My spiritual journey has been a long one with many influences and changes of direction until I at last found my spiritual home at the Albuquerque Zen Center. My immigrant grandparents and parents were nonpracticing Catholics or atheists, and early on I too was a weak adherent to the faith until at college I met and later married my wife of fifty years, Sabina, a devoted Catholic. We practiced our faith while living and teaching English in the Middle East for 16 years, where I began to be influenced by two forces:
- The teachings of Zarathustra (Zoroaster), founder of the ancient religion of Iran, Zoroastrianism, and who taught such things as:”Turn yourself not away from three best things: Good Thought, Good Word, and Good Deed.”
- Sufi Muslim poets like Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rumi, who taught such things as “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it,” and Hafez who taught such things as, “I have learned so much from God that I can no longer call myself a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Jew. The Truth has shared so much of Itself with me that I can no longer call myself a man, a woman, an angel, or even a pure Soul. Love has befriended me so completely it has turned to ash and freed me of every concept and image my mind has ever known.”
I began to understand the truth that no one religion is the best or right path and that all or most religions are heading towards the same goal. [ADD DETAILS HERE]
Then, after I sustained a near-fatal head injury at the age of 60 and moved to Albuquerque, I found myself at the crossroads of two strong forces that altered my life, for the better, I feel: Roman Catholic Franciscan priest Richard Rohr and the wonderful face of Zen Buddhism that I found at the Albuquerque Zen Center.
I felt that these two powerful forces were re-shaping my soul in many ways: I feel less anxiety, negativity, anger, and depression; and higher levels of self-esteem, mood, energy, compassion, and wellness. Although I still read many of Father Richard’s e-mail Meditations. practice contemplative prayer, and attend one of his monthly masses in the South Valley, I do Zazen meditation every day, attend weekly group sittings at the AZC every Saturday morning, continue my study of Zen Buddhism, and apply all Zen principles for reaching Dharma in all aspects of my life, including my support of my infirm wife, doing community service, making the best decisions when communicating with others, being active in politics, and spending time in nature, with my family, strangers, and AZC community members.
Thanks to these two forces, I now feel that Jung was right when he said, “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” I feel that Zen is raising my consciousness level and making be a better person that I ever was: I know that by the way I started greeting strangers, decided which parking spot to take in a parking lot, caring for my beloved wife, and, maybe most importantly, how I was able to tightly control my thoughts and feelings twenty-four hours a day. As with all aspects of Zen, like breathing and sitting correctly, these changes never came without a great deal of effort and self-discipline. It has been a far cry from what I called “meditation” that I once thought I had been doing, and its scope was extremely broad, both of which I feel very thankful.
The Three Treasures of Buddhism: Buddha, Dharma, Sangha
At the heart of Zen (and the AZC) are the Three Treasures, each of which I found at AZC. Here I will give a brief definition that will be expanded in later in this book.
Buddha The Buddha refers both to the historical Buddha and to the ideal of “Buddhahood.” The whole Buddhist tradition derives from the historical Buddha and All Buddhist schools (there are thousands, each with its unique geographic, historical, and/or philosophical criteria) regard him as their root founder, guide and inspiration. Going for Refuge to the Buddha means seeing him as your ultimate teacher and spiritual example. It also means committing yourself to achieving Buddhahood – Enlightenment for the sake of all beings – which means that you aim to become someone who sees the nature of reality absolutely clearly, just as it is, and lives fully and naturally in accordance with that vision. This is the goal of the Buddhist spiritual life, representing the end of suffering for anyone who attains it.
- Listen to evocations of of Enlightenment.Read Who Is The Buddha? by Sangharakshita, or listen to the free audiobook (requires free sign up).
The Dharma primarily means the teachings of the Buddha, or the truth he understood. The word ‘Dharma’ has many meanings but most importantly it means the unmediated Truth (as experienced by the Enlightened mind). As a term it also encompasses Buddhist teachings as that same Truth mediated by language and concepts. In this second sense, Dharma is the teaching that was born when the Buddha first put his realisation into words and communicated it to others at Sarnath in Northern India. The occasion is traditionally referred to as ‘the first turning of the wheel of the Dharma’, and the eight-spoked Dharma wheel is a common emblem of Buddhism.
