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Zenkondo: The Way of Primordial Compassion Copyright 2012, by Khenpo Gurudas unyatananda.

. All rights reserved under International and PanAmerican Copyright Conventions, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever, except for use by or in connection with a reviewer/book review. Published by Vajra Sky Media Publications 3835 Cloverfield Road Harrisburg, PA 17109 USA

Dedicated to the Buddha Within. May the merits of these words and ideas give birth to limitless buddhas, in limitless realms, and may they alleviate suffering in all sentient beings.

There will be those who dislike and disapprove of this short booklet. There will be those who decry what I am teaching as heretical or unworthy of being called Buddhism or Esoteric Christian Dharma. There will be those who feel compelled to defend their intolerant, exclusionary and sectarian behaviour, the purity of their lineage, the pristine qualification of their teachers, and I am sure a million other crocks of equally meaningless bullshit. I was asked recently, by an ordained Buddhist monk in the Tibetan tradition:
"(S)o are you saying you do not care that students keep samaya, in essence agree to nothing, follow nothing and respect nothing not even you? vows require that they ask for the dharma in a conservative traditional way with respect.... not "'hey dude youre a buddhist? Teach me, dude.'"

Yes, I am saying that if someone said, "Hey dude, you're a Buddhist? Teach me, dude," I would accept them immediately as a student. Do five year-olds enter kindergarten knowing how to properly address their teacher? Do children in the First Grade organically know the importance of taking notes, when the teacher is teaching? Why then should an intelligent person expect anything more of an aspirant? Like the Buddha, Je Tsongkhapa, Je Pabongkha and the Nazarene Dharma teacher (and unlike many of the hot shot lineage masters who came much later, especially in Tibet and Southeast Asia), I accept and meet a student precisely where they are. I don't permit a student to make samaya commitments until they are ready. I ask them to agree to nothing more than shutting up and giving consideration to what I have to share. There are students now, some of whom have been with me for years, others who have come from other, abusive sects, who do not possess the spiritual or personal maturity to engage in a level of practice that even comes close to the level required for samaya. Do I discard them, because they are immature? How absurd and obscene would that be. My first and foremost commitment to my tsawa lama, Tenzin Yangchen (Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati) is to always remember, "There are no throw-away people." ALL will ALWAYS be welcome here. And if that means I lose the approval of other so-called "teachers", big fucking deal. I consider such teachers to be illegitimate in the first place. The Dharma is not earned. It was freely given to me, as a child of seven. I am sure I wouldn't have met with your approval at the time either. Luckily for me, my teachers were more compassionate, generous and PATIENT with me.

In the simplest of terms, this is a teaching about freedom. Freedom from the ego-mind. Freedom from the illusory self. Freedom from the deluded ideas of who we are, who we should be, and who we should become. It's about understanding the nature and cause of suffering, and exploring in real and practical terms, the opportunity to methodically follow a path to alleviate our experience of suffering and put an end to the causes thereof, not only for our sakes, but for the sake of all sentient beings. This is not a Buddhist path, or an Esoteric Christian Dharma path. It's not a New Thought Philosophy or an alchemical science. But it's also not less than any of these things, and it's all of these things. This isn't your father's Dharma... this is Zenkondo - the Path of Primordial (Limitless) Compassion.

- Khenpo Gurudas unyatananda (H.E. Francesco-Maria del Immacolata, M.Sc., Th.D., N.D.) Sarvodaya Ashram Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA -

This relative short text the legacy of a simple yogi. The term yoga comes from a Sanskrit word, meaning yoke or union. Traditionally, yoga is a philosophical and physical method joining the individual self with the True Nature - Pure Awareness. In Buddhism, this realisation is called by many names, including satori, awakening, and enlightenment. Another Sanskrit word, sampradaya, is used to describe the particular tradition or path that is used, usually within one of the larger dharma classification. Sampradaya means living stream of tradition. Sampradaya also refers to the oral imparting of knowledge from Guru to Chela, or from mother to a child. In many ways, this text will make clearer the sampradaya associated with my teaching. For the past three years, I have been consistently focused on finding a way to formally classify and present the corpus of my teaching, as it has unfolded these past 32 years. Most of you are aware of the challenges that have come along the way, as people with less mature spiritual capacities cannot wrap their minds around a path that does not fit into a convenient "box". They see Buddhism (and moreover, Tibetan Buddhism, Nichiren Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, etc.) as (each) being a very specific path, from which any divergence is heresy and as such unworthy of the robes. Esoteric Catholic spirituality, Christ Dharma and gnosticism have no place within Buddhism for these small minded souls, and there are equally those from the Catholic and Anglican paths, who believe that yoga, Buddhism and especially teaching that the anthropomorphised god-concept is both superstitious and irrelevant to liberation, is heresy in the highest order. Many were the years, when I would fill the longing for the monastic debates of the formal monastery with attempts to engage those who would have me defrocked, discredited and sent to Siberia. But that longing was never really fulfilled, as the debates in the monastery were with people of equal calibre and intellect, and always involved those whose spiritual maturity qualified them for such engagement; while the same could not be said for those adversarial forces from the world of Old Catholics, Roman Catholics, and self-proclaimed Tulkudom; nor for those who perceive themselves as the Puritans and Keepers of Tibetan Buddhist Orthodoxy. So in the end, for much of the past year, I've left them to frankly go fuck themselves, as oft they should, because engagement was a flagrant and irresponsible misuse of my time. Now, in a few weeks, students may be coming here to the ashram for a four days and three nights retreat, and I thought it would be most useful, if I could be a little more clear and concise with them; while doing something my Teacher told me to do four years ago, when she granted me inka -permission to go out and teach, and transmit this incredible and diverse "tapestry" made from the threads of several beautiful, precious and enlightened lineages. And that means beginning to define more clearly what this teaching is and is not, without becoming institutionalised, dogmatic, or sectarian along the way.

Everything in my life, from the time I was a child of eight or nine, teaching my great aunt's next door neighbour, in Philadelphia, a lovely older Jewish widow, how to use Spiritual Mind Treatment to eliminate the tumours they found on her breast; to the work with my Tribe -- the men and women involved in the earliest days of the AIDS pandemic, as we began fighting for our lives, for our rights, and for dignity; from my monastic life, and service as an autocephalous bishop and servant-guardian of the Franciscans, to the simple life as an abbot and ordained contemplative... it's always been about one thing: The Way (or Dharma) of Compassion. As it has evolved, this teaching has been derived from several beautiful and respected lineages, as the result of the generous Dharma transmitted unconditionally by my beloved teachers. What has emerged is a sacred inner science, devoted to cultivating and expanding one's consciousness to free oneself and all sentient beings from the causes of suffering. Now, a scientist might specialise in quantum mechanics, but that doesn't mean he or she ignores or condescends toward the other sciences. If for example, one is seriously interested in coming to understand the Big Bang, as a quantum physicist, that understanding would be much easier and more complete, if one drew on an understanding of mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, and so forth. Additionally, by drawing on all of these sciences, the time it would take to fully understand the Big Bang would be significantly and exponentially shortened, would it not? So it is with our yogic path, our sampradaya, which is formally known as Zenkondo (The Way of Primordial Compassion). We draw from the ancient tradition of non-dualism, descending from Brahma Narayana; from the clarity of the Buddhadharma revealed by Buddha akyamuni and Buddha Tnpa enrab Miwoche; from the simplicity and social justice dharma of the Nazarene (Essene) Dharma master, Rav Yeshua bar Yusef, and from the revelation of esoteric dharma taught by Kb-Daishisan in the 4th century, Padmasambhava in the 8th, from Je Tsongkhapa and Francesco d'Assisi in the 13th centuries, of the Common Era. Our lineage remains intact from these Great Teachers, through our Vajra Masters. The Advaita lineage and non-dualist Christ Dharma transmission comes to us through my Refuge Guru, Swami Abiektananda and his brother Swami Dayananda. The great tradition of the Buddha akyamuni and of ri Manjui's disciple, Je Tsongkhapa, who brought us the union of Sutra and Tantra, comes to us through the lineage of Je Pabongkha Rinpoche and Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche Dorje Chang, as transmitted by my beloved Teacher, Lama Thubten Yeshe-la. The Esoteric Buddhist lineage and Taoist philosophy was generously transmitted through Robert Danza Sensei, the first American student of Professor Morehei Ueshiba (O'Sensei), and from his Hyokseki (Senior Practitioner), Marianne Donoghue Sensei. The Lineage of Essene Dharma Teacher is derived through direct and unbroken Apostolic Succession, tracing directly to Rev Yeshua, through his disciples John the Beloved, James, Judas the Twin, Thaddeus and Bartholomew. And finally, perhaps the most significant lineage, in the synthesis of these diverse paths, was generously bestowed by my Root Guru, Tenzin Yangchen (ri Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati Santa Maharajni), at whose Lotus Feet I will sit for numberless lifetimes, until suffering no longer exists.

It would be inconsiderate and incomplete not to recognise that there have been other very significant teachers, who have not formally (ritually) transmitted their Dharma lineage to me, but whose teachings have been like a priceless garland of the rarest Quahog pearls. These teachers, who helped the Zenkondo emerge as a complete Teaching, include: Dr. Louise L. Hay, Dr. Kennedy Shultz, Chgyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Alan Watts, Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, Albino Luciano (Pope John Paul I), Eric Butterworth, John Dominic Crossan, and Dr. Stewart Grayson. Just as the astute scientist draws from the whole of science, I have and continue to draw from the tremendous wealth and wisdom found in the words of these Teachers of Truth.


As I begin to unpack this teaching, I want to next get out of the way, what I call the elements of "so what?" These are simple, documented and historical facts that often come into discussion by those who are unable to understand and see things in a spiritually mature, postmodern and non-sectarian way. Buddha akyamuni noted that "people with small minds want a small law," and it is for those people that this couple of paragraphs (for which I apologise to the trees for wasting precious paper resources) exist. Yes, in 1970, at the age of seven, I took Refuge Vows and made it clear to my family that I intended to live the life of a vowed monk. Given that I am considered high-functioning autistic (non-Aspergers), it's not surprising or particularly extraordinary that I was already very clear about my life's work. Nine years later, when I graduated from high school at the age of sixteen, I began my spiritual formation as a religious in the Catholic tradition, two months after being ordained into Esoteric (Zen) Buddhism, (tokudo) as a priest. During the ensuing three years, part of my work included the cultivation of three profound relationships with three of my Dharma students, who like me, were in Franciscan formation. When we took vows, in 1983, our bishop permitted us to establish a Franciscan religious order (of diocesan right), from which the foundation of what is now the Contemplative Order of Compassion was founded. In those days, the Order was known as the Franciscali Servorum Immaculata (Franciscan Servants of the Immaculata). After being appointed as the "servus pater" (servant-father) of the Order, I began to instruct my brothers in the Dharma of Compassion, as we served the poor, sick and dying -- particularly those dying from AIDS. By 2001, tensions with the archbishop of Atlanta, where our community had its largest convent (friary), over our refusal to teach the homophobic or misogynistic precepts of the Roman Catholic hierarchy of the time, and following my confrontation of the Archbishop of Miami over sexual abuse I personally suffered at his hands and those of his clergy "pals", I asked the Order to pray for discernment over whether we could remain canonically in communion with Rome.

