Archive | November, 2015


In Zen, gratitude is an important devotional practice. We can find a context for gratitude–which can make our practice come alive–by contemplating one of our Zen ancestors, Dogen Zenji’s sayings from The Shobogenzo: “When one attains the Way, the Way is always left to the Way.” When the Way is left to the Way, there is no need to add anything, seek anything or move away from anything that is happening. We are totally immersed in the Way, with the vitality of awareness. The Way is also called the great emptiness or the great fullness. The great fullness is so full that we cannot find anything separate from it. We cannot find any thing at all.

Brother David Steindl-Rast describes gratefulness as great fullness. We are grateful that the Great Spirit shares its great fullness of life with us. What a relief not to have any place to put our ego, it has no seaparate existence of its own. The ego can be thought of as a cipher, huge as an ocean within us that sucks up all our energy. What a relief to release some of that pent-up energy and offer it to the buddhas. As profound as our offering, so inexhaustible is the gratitude of the buddhas for our willingness to share our lives with them. With enormous fullness, they receive our offerings.

When we realize this, in the depth of our being we feel that all of our experience is welcomed as expressions of the wholeness of life. Realizing we are always unconditionally welcomed, we learn to welcome life unconditionally.

Of course there are some events we cannot summon up gratitude for; but these are truly opportunities to open up as much as we can to the great fullness. Regardless of our limitations, the buddhas are just as thankful for our best efforts. From the viewpoint of the buddhas, their fullness includes our limitations. We only need to cultivate the ability to see our catastrophes as opportunities.

So we leave the Way to the Way. And we can be grateful that the Way leaves us to us. The sun is an equal opportunity provider, rising each morning, shining on everything with its peaceful warmth, revealing everything just as it is. Likewise the light of the Way shines equally on all its creations, leaving us to us. As we learn to expose ourselves more and more to the gifts of this life, we gradually realize our oneness. We realize that in leaving us to us, the Way offers us everything.

Let our gratitude extend to the opportunities presented by others. Let us see how upset and frustrated we still become when someone offends us in a way that pushes our buttons of pain and fear. Let us see how taking offense is the same as giving offense. So we can cultivate a spirit of thank-you-very-much for providing this opportunity, painful as it may be. And thank you very much, buddhas, for providing others with a chance to give us these opportunities. Thank you very much, buddhas, for giving us a way to overcome our fears of exposure to the great unknown. Thank you, buddhas, for giving others the opportunity to receive the gift of our response. Confucius  has on old saying: ‘When you observes virtuous behavior, emulate it. When you observe harmful selfish behavior, look at yourself.’ May we all learn to heed Confucius’ advice, and in our anger or denial, look to ourselves.

Thich Nhat Hanh has a saying: The world of suffering and discrimination is filled with the light of the rising sun. Meditating with the light of the rising sun can be a wonderful opportunity to embody the depths of this saying. We can be grateful for our spirit of inquiry. We can be grateful for our willingness to embody the big questions of life, including our death. We are gifted with the ability to embody them in a lighthearted way, with our heart full of light.



The Compassionate Heart of Death

In talking about the willingness to actually be all experience in my last post, I later reflected on how this probably seems to be a very radical view to almost all people, including myself. I feel unworthy of making bold statements like these, though in my heart there is a growing sense of compassion for our predicament of realizing the necessity of saying what needs to be said in the face of fear. The need for courage is now even more evident given the recent horrors in Paris; the terrorists are so terrified in the depths of their being, that they rationalize attempts to sow as much panic and terror among their perceived enemies as possible.

I’ve been reading a bit about Krishna Das, the musician whose devotional songs have inspired so many people. His guru is Neem Karoli Baba, Maharajji, Ram Dass’ guru. He was gifted with a few days of precious time with him several months before his death. He related an encounter with Maharajji which speaks very powerfully to me of the presence of courage in the face of fear:

We were together with our eyes closed for a long time. All of a sudden Maharajji sits up, looks at me, and says, ‘Courage is a really big thing’. All I could think was, ‘What’s gonna happen? I don’t think I can deal with it!’

The other devotee present said, ‘Oh but Baba, God takes care of his devotees.’

Maharajji shot him a look, then looked back at me, and said, ‘Courage is a really big thing.’ And he closed his eyes again.

I had no idea what it meant. Not a clue. But there have been a few times in my life when all I had to hold onto was the memory of his saying that. There was no possibility of courage, no possibility of action, I was completely lost, completely drowning, but I had the barest memory of his saying that . . and it was enough.

When we can intimately relate with the experience of completely drowning with no possibility of doing anything, we’re touching our deepest fear, the fear of death, the death of who and what we think we are. We all have an intellectual realization that we’re going to die, but very few of us know it’s really going to happen, until some tragedy, or fatal prognosis makes it painfully obvious that it actually is happening. The willingness to stay present with this fear, is the gift of courage. The power of courage is the power to allow the transformation of fear into loving compassion. Sogyal Rinpoche, the author of the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying said:

When we finally know we are dying, and all other beings are dying along with us, we start to have a burning, almost heart breaking sense of the fragility, and preciousness of each moment and each being, and from this can grow a deep, clear, limitless compassion for all beings.

I had never fully appreciated the depth of my father’s Christian faith until he was on his deathbed in 1986. He gathered his four children around him, we held hands, and he offered a deeply heart felt prayer to our heavenly father thanking him for his love in life and in death. He said ‘I’m not afraid to die, it’s ok I’ve had a good life.’ I still cry sometimes when I realize that the power of his prayer isn’t in the past or future, it’s now.