Another meaning of Dharma is the practices which are outlined within the scriptures. Despite the wealth of its literature the essence of Buddhism is very simple: it is finding ways to transform oneself. It could be summed up as ‘learning to do good; ceasing to do evil; purifying the heart’ (as The Dhammapada says).
Regarding the Dharma as a refuge means seeing these teachings as the best guide to reality, and committing yourself to practising them. The Triratna approach emphasises the central teachings that are common to all the main schools. These teachings emphasize the development of mindfulness and kindness, examining our actions in the light of our ethical values, and seeing how our thoughts condition our lives.
- As the Buddha’s central teachings are explored, they connect with the great Buddhist qualities of wisdom and compassion. Sincere engagement with basic Buddhist practices offers a context for understanding and engaging with the deeper teachings of Buddhism. As Sangharakshita asserts: ‘There are no higher teachings, only deeper realisations.’Our approach is radical in the sense that it gets back to the animating spirit and the foundational teachings. Any element of that tradition can be an inspiration to the extent that it is an expression of the Dharma. Today people can be said to be heirs to the whole Buddhist tradition – an incomparable store of spiritual experience and guidance.Listen to different presentations of our approach to the Dharma. Read What Is The Dharma? by Sangharakshita.
- The third Treasure is the Sangha or the spiritual community. What ever we are learning, we need other people to learn from. If we are to practise the Dharma we need the example and teaching from others who have done so before us, especially those who have gained insight into the nature of reality themselves and thus further along the path than we are and the support and friendship of other practitioners. The Albuquerque Zen Center is the only place in Bernelillo County to offer this key element.
- . So More broadly ‘sangha’ also refers to the people with whom we share our spiritual lives. We need the guidance of personal teachers who are further along the path than we are, . This is very important because Buddhism is not an abstract philosophy or creed; it is a way of approaching life and therefore it only has any meaning when it is embodied in people. And in the broadest sense the Sangha means all of the Buddhists in the world, and all those of the past and of the future.Beyond this, the ideals of Buddhism find their embodiment in archetypal figures known as Bodhisattvas. For example, Avalokitesvara is the embodiment of Compassion, and he is depicted with four, eight, or a thousand arms with which he seeks to help all living beings; Manjusri is the embodiment of Wisdom and he is depicted carrying a sword with which he cuts through ignorance. Together the Bodhisattvas and the other Enlightened teachers are known as
- the Arya Sangha or community of the Noble Ones.Listen to Dharma practitioners exploring Sangha, and accounts of the many Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.Read What Is The Sangha? by Sangharakshita.
The Buddha once said that kalyana mitrata – spiritual friendship or ‘friendship with what is beautiful’ – is the whole of the spiritual life. Our community takes these words to heart. Kalyana mitrata, one might say, is the whole of the Triratna Buddhist Community. Triratna centres are not simply places for teaching the techniques of meditation, or imparting information about Buddhism. When a person first attends a Triratna centre, they are considered a Friend. They may take part in all the public activities of the centre, including meditation classes, the study and practice of Buddhism, arts events and so on. There is no obligation or pressure to take their involvement further, and some
- people remain as Friends for many years. For those who want it, however, there is the opportunity to get to know other practitioners and strengthen those connections. The community’s structures can all be seen as a framework for kalyana mitrata and friendship.At the heart of the Triratna Buddhist Community is the Triratna Buddhist Order. The Order is neither lay nor monastic; some Order members have families, while at the other end of the spectrum some are celibate practitioners known as anagarikas. Others may live and work in Triratna’s residential communities and team-based working situations. Sharing your living or working life with other Buddhists can create very supportive conditions for spiritual practice. The crucial thing is the spiritual commitment Order members have made, not the lifestyle they follow. Above all they try to share their spiritual lives, and co-operate in practising and spreading the Dharma. The Order is open to any man or woman (irrespective of age, race, class, gender, sexuality, caste, or any other such criterion) who is sincerely and effectively committed to practising the Dharma.