Two months later, the False Flag Attacks of September 11 took place, and partially compelled by our grief at having lost our community's spiritual director (my personal spiritual director, Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM), and partially out of disgust with the hierarchy's opposition to Liberation Theology, the decision was made to break with Rome, and letters of excardination were requested of the Archbishop of Atlanta. In 2002, I was ordained a deacon, and shortly thereafter, based on my Bachelor's Degree in Theology and Master's in Psychology, I was ordained as a priest in the Old Catholic (Glastonbery Old Catholic & Gnostic) traditions. I went on to complete my Doctorate in Theological Anthropology and in Holistic Healing/Natural Medicine in 2003, and was elected to the episcopacy in late 2003. On January 18th, 2004, I was consecrated as a Bishop, according to the Eastern (Maronite) Rite, at the Imani Cathedral (African-American Catholic Congregation) in Washington, D.C., by Bishops Carlos Harvin and Michael J. Carroll, with letters of commendation and recognition from Archbishops Anthony Hash and Lawrence Harms. For a little over two and a half years, I served as Archbishop-Exarch for the Old Catholic Franciscan Union, which became the Emergent Catholic Church International, and the Gnostica Catholicae Unitatis (Gnostic Catholic Union). During that time, my principal residence was in Washington, D.C. When, after two years of watching former members of our community launch divisive attacks, pitting the Buddhist practitioners against the Catholic practitioners, and then further dividing the Eastern Catholic and Anglo Catholic members, I personally gave up the belief that I held as a young man, that I could affect greater reform from within the institutional religious life than I could from without. Like Francis of Assisi before me, I announced my resignation and withdrawal from the Religious Community I co-founded, and began to live as a Buddhist-Camaldolese contemplative. Because a number of students, mostly Tibetan Buddhist practitioners, and almost all ordained, valued my teaching, 41 of them asked me to remain their teacher and Lojong Ladrang was established, in 2005. Shortly before that, one of the most beloved and cherished of my companions, who was also my lover and best friend, lost his life after a battle with AIDS and cancer, at the hands of a homophobic nurse. My confrontation of the Dalai Lama during a small, more intimate audience in Atlanta, in October 2006, over his behaviour and lack of compassion toward the Dorje Shugden practitioners (which I had privately been for almost 21 years, with only my closest of students, and Root Guru knowing and sharing in that practice with me), resulted in the departure of 26 of our monks in 2007, and my "going public" with my criticism of him dealt the final blow to our Sangha, causing 22 others to leave in February 2008. By that time, there were some 2700 students throughout the world who consider me to be their teacher, and our Sangha included 15 lay members, 6 Catholic clergy/nuns (who remain members "sub-rosa"), and six ordained Sangha. We lost our Brother, retired Bishop Kevin Crowell just a couple months ago, and two rather public figures, who were ordained privately, likewise passed away in the past several years; while we also gained several ordained members from other traditions.

And that is our heritage and history... skeletons and all. I've always been very open about my use of marijuana and salvia divinorum, both medicinally and recreationally, without apology. I've never attempted to hide my involvement in non-monogamous committed relationships as an openly-Gay man. I have had AIDS at least since I was raped in 1983, but possibly longer. And I've lived with Early-Onset Parkinson's Disease, probably since I was 19 or 20, although it wasn't diagnosed until 2008. So. Fucking. What. Now, let's move on from this "history" with a quick "catch-up"... In early 2008, I met the man who has surely become my soulmate in this lifetime, Jampal Choden. After briefly living in Lancaster, PA and Hummelstown/Middletown, PA, we moved in with two of our brother and sister contemplatives, and Abhaya Dana House (Sarvodaya Jaya Ashram) was founded. So I now have the privilege to share my life with two of the senior monks of our Order, who will become Hyokseki (Dharmacharya) in December, one of whom will be my likely Dharma successor one day, and with one of the most courageous and inspiring people I've ever known... one of the very few people I can consider to be "my hero" (my parents, Mother Teresa, and Dr. Martin Luther King are the other four). The past is a construct of our minds. Yes, my heritage represents the sum of experiences, which have shaped me into the person I am today for the most part, according to conventional wisdom, but I don't share that perspective. The present moment is the only thing that has shaped me into the person I am (or perceive myself to be) at this moment. And during that succession of "present moments", I have been all over the spectrum of "being", "understanding", "awakening", "falling back asleep", and "reawakening". It's all been a great, beautiful and cosmic dance. And when the dance is over, you say, "That was nice. Thank you." You don't spend the next five or ten years thinking about the dance!


I don't perceive myself as being all that different from anyone else I've ever met. In fact, Lama Yeshe used to say, "Superficial observation of the sense world might lead you to imagine that people are different, and that people's problems are different. But if you will check more deeply, you will see that fundamentally, they are all the same. What makes people's problems appear unique is their different interpretation of those same experiences." Lama Yeshe taught me not to interpret the Buddha's (alleged) words or philosophy literally. Swami Dayananda taught me the same exact thing about the Dharma of the Christed One. Unless we understand their methods... the "how-to" that makes their teaching so experiential, we lose the essential meaning of their teaching entirely.

And so that sameness I see in others comes from understanding that all of this... everything I perceive in the external world around me... is an illusion. It's a reflection of the state of my interior mind. And so, someone who approves of me and loves me deeply is a reflection of a part of me that loves and accepts who I am. And sometime, I lose sight of who I am, and fear or anger might cause me to disapprove of myself... beat myself up... So then, why should I be so surprised if there are times when those who love me move on... abandon me... hurt me? Are they not still nothing more than a perfect reflection of something going on within me? When I was raped in 1983, my attackers, hiding between buildings, represented the hidden internalised homophobia, self-loathing, unforgiveness and violence that existed in my mind over constantly having to juggle the life of a Buddhist monk, a Franciscan missionary, a hormonal twenty year-old gay man, and a mystic. That experience of rape propelled me headlong into another chapter of my life, in which all of that baggage could be released, and a greater awareness and integration of the Dharma message took root, through my introduction to the Science of Mind and the Theosophical Society.


Take note, as I just have, at the words "propelled me headlong into..." because I am about to share with you what is often called, "stream of consciousness", which most teachers hide from their students, because it demonstrates that I am, exactly like you, a sojourner on the path. In November 2007, a year after I walked away from institutional religion to pursue a contemplative expression of spirituality that would allow me to teach more openly, and without having to couch some of my teaching in such theistic terms as I did, while serving as an archbishop and Minister General of the Order, I was still processing a lot of feelings of guilt over having "abandoned" the members of our Order, who stuck by me through the unsavoury and childish attacks of a couple South Florida bishops, a drunkard priest who was excused from the Order, and a promiscuous and jealous narcissist, who continues to this day to flailingly attempt to discredit me, so as to feel better about himself. I knew I needed to come to terms with those dualistic ideas, including the idea of having abandoned "them" (there is no "them"), and more importantly, the recognition of the internal chaotic data that was manifesting as the Villaires, the Finnegans, the Stephens and Roberts of my experiences. Remember, "they" were nothing more than a reflection of my own shit! And so on November 29th, 2007, I just now consciously recall sitting in my puja, before the butsudan (altar), and thinking, "I am so ready for another breakthrough... something like 1983, but without the violence..." Now, as I sat here telling you that story, I wrote that the rape experience "propelled me headlong" into the next phase of my life and work. Well, that afternoon, the Parkinson's Dis-ease, which was worsening, and which I was afraid would cause me to have to stop working in the artistic craft I loved

(hairdesign), literally propelled me headlong into a brick wall, in a shopping centre in Atlanta. And the yin and yang principle manifested again as the four violent Haitians, who raped and beat me in 1983, were replaced (counterbalanced) in 2007, by two incredible people: a black woman who witnessed my accident, called 911, and stayed with me to keep me from losing consciousness, and a young black man, who worked in one of the stores, who applied pressure to the wounds on my head, that were gushing blood, despite my warning him that I have AIDS. This might or might not register as being so incredible to you as you read this, as it was for me to be writing it. (I never write in the way I was taught in college, but rather choose to mindfully write from the present moment, because only in the present moment can I write from Pure Awareness... and when I am not writing from Pure Awareness, my writing shows it.) So there... right before your eyes, I've shared a moment of awareness... of realisation... an AHA! moment, just like you have had in your life so many times before. That behind us, shall we dig in, and begin to explore what the Zenkondo tradition is all about?

Ours is a "feral wisdom path", which embraces many historic and contemporary spiritual practices, including prayer, meditation, contemplation, study, solitude, silence, service, community and liturgy. We affirm that healthy spirituality cannot be separated from applied reasoning, science and intelligence. We reject the notion that there is "one true path" or that any particular spiritual tradition or religion is the only way to liberation. We find denominations which teach such obscenities to be among the most disgraceful and useless expressions of a primitive and delusional mentality, which does nothing to generate real compassion in the world. We affirm that there are many spiritual approaches, both theistic and non-theistic, religious and non-religious, which can powerfully contribute to ending suffering in the world, and lead all beings toward peace, enlightenment and calm abiding. There is a word in Tibetan, yeshe chlwa, which is frequently translated in the West as crazy wisdom, referring to the more fluid, organic upayayana school of Buddhist Dharma taught by such teachers as Chgyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati and the Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. A closer examination of this Tibetan phrase reveals a meaning that we prefer to translate as feral wisdom. The word yeshe is a compound word, which means primordial knowing (ye means primordial, she means knowing). And the word chlwa literally means gone wild. So the Feral Wisdom tradition is one in which the practitioner acquires a primordial wisdom, feral and fluid in its nature, more alive and awake, and subsequently, able to overpower the phenomenal world in our own enlightened way.

Were not talking about a kind of knowledge in which someone teaches you something, or you read something in a book or on a website. Knowledge is manufactured by scholars, by scientists and books. Wisdom is inherent. The idea of this inherent wisdom and what we call enlightenment are really two sides of the same idea. We do not become enlightened, we awaken to or realise enlightenment. Its already our nature. We call this the buddhadhuta or Buddha-nature. Others call it the Christ Consciousness. Being a Buddha or Christ is not so much being a great scholar who knows all about everything. Being enlightened, is actually being able to tune our mind into that state of being which already exists, which is already liberated. This liberated nature of our mind is simply obscured with layer upon layer of delusion, opinion, attachment and fear. The Feral Wisdom Tradition affirms that we have unlimited potential. We are eternally awake primordially awake, cognitively open and insightful. This Feral Wisdom gives rise to a desire to express itself, and we call that purest expression of feral wisdom, compassion. This Feral Wisdom is indeed considered crazy by some, for it sees things through an entirely different lens. It views the teachings of the Buddha and the Christ as being one and the same. It doesnt concern itself with whether the stories, legends and narratives told in various so-called scriptures are accurate, historical or even true. It uses every experience, every breath and the space between the breaths to integrate the two forms of wisdom (jnana the type of primordial wakefulness we call yeshe in Tibetan) and prajna the more intellectual wisdom we acquire through constant examination of each experience. Put another way, Feral Wisdom is experiential, while prajna is acquired through the process of contemplation and mindfulness. So yeshe/jnana gives rise to compassion and prajna gives rise to mindfulness. In the words of Chgyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Jnana is your inheritance. Prajna is a sympathetic inheritance which you work toward. So both are inherently ours that is part of our nature. But one is discovered through the process of examination and mindfulness, while the feral wisdom itself is simply realised or awakened by our daily practice by emptying the mind, and sitting in the Primordial Silence of unyatananda (the bliss of Emptiness). This Feral Wisdom can be found in many spiritual traditions to varying degrees, because it is our inherent nature. The objective of the Contemplative Order of Compassion is to develop and realise it more fully, finding its potential in the various traditions which inform and inspire our particular path, and then to celebrate and express that Feral Wisdom which is, as we stated, true Bodhicitta (Heart of Compassion).

And the practice of the genuine Bodhicitta -- the path of the Heart of Compassion -- can be expressed in Japanese as Zenkondo: "The Way of Primordial Compassion". I really like something Karen Armstrong, founder of the Charter for Compassion, once said about religion, and felt that if more people actualised religion in such a way, I would likely have no disdain for it. She said, "Religion isn't about believing things. It's ethical alchemy. It's about behaving in a way that changes you, that gives you intimations of holiness and sacredness." I think that's another important component of what Zenkondo is -- a way of living which transforms your consciousness and your awareness, providing you with intimations of an indwelling sacredness that pervades your very breath, and reveals to you your True Nature as Pure Awareness.


