Why I Practice Zen

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Introduction

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:

  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 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.

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.

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