I was talking with senior Zen teacher Reb Anderson some years ago about death. He told me that his intuition is that whether there is rebirth or not after we die, the momentum of the practice continues. For me this means the momentum of our spirit of inquiry continues regardless of whatever we think happens after death. Reb said he realizes that because of sleep deprivation, rising around 4 am for the last 50 years, his life will probably be 10 to 15 years shorter than it otherwise would have been. He then told me, ‘That’s ok, I’ve had a good life.’

This gave me a still deeper appreciation for my father’s spirit of inquiry, I realized he also had a deep intuition of Sogyal Rinpoche’s saying death teaches us to become great compassion. For him, me and my siblings dying along with him, meant dying to the sense of separation from God’s love. His prayer was for us to surrender and receive God’s love as he had learned to do in his willingness to receive death. I’m grateful to have such a wonderful father, and to have such a wonderful Zen teacher, both of whom intimately know the compassionate heart of death. Yogananda said: ‘It’s ok to pray for things, and to be thankful for them. It’s far better to pray for God’s love, to pray for the courage to receive and give her compassionate love, and instead of thanking her for things, thank her for her love.’



Ask for What You Want

The traditional definitions of prayer involve asking for something we want, involve a reaching out for something unknown in the sense that we don’t know how to attain or receive it by ourselves. Contemplative prayer includes and expands these elements, while involving an actual shift in our center of identity. If we pray to spirit from deep in our heart, with complete sincerity, distracting thoughts dissolve, we receive the power to center our thoughts on our actual relationship with a higher power free from the confines of our egoic identity. When the center of our consciousness shifts from our identity as a separate self, to the underlying reality we share with all beings, not just human beings, but all beings, this is the birth of a new aliveness wanting to embrace life through and as our total being. When we’re willing to receive this new aliveness and surrender our will to spirit’s will, we become a redeeming force in the world.

A powerful prayer for myself has been asking for what I really need to awaken from the dream of separation from the aliveness of spirit itself. I pray for the courage and strength to allow the loving power of spirit or God herself to perform my actions in the world. Once in a while I feel compelled to put prayer into conceptual form, and in a prayer circle, I offered the following prayer.

Infinite Beloved, I know you are nearer than these words and thoughts I’m praying with. How can I help others to dissolve their self concern?  What is actually needed to help them be more willing to receive your love and compassion? Behind every restless feeling, may I feel Your concern for all of us, and Your love. From this awareness manifesting me, may all beings feel sustained and guided by Your consciousness. May my love for You, enable me to realize and share ever more deeply Your love for all of us.

Afterward, I felt the thrill of my consciousness expanding, but soon the pressure, seemingly squeezing me from both inside and out simultaneously, became much more intense than I had encountered before. It felt as if I my body/mind was being ‘launched into outer space though I was still sitting in a chair. Thoughts raced through my mind: ‘This isn’t supposed to be happening, I’ve got kids, if I don’t come back, who will look after them?’ Along with these fears, was the certainty that all human beings would in some form pass through this very same fear of dying in the depths of their being. The pressure in all its intensity was telling me, ‘Not only is this universal fear of suffering and death, you are now experiencing  universal resistance to actually being the pain of all suffering.’

The most painful feeling was centered on my attempts to grasp onto thoughts about salvation, sayings of great masters, and thoughts of unconditional universal love. My attempts to grasp these thoughts, to figure what to do or not to do, had absolutely no effect on my condition, and in fact just increased my anxiety. At one point it even got to the point where I asked ‘Ok if I’m supposed to die now, let’s get on with it, die already! But clinging to those thoughts were just as futile any other form of clinging. There was simply no other choice than to just to surrender to the energy of what up to that point had been a very painful ride. I was receiving a deeper teaching of what it means to just ‘Stop’ everything, including dropping all effort of trying to stop. Finally it dawned on me; there is another level of surrender, another level of receiving and acceptance that has nothing to do with any of my efforts, that is completely independent of any self conscious sense of separateness.

 I already had an intuitive realization of this truth of my own powerlessness. But it became more clear to me that I had not yet learned to fully live that truth, it was still at least partly dependent on an intellectual intuition. At that point I finally realized, that this experience is what I asked for, it is what I really needed to further the process of awakening from the dream of separation. Adyashanti says ‘When you really pray with complete sincerity from the depth of your heart, be careful what you ask for, you might very well get it.’

When our spiritual evolution reaches the point where the necessity of receiving the willingness to be the whole works, to actually be all the most blissful joy, and all the most agonizing suffering, when that necessity begins to deeply saturate our hearts, we will feel the depth of the fear of suffering and death. It is scary because in our attachment to our small container of self that we imagine we are, we also imagine that this container we think we are has to be willing to actually be all the suffering by ourself. We imagine that we by ourselves could actually experience all the suffering in the hell realms if we surrender our defenses.

But we aren’t the most painful or the most exalted blissful human experiences by ourselves. We existing by ourselves is nothing more than an idea in our mind. Our actual being, which is timeless spaceless awareness, is all experience as an expression of the whole of creation. The whole universe is what we are together with all beings and all their experiences; we and all beings, we and all experience is what we actually are. And we and all the experience of all beings is constantly changing, being absorbed back to our source, and then being manifested anew. When we fully surrender to actually being all of it, we actually are all of it. We learn to accept life on life’s terms, not our own terms and conditions. This is the transformation of our suffering, and is our willingness to be a redeeming force in the world.StuartSchwartz_illjump