Sangha I found Community at AZC one of the Three Treasures. It is a place where we seek refuge from pain and distress and where we find comfort in relationship. It is only in the intimacy of community that we come to understand the challenges and joys of what it means to care for one another and to care for all sentient beings. I look forward to the weekly group Zazens, getting to know the Abbot and other members, participating in its activities, and in an effort to help it grow, by writing this book.
I reached a much higher rung on the spiritual ladder when I started following Father Richard Rohr. Father Richard, a Franciscan priest with a global following, would mention the teachings and values of Jesus in a way that made sense to me and that stirred my soul, and still do while on my dedicated Zen path. At the time of this writing, I identify myself as a “Christian-Buddhist,” A Catholic-Buddhist,” or a “Buddhist-Christian” and still attend father Richard masses from time to time and read his emailed daily Meditations. I started becoming what is called a “pluralist.” I had sought, found, and tread on the common ground of Buddhism and Catholicism, Buddhism and Islam, and Buddhism and another path I found through an old friend who is a village pastor in Maine: Old Faith is a religion revolving around nature and natural forces and which its adherents believe rivals Buddhism both as (1) the oldest religion in the world and (2) the religion whose good tidings are the grounds from which all later religions sprang.
========================================================================================(I will summarize this content to explain what pluralism is, also maybe Old Faith)
In this article, Kiblinger outlines three approaches: exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism.
- The exclusivist approach is that only one religion has the true path to salvation or liberation. Although other religions may treat the same topics in common with us, nevertheless their positions are false. Many Buddhist texts have this attitude toward not only non-Buddhist views, but even toward other Buddhist ones.
- According to the inclusivist approach, there are many paths to salvation or liberation, but one is superior. In other words, other religions may share common grounds with us, and although all are valid, ours is better than theirs. Some followers of the various Tibetan traditions tend to have this toward other Tibetan traditions – they all lead to enlightenment, but ours is the best.
- According to pluralism, there are many paths to salvation or liberation, and none of them is superior. This is the nonsectarian view, which just presents the various positions of different religions concerning topics in common, but with no ranking of them.
Within the inclusivist and pluralist approaches, there are degrees of how much one accepts real differences and how deep these differences are thought to be.
- Type one emphasizes similarities, and although it recognizes differences, it downplays them by recasting differences as being similarities, equivalencies, or unimportant side issues. It views other religions as doing the same thing that we do, just in a different way – in a sense, they are following our religion without actually knowing it. For instance, Gelug explaining Nyingma dzogchen practices in terms of Gelug anuttarayoga theory.
- Type two respects genuine differences and finds dialogue as a valuable tool to stimulate growth, whether or not it considers its own religion as superior.
For type one (they’re actually asserting what we do, just in a different way), the danger is that it can be presumptuous, arrogant and narcissistic – it assumes that we know what their religion actually means better than they do. In terms of the inclusivist variety of this, which believes that our religion is superior, this view can take the form that the other religion is actually aiming toward our goal, without their knowing it. Or they are just a lower stage of our path. With those types of attitude, there is nothing that we can learn from them, but only many things they can learn from us. The subcategories of this are:
- All or most religions are heading toward the same goal; and although their path is not as good as ours, it will in the end naturally lead to the same goal as ours does.
- They need to be led in the end to our path to reach the same goal we attain with our path and which they were aiming for, but could not get to if they followed only their own path. An example within Buddhism is the anuttarayoga tantra assertion that sutra or the lower tantras can only lead you to the tenth-level bhumi- mind (the tenth bhumi), but then you need anuttaryoga methods to actually reach enlightenment.
Other variants for type-one inclusivism (the one that downplays differences and says they are actually similarities) are to assert that:
- Words, concepts and doctrines are inexact expressions of meditational experiences, and all religions are talking about the same experience.
