"Mindfulness and Meditation allow us to open our hearts, relax our bodies, and clear our minds enough to experience the vast, mysterious, sacred reality of life directly. With Practice we come to know for ourselves that eternity is available in each moment.

Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call:
Musings on Life and Practice
by a Longtime Student of Meditation

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Promises. Promises.

Each of you is perfect the way you are ... and you can use a little improvement.”
Suzuki Rosh

“Daily sitting is our bread and butter, the basic stuff of dharma. 
Without it we tend to be confused.”
Charlotte Joko Beck

Back in the day, there were quite a few of us that were drawn to Zen because of its seemingly irreverent and iconoclastic tenor and tone.  

To a bunch of 1960's hippies, peaceniks, and radicals, the traditional tales of zen monks seemed "right on!"
Those dudes were kicking over water jugs, writing poems lauding drunkeness, unabashedly proclaiming that Buddha was a "shit stick", raising all sorts of hell.  Those Zennies were our kind of people.

Little did I know...

Once I actually connected with a teacher and a sangha, a different reality emerged.  I found that the foundation of Zen Buddhism, like that of other spiritual traditions throughout the world, rests squarely on a set of rules.  Rather than becoming a member of another tribe of free form hippies, Zen training meant making a personal commitment to a teacher, and observing a clear set of vows and precepts.  
When I ordained with Thich Nhat Hanh's Tien Hiep Order, there were the Three Jewels and the 5 Mindfulness Trainings as preliminaries.  Then we received the 14 Training vows of the Order.  In the White Plum Sanghas I practiced with, I was faced with Taking Refuge in the Triple Gems, the Four Bodhisattva Vows, the Three Pure Precepts, and the 10 Essential Precepts. .


Jeez.  Growing up I only had to worry about the Ten Commandments! Now? This was somewhere near twice as many rules.  So much for "doing your own thing!"

Or so it seemed. 
Reality Asserts Itself
Decades and decades down the road, I've come to understand the nature of commitment differently.   

Although I have maintained a commitment to a daily morning sitting practice for almost half a century, and I recite the 4 Bodhisattva Vows (in one form or another) most every day,  I've found that spiritual practice isn't about following a specific code of conduct.  Practice really isn't about being a "good" person as opposed to being a "bad" person.
It's deeper than that. 
At a certain point, I discovered that Practice doesn't involve striving to achieve some ideal state that is fundamentally separate from the reality of day to day life.  In fact, I saw that my own grasping at "enlightenment" was a stumbling block. It was the cause of a lot of suffering -- for myself and others. It called for a type of perfectionism that just put more energy into the egotism that it sought to discard. 
The Practice is simply about lightening up and being real. 

The fundamental commitment is to engage life wholeheartedly.  This means simply being Present, moment to moment, with as much kindness, compassion, curiosity, and clarity as I can muster.  I'm either right here firing on all cylinders -- or I'm missing in action. If I'm paying attention, I'll notice.  I'll  sense the difference.*  

It's just that simple.  
Yet -- as any of you who have tried this knows -- simple doesn't mean easy.  It takes a commitment over a period of time, effort -- and patience.  Lots of patience.  A lifetime of conditioning in the midst of a society driven by materialism and distorted beliefs has tied us up in knots.
With Practice, I've found that those knots will free themselves
Toward the One

Over the years, it's become clear to me.   
Practice isn't just a Buddhist thing.  I've met Jews and Christians and Hindus and Native Americans, and Muslims who are on the same page. You can see it in their eyes.  You can feel it in their Presence.  Heck, I've even had friends who call themselves atheists who do a better job of being a kind presence and positive force in the world than some self-professed "religious" types.  It's not about clinging to a dogma.
It's something deeper than that. It's beyond belief.

The invitation to a life of Practice rings through all the world's mystical wisdom traditions.  Like life itself, Practice flows from and returns to the One Love that permeates Reality.  It's a verb, not a noun.  Once we turn away from all the distractions and sit quietly, we can feel it stirring in our Heart of Hearts.  We yearn to experience Wholeness, our True Nature as human beings.   
The good news is we can.  
Yet, once you taste the Real Deal, you know that we are all in this together.  In fact, we are all this, together.  So, you get up and figure out what you can do to alleviate some of the suffering in the world.
Jesus, in the tradition of Jewish prophets, cut it to the chase.  Rather than the 613 rules spelled out in Torah, he pared Practice down to two essential commitments:
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself."  
Once I let go of the idea that God is a Loving and Just Being, and opened my heart and mind to reality of God as Just Being Love -- the words of Jesus of Nazareth work just fine for me.  So do the teachings of the Buddha, the poetry of Rumi, Lao Tzu, and Walt Whitman.  So does a sunrise or sunset.  Or the sparkle in a child's eyes.
So, at age 77, most every morning, I spend a few moments exploring Yeshua's Prayer in Aramaic as taught by Sufi teacher Neil Douglas-Klotz.  Then, I pray and bow to the four directions as I learned to do from a Native American friend years ago.  Then, as I've done most every day for nearly half a century, I bow to the Zafu, turn, and bow to all sentient beings.  
Then I Just Sit Still.
Then, the bell rings on the iPhone.  I recite the four Bodhisattva Vows that first hooked me 50 years ago when I read them in Hey Beatnik.   (I blogged about this HERE)
Reality Holds Great Promise. 

At this stage of the journey, it's often quite clear to me that the vast, spacious, mysterious One Love that permeates the Universe simply is.   It is inseparable from Life itself. 
I've learned to trust that.
Even when I don't have a clue about what to do, Life is always just being Life.  Flowers bloom.  Flowers fade and die.   
Opening my heart to embrace Life (and Death) as it is, is the fundamental commitment.  More often than not these days, the "right thing" simply does itself. 

At this point, my life is Practice.  The choice to be made, if it is a choice at all, is to embrace each moment with as much kindness, compassion and clarity as I can.  Oftentimes, this just means I need to get out of my head, take a conscious breath or two, relax a  bit, open my heart, mind, and senses -- and really pay attention to the Present Moment.  There, the promise made is, in itself, the promise fulfilled.
 I can live -- and die -- with that.

* Of course, sometimes there may not be an "I" to notice. That may be even sweeter. 


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