A Blessing for the New Year
On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.
And when your eyes
The gray window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colors,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
In the curragh1 of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the presence of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.
~ John O'Donohue
1. (Irish/Scottish) a small round boat made of wickerwork covered with a watertight material, propelled with a paddle (also spelled: currach)
Happy New Year 2021!
There is much to do as we begin to recover from 2020. I thought long and hard about what I wanted to focus on this year. From my files I found the Blessing that sparked my desire to renew my commitment:
We hold the Earth. We hold sisters and brothers who suffer from storms and droughts intensified by climate change. We hold all species who suffer. We hold world leaders delegated to make decisions for life. We pray that the web of life may be mended through courageous actions to limit carbon emissions. We pray for right actions for adaptation and mitigation to help our already suffering earth community. We pray that love and wisdom might inspire my action and our actions as communities so that we may, with integrity, look into the eyes of brothers and sisters and all beings and truthfully say we are doing our part to care for them and the future of the children. May love transform us and our world with new steps toward life."
(From Interfaith Power and Light www.newyorkipl.org)
May you all have a healthy and safe New Year.
As we enter the final month of the calendar year 2020, I think we can all agree that this has been a unique year for all of us. We have had to adapt to a lot of change and process a lot of losses. The events and situations of 2020 have tested each of us multiple times in varying degrees. I am sure many of us would be happy to say goodbye to 2020.
Preparing to enter 2021, we might be hesitant to hold expectations for things to get better or worse. And it is wise to refrain from holding any expectations, as doing so risks increasing our suffering, especially if what we expect doesn't come to be. But refraining from holding onto expectations doesn't mean we are only to fly by the seat of our pants. It doesn't mean never looking ahead either. What is recommended instead, is to learn how to slow down and live consciously and intentionally. Living intentionally means remaining committed to knowing what we are doing and how we are keeping our minds moment after moment. Being rooted in the present as consciously as possible is how we make the most out of what we are given and establish our futures. Living consciously and intentionally is the very essence of the practice. Living consciously and intentionally slows us down. And when we slow down, we notice more. When we are able to notice more, we realize we have much more than ever realized, right where we are.
This Winter's Bodhicitta Gyeolje is the perfect way to commit to strengthening our skills in living intentionally and consciously. There will be some modifications to the Gyeolje, due to the corona-19 virus. The retreats held at the temple will not take place and instead we will schedule some virtual meetings and mini-retreats. This year the Winter Bodhicitta Gyeolje begins on December 8th, Bodhi Day, with a mini-retreat. We will launch our personal Gyeolje goals, meet our fellow retreat members, and practice some chanting and sitting meditation.
I hope you will consider signing up, establish your personal practice goals, and end 2020 and enter 2021 with renewed intention and a sharper consciousness!
For more information and to register for the Bodhicitta Gyeolje: https://www.lotusheartzen.org/gyeolje.html
December 8th: 7:00-8:30 (Gyeolje Opening & Chanting & Sitting Meditation)
January 17th: 10am (Formal Ceremony)
This year by the lunar calendar Bodhi Day falls on January 20th. Most sanghas celebrate Bodhi Day on December 8th (or as in our case the nearest Sunday to the 8th). But this is a strange year, for a lot of reasons, and as a result, the organization required to set up the service is going to take some time. So we decided to celebrate in January.
However, as I have thought of it, and because this has been a strange year, and for many of us a very difficult year, I thought it would be helpful for us to acknowledge Bodhi Day in a smaller, more personal way on December 8th and hold the formal service on Sunday, Jan 17th. December 8th will also be the start of the Bodhicitta Gyeolje and we will use that time to kick off the winter gyeolje.
Therefore, on Tuesday, December 8th 7:00-8:30 pm I will hold a chanting and meditation practice to honor Bodhi Day.
The link for that is: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83103712156
This is an image I came across on Facebook, posted by a Zen monk I follow. It came up at a time when my energy and spirit felt too heavy to lift. Like all of us, I had been feeling the weight of these past few months. Sometimes, it feels too difficult to do the very thing that helps the most--sit. Sit with the feelings, examine their sources, and letting the spirit settle.
It's more work, and more difficult, than I had thought it would be to do. It was easy to ignore this act of sitting when I used to do it all for me--my anxiety, my stresses, my health. I had a day when I was especially tempted by the thought in my head that said "I'm too tired to sit today." Then this image reminded me: We do this for others as much as we do this for ourselves. So off I went to sit. What I do for me, is also done to help those around me.