This is a simple path, but it is not an easy path. I'll begin by saying that very much like my teachers before me, there are those who have maligned and hated me. Many attempt to this very day to discredit me. And while their attempts fail, time-after-time, it is of utmost importance to understand that their actions are not our concern. They are working out their own karma, so why should I interfere? My purpose on this planet is to love, to serve and to uplift all sentient beings. We only feel the need to defend ourselves when we errantly begin to identify with our bodies. I've caught myself wasting precious energy defending myself, or my teachers, until I realise that I am not this body or this ego-identity, which the ancient texts referred to as atman. I am Pure Awareness, expressing Itself through this "vehicle" for a short time. The Buddha akyamuni reminds us that we can only find the Eternal Principle (Love/Pure Awareness) within. Like him, Guru Naanak admonishes that whatever you find outside will ultimately cause you to suffer; while that which can be found within is "everything". The Nazarene Dharma Master, Rav Yeshua bar Yusef taught, "The Sovereign Domain of the Sacred exists within you." And so, my only job in this incarnation is to be Gurudas unyatananda. Mine is the life of a servant of the Teacher. I may indeed fail to deserve or live up to the title of abbot (Roshi/Khenpo). I may be unworthy of the Guru's name, Jaya. But as a simple monk, whose only religion is compassion; whose only god is love; and whose path is the path of the Servant of the Guru, I am prepared and well-suited to the responsibility and challenges that role brings. Ours is a path of loving service, of compassion and of forgiveness. No one in this teaching has any right to call for another to be punished, no matter what they perceive the other to have done, because we are mindful that whatever we have experienced is but a mirror reflection of the chaotic data resident on the "hard drive" of our subconscious minds. Therefore, whatever "wrong" that has manifest in the thoughts, deeds or words of another, were a gift to us -- an opportunity for us to better understand ourselves, and an opportunity to forgive ourselves. When another has behaved in a way that is inappropriate, we should tell them at once, and be done with it. We should then, immediately, and without fail, begin to chant the Five-fold Mantra of Loving Kindness to clear that chaotic data from our hearts and minds, so that this sister or brother is freed at once. Our hearts should regard them with gratitude, and if they, in their own kindness and humility, apologise to us, we should sincerely let them know there is no need for apology. And then the matter should be released entirely from our hearts and minds.

Let the two eyes, two ears, two hands, two feet and two organs of "taste" (nose and mouth), with which each of us is endowed, represent for us the Doors of the Ten Directions. May we strive to keep all of these doors open to all sentient beings. Our Sat Guru reminds us that there are no throw-away people, and so there are none who deserve to be punished. There are punitive traditions out there for those who are compelled to such uncharitable paths; let ours be the path of openness and inclusive generosity, equanimity and loving kindness. Our body is a living mandir -- a Temple of Pure Awareness, and the Lotus Seat of Tenzin Yangchen Ma. This Teaching will always be open to all people, from all traditions, paths and ideologies. That is what my Teacher asked of me, and it is what I will ask of each of you. Aside from that, it is your personal path, and there must be, in that path, room for you to be authentically you.


The Contemplative Order of Compassion is a non-sectarian intentional spiritual community, rooted in the rich Upayayana tradition of Zenkondo, interpreted through an inclusive, non-religious, culturally relevant, postdenominational and post-modern lens. The members of the Order, both lay and ordained, can be seen as the stewards or custodians of the teaching. Their personal and communal aim is to actualise the Boddhisattva Ideal by studying, experimenting with, and applying Buddhist Dharma, and Teachings of Zenkondo, in contemporary life. As a community and as individuals, members of the Order have responded to an Interior Calling, not born out of a supernatural will or external force, but from their True Nature as Pure Awareness, to preserve and extend the benefits of this teaching, until no sentient being ever suffers again. Ours is a spiritual path based on the revealed wisdom of the Four Noble Truths, and grounded in the traditional Four Spirits; namely, the spirit of non-attachment from views and opinions, the spirit of direct experimentation on the nature of interdependent origination through meditation, the spirit of appropriateness, and the spirit of skillful means. All of these essential elements are found in all Buddhist traditions. The Lay Contemplative Expression of the Order is open to all who wish to follow our way of life, without formal vows or corporate responsibilities to the work we do. Lay Contemplatives, like their ordained counterparts, are referred to collectively as Zendkondoku (pronounced: Zen-Kon-Do-Koo), and share in

the personal and spiritual work of the Order, and take ownership in helping to support the work financially, so that the Ordained Contemplatives are better able to extend the reach of the Teaching in the Ten Directions. Those who wish to make a deeper, and more serious lifetime commitment to the Order, make a formal commitment to lifelong spiritual and personal formation and study with the Guru. This commitment begins with entry into what was once referred to as the "monastic life". In the post-modern world, we are not all able to leave behind our responsibilities in the world, and are not presently provided with a formal monastery, to replace the one we lost in Hurricane Katrina, and so we try to no longer use the word "monastic", referring to ourselves as Ordained Contemplatives instead. The aspirant to the ordained life is known as a Kohosha, and is required to complete a special nine-week discernment program, followed by a three-day retreat (which includes two days of sesshin practice). Upon successful completion, with the roshi's approval, the Kohosha may request of the Ordained Sangha to be considered for entry into the Novitiate Program. The Novitiate Program is a two-year, intensive spiritual and personal development program, which begins with the equivalent of what would be seen as "temporary vows" in some monastic traditions, and what was once traditionally the "junior monk's" ordination in many Eastern sects. Ordination as a Shoshinsha (Novice Practitioner) represents simple vows, including the Fourteen Precepts of Mindfulness; Refuge in the Dharma, the Awakened and Anointed Ones, and in the Fellowship of Practitioners; and a one year-commitment to the Brief Rule of Life, which governs our contemplative mindset, and reminds us each morning that the world is our monastery without walls. These formal vows are renewed on the New Moon each month privately, and before the roshi (abbot) once each year, until both the abbot, the preceptors and ordained sangha agree to receive the novice into full ordination, as a member of the Kanso jo-kai (Ordained Contemplatives). The formation program between Shoshinsha and Kanso jo-kai is not rigid, and varies from practitioner to practitioner, based on their prior spiritual formation, level of personal and spiritual maturity, education and commitments. The same criteria must be met by all who are considered for full ordination, but the path to that ordination should be as personalised and specific as the individual themselves.

The Fourteen Precepts of Mindfulness The First Precept of Mindfulness: Openness

Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, I am determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist teachings are guiding means to help me learn to look deeply and to develop my understanding and compassion. They are not doctrines to fight, kill or die for.

The Second Precept of Mindfulness: Non-attachment to Views

Aware of suffering created by attachment to views and wrong perceptions, I am determined to avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. I will learn and practise non-attachment from views in order to be open to others insights and experiences. I am aware that the knowledge I presently possess is not changeless, absolute truth. Truth is found in life and I will observe life within and around me in every moment, ready to learn throughout my life.

The Third Precept of Mindfulness: Freedom of Thought

Aware of the suffering brought about when I impose my views on others, I am committed not to force others, even my children, by any means whatsoever such as authority, threat, money, propaganda or indoctrination to adopt my views. I will respect the right of others to be different and to choose what to believe and how to decide. I will, however, help others renounce fanaticism and narrowness through compassionate dialogue.

The Fourth Precept of Mindfulness: Awareness of Suffering

Aware that looking deeply at the nature of suffering can help me develop compassion and find ways out of suffering, I am determined not to avoid or close my eyes before suffering. I am committed to finding ways, including personal contact, images and sounds, to be with those who suffer, so I can understand their situation deeply and help them transform their suffering into compassion, peace and joy.

The Fifth Precept of Mindfulness: Simple, Healthy Living

Aware that true happiness is rooted in peace, solidity, freedom and compassion, and not in wealth or fame, I am determined not to take as the aim of my life fame, profit, wealth or sensual pleasure, nor to accumulate wealth while millions are hungry and dying. I am committed to living simply and sharing my time, energy and material resources with those in real need. I will practise mindful consuming, not using alcohol, drugs or any other products that bring toxins into my own and the collective body and consciousness.

The Sixth Precept of Mindfulness: Dealing with Anger

Aware that anger blocks communication and creates suffering, I am determined to take care of the energy of anger when it arises and to recognise and transform the seeds of anger that lie deep in my consciousness. When anger comes up, I am determined not to do or say anything, but to practise mindful breathing or mindful walking and acknowledge, embrace and look deeply into my anger. I will learn to look with the eyes of compassion on those I think are the cause of my anger.

The Seventh Precept of Mindfulness: Dwelling Happily in the Present Moment

Aware that life is available only in the present moment and that it is possible to live happily in the here and now, I am committed to training myself to live deeply each moment of daily life. I will try not to lose myself in dispersion or be carried away by regrets about the past, worries about the future, or craving, anger or jealousy in the present. I will practise mindful breathing to come back to what is happening in the present moment. I am determined to learn the art of mindful living by touching the wondrous, refreshing and healing elements that are inside and around me, and by nourishing seeds of joy, peace, love and understanding in myself, thus facilitating the work of transformation and healing in my consciousness.

The Eighth Precept of Mindfulness: Community and Communication

Aware that lack of communication always brings separation and suffering, I am committed to training myself in the practice of compassionate listening and loving speech. I will learn to listen deeply without judging or reacting and refrain from uttering words that can create discord or cause the community to break. I will make every effort to keep communications open and to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

The Ninth Precept of Mindfulness: Truthful and Loving Speech

Aware that words can create suffering or happiness, I am committed to learning to speak truthfully and constructively, using only words that inspire hope and confidence. I am determined not to say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people, nor to utter words that might cause division or hatred. I will not spread news that I do not know to be certain nor criticise or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will do my best to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may threaten my safety.

The Tenth Precept of Mindfulness: Protecting the Sangha

Aware that the essence and aim of a Sangha is the practise of understanding and compassion, I am determined not to use the Buddhist community for personal gain or profit or transform our community into a political instrument. A spiritual community should, however, take a clear stand against oppression and injustice and should strive to change the situation without engaging in partisan conflicts.

The Eleventh Precept of Mindfulness: Right Livelihood

Aware that great violence and injustice have been done to the environment and society, I am committed not to live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. I will do my best to select a livelihood that helps realize my ideal of understanding and compassion. Aware of global economic, political and social realities, I will behave responsibly as a consumer and as a citizen, not investing in companies that deprive others of their chance to live.

The Twelfth Precept of Mindfulness: Reverence for Life

Aware that much suffering is caused by war and conflict, I am determined to cultivate non-violence, understanding and compassion in my daily life, to promote peace education, mindful mediation and reconciliation, within families, communities, nations and in the world. I am determined not to kill and not to let others kill. I will diligently practice deep looking with my Sangha to discover better ways to protect life, comfort the sick and dying, and to prevent war.

The Thirteenth Precept of Mindfulness: Generosity

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing and oppression, I am committed to cultivating loving kindness and learning ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants and minerals. I will practice generosity by sharing my time, energy and material resources with those who are in need. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but will try to prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other beings.

The Fourteenth Precept of Mindfulness: Right Conduct

Aware that sexual relations motivated by craving cannot dissipate the feeling of loneliness, but will create more suffering, frustration and isolation, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without mutual understanding, love and a long-term commitment. In sexual relations, I must be aware of future suffering that may be caused. I know that to preserve the happiness of myself and others, I must respect the rights and commitments of myself and others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to protect couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. I will treat my body with respect and preserve my vital energies (sexual, breath, spirit) for the realisation of my bodhisattva ideal.

Kansa jo-kai (Full Ordination) During formation, the novice practitioner learns to still his or her mind, lake a crystal lake, without even the slightest ripple of thought or disturbance. Their formation is intense, personal and demanding, for that is the only way to achieve what we call direct insight" or that state of consciousness that is Timeless and Boundless. The Shoshinsha is unhurried and not focused at all on "when" they will be permitted to seek full ordination. He or she is focused on his or her practice. When the state of consciousness known as "nirvikapala samadhi" or the yogic state of glimpsing one's True Nature, is consistently maintained, that practitioner is ready to learn the skills of merging that practice of mindfulness with one's daily life. That is the study and path of the Ordained Kanso jo-kai. Theirs is the path, which disappears into the pathless; the Way which becomes one with No Way. Within the Ordained Sangha, there are those who are chosen, at the abbot's discretion, to serve as Hyokseki, or Senior Contemplatives. These are the practitioners who have been recognised by the abbot as being accomplished practitioners, in certain aspects of our Way of Life.

A Senior Contemplative is not "better than" or "higher than" any other member of the Order, just as the abbot is no higher or better than anyone else. This is a distinction of level of service to which one has been called. Once a practitioner is ordained as Kanso jo-kai, they may elect to pursue specific formation in one or more of the lineages which comprise this sampradaya. For example, they may wish to hold ordination as a New Thought practitioner, as a Native Shaman or as a Gnostic Catholic priest. These elective paths of formation take two additional years of spiritual formation, and may also have traditional academic course requirements. One might wonder why we would offer ordination into paths which might be perceived as secondary or superfluous to the goal of realisation, and the answer is once again service to others. These men and women bring the wisdom of the Dharma to people from other traditions, who may not yet be ready to burn the beautiful boat, which brought them across the river of ignorance to the shores of the Dharma. And that is alright. Having a teacher ordained and fully-qualified to illuminate the deeper traditions within these other paths, bringing to light the more profound and often hidden truths and meanings that have always been a part of those traditions, but which may have been obscured intentionally or otherwise, by those whose agendas were inconsistent with the Way itself, are a very special breed of servant indeed, and a blessing to us all. They are the bridge-builders, to whom we are grateful and much obliged. Not everyone who chooses to follow this teaching is required or expected to become a member of the Contemplative Order of Compassion. For some, our teaching may be an ancillary teaching or method of support for their principal path. We always welcome such individuals to travel the path with us for as long as they are so inclined. And we welcome those who may be our "spiritual cousins", who might visit with us a while, now and again, before heading "home", until we see them again, sometime in the future.