- There is a common core theory or core assertions of all religions, and only cultural and historical circumstances account for the differences. For example, the usual presentation of the various forms of Buddhism in different countries – India, Southeast Asia, China, Japan, Tibet, etc.
Further, when we explore a possible common ground between Buddhism and Islam, it touches on the topic of conversion.
- With an exclusivist view, then if only our religion is true, then for you to be saved, you need to abandon your religion and adopt ours.
- With an inclusivist view, it’s OK for you to follow your religion, because it is actually a lower form of our religion, and in the end either you will naturally come to realize our view (for example, Chittamatrins practicing anuttarayoga tantra will naturally become Prasangikas when they reach the mind isolation stage of the complete stage practice), or we will have to convert you at the end.
- With a pluralist view, each religion leads to its own ultimate goal, and they are all praiseworthy – with two variants: the goals are equivalent; or they are not equivalent – and none is superior. So no need for conversion. This would be like if you follow Buddhist practices, you get to Buddhist heaven, not Muslim paradise; and if you practice Muslim practices, you get to Muslim paradise, not a Buddhist heaven.
Actually, although the world’s oldest religion may in fact be Old Faith, The Buddha lived many years after the founding of five other religions:
- Hinduism (founded around the 15th – 5th century BCE)
- Zoroastrianism (10th – 5th century BCE)
- Judaism (9th – 5th century BCE)
- Jainism (8th – 2nd century BCE)
- Confucianism (6th – 5th century BCE)
- Buddhism (6th – 5th century BCE)
Although Buddhism began in India 2,500 years ago, it remains the dominant world religion in the East. There are over 360 million followers of Buddhism worldwide and over a million American Buddhists today. Buddhist concepts have also been influential on western culture in general, particularly in the areas of meditation and nonviolence, which along with its emphasis on compassion and wisdom have won me over as a convert. The Albuquerque Zen Center is my primary place of worship and has changed my life and my true spiritual path, as it has for so many others.
However, as a pluralist, I still find that in my daily meditations, I do incorporate aspects of my “other” three faiths. After eight minutes of proper meditations at my home altar (the center of which is a Buddha statue that has graced our home since we bought it in Hong Kong in 1974), I transition into what Father Richard would call “contemplative prayer.” I praise The Buddha (with acknowledgements to the Albuquerque Zen Center, my guide there — David, and the ultimate goal of my practice – Dharma); Our Creator, which is what my guide on my Old Faith path, Rob, calls God and the ultimate goal of that faith — Goodness; Jesus (with acknowledgements to Holy Family Church, my guide there — Father Richard Rohr, and the ultimate goal of my practice there – love); and finally (to a lesser extent than the other) Allah (with acknowledgements to my guide on that path – Sufi mystical poet Rumi (who wrote of such pertinent topics as unhappy love), and the ultimate goal of my practice – Peace [Salaam]).
In addition, during my daily Zazen time, I praise Mother Nature, especially the riverside forest (Bosque) trees (especially my Seven Sacred Trees), flowers (especially those of the Datura Bower), and creatures (especially the coyotes and birds); the Sandia Mountains, the Rio, the daily sunrise, and the monthly full moon.
AZC short “Why I?” Testimonials like these
Why I Am on the Zen Path
- It‘s the Golden Age of Zen in the USA; there is a real thirst for the Dharma; it’s flourishing in America; loss of harmony with nature
- Zen’s Relevance to Today’s World There are a zillion examples of connections between Buddhism and our current cultural situation – ecology is an obvious one. It’d be fun to map some of those lines sometime, but the bigger question for me know is “Why”? Why is it that Buddhism speaks so directly to the themes of postmodernity? Is it because the tensions we currently face are basically timeless human questions, questions the Buddhas and ancestors have been grappling with for 2,500 years? (Or the ancestors at least… Buddhas can’t technically grapple.) Or is it because the moment Buddhism arrived on these shores and the instant it took form in Western language it was subjected to and inevitably transformed by Western categories and concerns? Yes, great questions! I tend to see this in historical context: Buddhism arrived at a time when modernity, monotheism, the sense and idea of a unitary self, and other ‘master narratives’ of the modern West were unravelling. Buddhist views and practices fit the times and so people picked it up and experimented with it — and it began to take root here, in a way that it hadn’t before.