Sit well, they need you.
With deep bows,
Growing older has its charms, as most of us live harmoniously with the bucking rodeo that this life can be. With time on our side, we have the ability to know that the road ahead eventually straightens out. We turn to softer moments and quiet times for nurturing and have figured out how to sidestep drama and gossip in favor of friendship and caring.
It doesn't stand to reason then why sometimes the negativity of other people crawls into our heads and takes us hostage, robbing us of peace. Whether it happens on a scale large or small, these demons nevertheless take a bite. We have learned that there is no safe place: not our churches, our schools nor our places we work.
It can seem futile then to count blessings and give thanks when the fury has outscored love and kindness. Close-knit communities unravel, and for lack of a better word ugly prevails.
Or does it? With the display of power-hungry, moral-poor action, a voice comes out of the wreckage, and we pull together. We are tired, with tears flowing, shoulders drooping. But as weak as hate tries to make us and tear us apart, we come together and find that the bigger the tear the more fiber we will make to sew it back together.
We need to teach this lesson to the younger generation because they will hold the needle and thread in the future. For every wolf in sheep's clothing and every assault on mankind, the goodwill prevail, and love will champion.
Rev. Anwol Devadipa
Watch this video from the Metta Center and consider how you might let go of the Old Story paradigm and open up a New Story. What actions can you adopt today to help put an end to the Old Story and bring about the New Story? Think of such things as learning more about ahimsa and living nonviolently, practicing Skillful Speech more mindfully, considering a Skillful Livelihood, learning to listen more objectively, practice transforming fear and anger into forces for good, etc.
Ahimsa is the Sanskrit word for “non harm” (a = non + himsa = harm). It is often understood and translated as nonviolence, however, nonviolence is only one aspect of ahimsa. It is the central teaching of Jainism, but also holds an important role in Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and other religions. Ahimsa for the Jains holds a much wider spiritual meaning for it guides all actions, all speech and all thoughts from inflicting harm onto other living beings.
Ahimsa is not simply negation or elimination of violence. It serves to promote a positive and rational approach in regard to life in relation to oneself and others. Mahatma Gandhi expanded the dimension of ahimsa in the modern secular world by transforming its principles into an effective instrument for political and social change. These expanded practices guided Martin Luther King Jr. to adopt a Christian nonviolent social activism, where nonviolent active resistance is paired with the Greco-Christian form of love called agape. Agape is universal, unconditional love that transcends and persists regardless of circumstance, it is considered to be the love that comes from God or Christ.
However, even love comes second to ahimsa—for love without ahimsa can be harmful, aggressive, even violent. When expressing love toward another, what could be a more powerful statement than: “I will do you no harm.”
Gandhi’s legacy of ahimsa has left a deep impact on the world. He was able to demonstrate to the modern world the immense power of ahimsa by using it as an effective tool to achieve independence for India without war and virtually no blood shed. Gandhi who was Hindu, was heavily influenced by the Jain scholar Rajchandra. Gandhi wrote:
“For me there is no religion other than the religion of truth, no duty other than ahimsa. Ahimsa is the greatest religion for me. I can say with assurance, as a result of my experiments, that a perfect vision of truth can follow a complete realization of ahimsa.”
It is my assertion that to put an end to violence and cultivate true peace, it must come with a resurgence of dedicated practice of ahimsa. Ahimsa can easily be integrated into our Buddhist practice, and in light of the many tragic events in previous years and months, it is sorely needed.
I would like to provide the tools and skills to integrate the practice of ahimsa into our daily lives, and that will include leading some workshops for the sangha exploring the basic concepts of ahimsa and facilitating some study groups for those who would like to take what they learn of ahimsa and bring it into effective social change. If our foundation is established by the practice of ahimsa, then anything we do, whether it is personal cultivation or both personal cultivation and non-violent activism, will be tempered and strengthened by the transformative power of ahimsa.
I will be sending out a separate letter detailing the workshops, study groups and explore dates and times, etc. I urge you to seriously consider learning and integrating this important aspect of our practice into your life. There is no more time to wait. The dharma is precious, and to have come to it is like finding a rare, priceless jewel. But it is not enough to simply covet and polish this precious jewel, for its pricelessness comes in the urgency and necessity of putting our practice into action. Time is short, we must be engaged now, so that we can live our lives fully, help ourselves, and help each other.