The monastic rhythm is one in which the contemplative can find solace and surrender to the stillness, which comes from not being concerned with their daily schedule. Monastics know that a specific schedule exists for them, and therefore can empty the mind of trying to figure out what to do. Sadhana is the Sanskrit word for spiritual practice and includes everything from meditative practices, to liturgical and community ritual practices.

The particular "rhythm" of the Contemplative Life is personal and may vary greatly from one practitioner to another. Often, and in most cases, this rhythm is established by the preceptors and abbot, while a student is still in formation. But it is a fluid experience, which may need to be adjusted from time to time, as circumstances require. This should never be interpreted to mean that the monastic rhythm and structure are unimportant, and it is duly noted that there are those, who having been ordained, fail to make their practice a priority in their lives. There are also those whose spiritual and personal maturity level is not firmly rooted in a serious practice, and who "don't like" being held accountable. But there are other times when a practitioner simply couldn't find themselves "fitting in" with a particular structure and rhythm, and so, because their teacher lacked the compassion and wisdom to offer to explore what was going on with them, the practitioner often abandons practice altogether. Such practitioners are more precious to me than gold, because they have been damaged-goods in the hands of unqualified teachers. And when they accept my invitation to come to me in private, at any time, so that we can explore how they can get their personal practice back on track, my heart bursts with gratitude and willingness to focus my entire attention on their request, as if no other disciple exists in the world at that moment; because at that moment, no other disciple does. Zenkondo does not consider any sutra or group of sutras as its basic scripture(s). It draws inspiration from the essence of the Dharma in all sutras, all traditions, all paths and a variety of texts. It does not accept the systematic arrangements of the Buddhist teachings proposed by any school. The Zenkondoku seeks to realise the spirit of the Dharma in early Buddhism, as well as in the development of that spirit through the history of the Sangha, and its life and teachings in all Buddhist paths and Wisdom traditions. Zenkondo considers all sutras, whether spoken by the Buddha akyamuni, or compiled by later Buddhist generations, as authentic Buddhist sutras. It is also able to find inspiration from the texts of other spiritual traditions. Most importantly, it considers the development of original Buddhism into new schools a necessity to keep the spirit of Applied Dharma alive and relevant. Only by proposing new forms of Living Dharma life can one help the true Buddhist spirit perpetuate, and empower sentient beings to liberate themselves from suffering and the causes of suffering. We do not consider it necessary to view the narratives found in any sacred texts as literal or historic accounts, including, but not limited to, the narratives surrounding the life of the Buddha akyamuni or the biblical narratives concerning the life of Rav Yeshua the Christ. Recognising that mythology plays an important role in spiritual teaching, and that storytelling is often employed to illustrate essential truths, we are grateful for the gift of clear insight, which enables us to discern the meaning of the words, rather than reliance on the words themselves.

Zenkondo considers the principle of non-attachment from views and the principle of direct experimentation through meditation and the practice of Kundalini yoga to be the two most important guides for attaining true understanding. It considers the principle of appropriateness, and the employment of skillful means as guides for actions in society. It is our belief that the spirit of non-attachment from views, and the principle of direct experimentation lead to open-mindedness and compassion, both in the realm of our perception of reality, and in the scope of human relationships. The principle of appropriateness, and the employment of skillful means lead to a capacity to be creative and forgiving, both of which are necessary for the cultivation of True Compassion, and in order to be of genuine service to all living beings.

Zenkondo rejects dogmatism in both outlook and action. It seeks all forms of action that can revive and sustain the true spirit of insight, and genuine compassion toward others. It considers this spirit to be more important than any Buddhist institution or tradition. With the aspiration of a Bodhisattva, practitioners seek to change themselves, in order to change society in the direction of compassion, non-suffering and understanding, by living a joyful and mindful life of service, simplicity and altruistic joy.

In our tradition, the purpose of taking refuge is to make a commitment and affirmation of our desire to awaken from confusion, and to continuously associate ourselves with wakefulness. Chgyam Trungpa Rinpoche taught that taking refuge is a commitment to freedom. He pointed out that once we take this step, there is no longer the entertainment of indulging in so-called seeking hereand-there. We take a definite vow to enter a discipline of groundlessness or Emptiness which saves us a lot of money, a lot of energy, and a tremendous amount of superfluous thinking. By taking refuge, in some sense we become homeless refugees choosing to mindfully detach ourselves from the material world. Taking refuge does not represent feeling helpless or handing all our problems over to somebody or something else. This is the point of great departure from theistic spirituality. In the Dharma of Compassion, we do not concern ourselves with mythical cosmic beings, such as creator-gods, saviour-gods or such superstitious and primitive notions. We recognise that our imaginary foundations in this world are illusory, and that there is no solid ground on which to stand, since all phenomena are impermanent. Thus taking refuge is an affirmation that there is no need for a home or ground it is an expression of freedom and a celebration of our decision to follow the groundless path the feral path.

The refuge ceremony represents a final decision. Acknowledging that the only real working basis is oneself and that there is no way around that, one takes refuge in the Buddha as an example, in the dharma as the path, and in the sangha as companionship. Nevertheless, it is a total commitment to oneself. To take refuge, which can be done privately or in community, one simply affirms with pure intention: I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the dharma. I take refuge in the sangha

These three items are referred to as the Three Jewels. The Three Jewels, also called the Three Refuges, or the Triple Gem, are the three things that Buddhists look toward for guidance, in the process known as taking refuge. The Three Jewels are: The Buddha (The Enlightened or Awakened One) who, depending on ones interpretation, can mean the Historical Buddha, Sakyamuni, or the Buddha nature within all beings. The Dharma (The Teaching), which is the Teachings of the Buddha, and his descendents. The Sangha (The Community or Order), which is the Community of those who have attained Enlightenment, as well as the monastic order, working toward Enlightenment. The word Sangha also refers to all Buddhist as a universal collective.


Rav Yeshua bar Yusef (Jesus) and Guatama Siddhartha(Buddha) are very similar in terms of historical experience. Both were transformed by personal experiences into teachers who respectively founded the religious traditions of Christianity and Buddhism. Buddha was born circa 525 BCE, while Jesus was born in Palestine, sometime between 8 BCE and 4 BCE. There are many similarities between the religious philosophies founded by Buddha and Christ as well, and it upon this common ground that we draw to form the Dharma of Compassion. According to Robert Elinor, Buddha and Christ are but local inflections of a universal archetype: the Cosmic Person imaging wholeness.

Beneath the perceived differences underlying these two visionaries, whether they represent actual historic persons or not, there are subtle unifying attributes which are amply exemplified in the life they led and the message they spread. An important idea in this context is the belief shared by both in the natural cosmic law of cause and effect, popularly known as karma. Buddha taught: Hard it is to understand: By giving away our food, we get more strength; by bestowing clothing on others, we gain more beauty; by founding abodes of purity and truth, we acquire great treasures. The charitable man has found the path of liberation. He is like the man who plants a sapling securing thereby the shade, the flowers and the fruit in future years. Even so is the result of charity, even so is the joy of him who helps those that are in need of assistance; even so is the great nirvana.

This idea is reiterated by Jesus, who said: Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive earthly men their trespasses neither will your Father forget your trespasses. Therefore all things whatsoever you would like that men should do to you, do them; for this is the law and the prophets. And of course the popular quote: You shall love your neighbor as yourselves. (Mark 12: 31) It is our fundamental belief that both these luminaries evolved out of the latent reaction against centuries of blind ritualism that plagued their religious communities. The original meaning and symbolic structure of the rituals had been lost and what remained was exploitation and subjugation of the masses by the priestly class, and a delusional notion of literal interpretation of midrashic or metaphoric stories. Neither Buddha nor the Christ came to start a religion, and in fact, neither of them did start a religion. What they came to do was to start a revolution a revolution of compassion. In Tibetan, the word for compassion is nying je, which literally means "sovereign heart" -- a reference to the view that compassion is the foremost disposition of the human heart-mind. Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama writes, in Ethics for the New Millennium: "As such, our innate capacity for empathy is the source of that most precious of all human qualities... while generally translated simply as "compassion," the term nying je has a wealth of meaning that is difficult to convey succinctly, though the ideas it contains are universally understood. It connotes love, affection, kindness, gentleness, generosity of spirit, and warmheartedness. It is also used as term of both sympathy and of endearment. On the other hand, it does not imply "pity" as the word compassion may. There is no sense of condescension. On the contrary, nying je denotes a feeling of connection with others, reflecting its origins in empathy."

While one is compelled to wonder why Gyatsos own duplicitous and disgraceful behaviour toward the devout practitioners of the Shugden Sadhana lacks any semblance of compassion or tolerance, one likewise notes if there were a common theme found in the messages of the great spiritual masters, philosophers and teachers of the past several thousand years, it would unquestionably be the call to compassion, service and kindness. And it is upon that foundation that we establish our practice.


In order to apply the basic tenets of this way of life, it's a good idea to understand some of the foundational ideas upon which this Middle Way, Zenkondo, as we call it, is built. For much of recorded human history, we find there are often two common belief systems at the extreme, polar-opposites of one another. On one side, we have those who subscribe to a belief in some sort of supernatural or divine being, who creates, controls and commands all things. In most religious paths, there is some tendency toward believing that our ultimate purpose is to somehow become reunited with this divine being in a sort of eternal life. More often than not, this divine being is perceived as superhuman having personality and human-like characteristics, but somehow existing throughout time and eternity. And those subscribing to such beliefs are often vehement in their conviction that they are somehow among the chosen ones. This sort of absolutism and exclusivity doesn't seem to be very helpful in our quest for relieving suffering. It also fails to address the questions raised by intelligence, science and rational investigation. On the other side of the spectrum, there have always been those whose view seems to be entirely nihilistic. Since there is no way of scientifically proving the existence of a soul or of divine beings, and since the five elements from which human beings are composed, deteriorate and dissolve after death, those who subscribe to this other extreme view, most commonly perceived as atheists, often believe that consciousness, morality and ethics are social constructs, and that there is no reason to have to buyinto such conventions, other than abiding within the societal construct itself. Just like the theistic approach, this philosophy of nihilism is not useful in terms of relieving suffering. Now it is not my intention to debate which, if either of these two philosophies have any value or use in the lives of their adherents. I am certain that there are volumes of books already in print, which do a respectable job at tackling such matters. Again, such issues are not of particular interest or concern for me personally, since the vows I took as a Buddhist monk, and as a Franciscan contemplative, are solely focused on alleviating suffering in the world. I am certain that there are aspects of both of these belief systems that have historically contributed in significant ways to attitudes and actions that have caused immense suffering, but I am equally certain that it would be as difficult to convince religious adherents to abandon religious beliefs on that basis, as it would be to convince a pig to wear stiletto heels. According to tradition, both Buddha akyamuni and Jesus the Nazarene appear to have embraced an equally Middle Way approach. Both showed disdain for the hypocrisy and extremism of the rightwingers of their particular cultures. Both also showed disapproval of the nihilistic and materialistic attitudes of their versions of the far-left.

