(Draft Introduction for my book about AZC)
My spiritual journey had been long with many influences and changes of direction until I finally 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 that faith until at college I met and married my wife of fifty years, Sabina, a devoted Catholic. We practiced our faith while teaching English in the Middle East for 16 years, where I became influenced by two powerful forces:
1. 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.”
2. Sufi poet Hafez, who said,”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 finally began to understand these three truths:
- No one religion is the best or right path;
- All or most religions are heading towards the same goal; and
- Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Jainism, Confucianism, and Taoism are the first spiritual traditions of mankind that still exist today.
Then in 2009, after Isustaining a near-fatal head injury at 60 and moved to Albuquerque, I found myself at the crossroads of two more powerful forces that raised my spiritual wellness: Roman Catholic Franciscan priest Richard Rohr and the face of Zen Buddhism that I found at the Albuquerque Zen Center. I began to feel less anxiety, negativity, anger, and depression; and higher levels of mood, energy, compassion, and wellness.
I read Father Richard’s e-mail Meditations, practice contemplative prayer, and attend one of his monthly South Valley masses; and I do Zazen meditation every day, attend 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.
So, at the time of this writing, I identify myself as a “Catholic-Buddhist” or a “Buddhist-Christian.” I also confess to be influenced by what a self-identified “Village Pastor” and old friend Rob McCall (who boosts simple love over “brocaded belief”) calls “The Old Faith” that is found in villages and in the hearts of spiritual people all over the globe who want little to do with organized religion and who have a strong connection to nature.
In the end, I am a “spiritual pluralist,” with Zen at center stage. I now feel that Jung was right when he said, “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” The dharma has proven to be a reliable source of joy and support for me.
The two main branches of Buddhism are the Theravada and Mahayana schools. Zen is a sub-branch off of the Mahayana branch. The practice of Zen meditation or Zazen (za meaning sitting, and Zen meaning meditation in Japanese), is the core of Zen Buddhism. I think it’s correct to say that what distinguishes Zen from the other Buddhist schools is its simplicity in terms of its practices, traditions, and core beliefs.
Here are some fundamentals about Zen that helped me in my transformation:
- It is a non-dogmatic non-belief driven, “non-dual” faith. Zen is to popular Buddhism as Christian mysticism is to popular Christianity, Sufism to popular Islam, or Advaita to popular Hinduism. These four schools are the schools for getting the real experiential knowledge and wisdom. They are to experience the reality as it is – not as it is written or spoken about, not as it is theorized, philosophized or speculated upon.
- Zen isn’t a theory, an idea, or a piece of knowledge. It is not a belief, dogma, or religion; but rather, it is a practical experience.
- It has a strong Japanese linage with two major schools: Soto and Rinzai. (Differences between the two schools will be explained later in this book.)
- Zen is a practice that needs to be experienced, not a concept that you can intellectualize or understand with your brain.
- (From Zen-Bhuddhism.net: ) “Defining Zen is like trying to describe the taste of honey to someone who has never tasted it before. You can try to explain the texture and scent of honey, or you can try to compare and correlate it with similar foods. However, honey is honey! As long as you have not tasted it, you are in the illusion of what honey is.
The Three Treasures of Buddhism
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 later in this book.
The First Treasure: Buddha
The Buddha refers to the historical Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama Buddha (563 – 483BC).
Here are facts about The First Treasure that helped me understand my new faith:
- The Buddha was not a god. Rather, he was an ordinary person.
- Buddha isn’t a name, but a title, Sanskrit for “a person who is awake.”
- Buddhism teaches that we all live in a fog of illusions created by mistaken perceptions and “impurities” — hate, greed, ignorance, arrogance, and doubt.
- What a buddha is awake to is the true nature of reality, freed from that fog.
- All Buddhist schools (there are thousands, each with its geographic, historical, or philosophical criteria) regard him as their founder, guide and inspiration.
- “Going for Refuge to the Buddha” means seeing him as your ultimate teacher and spiritual example and committing yourself to achieving Buddhahood.
Buddhahood is Awareness (Enlightenment) for the sake of all beings – which means that you aim to become someone who sees the nature of reality 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.
The Second Treasure: The Dharma
The Dharma means the teachings of the Buddha, or the truth he understood. The word 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 realization into words and communicated it to others at Sarnath in Northern India.
- The Dharma emphasizes 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.
- The time when Buddha first began communicating his Dharma is traditionally referred to as ‘the first turning of the wheel of the Dharma.”
- The eight-spoked Dharma wheel is a common emblem of Buddhism.
- The essence of Buddhism is very simple: it is finding ways to transform oneself.
The Third Treasure: The Sangha
The third Treasure is the Sangha or the spiritual community. Whatever we are learning, we need other people to learn from. If we are to practice 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.
While there are thirteen other Buddhist (or Meditation) centers in Bernalillo County and more than forty Buddhist centers, institutes, groups, and temples throughout New Mexico (according to The World Buddhist Directory), the Albuquerque Zen Center is only one of four in the state to offer Sangha for those interested in the Zen school of Buddhism.
Here are facts about The Third Treasure that helped me understand my new faith:
- The Buddha once said that kalyana mitrata – spiritual friendship or ‘friendship with what is beautiful’ – is the whole of the spiritual life.
- AZC takes these words to heart — I found Community at AZC.
- Sharing your living or working life with other Buddhists can create very supportive conditions for spiritual practice.
- AZC 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 practicing the Dharma.
- 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 reach others, by writing this book.
This work would not have been possible without the support and input of The Albuquerque Zen Center Board of Directors. I am especially indebted to David D’Agostino and ____________ who have been supportive of my ideas for this book and who worked actively to provide me with the information, photos, and insights about the AZC.
I am grateful to all of those with whom I have had the pleasure to work during this projects, including Graphic Artist Rebecca Finkel (with whom I had earlier collaborated on my book The Meaning of the Boulder-Dushanbe Teahouse); photographer ____________ for his amazing work; and AZC members _____, _____, _____, and _____, who contributed their time and resources to bring this book to fruition.
Nobody has been more important to me in the pursuit of this project than the members of my family: my loving and supportive wife, Sabina Peknik, and my loving son ChrisPeknik, who, in many ways and many places have joined my on my life journey.