The three jewels of Buddhism are Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. In order to become Buddhist one only needs to vow to uphold the three jewels. That is all. No special ceremony, no membership to any temple or group. Once becoming a Buddhist, one will find refuge in upholding the three jewels. In the Buddha, we find guidance both from the Teacher, Shakyamuni Buddha, but also from our own awakened nature. The Dharma provides the path of practice from which we gain understanding about our lives and how to find balance and harmony. The Sangha is the community of practitioners who come together to support and help each other on the path. All three jewels, Sangha, Buddha, and Dharma are equally important to Buddhism. Their inter-related nature can sometimes make them hard to distinguish from one another. While each jewel is of equal value, there are times when one jewel is in more need of attention than others. Today, our society is suffering greatly from a lack of authentic, healthy and supportive communities. So at this time, Sangha is the jewel that is in need of polishing, so it can sparkle as brilliantly as the other two jewels.
Sangha, is a Sanskrit (and Pali) word which means "community" or "assembly". At the Buddha’s time, Sangha was composed of the community of monks and nuns. Today, the Sangha includes the monastic community but also includes the laypeople. When we seek refuge in the Sangha, we are turning to our fellow practitioners when we feel afraid, worried or lost. When we uphold Sangha, we are responding to the calls of help from our fellow practitioners. Together, the Sangha, the community of fellow path followers, brings feelings of security and protection on a journey that is often challenging. The Sangha can be a source of friendship and love, for the members within are, in actuality, our spiritual family.
In today’s DIY-"spiritual but not religious" world, people tend to come to Buddhism alone. Self-guided through books and videos, the path of practice is generally an isolated path, where the individual walks the path alone and meditates alone. While it is true that no one can walk the path of practice but themselves, focusing only on the Buddha and the Dharma, the teacher, and the teachings, is not a complete practice.
Our culture is shifting further and further away from community. Each day we grow more comfortable with the limits of virtual connection and less comfortable with being physically present with others. Sangha is, at minimum, equally important as the other two jewels, and is essential in the practice of Buddhism.
Sangha is a safe harbor in time of distress, and guides our attention in times of distraction. The guiding teacher and co-leaders serve to guide the Sangha, to help make the path of practice a little easier, so that the Sangha members can, in turn, spread kindness to everyone around them.
In the Upaddha Sutra, Venerable Ananda said to the Buddha, "Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is half of the path of practice.”
The Buddha replied, "Don't say that, Ananda. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the WHOLE of the path of practice. When a practitioner has admirable people as friends, companions, and comrades, the practitioner can be expected to develop and pursue the noble eightfold path."
The Buddha stresses how crucial it is to have good company around us. A healthy, loving community and support system is necessary to lead us out of our own suffering to freedom. While walking the path, should we find ourselves at any time feeling lost, distracted or confused, the Sangha is there to help us by reminding us of what is most important in our lives, and inspires us to continue onward with head held high. Because our society devalues community, many of us don’t really know how to be part of a community.
The Sangha helps teach us how to build and be part of a group of individuals all working together toward awakening to our Buddha-nature. And, while it may be preferable for the Sangha to seek you out when you are suffering, it is important that when you are in need of support, you reach out to the Sangha. Sometimes we, as Sangha members, don't know when someone wants time alone or is in need of contact and support. Because of this, communication is invaluable. Let the Sangha know what you are needing! If you are not sure of what you need, when you feel lost or confused, show up to practice, no matter how much you want to hide away! Together we will help illuminate the path. We are all learning how to be a community together, and at times, the process can be messy! But always remember, Sangha, as a community, helps every one, no matter where they are on the path. Together we work at understanding our awake nature and learn what really matters in life.
To practice Buddhism, it is not enough to study the teachings and practice meditation alone. While it is necessary to learn how to find time to be with ourselves in order to better understand our own minds, Sangha cannot be dispensed with because it is not easy to find or because we are not comfortable practicing with others. Without Sangha, the practice is unbalanced, and the path of practice will be weak at best or corrupted at worst.
Sangha also teaches us how to set aside our own selfish egos and care for others. The very act of showing up can save a person. Sometimes we are feeling very reluctant to leave home, but despite the yell of our inner voice to stay and hermit ourselves away, we go to practice, every step dragging heavily! Our presence, just showing up, as reluctant as it may be, can lift another Sangha member out of a very serious personal suffering. Additionally, despite all our resistance, once we begin practicing with the Sangha, we find the resistance falls away and we end up feeling much better than we would have had we stayed away.