And so it is for us. We embrace a Middle Way... a way that begins with awareness of our own selfcreated captivity, and which recognises the sometimes obscured true nature of life. A way in which we come to terms with the way things are, without judgment, and affirm a simple means of reclaiming our sovereign right to liberation. Notice here that we do not arrogantly refer to our path as the Middle Way, because we believe the Essence of Middle must leave room for interpretation, expression and diversity. One of the exciting things about this path is that it is non-dogmatic, and therefore, allows for the individual to discover his or her own path, depending on where they are right now, in their own journey inward. For some, the gateway to discovering their relief from the cycle of suffering might be through understanding the truth of impermanence; for others, it might be by immersion into a path of compassionate service. Some will discover their freedom by learning to forgive; while others will find the richness of emptiness to be the doorway to healing. As we begin to look at the foundational ideas of Zenkondo, we have to recognise that this approach is beyond the kinds of spiritual approaches we find in religion. Religionists and atheists concern themselves with the existence or non-existence of divine beings, with the questions of how the universe was created, and with whether or not there is such a thing as eternal life. Our approach looks at the more important questions, without which the questions of the religionists and atheists would be inconsequential and meritless. We want to know how to overcome the problems and difficulties in life, which lead to suffering. These questions are easily adaptable to any personal spiritual tradition, and work perfectly and equally in the absence of such spiritual traditions. Therefore, they are universal, and universally important. In the discourses of the historical Buddha, known as the sutras, we read of something referred to as the four reliances -- four brilliant statements made by the Buddha, encouraging critical inquiry and rational investigation by the seeker: Do not rely on individuals, rely on the teachings. Do not rely on the words, rely on the meaning of the words. Do not rely on the adapted meaning, rely on the ultimate meaning. Do not rely on intellectual knowledge, rely on wisdom. This foundational approach, which admonishes us to look deeper than the apparent teachings, until we discover for ourselves, the ultimate wisdom of any spiritual path or teaching, was something that was impressed upon me at an early age, when my first spiritual teacher, a Benedictine monk, named Swami Abiektananda, read to me the words of the great Buddhist poet and mystic, Milarepa, who said: Everyone must follow their own spiritual path. Heal yourself, good physician monk; then you will naturally heal others. My teaching is mine; yours must be yours. Do whatever is necessary in order to evoke it from within.

Again, looking at some of the ancient stories, we are reminded of the narratives in which the Buddha broke his practice of severe asceticism, along the banks of the Ganga, and began to embrace a more balanced path of moderation and common sense. Similarly, the stories of Jesus' choosing to break with the strict Mosaic Law, which forbid work on the Sabbath, because he recognised compassion for the sick and dying was more important than adherence to religious extremism, point to another example of beginning a journey along the Middle Way. When we formed the first monastic community for our Order, there was disagreement between those who wanted to live a more ascetic life, and those who wanted to express their spirituality in more contemporary ways. There were some who felt our approach was too Catholic, and others who believed we were too Buddhist. Ultimately, this debate would go on for more than eight years, and in the end, after admonishing those who were once entrusted to my care to look within themselves for the answers, I gave them my blessing and withdrew my association with the Order. For me, there was no other road, no other way, no day but today, as Jonathan Larson wrote in his musical RENT. In other words, no other road or path would be authentic for me, but my own. And so it would be for every seeker on the journey. But moderation alone is not enough to bring us relief from the endless cycle of suffering. And so I began to write down the Core Understandings, based on the earliest discourses of Buddha akyamuni.

All that is comes from the mind; it is based on the mind; it is fashioned by the mind.
- The Pali Canon


Unsatisfactoriness (suffering), impermanence and impersonality (emptiness) Buddha akyamuni concluded that these three inescapable factors or marks of existence were the common characteristics shared by all phenomena. Often referred to as the Dharma Seals, Buddha taught that by bringing these three factors into awareness, moment-to-moment (mindfulness), we achieve Wisdom the third of the three higher trainings the way out of the cyclic existence, called Samsara. This fundamental idea represents a departure from the kinds of thinking that mark the more religious spiritual paths, and is an approach that is much more closely compatible to modern psychology. As a result, we can often find this approach to be a more effective way for a person to transform and heal their lives. In fact, this is one of the reasons that many of those who are still involved in the traditional Abrahamic religions begin to explore ways in which they can integrate some of the Buddhist ideology into their spiritual practice. Lets look at these three inescapable factors of existence, and what they mean for us: The Buddha taught that nothing found in the physical (phenomenal) world or the realm of psychological can bring lasting deep satisfaction. The word for this unsatisfactoriness in Sanskrit is dukkha, and is often translated as suffering. Buddha understood that if one reflects deeply upon the truth of suffering or unsatisfactoriness of all phenomena, they could dispel the illusions (and delusions) they possessed about the world and of life. Impermanence, called anicca in Sanskrit, refers to the awareness of the fact that all phenomena (including psychology and intelligence) are in a constant state of flux. It also teaches that all phenomena arise out of an ever-changing cloud of causes and conditions; thus all conditioned things eventually cease to exist. And because nothing in the conditional or phenomenal world is permanent, Buddha understood that the notion of a soul or self was likewise an impermanent phenomenon and illusion. We call this anatta or impersonality. Anatta pervades the entire phenomenal world, and includes an understanding that our dualistic impressions are delusional. We understand that the person we imagine as me is not an autonomous, integral entity. The seemingly individual self, or what we might call the ego, is more correctly thought of as a by-product of the five aggregates (form, sensation, perception, mental formations and consciousness). This can be somewhat confusing to the Western mind, particularly if they still embrace some of the more primitive superstitions about imaginary places, such as heaven or hell. That is because to the Buddhist practitioner, there is no difference between nirvana (liberation) and samsara (cyclic existence). While the purpose of all spiritual practice can be seen as work undertaken to leave the shores of samsara behind, we also recognise that what we seek is right here.

We say that the difference between liberation and suffering is purely one of perspective. Its all just point of view. Although each of the Three Marks of Existence comprise a topic of samatha or meditation/concentration in its own right, conceptually they are interrelated: there is "no-self" because there is "impermanence," and because there is "impermanence" there is "suffering." By better understanding this foundational point in the Dharma path, we are better able to understand that the concept of reincarnation is not quite the idea to which many New Age and science fiction accounts make reference, when they use the same term. What is reincarnated is not the personality of someone who once lived, but the mental formations (impulses, volition, mental habits, thoughts, ideas, opinions, prejudices, and compulsions) and the consciousness (the base that supports all experience) which are known as the fourth and fifth aggregates (or skandhas).

Just Stardust
Consider this there was a brilliant observation made by one of the characters from a television series, called Babylon 5, in which we were reminded that you and I are made of the stuff of the stars. And while that is scientifically sound, in and of itself, it is also a good metaphor for anatta (no self). We imagine ourselves to be individual, unique and all important centres of our self-created universes, but the simple fact is that were no different than the stardust we see in the midnight skies. Not only are we no different from it, we literally are part of it, and it of us. In the series, Babylon 5, the character of Delenn tells Captain Sheridan: "Then I will tell you a great secret, Captain. Perhaps the greatest of all time. The molecules of your body are the same molecules that make up this station and the nebula outside, that burn inside the stars themselves. We are starstuff, we are the universe made manifest, trying to figure itself out. As we have both learned, sometimes the universe requires a change of perspective." ( from the episode: A Distant Star)

This isnt just clever writing, or the stuff of great sci-fi. Any element heavier than hydrogen was created as a direct result of the fusion of matter within a star. Therefore, every atom of your body and mine was created inside the nucleus of a star that once existed in an ancient universe. We truly are the universe made manifest, trying to figure itself out. Look into the night skies and you will see particular groupings of stars, referred to by certain constellation names. Many of the familiar constellations are given mythological names, such as the stars

that comprise the various signs of the zodiac. When connected by imaginary lines, these groups of stars form different animals, characters, and images. No one imagines that the stars designated as Aquarius really is a water bearer. And so it is with us. We draw imaginary lines between the elements of form, perception (thought), feelings (emotions), habits and consciousness, and call it a person. But from the moment that person is born, every single atom from which that person is comprised is in a state of flux. Cells die and are replaced. Organs are completely replaced. And with each breath, that person is actually in the active state of disintegration, which we call aging, until it will eventually cease to exist. The idea Buddha wanted us to embrace was the idea that we need to look more deeply to change up our perspective. Look deeply; explore reality in your own experience, moment by moment. Find out for yourself. As Ani Pema Chodron puts it, we should recognise impermanence and suffering and egolessness at the kitchen-sink level. And she suggests that we learn to celebrate this unsatisfactory quality of all things that we celebrate the constant state of flux that we call impermanence that ultimately, we find joy in our insubstantiality. In some Buddhist schools of thought, there is a fourth mark of existence one which comes when we have understood the other three The great dharma teacher, an according to many, the great bodhisattva of the West, who brought the dharma to the people of Palestine, Rav Yeshua (Jesus the Nazarene), is said to have taught: You are not of this world It is by understanding that we are not what we appear to be, and that all things are impermanent, that we encounter that fourth mark of existence: peace.


As remarkable as it sounds, the Buddha expounded a total of eighty-four thousand different sections of teachings. Yet all of these were further discourses on what we refer to as the three turnings of the Wheel of Dharma -- or the three great teachings. The first of these great teachings is the teaching of The Four Noble Truths, as given to his disciples at Sarnath, near Kashi. The second great teaching is called the Prajnaparamita Sutra, or the Perfection of Wisdom Teaching, which concerns itself with the understanding of unyata, or emptiness. And the third great teaching concerns the qualities of the Enlightened Ones. THE FIRST NOBLE TRUTH... THE EXISTENCE OF SUFFERING The Buddha taught that all of life involves suffering. This did not mean that he didn't recognise the existence of happiness, but only that those things and conditions we believe to bring happiness are all impermanent, and therefore, ultimately lack the ability to bring true (lasting) happiness. The Buddha talks of the suffering of birth, the suffering of sickness and death, the suffering of impermanence, and the pervasive suffering of existence in the cycle of life/rebirth itself. This philosophy is often mistaken as simplistic, yet in truth, it requires a greater degree of responsibility, and is much more difficult for some to undertake than they might believe. While the Buddhist does not deny the existence of external conditions, which contribute to the experience of pain, loss, and emotional difficulties, we recognise that suffering itself is created in our own minds, by our attempt to avoid pain, and seeking what we perceive as happiness in things which are impermanent, and therefore is incapable of sustaining lasting happiness. For example, how many of us believe that we will be happy when we find the perfect mate, and yet even in the best of conditions, when we find someone with whom trust, love and friendship are readily shared, the process of aging eventually leads to death, loss and grief. Thus our happiness was impermanent, and ultimately led to pain and suffering. Even in the monastic life, we can be deluded into thinking we've found satisfaction. For eighteen years, I enjoyed the company of my Franciscan brothers, working among those who were sick and dying, bringing them comfort and assuring that they would not die alone. We brought meals to those who were hungry on the streets of Atlanta, Phoenix, Miami and Orlando. We helped terminally ill children experience the joy of seeing Disney World for three days, fulfilling their dreams. And in the evenings, we came together for prayer, meditation and entered into the Silence of contemplation. It seemed to be all I could ever have wanted. But that experience came to an end on September 11, 2001. In the hours that followed the false-flag attacks on the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and the plane that was brought down over Shanksville, PA, we learned that the spiritual director of our community, my personal friend, spiritual mentor and brother Franciscan, Father Mychal Judge OFM, was the first casualty outside the WTC towers. Mychal

was a chaplain for the NYC Fire Department, and was giving last-rites to someone, when falling debris hit him. We went to the church that night, where we knew that three of the four Carmelite priests in residence were gay men, like us. And although we served as lectors, Eucharistic ministers, teachers and counselors in that parish for some time, it was an understood and unspoken rule that we never openly discussed it. Not unlike the don't ask, don't tell policy of the military, we were the elephants in the living room. The matter was further compounded by the fact that my spiritual director was just killed, and the priest to whom I turned for counseling said, Well, you're going to have to put a lid on that whole Buddhist thing, because the bishop isn't going to take to having Franciscans in his diocese, telling people that Jesus didn't come to start a church... and that belief in God is unimportant. In fact, that particular archbishop never approved of the work our community was doing on the streets of Atlanta, because he knew that we were giving condoms and clean needles to the junkies, who were living under the bridges and in the viaducts. We were telling them how to prevent the spread of AIDS, and when that meant refuting the ignorance of the Roman Catholic stance on sexuality, it was just too bad. The aging archbishop didn't want the press to get wind of the fact that this disobedient, radical Franciscan posse as he liked to call us, were handing out needles to drug users, and telling people it was OK to use condoms. And so it was that our community separated from the Roman Catholic Church, and in so doing, the stability, comforts and support we once knew were immediately ended. The benefactors who financially supported our work were told that supporting us would be supporting heretics, and could result in their excommunication. Suddenly, we were without support, without a means of maintaining our monastic houses, and largely without security. The happiness we once thought we had was impermanent. The Buddha taught that if we would overcome dissatisfaction, we had to come to terms with our grasping -- that is our attachments to temporal things, people, conditions and perceived sources of satisfaction or happiness because these were nothing more than exaggerated forms of desire. In other words, we had to recognise that all phenomena were impermanent by their nature. Once we could do that, we could embrace the Second Noble Truth.

