In order to apply the basic tenets of this way of life, it’s a good idea to understand some of the foundational ideas upon which this Middle Way, Zenkondo, as we call it, is built.
For much of recorded human history, we find there are often two common belief systems at the extreme, polar-opposites of one another.
On one side, we have those who subscribe to a belief in some sort of supernatural or divine being, who creates, controls and commands all things. In most religious paths, there is some tendency toward believing that our ultimate purpose is to somehow become reunited with this divine being in a sort of “eternal life”.
More often than not, this divine being is perceived as superhuman – having personality and human-like characteristics, but somehow existing throughout time and eternity. And those subscribing to such beliefs are often vehement in their conviction that they are somehow among the “chosen ones”.
This sort of absolutism and exclusivity doesn’t seem to be very helpful in our quest for relieving suffering. It also fails to address the questions raised by intelligence, science and rational investigation.
On the other side of the spectrum, there have always been those whose view seems to be entirely nihilistic. Since there is no way of scientifically proving the existence of a soul or of divine beings, and since the five elements from which human beings are composed, deteriorate and dissolve after death, those who subscribe to this other extreme view, most commonly perceived as atheists, often believe that consciousness, morality and ethics are social constructs, and that there is no reason to have to buy-into such conventions, other than abiding within the societal construct itself.
Just like the theistic approach, this philosophy of nihilism is not useful in terms of relieving suffering.
Now it is not our intention to debate which, if either of these two philosophies have any value or use in the lives of their adherents. We are certain that there are volumes of books already in print, which do a respectable job at tackling such matters.
Again, such issues are not of particular interest or concern for us personally, since the vows our consecrated members (monastics) took as Buddhist monks, and as a Franciscan contemplatives, are solely focused on alleviating suffering in the world.
There are aspects of both of these belief systems that have historically contributed in significant ways to attitudes and actions that have caused immense suffering, but we affirm equally that it would be as difficult to convince religious adherents to abandon religious beliefs on that basis, as it would be to convince a pig to wear stiletto heels and perform at Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
According to tradition, both Buddha Śakyamuni and Jesus the Nazarene appear to have embraced an equally “Middle Way” approach. Both showed disdain for the hypocrisy and extremism of the “right-wingers” of their particular cultures. Both also showed disapproval of the nihilistic and materialistic attitudes of their versions of the “far-left”.
And so it is for us. We embrace a Middle Way… a way that begins with awareness of our own self-created captivity, and which recognises the sometimes obscured true nature of life. A way in which we come to terms with the way things are, without judgment, and affirm a simple means of reclaiming our sovereign right to liberation. Notice here that we do not arrogantly refer to our path as “the” Middle Way, because we believe the Essence of Middle must leave room for interpretation, expression and diversity.
One of the exciting things about this path is that it is non-dogmatic, and therefore, allows for the individual to discover his or her own path, depending on where they are right now, in their own journey inward.
For some, the gateway to discovering their relief from the cycle of suffering might be through understanding the truth of impermanence; for others, it might be by immersion into a path of compassionate service. Some will discover their freedom by learning to forgive; while others will find the richness of emptiness to be the doorway to healing.
As we begin to look at the foundational ideas of Zenkondo, we have to recognise that this approach is beyond the kinds of spiritual approaches we find in religion. Religionists and atheists concern themselves with the existence or non-existence of divine beings, with the questions of how the universe was created, and with whether or not there is such a thing as eternal life.
Our approach looks at the more important questions, without which the questions of the religionists and atheists would be inconsequential and meritless. We want to know how to overcome the problems and difficulties in life, which lead to suffering.
These questions are easily adaptable to any personal spiritual tradition, and work perfectly and equally in the absence of such spiritual traditions. Therefore, they are universal, and universally important.
In the discourses of the historical Buddha, known as the sutras, we read of something referred to as the “four reliances” — four brilliant statements made by the Buddha, encouraging critical inquiry and rational investigation by the seeker:
Do not rely on individuals, rely on the teachings.
Do not rely on the words, rely on the meaning of the words.
Do not rely on the adapted meaning, rely on the ultimate meaning.
Do not rely on intellectual knowledge, rely on wisdom.
In 1983, Khenpo Gurudas Śunyatananda (Dr. F. Gianmichael Salvato) began to use a phrase to describe his spirituality, when doing workshops, addressing groups such as the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, and the Society of Friends. Years later, this same term, “integral spirituality” would be co-opted, commercialised, and some would say, “beat harder than a runaway slave” by those attempting to make a name for themselves in the world of pop-psychology.
Yet the dictionary definition of the word “integral” remains clear:
“comprehensive, balanced, inclusive, essential for wholeness or completeness”.
