Priest No More

Dark Night of Soul

I had a lot of time to meditate on the day after Thanskgiving. With my cat (feline soul-mate) dying of multiple organ failures, I was in quite a state. Nevermind the shock and grief at her sudden decline; I had to pick her up from critical care in Tijuana, bring her back across the border to San Diego, and then, when she displayed neurological encephalitis within five minutes back home, rush her back to Tijuana. Followed by a trip back across the border, empty cat carrier in the seat beside me.

Driving to my Tijuana vet takes twenty minutes from my house. Returning home across the border takes three to seven hours depending on the time and day. I sat in my car for more than eight hours that day, no internet, no phone calls, no radio. Just thinking about life and death, the preciousness of it, and how quickly all can be lost.

My cat wasn’t lost yet; she was fighting for her life, and thanks to the gracious, generous, and affordable vets in TJ, she still is beating the odds. However, my thoughts took another turn to a different kind of loss. One that had been with me for years. A grievous spiritual loss, which became, over time, a repetitive trauma, and then, one scarred over. A loss which I had refused to accept, and had therefore dragged around with me like the cremated remains of a beloved pet.

When I got home that evening, I wrote and sent my resignation letter to my Roshi. This was a huge thing for me. Terrifying. My spiritual life has been, for decades, the totality of my identity in the world of duality. I’m bisexual, but that’s no identity. I’m of Greek descent, again no identity there. I’m female, but I forget until some guy slams me or makes me out to be crazy just for challenging the status quo. The only thing I say, when people ask me questions relating to identity, has to do with spirit. God. Consciousness. Awareness. In this dualistic world of mandatory occupations and identities, I’m an enlightenment hag. Like a ‘fag hag’, but, I spend most of my time getting into the zone with spiritual types. So, who am I, then, without a title of priest to certify, quantify, and give my ‘brand’ a stamp of patriarchal approval? Who am I without a sangha? Without my own sangha, which I created, people who still may love me and wish to stay together, title or no title?

I didn’t just drop my religion this week. I lost dear friends. There are literally a hundred or more people that I feel deep love for that I will never see again. There are rituals and events that I will miss. There are relationships that I feel I can’t live without. One-sided relationships which I’ve been living without already for years, making up the part of the other person supposedly involved, because they had to care. Didn’t they?

And what of my students, gems and sources of frustration, beloved friends and peers in our adventure of life? I was convinced to remain a priest for their sake, initially, when I first almost found the currage to leave my zen order. But what can I possibly offer them in this relationship with my network that lacks integrity?

Standing alone in this world is suicidal. That is why I call upon all my sisters, and brothers who uphold our dignity and demand that our voices be heard, to stand with me, to help to create a new kind of dimension. An invisible island of aliveness, where things that have no cohesion to the greater whole will not stand.

Am I being vague? Alright, then. The Patriarchy is over. You have been Mother Earth’s honored guest, and look how you treat her. Your time is over. The patriarchy would have you think that someone, thank God, knows what they’re doing, so just trust them, and everything will be alright.

It’s a lie. Everybody is improvising. Don’t fall for it.

I stand for truth, beauty and love. Exposing my foibles, my emotions, my humanity, that is my humility, for you. I could pretend to be great. How would that serve you? That you could be fallible human beings, like me, and still know ecstasy, divine grace, and unity? That is a miracle. For this, I give gratitude today, and every day for the rest of this life script that has yet to reveal itself.

Amen.

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Is Buddhism A Religion?

christandbuddhahuggingIt depends on who you ask. That is, it depends upon the form and the way Buddhism is practiced. For some, yes, it is religion. For others, no. Those of us that practice  Buddhism as a non-religion tend to look upon those that practice religious forms as good Buddhists who are nonetheless either incapable of actualizing, or otherwise missing the ultimate, non-dual point of the Buddha’s teachings. This may seem to be a put-down, but it is not intended as one. Just as there are Catholics and Greek Orthodox who are extremely traditional and rule-oriented versus, say, a Gnostic Christian who follows the spirit, rather than the letter of the scriptural law, there are Buddhists who are rule-oriented and scripturally bound.

What is Zen?

BodhidharmabyYoshitoshi1887Some forms of Buddhism center on monastic practice, or other aspects of the Buddha’s teachings, but Zen centers on meditation and mindfulness. It is a word that comes to us from the word Dhyana, which is Sanskrit for meditation. When Bodhidharma* brought Buddhist meditation from India to China around 527 AD, the word dhyana  was translated by the local Chinese to ch’an. From China, Buddhist meditation spread to Korea and Japan, where ch’an was pronounced by the locals as son and zen, respectively. Blame the habits of the human tongue and palate, then, for the exotics, because the word zen simply means meditation.

However, there are implications to the word. Consider the Buddha himself, with his exquisite Flower Sermon, understood only by his disciple Mahākāśyapa.  Ananda was the Buddha’s cousin and principle attendant, and stood out for his retentive memory. Ananda wrote down all the teachings he heard,  passing on the Sūtra Piṭaka (The sayings and discourses of the Buddha, plus poetry) part of the Pali Canon, the earliest written form of the Buddha’s Teachings. But Ananda, who was known for being well-liked, was not the most realized of the Buddha’s disciples.