THE SECOND NOBLE TRUTH... THE ORIGIN OF SUFFERING The Buddha taught that there were two causes for suffering: the karmic actions we take, contaminated by our delusions; and the delusions themselves. Another way of looking at this is to realise that, as we read in A Course in Miracles, Whatever is not love is fear. Anger, attachment, greed, desire and ignorance arise out of fear. When we seek happiness outside its true Source, then we are acting out of fear. When we experience pain, due to the consequences of

external conditions, causes or past actions (karma), if we try to avoid that pain (delusional behaviour) we suffer. Once we recognise the impermanent nature of things, we learn to no longer grasp at them, or attempt to avoid them. We see them as they are transient experiences or conditions, which arise as a result of other interdependent causes and conditions. On November 30th, in 2007, I was walking through a shopping plaza in Atlanta, when I suffered what appears to have been a severe neurological event, doctors originally thought was a seizure, but have now confirmed it to be caused by a form of Young-Onset Parkinsons Disease. Unaware that my motor function had become impaired, I apparently attempted one more step, resulting in my tripping on a curb, and flying head-long into a brick wall. As a result, I dislocated and fractured my shoulder, broke my arm in two places, fractured it in five, split open my head, and pretty much, banged-up my body pretty badly. When I became less disoriented, an ambulance was already called and on its way. I was rushed to the trauma centre at the local hospital, and the shattered bones in my arm were pushed into place, my shoulder forced back into its socket, and I was later released to a few weeks of recuperation at my parents' home. When I returned to the hermitage, a friend came to stay with me, to help with the things I would no longer be able to do for myself without the use of my dominant arm. The experience was remarkably painful, and resulted in my loss of the income I relied on for food, rent and other expenses. In fact, at the time that this manuscript is being written, I still haven't got the use of that right arm. I was in pain (emotionally and physically), but I was not suffering. Why? Because I recognised the impermanent nature of phenomena. I did not try to avoid the pain, but moved through it. I did not try to avoid the experience of losing the income, but knew I would have to get through it. Instead of trying to project where I would be in three weeks, or three months, I mindfully focused on staying in the moment... awake and aware of the now. We often talk about the path of non-attachment a central concept found in both the teachings of Buddha akyamuni and Rav Yeshua (Jesus the Nazarene). In order to actually release our attachments, it is helpful to understand what causes them. In general terms, attachment arises from one of four types of grasping: grasping after opinion, grasping after sensory pleasure, grasping after rule and rite, and grasping after the theory of self. In more general terms, we can say that grasping after those things we imagine to bring us happiness, and grasping to avoid those things we perceive as causing us pain are the foundational conditions, which give rise to attachments.

GRASPING AFTER OPINION How many times have we found ourselves at odds with someone or some group, because they differ strongly in opinion from us? Now I am not suggesting that having a personal opinion, even a strong personal opinion, is wrong. In fact, I believe that our opinions add to the experience of personal growth and development. But we must guard ourselves against becoming attached to them. When we recognise an opinion as an opinion, its difficult to be attached, because we see that thought or idea as a perception-based observation. In a world that is not static, our perception is bound to shift and change, and as it does, our opinions (should) change as well. If there is someone with whom you have not spoken, because they are stupid or dont get it, please consider the possibility that they simply perceive things from a different angle and that there is no right or wrong opinion.

GRASPING AFTER SENSORY PLEASURE Human sexuality, listening to music, eating your favourite foods none of these things are, in and of themselves, dangerous or bad. But once again, if we imagine that our happiness will come from owning a certain CD, attending a specific concert, dining at our favourite Indian restaurant, or a night of unbridled passion with someone(s), then we are setting ourselves up for disappointment, and we are grasping. We must understand that everything we need for complete happiness already exists within us. Happiness is our nature, or as Joseph Smith noted, is the object and design of our existence. (Unfortunately, his followers missed that point entirely, and chose to spend tens of thousands of dollars diminishing the civil rights of others, so that their self-imposed religious values could be codified into law, under Prop 8, resulting in yet another intolerant and superstitious religious institution, with its Masonic temple rituals, magical underwear, and sci-fi cosmology). It is unnecessary to give any sexual activity, music, food, bubble bath or anything else up, if it give you pleasure and harms no one. It is necessary, however, to be mindful. An occasional soak in a hot bath of warm Dead Sea salts can be healthful and invigorating. Spending $20-$30/month on spa treatments might be attachment however, particularly if we spent money that could have been used to help someone we know in need. Its all about balance and awareness and knowing that nothing will bring us lasting happiness, except letting go of it all.

GRASPING AFTER RULE AND RITE Such dogmatic, theocratic, religious and doctrinal arguments that cause separation and marginalisation are never useful. A cursory look through my blog, and there are countless examples of folks who dont believe I have any right to call myself a Franciscan or Camaldolese monk, a Buddhist monastic or contemplative, or a spiritual leader. Why? Because their particular rule of life, religious ritual, constitution or theology does not allow for someone who teaches what I teach. Not only do I strive not to become attached to my own rule of life or any spiritual/religious ritual, but I also strive not to allow others grasping at theirs to disturb my peace. We are reminded of this, when we read the account of the early work of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who opened one of her first hospices and hospitals in an abandoned Hindu temple. When asked by a dying Hindu if she intended to convert him, she smiled and said, :My only desire is to help the Hindu who comes here to become the best Hindu he or she can be... to help the Muslim to be the best Muslim they can be... and to help the Catholic to be the best Catholic they can be. She understood that attachment to the rule and rite of her particular belief system was unimportant. What mattered was love.


The words I AM are used in Judeo-Christian mythos as positive declarations of the Indwelling Presence of the Sacred in all of life. But in our daily lives, most times that we say I am we are investing in an illusion of permanence and separateness that is unhelpful. Again, its all about our awareness. When we realise there is no real us versus them, that what the Great Teacher was really saying, when we look at the Aramaic context of the words, is I am ONE with the Way; I am ONE with the Truth; and I am ONE with Life, then it is not problematic to make I am statements. I can say I am certain that, but we must realise that everything we think, including the illusion of selfhood is based on a faulty, and ever-changing perception; therefore, we cannot become attached to our thoughts, our sense of self, or our I am-ness because tomorrow (or in the next breath) all of that can change. Realising these basic, foundational causes for attachment, we can begin to look for ways in which we may let go of at least one source of attachment each day and as we do, our suffering will diminish, and a genuine happiness and peace will become part and parcel of who we are.

It is upon these essential and foundational teachings of the Buddha that all later interpretations of the Dharma are based. Within the various schools of Buddhist thought, there might be variances in the approach and understanding of meditation, wisdom, monastic rules, rituals and traditions; however there can be no disagreement in terms of what was meant by the Four Noble Truths. These four guiding principles are the pivotal basis for all Buddhist philosophy. This is why it is possible for an intentional community and grassroots movement, such as the Spiritus Project, to find its expression in the postmodern world beyond the limitations and institutions of religion, yet bringing together people of diverse spiritual traditions while remaining true to the essence of the Buddhist philosophy. THE THIRD NOBLE TRUTH... THE CESSATION OF SUFFERING

Once we understand the existence and origins of suffering, and recognise that suffering exists as a result of delusion, attachment and ignorance, then it stands to reason that if we are to find a means to end suffering, we must find a means of ending delusional thinking/behaviour, attachment and ignorance. That is the basis for the Third Noble Truth, which teaches that it is possible to end suffering, because our delusions are not natural, and can be eliminated from the mind. I often use the metaphor of disease, when explaining the Four Noble Truths. The First Noble Truth is the recognition that a particular disease exists; the Second Noble Truth is the diagnosis of the disease, based on the symptoms with which the patient presents; the Third Noble Truth is knowing that a cure exists, and a prescription for its treatment. All of these first three truths are only useful if the available treatment is taken. A doctor who diagnoses a patient as having an infection will prescribe an antibiotic, but unless the prescription is filled and taken, the infection will not get better.


Upon realising that life brings suffering, Buddha had to realise the cause of suffering. Once the cause was identified, he had to realise that cessation of suffering was possible. And upon realising that cessation was possible, it was necessary to identify the way to do that. The Fourth Noble is the medication or cure for suffering. Buddha called this cure, The Eightfold Path, and it is upon the foundation of the Eightfold Path that one's entire practice as a Buddhist is built.

Anger, arrogance, inflexibility, hostility, deception, envy, pride, conceit and bad company... these are impure foods, not meat. Buddha Sutta Nipata 245


The student of Dharma, realising the veracity of the first three of these Four Noble Truths, organically seeks to find or create that path out of suffering. The fourth of the Four Noble Truths is the path itself known in Buddhism as the Eightfold Path it is oriented toward developing the moral sensibility, concentrative mindfulness, and wisdom necessary to undertake the task of breaking free from the cycle of suffering. The Eightfold Path is often represented metaphorically by the image of the Wheel of Dharma (Dharmachakra). We use the metaphor of a Wheel of Dharma to represent this path, because of the three parts of a wheel, and their correspondence to the Eightfold Path, as prescribed by the Buddha. The axis of the wheel is ethical discipline, its stability comes from the rim of the wheel, which is concentration, and the spokes represent awareness and wisdom. Let's look at these three parts of the wheel of dharma. The first two steps of the Eightfold Path make up the category of wisdom or prajna in Sanskrit. These are: Right View understanding the impermanent, interdependent and empty nature of all phenomena. Right Intention development of the proper attitude, motivation and intentionality for pursuing the Dharma. Next we have the category of ila, or ethical conduct. In this category we find: Right Speech the avoidance of lying, divisive language, gossip or harming others with words. Right Action engaging in virtuous activity, and avoiding those activities which are non-virtuous. Right Livelihood pursuing a line of work that does no harm to others, and which leads to the development of other virtuous characteristics. Finally, we have the category of samadhi, or mental discipline. In this category we find: Right Effort perseverance and patience in our practice. Right Mindfulness continual awareness of one's state, without prejudice, leading to the ability to overcome distractions in meditation. Right Concentration achievement of the mental stability necessary to deepen one's meditative practice and extend it into every moment of life.

From this simple, yet powerful framework, one is able to develop a spiritual practice that is healthy, empowering and beneficial to the world around them. It is said that adherence to the Eightfold Noble Path leads the individual from this condition of suffering (samsara) to the attainment of true liberation (limitless happiness or satisfaction, wisdom and peace), to which we refer as Enlightenment. Unless we first understand these essential teachings, we cannot proceed in our spiritual journeys.


If the Fourth Noble Truth is the path to enlightenment, then the Six Perfections can be seen as the assurances that keep us on that path. Only by engaging in the practice of these six virtuous acts, and by avoiding the downfalls or obstacles that arise can we truly generate bodhicitta the spontaneous desire to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. When obstacles and downfalls arise, we purify them and rectify them, always returning to the path prescribed in the Six Perfections. Another way of looking at it is to see the Fourth Noble Truth as the awareness of the path, and the Six Perfections as each step we intentionally take along the path. We can be aware of a path's existence, but only when we engage that path, one step at a time, do we make any progress along the road itself, toward our destination. In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, we consider the moment one makes a true profession of the Bodhicitta Vows to be the highest form of ordination. In order for this ordination to bear fruit, it must be engaged actively. Just as the desire to feed the hungry will do nothing, if we don't actually take food to those who are hungry, the Bodhicitta Vows are without merit, unless our every thought and action actively engages the generation of compassion and wisdom. The Six Paramitas (Perfections) engage both inseparable paths: the path of wisdom and the path of method, which ultimately enable us to alleviate the suffering and causes of suffering for all sentient beings. The first five perfections are the "method", and the last one, the Prajna Paramita is "wisdom".


