh!”
The 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.
As 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.
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.
When we speak of awareness of the Path, we sometimes become distracted, and imagine that the Path is all that matters.
This mindset can get us in trouble. We might believe that wisdom, compassion, virtue and service are the foundation of our Dharma practice, and that is as it should be. But we must also realise that these four pillars, when erected upon the bedrock of concentration, are merely the means of getting to what the Guru ultimately desired for his students.
I pray your Path will always be well-lit, by the heart of the Guru. I pray that you are blessed with joy and abundance, and that you will always generously share from that joy and abundance, as you make your way from the Dharma to Enlightenment.
It is my hope that this Path of Zenkondo — the Primordial Way of Compassion — will continue to inspire you to serve with a full heart… to love… and to remain deeply rooted in the moment.
There 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.
I 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.
This teaching is especially dedicated to my Root Guru, Tenzin Yangchen (Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati Santa Maharajni), to my brother monks, Gen Lozang Gyaltsen, H.E. tsem Tulku Rinpoche, Jampal Vajra Changko Braveheart, our novices, Adam Whiteman, Kalisvara Jaya, and my beloved Jampal Choden, as well as with fond thoughts and blessings to former members of the community, Michael and Amy Johnson, and members of our lay sangha, Pema Khandro, Janet McEnany, Sandy Cagle, and the monks, nuns and clergy who make up our extended spiritual sangha.
May this celebration of the spiritual resurrection of the Cosmic Christ within us all inspire new birth and a personal transformation for you and those you touch.