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August 2020 Musings

Love courses through everything,
No, Love is everything.
How can you say, there is no love,
when nothing but Love exists?
All that you see has appeared because of Love.
All shines from Love, All pulses with Love, All flows from Love--
No, once again, all IS Love!

― Fakhrudin Iraqi

The exuberance of mystics has always inspired my practice, but sometimes their sanguinity reinforces my sense of failure to achieve the state from which they so blissfully spout their poetry. After years of practice, I’ve come to recognize that a conversation about “spiritual failure” usually signals a lesson in faith.
Questioning one’s faith is par for the spiritual course, but Zen is not based on religious beliefs. One doesn’t have to wrestle with the existence or not of vengeful deities or benevolent higher powers. So what is “faith” in a tradition where it could be said the first commandment is “Believe Nothing.”  

The Buddha taught that suffering exists, it’s possible to end suffering, and there is a path to ending suffering. Those approaching the middle way have only to take on “faith” that practicing the “way” will deliver the promised result. But even that leap of faith can be abjured as the Buddha himself supposedly asked us not to believe him but to have our own direct experience of what he taught. In Zen practice, no assurances are given; it’s completely up to me, not just to follow the prescribed path but to find out if it does indeed lead to freedom.

“Up to me” …those three innocuous words define both the context and the crucible of faith. If it were up to “me,” “I” would have quit a long time ago. As soon as we begin a practice, we discover that “me” doesn’t want to, doesn’t feel like it, can’t do it, won’t do it. It’s only when we encounter the obdurate ego, and prevail beyond whatever it’s kicking and screaming about, that we have a direct experience of something beyond “me.” What keeps going when “I” doesn’t want to? Whatever “that is” is now no longer in the realm of belief. Once we have a sense of the existence of something beyond “me,” the question of faith appears to come down to whether the willingness to identify with “that” is stronger than the default identification with the ego status quo. There is no guarantee that willingness will prevail. The faith that it will comes with practice. This is perhaps why we call it a practice of ever-expanding faith.

When someone beats a rug, the blows are not against the rug,
but against the dust in it.

― Rumi 

It’s not been my experience that spiritual practice is easy. Even now, when well-being is more readily accessible, I struggle, or more accurately, “I” struggles. To enter the abyss over and over again, sometimes for prolonged periods of time, to experience the death of an identity, only to find it resurfacing days later on a phone call with a customer service rep, can make the entire journey seem futile. It’s common in these times for the conversation in conditioned mind to signal a disenchantment with the structure of practice, the inadequacy of the practitioner or the futility of a spiritual focus to life. But failure is only true from the vantage point of identification. If the “struggle” is embraced as part of the process of awakening then the power of willingness to persevere despite the “blows” expands. The “beatings” simply strengthen one’s devotion.

The dark night of the soul is when you have lost the flavor of life but have not yet gained the fullness of divinity. So it is that we must weather that dark time, the period of transformation when what is familiar has been taken away and the new richness is not yet ours.
― Ram Dass

Faith is not a constant companion, but for a very good reason. It is in the darkest times, when ego is fighting for its life, that faith in the willingness to stay the course appears to disappear.  It’s a supreme irony that when “I” need faith the most, “I” can’t access it. The dark night of the soul is an encounter that “I’ll” never choose but is thrust upon me as a way of finding faith where it’s currently absent. When one emerges into the light, one is aware of a deep respect and trust in the process of metamorphosis. The trust in “that which endures” becomes woven into the fabric of ever-expanding faith. 

What is this precious love and laughter
Budding in our hearts?
It is the glorious sound of a soul waking up!

― Hafiz

Faith in the nature of True Nature is not a given; it has to be cultivated. We use many words to describe the nature of what is us: Conscious Awareness, Unconditional Love, Goodness, Wisdom, Compassion, Peace, and Joy. We don’t have to believe that these are the qualities of Emptiness; we can have the experience, but only if practice is not limited to battling the ego. Without an active practice of cultivating intimacy with That Which Is, we find ourselves unable to repudiate the ego that claims Life is not joyful or Goodness isn’t what we are. A crisis of faith then is always about reaffirming “Goodness Is” despite the forces that are trumpeting that it’s not; we can do that only because we have experienced the joy of being what we are.

Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are.
You must let it find you.

― David Wagoner

The challenge of Zen practice is that we’re required to rely on “ourself” to keep going. No external divinity can be called upon for assistance in the process of accepting that divinity is us. And yet, my experience in walking the path has been that when I most need it guidance is available. The guiding force shows up in a kind word, in birdsong, in a whisper to pick up the recorder, in a practice tweet. As long as I am within the gravitation field of practice, the tractor beam of Being always guides me home. I may feel forsaken in an extreme identification with separation but once disidentification happens, I can see the ray of sunshine that sustained me through the ordeal. The faith that what I’m seeking is seeking me is also a product of direct experience. 

Most recently, a thought arose in reaction to a quote by J Krishnamurti and signaled an approaching lesson in faith: To be free comes from not changing or fixing the world, but from seeing the world as it is and opening the heart in the midst of it. Instead of feeling inspired, I went to, “I can’t do that. It’s too hard. How can my heart stay open when its opening requires that it is repeatedly broken?” What restored me to thisherenow was coming across an old tattered square from a prayer flag made by one of the monks. It read, “Trust the Process.”  My heart cracked open in gratitude for the guidance, a truly exquisite experience of feeling loved. In every crisis of faith, major or minor, it seems that the light of consciousness is being brought to where it hasn’t seen itself. And when the veil drops, what it sees is that it is Love. I am now able to say with the poet: How can you say, there is no love, when nothing but Love exists?