Whenever we give something out of the spontaneous and unconditional desire to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, we call this the perfection of giving. The principle behind this is that there is no point in clinging to possessions, whether material, intellectual or spiritual. Those things we possess only acquire value when they are given away, or used for the good of others. There are three main focuses in the perfection of giving: Giving material things Giving the Dharma Giving unconditional love

When we give material things, we are supporting the circulation of good that flows to us, through us and all around us. We also recognise that all phenomena are impermanent, and therefore of no intrinsic value. Giving supports the practice of non-attachment. When we give the Dharma, we are giving something far more valuable than material possessions, because we are contributing to the elimination of suffering. Similarly, giving unconditional love, or fearlessness as it is referred to in Buddhist texts, recognises that whatever is not love is fear, and fear is the cause of all delusion. Therefore, we give or support the process of eliminating fear, and thereby help to eliminate delusion, which is the cause of suffering.


For the Buddhist, the concept of moral discipline does not arise from superstitious subscription to the whims and laws of mythical gods and heavenly tyrants. It is not something that arises from fear. It is motivated by the generation of bodhicitta. The perfection of moral discipline is a proactive decision to abstain from non-virtuous actions, thoughts and conditions. The key to successfully engaging the practice involves mindfulness and awareness. The perfection is achieved by the threefold avoidance of non-virtuous actions, the discipline of keeping the Dharma and the discipline of performing acts which benefit others.


Maintaining a mind that is able to bear injury, suffering or profound Dharma, motivated by the desire to benefit all beings is the mark of the perfection of patience. The practice involves abstaining from the desire for retaliation, being willing to endure pain as a means of understanding and ending suffering, and the faithful practice of studying and applying the Dharma. The essential truth of suffering is that it never arises from external conditions. Those things which try our patience, cause us to desire retaliation, or distract our focus from the Dharma are conditions which arise from a delusional belief that outside forces, people or conditions cause us pain. When we bear these things patiently, no real suffering is possible, because the impermanent nature of those conditions will always result in their dissolution.


I've studied a number of texts in which this perfection is simply translated as the perfection of effort, but I believe that translation can be misleading. Years ago, there were two cats living in the hermitage. I completely dreaded emptying the litter box. In fact, it's probably safe to assume that the only thing I disliked more than emptying the litter box, was coming home to smell the effects of a dirty litter box. So it took some real effort to clean that litter box every couple days. But there was no enthusiasm in the act, and therefore, it was not a virtuous practice. During my service as a Catholic priest, I would see members of the church putting their collection envelopes into the basket each week, almost with a look of disgust. Giving money to assist us in the work we did took real effort for some of these folks, but it was never an effort of love. It was simply a result of their feeling it was something they had to do. Enthusiastic effort sees every action as an opportunity to positively contribute to the eradication of suffering in the world. If I keep the litter box clean, the cats will not suffer the discomfort of infections that could arise from a dirty environment. Others, especially those with compromised immune systems will not suffer the effects of life-threatening disease either, which could arise from the bacteria breeding in that environment. The prescription for the perfection of enthusiastic effort calls us to be mindful of and avoid procrastination, attachment to non-virtuous distractions and the distraction of discouragement.


A stable mind is a mind in which concentration, awareness, being-present and mindfulness comprise the entire constitution of our practice. It is about being present and aware in every action, thought or condition. We develop this perfection through the practice of meditation. At first, our mind may seem scattered, unstable, and incapable of sustaining focus for very long. In time, our practice will always yield the fruits of mental stability or concentration.


Wisdom is the ability to understand without the clouded notions of delusional thought. True wisdom is able to distinguish between what is virtuous and what is non-virtuous, so that it brings peace and clarity to the mind. When such wisdom arises out of bodhicitta, it is called the perfection of wisdom. Uniquely, the perfection of wisdom increases exponentially with the practice of the other five perfections. For example, when one responds to seeing a homeless person, and gives them something to eat with the expectation of nothing in return, they accumulate the merits of the perfection of giving. By not expecting anything in return, one would not be offended if that homeless person did not say thank-you, or even spoke hurtful words. Thus the perfection of patience arises out of the perfection of giving. These two are informed and motivated by a clear appreciation of the perfection of moral discipline; and they are the result of applying the perfection of enthusiastic effort. One who has done so will find increasing peace and stability of mind, which will enable them to see the insubstantial and impermanent nature of the homeless person, the money spent on the food, the food, and experience itself. This awareness of emptiness arises through the perfection of wisdom, and contributes to one accumulating the merits and wisdom, which comprise the Form Body and Truth Body of the Buddha. At the heart of the Buddha's core teachings, we find a short, but very powerful teaching on the Perfection of Wisdom, which is a particular focus of several schools of Buddhist philosophy, including Tibetan, Japanese and Chinese Buddhism. It is embraced as one of our special focuses in our study as well. It is called the Prajnaparamita Sutra the Perfection of Wisdom Teaching. According to the Mahayana tradition, the sixth perfection is the most important of all the other paramitas, because without wisdom, all of the other perfections remain on the mundane level. Through the attainment of true wisdom, the other five perfections are able to take on a deeper, spiritual significance. At a mundane level, our opinions, habits and perceptions corrupt the practice of true generosity, patience, vigour and tranquility. Even compassion becomes corrupted by our deeplyentrenched habits, unless we attain the perfection of wisdom. The perfection of wisdom can become a stumbling block for those unwilling to allow their belief in an Absolute, Eternal or Unchanging reality to be challenged even shaken to the core. Whether one embraces a belief in some sort of personal or theistic Absolute, or an impersonal, more metaphysical notion of the Absolute, the challenge is to recognise that these belief systems are ultimate founded on delusion, ignorance and fear. And it is this fear and delusion which give rise to grasping, attachment and suffering. From the Dharma perspective, once one believes in a separation between themselves and some supernatural Other, one's entire perception becomes increasingly delusional and unhealthy. Such

beliefs give rise to a sense of independent origination or existence, and an entire world of dualistic ideas and notions. There is, however, a part of us that ultimately knows this is an unbalanced and unreasonable concept of reality. And that unreasonable and irrational belief system causes an internal conflict to arise, which most theistic or metaphysically inclined individuals struggle with their entire lives. The Perfection of Wisdom offers a way to enlightenment. It represents the formal introduction to the Bodhisattva ideal. Unlike a Theravdan arhat or pratyeka-buddha -- beings who achieve enlightenment for their own benefit, but cannot pass on the means of enlightenment to others -- a bodhisattva should and does teach.


What is a Bodhisattva?

The Sanskrit word Bodhisattva refers to anyone who has generated bodhicitta the spontaneous wish to attain Enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. It is our belief that every living person has within their mental continuum the seeds of true compassion and the natural desire to alleviate the suffering of others, and because it is possible for any of us to meet a Dharma Teacher and learn to generate bodhicitta, then it is possible for all persons to become bodhisattvas. The word bodhicitta is comprised of two root words: bodhi, which means Enlightenment; and citta, which means the heart of. Therefore we say that bodhicitta is the heart of Enlightenment, because it is the purest motivation for Enlightenment, and the one which reflects the indwelling Buddha-nature. There are two aspects to bodhicitta: the relative aspect and the ultimate aspect. Relative bodhicitta refers to generating great compassion, beyond the simple wish to do so. It is engaged desire. Ultimate bodhicitta refers to the nature of the mind itself, which we sometimes call the Buddha-Mind or Christ Consciousness. Some believe that the reason for formally taking the Bodhisattva Vows is to engage an aspect of public witness, which makes us hold ourselves more accountable, than informally making that commitment in our rooms to ourselves. Just as there are two kinds of bodhicitta, there are two kinds of bodhisattvas as well: the Aspiring Bodhisattva and the Ideal Bodhisattva. An Ideal Bodhisattva is a fully-realised being, often depicted or exemplified in the images of the Buddhist pantheon, the Catholic Communion of Saints, or the Ancient Ones of the Pagan paths. These are a combination of both mythological and historical bodhisattvas, who are seen as models of particular qualities we should emulate, if we wish to attain Enlightenment. For example, the Great Bodhisattva Chenrezig, called the Bodhisattva of Compassion is the embodiment of compassion, who inspires us to become more compassionate. For many Catholics, St. Therese Lisieux comes to mind as a perfect example of the Bodhisattva Ideal. Her final prayer, according to the sisters, who sat by her said and witnessed her peaceful passing, was to spend her heaven doing good on earth, something many of us believe she was able to accomplish. Aspiring Bodhisattvas are those who have generated bodhicitta, and sincerely work to attain Enlightenment for the good of all beings. This includes those who have already embarked upon the Dharma path, and those who have the potential to do so. It is the development of Mahayana as a distinct vehicle from the Theravadan vehicle, was a gradual one, which many believe to have centred around the focus on the Bodhisattva Ideal. There were

monastics in the Theravadan tradition, who disliked the implication that the spiritual heirs of Buddhist tradition and teaching might be the lay people. To this day, I encounter a great deal of adversarial resistance from followers of the various Theravadan sects, because we do not adhere to their traditional monastic rules, traditions, restrictions and rituals. Many of these individuals are quick to criticise the fact that our monastery publishes books, saying that the Dharma ought to be free, or it is corrupted. They suggest that we must sit and beg for our sustenance something that is very romantic and nice in underdeveloped countries, but not very practical for small communities, living from hand-to-mouth already. Still, it is important to realise that the path of the Bodhisattva includes all of the vehicles and sects of Buddhism. There have been Theravadan Bodhisattvas. And I would suggest that there have been Bodhisattvas in other traditions as well.

Because the Bodhisattva adheres to a more disciplined path, it becomes easier for them to attain Enlightenment. It is said that moral discipline is a virtuous determination to avoid and abandon all things which lead to attachment, and those things which cause harm to other beings, or to the planet. The life of Christ can be seen as an illustration partially historical, largely sacred mythology of this kind of ideal. It is my assertion, having spent most of my life as both, a Buddhist monk and as a contemplative Catholic monk (in the Franciscan and Camaldolese-Benedictine traditions), that a close and open-hearted study of the actual teachings of Rabbi Jesus the Nazarene (Rav Yeshua) would reveal that there is no meaningful difference between true Christ Dharma and the Buddhist Dharma. In fact, I will go so far as to suggest that any so-called Christian religion that differs from Buddhism is not authentically teaching what Christ taught. Rav Yeshua did not come to start a religion, he came to start a revolution... interiorly. My firm belief is that one cannot begin to understand the profound teaching of the Christ without a prior study of Buddhist philosophy. This is a point missed by many commentaries, which note that despite the plethora of books by Christian writers on the benefits of Buddhist praxis and thought in the Christian life, Buddhists appear to be "virtually unaffected by Christian input, at least as far as contemplative practices are concerned (the question of Christian influence on recent Buddhist social activism is an entirely different issue)." (cf.: Encyclopedia of Monasticism, William M. Johnston) The only reason that most Buddhist sects are unaffected and unimpressed by the volumes of Christian texts on contemplative spirituality is that those texts draw on Buddhist Dharma, sometimes even missing the mark, by wandering into superstition and theism.

Still it cannot be ignored that regardless of one's personal spiritual beliefs, the life of Rav Yeshua the Nazarene is an illustration of someone who understood the Middle Way perfectly, and lived it to the fullest. One of the reasons the Spiritus Project formed was to give voice and expression to those from both traditions, who found the rich diversity of the two traditions as a beautiful backdrop for the one Dharma these two Masters gave us.


The great master antidev wrote, in his Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life that those who want to know about the Bodhisattva vows should first study the Akaagarbha Sutra, and then begin reading the Compendium of Trainings, to understand how to go about living the vows. The Akaagarbha Sutra is a text in which the Buddha gives instruction on the downfalls and means of purifying them, for those on the Bodhisattva path. The point that antidev was making is that one should not embark upon the act of making vows without proper study. It would similarly be irresponsible for me to attempt to provide the reader with enough information to make such vows themselves, although it might be possible for readers to enter into a type of Pratimoka vow that is to say vows to strive to attain personal liberation. In the meantime, the student/reader could seek a competent spiritual teacher to guide them in the Bodhisattva path. In general terms, the taking of vows as a Bodhisattva is to immerse oneself in the Mahayana vehicle. The main purpose of Mayahana philosophy is to attain Enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. In order to do so, we realise that we must first generate bodhicitta, and then conform our lives to the Bodhisattva Way. Our Bodhisattva vows are a daily reaffirmation of that commitment. Before taking the vows, we are able to generate aspiring bodhicitta a sincere desire to attain enlightenment for the sake of all beings, without the formal instruction and training necessary to become a Bodhisattva. While aspiring, this type of bodhicitta still begins transforming everything in our lives, moving things toward the ultimate realisation of Ideal Bodhicitta. For those who are sincerely interested in going further, I would suggest the following simple promise, which they could make three times each day, while sitting quietly, and generating bodhicitta: From this time forth, until I become Enlightened, I shall keep, even at the cost of my life, a mind wishing to attain complete enlightenment to free all living beings from suffering.