Our modern society discourages community and because of this, many of us are not very skilled in community building. We will make mistakes, we will hurt others' feelings and our own feelings will be hurt, but we will try our best to do what is right. We will apologize when we make a mistake and forgive others for their mistakes. It is important to point out that it's through these fumbles and finding of our way that strengthens our Sangha, like intense pressure produces the hard and brilliant diamond. This is why Sangha truly is a jewel to behold.
It is of utmost importance to practice with a Sangha on a regular basis. In doing so, our practice will flourish far beyond anything we could achieve alone. In the growth of our practice, our lives and the lives of those around us develop and transform beautifully, like glittering jewels beyond compare.
Ven. Myohye Do'an
As the holidays draw closer, so too for many, does stress, anxiety and depression. The challenge of these conditions at this time of year grow more difficult as pressure, from within and without, to "enjoy the holiday" increases. Trying to ignore what is happening or distract oneself from it are often the most common methods of managing. And, while these methods might provide a temporary respite, these same methods also increase the power and reach of these conditions.
As practitioners of the way, we have the benefit of learning from the the Buddha, who through his own struggle with the sufferings of life, found a way to understand and in some cases even transcend suffering. In the face of such difficult experiences such as stress, anxiety and depression, what might the Buddha do?
The first thing the practice urges us to do is to listen. Listen intently to the call of the heart. When we feel lost or when facing an unknown possibility, our tendency is to run or to hide. This is our instinctual biology in action, and in situations where our body is in immediate danger, this instinctual reaction is necessary. But in the face of difficult emotional and mental challenges, such instinctual reactions only increase our pain and loneliness. The pain and loneliness, when continued to be responded to with continued instinctive reactivity, will increase and soon we become locked in fear and panic. Instead of following this instinctive patterning, we might be better off stopping for a time--stop the distractions, stop the hiding, stop the running away. We stop and listen to what we are experiencing.
Stopping and listening is difficult, as we are resisting what the cells and neuro-pathways are conditioned to do. When we experience stress, anxiety and depression, we are receiving a call. It is a call from the wisest part of us. It is our wise self telling us that something is not right and it is time to stop and take stock of our situation. And while at this moment when we feel we have no recourse, the truth is that we are the moment of great possibilities. The Buddha when faced with hopelessness began the search for answers, and while he sought great teachers of the time, all the work he did was interior work. That is, he was learning how to listen to his wise self.
This practice in the face of difficult feelings is challenging and often frightening, but we can do it. We can stop and listen to the call of the heart. We can cease the running and distractions and really hear our pained self so we can learn what it has to say. The Buddha, as a result of his practice of listening, faced these difficulties, and learned all about them. The result of his stopping and listening was an understanding of what he needed followed by what actions were necessary. We can do the same with stress, anxiety and depression.
Depression in particular is an experience that circles thoughts and belief about hopelessness and worthlessness, which can make finding clarity very difficult. And yet, depression is really asking us to come in close and look deeply at our situation and our life as it is. When we do, while acknowledging the many contradictory thoughts and associated emotions, move in close and look deeply, we find ourselves at an important crossroads. It is at this crossroads where we have a profound choice. We can choose to let the instinctive reaction take over and run, hide or distract ourselves from our pain, which will assure that the pain returns redoubled, or we can, with compassion, look and listen to our experience just as it is. Through the eye of compassion we can come to understand what is taking place within our body-mind and examine, without running, hiding, or listening to the pre-recorded thought messages that we have given over to in times past.
Once we have stopped, listened and examined our experience, we can make decisions about what our wise self is asking of us. Is it asking for time to reassess the trajectory of our life? Is it asking for more self-care and patience working through our short-comings? Is a difficult, but necessary change of life situation being asked for? Or as a result of our intimacy with these difficult emotions, does it direct us to seeking the help of a mentor, therapist or even a medical doctor? And when we come to an understanding, because we are compassionate with ourselves, we can also reach our for help when we feel the challenge of our emotions and our situation too burdensome to handle alone. In a situation where we feel week, and defeated, we are able to take a courageous step in reaching out.
Toward the end of the Buddha's great search for answers, when he was at his weakest, he reached out to the young girl, Sujata, who offered him a nourishing rice porridge. That ability to reach out, despite having lost nearly all hope, was the action of someone who had heard from his wiser self that it was time for help. When we are beckoned by the call of stress, anxiety or depression, we all have our own Sujata's offering us what we need to nourish our wiser self and continue on a path toward wellness. If the holidays bring with them added emotional challenges, stop, listen, acknowledge and reach out to all the Sujata's that appear before you.
Ven. Myohye Do'an
A blog by the Lotus Heart Zen Sangha
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