- Ecology and dependent co-origination*, emptiness and deconstruction, Queer theory and the relative nature of duality – why is it that Buddhism seems to speak so consistently to the cultural preoccupations of our time?… But the main insight or question I want to share now is the most general one: how creepily consistently “the Dharma” connects with and mirrors contemporary thought…Generally speaking, a lot of contemporary academic thinking seems to be around the awareness of relativity or positionality, the deconstruction of dualities, the unreliability of authorities – all kinds of issues that are right at the heart of what I have thought of as “Buddhist” concerns. I felt in much of the postmodern-y stuff I read a struggle to ground a politics and morality in the middle of this deconstruction and relativity, an almost taboo postmodern longing for some solid place to stand. It was uncanny to feel that the exact conversation we have in the Sangha about precepts and emptiness, about morality in the midst of “no fundamental to rely on,” is exactly a conversation that is happening more broadly in our time and place.
*Pratītyasamutpāda (Sanskrit: प्रतीत्यसमुत्पाद pratītyasamutpāda; Pali: पटिच्चसमुप्पादpaṭiccasamuppāda), commonly translated as dependent origination, or dependent arising, is the principle that all dharmas (“phenomena”) arise in dependence upon other dharmas: “if this exists, that exists; if this ceases to exist, that also ceases to exist”. The principle is applied in the twelve links of dependent origination doctrine in Buddhism, which describes the chain of causes which result in rebirth and dukkha (suffering). By breaking the chain, liberation from suffering can be attained. Additionally, one could be seen to reach a level of consciousness associated with ascendance. Everything except nirvana (nibbana) is conditioned by Pratītyasamutpāda, asserts Buddhism. This principle complements its teachings of anicca and anatta.
- Applying meditation techniques to art, ecology, social activism, and community service SERVICE TO OTHERS
Service to those who live at the margins of society and at the edge of our collective awareness is the practice heart of Bread Loaf Mountain Zen. Service arises from meditation, where we touch the solidarity that naturally exists with all things.
It is being oneself, with nothing extra, in harmony with the way things are and in solidarity with all beings.
Service to others allows us to see our own minds and to let go of the ideas that get in the way of true intimacy.
Contemplation and Action are braided practices. It is not-one and not-two.
We will create service programs that respond appropriately to the unmet needs of people in our region. But what we do, while important, remains less important than how we practice in the service realm. Our aim is to engage in service in ways that are characterized by friendship, equality, neighborliness, dignity, and warmth.
American Zen Buddhism Trends
There are some facts about and current trends on the Zen landscape that are happily holding me captive.
Attitudes towards women.
Soto Zen’s vision of Enlightenment, or Satori, is different than that of the Rinzai school. As opposed to what many people may think, in Soto Zen, Satori is not a …
- While the heart of the Soto school is based on the practice of Zazen (za meaning sitting, and Zen meaning meditation in Japanese), is the core of Zen Buddhism: without it, the is no Zen. Ze, the heart of the Rinzai school (臨済宗) focusses on the use of koan, a kind of absurd phrase or statement which is given by a teacher to a disciple to trigger Enlightenment. In the Buddhist community, Rinzai-Shu is considered further from the Buddha‘s teachings than Soto-Shu.
- Sotos believe Rinzais place too much emphasis on complex koans
- Soto Zen’s vision of Enlightenment, or Satori, is different than that of the Rinzai school. As opposed to what many people may think, in Soto Zen, Satori is not a special state of consciousness. It is simply a return to a human being’s original condition. It can be compared to the consciousness of a newborn baby that has not been “contaminated” in any way; that is, a consciousness that is pure and in full harmony with the cosmos and the universe.
Basic Key Soto Terms