Beyond the scope of interspiritual dialogue, beyond ecumenical movements and vision of the beautiful Unitarian Universalist and Quaker Universalist ideals, there is, according to Khenpo, an approach to spirituality that embraces the core values and truths of all spiritual quests, including the quest of the secular humanist. It is inclusive and comprehensive, open and non-dogmatic. It touches on the very heart of this elusive idea we call spirituality, and has been experienced by some of the most beloved teachers, mystics, poets, and lovers of all times.
Like Thomas Merton, Anthony de Mello, Swami Rama, Teresa d’Avila, Francesco di Berdone, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Louise Hay, Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, Thich Nhat Hanh, Siri Singh Sahib Harbhajan (Yogi Bhajan), and even more contemporary visionaries, like Garret John LoPorto, Khenpo recognised that what society tells most of us is “wrong” with us, is actually what is pure and right with us.
And so it was from this spirit of the irrepressible spirit of wisdom, that the Zenkondo Journey, and this teaching, has been born.
This foundational approach, which admonishes us to look deeper than the apparent teachings, until we discover for ourselves, the ultimate wisdom of any spiritual path or teaching, was something that was impressed upon me at an early age, when my first spiritual teacher, a Benedictine monk, named Swami Abiśektananda, read to me the words of the great Buddhist poet and mystic, Milarepa, who said:
“Everyone must follow their own spiritual path. Heal yourself, good physician monk; then you will naturally heal others. My teaching is mine; yours must be yours. Do whatever is necessary in order to evoke it from within.”
And in the words of our abbot and spiritual director, Khenpo Gurudas, “Our spiritual heritage comes from the rich early Catholic and U.S. Episcopalian traditions, the esoteric Buddhist, Advaita and Taoist philosophies, and from the progressive, New Thought movement; and yet it is uniquely and wholly our own… a work in progress… a community of sojourners, seeking a world in which our god is Love, our religion is Compassion, and our path is the path of Service.”
OUR UNIVERSAL GUIDING PRINCIPLES
- There is one eternal Creative Impulse in this universe, comprised of the Cosmic Mind (Pure Awareness) which is the source of all creativity, love, wisdom, intelligence, and light; and we affirm One Universal Law, through which all form is manifested and sustained;
- This eternal Creative Source is everywhere; in, around and through all;
- Everything is interconnected and interdependent. Separation and loss are an illusion, and everything exists in this Oneness;
- We are each directly connected with Creative Intelligence in spirit and form through meditation, prayer, contemplation, thought, word, and deed. We are a unique blend of the realms of light and form, a manifestation of Pure Awareness, which the primitive called “a soul” having a human experience;
- We are each a unique expression of this One Universal and Pure Awareness and possess unique gifts with unlimited potential and power in the present, here and now…”I AM”;
- The Universe is eternally expanding and we are each continually co-creating as living expressions of the Creative Source within;
- The Universal Law manifests, in form, what we place into the Law by our words, thoughts, visualisations, prayers, and actions;
- For us to build and maintain a truly balanced & creative life, it is important that we are each grounded in what we know to be True, informed through the honest pursuit of Wisdom and Understanding, and a practice of Compassion, Equanimity and Loving Kindness toward all.
To achieve these goals, our philosophy encourages each person to identify, develop and incorporate their own individual Core Values and Guiding Principles.
Our Spiritual Practices
Affirmative prayer centers us in the awareness of ever-present good and consciously connects us with the Divine Creative Power within. Rather than invoking an external power or deity, affirmative prayer evokes a state of consciousness within one’s mind conducive to the manifestation of health, wealth, happiness and good relationships. This type of prayer is sometimes called spiritual mind treatment to highlight that we are dealing with a power that is within our own minds.
Meditation helps to quiet the mind and instill a sense of inner peace. You can explore the many types of meditation to find one that resonates with you.
Self-Inquiry. Most people simply believe the thoughts that occur to them. The problem with that is that some thoughts are false and limiting which is the cause of all negative emotion. Self-inquiry is a process of identifying the thoughts causing your negative emotion and coming to see the truth about what you are thinking. Once you realize a thought is false, you can no longer believe it and the negative emotion associated with it vanishes.
Our intention is to be a diverse spiritual community were the energy of unconditional love uplifts and heals, which seeks to empower people through the teaching of universal spiritual principles, while being a presence for compassion and goodness in the world.
Statement of Inclusion
We honor diversity in religious background, age, race, ethnicity, gender, orientation, economic status, education and ability. A loving embrace is extended to all who wish to explore the practical application of universal spiritual principles. You and your family are welcome here!