It is  Mahākāśyapa, the one who understood the wordless teaching of the Flower Sermon,  that inherited the dhyana meditation lineage. When we read the lineage chant at evening service, we are, ideally, reading a list of unbroken telepathically transmitted enlightenment.

When a person consciously holding the Buddha’s transmission is leading a retreat, offering a Mondo session,  conducting an interview, or walking down the street and greeting people, (s)he transmits more than just words or instruction. There is both exoteric transmission, and esoteric transmission underway. It is a face-to-face transmission, best understood by the idea of one candle lighting another.

In this way, meditation, and various understandings and other transmissions of dharma (which basically refers to fundamental mechanics of nature and the universe, often briefly defined as ‘truth’) are passed on from teacher to student, down the line of time. From Bodhidharma’s Chinese lineage, it was Nampo Shomyo Zenji (Chanshi, Zenji, see the pattern?) who brought the Buddha’s transmission to Japan. And from Japan, it is Junpo Kelly Roshi, my Zen Master, that has transformed this living tradition into a more palatable vehicle, leaving out the racism, misogyny, rigidity and any non-inclusive and unnecessary traits, and refocusing the order on meditation: the Buddha’s dhyana, or zen.

So that’s zen – basically a huge, psychic game of telephone from around 500 B.C. Pretty cool, huh?

*Bodhidharma is known to my order as Pu Ti Ta Mo Chanshi, the 29th Zen Master in our Hollow Bones Rinzai Zen Lineage.

Agnosticm – admitting what we might not know

Idon'tknowTo some, being agnostic, or admitting you don’t know, seems a position of weakness. But let’s think about it. Being uncertain is uncomfortable. Not knowing – whether we’re talking about the existence of ‘God’, the love someone else feels for us, or the nature of reality, is uncomfortable. It’s not for the weak of heart.

Nondual Q & A

IMG_3882I asked a master
What is bondage?
She said:  The belief that what you perceive with your senses is real.

I asked a master
What is family?
He said:  The three jewels, not the double strands.

I asked a master
What is commerce?
She said:  Exchanging what is wanted for what you want.

I asked a master
What is friendship?
He said:  It is commerce.

I asked a masterDSC_2044
What is kin?
She said:  It is fire that warms, transforms, deforms or destroys.

I asked a master
What is happiness?
She said:  It is peace.

I asked a master
What is birth, and what is death?
He said:  It is life.

I asked a master
What is change?
She said:  It is samsara.

I asked a master
What is attachment?
He said:  It is fear.

I asked a master
What is fear?
He said:  It is a mirror that points to your death and shows you the path to freedom.

I asked a master
What is love?
She said:  That which sets you free.

I asked the master
Knowing all of this, what should I do?
They smiled,  turned, and walked away.

How to Determine Your Life’s Purpose

WakeUpNeoIn the movie, The Matrix, Neo is a hacker who is beginning to wake up to life’s dirtiest secret. His cohorts are convinced that he’s The One – the hero that will save humanity from the machines that harvest their energy. But Neo doesn’t believe he’s the One. First of all, he doesn’t think he’s all that special, and secondly, it’s a real hassle to be responsible for saving the world, isn’t it?

Esoterica R Us

When I was younger, I felt totally alone in my experience of life and perception. The only solace I ever got was from the books I read. The stories, especially the teaching stories. The Bible, up to a certain age, and then Plato, Socrates, World Religions, Metaphysics, and best of all, fiction about Metaphysics. Things that helped me to understand the whys and hows of this strange thing called life.

Now that I have understood it enough to have inner peace, I am passing it on as a service, in the same format, because I can, because the written word is my domain (I kind of still suck at embodiment), and because it might be beneficial for certain kinds of people. Kindred spirits.

So this blog is Integral. Here, I keep the magical, mystical, agnostic, zen, Buddhist, esoteric content going. Yet, I address the material world. It’s a critical thinking engagement.

Articulating one’s thoughts has a similar effect to teaching a class or giving a speech; by the time one is done with the articulation, one understands the material in a new way, a better way. And when friends challenge each other in respectful, discerning debate, we all sharpen our understanding of what’s still muddy or assumptive, and we get wiser. Hopefully more compassionate too.

It would be nice to be able to make a proper living, given that I’ve dedicated (and sometimes risked) my life to actually learn what I teach. I might sometimes risk my life to write what I know. Therefore, I ask for donations. Contact me if you’d like to donate to help support my work: vajratara.here@gmail.com.

Please share and attribute my content, especially on LinkedIn and also Facebook and other social media. Your attention, and the attention of your respected colleagues, family, and friends, is my currency too. Your appreciation is my motivation. You caring about this material matters to me. Good karma for everyone.

Parting thoughts: Money doesn’t grow on trees, but food, clothing and shelter and families do. Everything we need surrounds us! It’s all already here, but we have to notice is. Something blinds us from understanding the richness of our true resources in this very moment. Our attention is our most precious asset! Guard your attention, keep your balance, treasure your focus, stay sane, hold the center. We need each other. Let’s treat each other well.

Eva Hermogenes