Our way of life is a simple one. United in purpose with the Wayseers Movement, and dedicated to living an engaged and socially conscious expression of the Middle Way, we are a community of people who have struggled, withdrawn, tried to hide our gifts, because we didn't realise who we really were. Through the practice of Zenkondo, we reawaken that consciousness that knows and recognises our True Nature, as Pure Awareness expressing Itself. As Pure Awareness we likewise recognise our true calling on this planet, and see ourselves as custodians and conduits of a massive shift in the human condition, from slavery and suffering to liberation and joy. To quote from the Wayseers Movement, we are "the change agents of humanity - the innovators, the healers, the visionaries, the spiritual leaders, the entrepreneurs, the ones who are here to lead humanity into alignment with the Way." We also recognise that society has not held all the answers, and has only begun to scratch the surface of understanding, when it comes to matters of neurodiversity. Neurodiversity is a concept, which spawned an entire consciousness movement, suggesting that neurological differences be recognised and respected as social categories, on a par with gender, ethnicity, class, or disability. Examples of these differences can include (but are not limited to) individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder, dyscalculia, dyslexia, dyspraxia, Tourette syndrome, Parkinson's Disease, and others. Neurodiversity is simply a variation in human wiring, not a disability or disease. To quote sociologist, Judy Singer, "Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general." As a result of this basic recognition, our way of life is not rigidly codified in the way that primitive societies were compelled to codify their monastic communities. We honour and respect the right each person has to discover and live-out a practice that is both authentic and fully engaged, while consistent with their wiring and level of spiritual development. One of our principle objectives is to encourage and nurture connections that arise organically among practitioners, and to support the development of intentional communities, eco-villages, and spiritual networks, as a viable means of encouraging personal transformation, and extending that experience to the world around us. We are keenly aware that our way of life is significantly different from mainstream societal and cultural norms. We also recognise that our approach to diverse spiritual practice is unique and counters the tradition of historic Buddhism and Christian monasticism, but we don't see these differences as lines

drawn in the sand. Instead, we see our differences as cause for celebration, dialogue and as an opportunity for enrichment and growth, both individually and globally. Our way of life is formed around shared values of simplicity, environmental sustainability, social justice, non-violence and service. As such, our way of life has been refined and is intended to be conducive to the arising of greater mindfulness, wisdom and compassion, within the context and culture of a postmodern, Western world. We recognise the historic vinaya of the primitive Buddhist communities to have been culturally and sociologically relevant to the time and ethos out of which it arose, but find little about that approach to be conducive, relevant or acceptable in a postmodern, Western world. Therefore, it may be helpful to address some of the same major "concerns" that the ancient vinaya addressed, and to discuss how this teaching approaches such concerns today.


The ancient Buddhist and Contemplative Christian communities were largely mendicant or supported by wealthy benefactors. Having no personal means of support is a very practical means of understanding the instinct to seek security; furthermore, the need to seek alms gives a monk a source of contemplation on what things are really necessary. The four requisites, food, clothing, shelter and medicines, are what lay people can offer as a practical way of expressing generosity and appreciation of their faith in belonging to the Buddhist Community. In a postmodern world, the act of begging from door-to-door is impractical and even illegal in some places. What's more, we don't believe that a contemplative gains the benefit of learning how to cope in the real world, if their only experience has been within the confines of a formal monastery. Therefore every contemplative, whether lay or ordained, is encouraged to cultivate their skills, talents and passions, in order to develop a means of right livelihood. As this community grows, it is the intention for enough of a grassroots support network would exist to aid and support the work of the current abbot, and maintenance of the Order's headquarters and principal place of operation. It is reasonable to expect that lay persons, who find merit in the teaching, would set aside at least one dollar each day, to directly show their gratitude for and support of the abbot. Students preparing for ordained life should similarly be able to set aside a minimum of $30/month, if they are working part time, to support their abbot and/or preceptors. "Monastic students" are also required to pay $200 one-time tuition before beginning the formation program, which is to sustain that program, and psychologically place greater value on their studies, since there has been a direct correlation demonstrated between the level of focus and sincerity shown toward one's studies, and the financial investment one has made in that process.

Students who were permitted to enter the program in the past, without any financial commitment have, without exception failed to take their studies seriously. In fact, historically, those who did not make a financial commitment to their formation process generally drop out of the program within their first twelve months. This speaks volumes. Ordained contemplatives are entrusted with the work of establishing Dharma centres, and as such financially support the abbot in ways that are not always immediately recognisable. For example, they may be spending money to establish a place for monastic retreats, or a yoga/meditation centre. They may be offering disabled members of the Sangha a place to live. Or they may be doing significant work feeding the poor and homeless. As such, they are allowing the Root Guru to extend the reach of the Dharma, and their contribution is every bit as significant as if they were giving the abbot the money with which to do those same things.

In the ancient tradition, monks were permitted to collect and consume food between dawn and noon. They were not permitted to consume any food outside of this time, nor were they permitted to store food overnight. Clearly, the vinaya was not written by Italians or Jews! No such tradition is to be found in our way of life, except that we encourage ordained contemplatives to strive to become more mindful and grateful for whatever food is prepared for them. It is considered spiritually and personally immature to refuse to eat something that was prepared for us, just because "we don't like that". Food allergies or foods which historically upset our stomachs, or don't agree with our constitution are perfectly fine to avoid. But refusing a sandwhich because it contains American cheese, and you don't like American cheese (which I don't), is not acceptable behaviour. Similarly, if you are an ordained practitioner, whenever preparing food for others, you should be mindful of their particular needs and preferences. If they don't eat meat, you should not prepare meat for them. If they don't like brown mustard, and prefer yellow mustard, you should make every attempt to provide for them a meal they will enjoy. This is the heart of the servant, and a good practice for us all. No time constrictions exist, but every practitioner is encouraged to eat what is healthful, and only as much as is necessary to provide adequate nutrition. Overeating is frowned upon. Eating unhealthy foods is likewise discouraged. An occasional snack or "special treat" is perfectly permissible, so long as we receive that food with the same gratitude and mindfulness of those who have gone without food that day, as we treat all meals.

The ancient Forest Monks would make their own robes from the cloth that was donated to them. Climate conditions, cultural adaptations and other concerns make this something that is not part of our Western tradition. The traditional (ceremonial) robes of the Order include a black tunic and pants, similar to those worn by martial arts practitioners. These can be short or long-sleeved. Those ordained as Novices and above are to wear the black hakama as well. Optionally, the contemplative may choose to wear a brown or black hooded tunic, with a simple rope cord. The abbot is permitted to wear the above in black or white. Sandals or flip-flops should be worn on the feet. When the abbot lives in a traditional monastic hermitage, shoes are never worn in the hermitage, as the entire premises are to be considered as "sacred space". When the abbot lives in a Western abbey, then climate, cultural custom and other considerations may make it permissable to wear shoes everywhere but in the abbot's personal butsudan/chapel. Lay persons are encouraged to wear simple clothing, and ordained contemplatives are encouraged to do the same, when in the work place. One should not spend exorbitant amounts of money on clothing, since that money could be spent helping someone who has no clothing or food. Generally speaking, simple, professional clothing, suited to the profession or vocation one chooses is the best option. Traditional robes may be worn any time and any place, provided one is actively engaged in Dharma work, teaching, or mindfulness practice. The exceptions to this would be any place where inappropriate behaviour may occur (such as a bar, large party or on the battlefield).

Silent, simple, and welcoming could be the best description of the ideal residence of an ordained contemplative. From the scriptures it seems that the general standard of lodging was to neither cause discomfort nor impair health, yet not to be indulgently luxurious. Modest furnishings of a simple and utilitarian nature were also allowed. There was an anecdotal story that was told about the vinaya prescriptions against a monk sleeping in the same room with an unordained male; which reported that many of our monks would then switch sleeping quarters with another monk, so that they and their (ahem) "guest" could still sleep together, since they were not in any one same room for more than three nights! Of course, such prescriptions no longer apply.

The traditional principles of mendicancy forbid an ordained contemplative from asking for anything, unless he or she is ill, without having received an invitation. So when receiving food, for example, they make themselves available in a situation, where people wish to give food. At no time does the contemplative request food. Tea and coffee can be offered at any time. Sugar, milk or honey can be offered at the same time to go with it. One can also make an invitation to cover any circumstances or expenses that may arise, of which you may not be aware, by saying, for example, "If you need any medicine or requisites, please let me know". To avoid any misunderstanding, it is better to be quite specific about what you are offering. Unless specified, an invitation can only be accepted for up to four months, after which time it lapses unless renewed.


There are no prescriptions against ordained contemplatives having money, or listening to music, dancing or owning a home, car, etc. All things are to be approached with mindfulness, and moderation.


The contemplative as Dharma teacher must find the appropriate occasion to give the profound and insightful teachings of the Buddha to those who wish to hear it. It would not be appropriate to teach without invitation, nor in a situation where the teachings cannot be reflected upon adequately. This is a significant point, as the Buddha's teachings are meant to be a vehicle, which one should contemplate silently and then apply. The value of Dharma is greatly reduced if it is just received as chit-chat or speculation for debate. Accordingly, for a Dharma talk, it is good to set up a room where the teachings can be listened to with respect being shown to the speaker. In terms of etiquette, graceful convention rather than rule, this means affording the speaker a seat which is higher than his audience, not pointing one's feet at the speaker, not lying down on the floor during the talk, and not interrupting the speaker.

Questions are welcome at the end of the talk. Also, as a sign of respect, when inviting a contemplative, it is usual for the person making the invitation to also make the travel arrangements, directly or indirectly.

Tenzin Yangchen Ma (Ma Jaya) at the Names Project Quilt in Washington, DC. Ma paused to honour the quilt panel of one of the Orders first monks to die from AIDS, Kali das Jayananda (Bro. Ronn of the Immaculata).


Within this section are some of the more commonly requested topics and excerpts of Dharma talks given over the past five years. They are arranged in no particular order, and are offered with the hope that they may provide a little clearer insight into the path and teaching.


A friend commented today that the "problem:" he sees with my being willing to make allowances for non-traditional students, students who might not engage in sitting or yoga with the discipline that was required of us in monastery, students who don't make the Dharma a priority in their lives, who might not show their teacher, their lineage, their altars or their temples the kind of respect that would be appropriate at times, is that such student never cultivate the discipline needed to integrated the practice into their entire lives. I don't know that I necessarily agree. When a student doesn't sit or practice yoga, they suffer. Eventually, they will get tired of suffering, and they'll force themselves to ask why. If they lack respect for me, for their altars or the temple, or they fly their prayer flags on the 'wrong" days, so what? That too is about THEM. They lack respect for themselves, not me. If they argue just to hear the sound of their voices, they are insecure with themselves. I just need to keep teaching, and eventually, they have to take a breath and shut up. Who knows what words might break through? If their priorities are out of order, they'll figure that out. What I won't do is tell someone that they have to sit for two hours a day, if I know they're incapable of paying attention to anything for more than five minutes. Those persons need to learn to pay attention to the moment... moment-by-moment. They need to grow up a little, and become a little more comfortable in their skins. And some of them might have physical conditions in this lifetime (including mental issues) which makes sitting impractical. Can they not awaken without sitting? Meditation isn't a magic trick. Enlightenment is nothing to attain. My job is to help each person cultivate mindfulness in meaningful, practical and applicable ways in their lives, not the life I want for them.


If we are going to do our part to cultivate greater compassion in our world, we must become more mindful of violence in our world. Its easy to imagine that violence is only something that happens out there, but such a mindset does little to contribute to personal responsibility and realisation. Violence finds its way into all aspects of daily life, and can range from the most subtle expressions to extreme physical manifestations. The sage, Krishnamurti once noted: Violence is not merely killing another. It is violence when we use a sharp word, when we make a gesture to brush away a person, when we obey because there is fear. So violence isnt merely organized butchery in the name of God, in the name of society or country. Violence is much more subtle, much deeper, and we are inquiring into the very depths of violence. We must be mindful that we make an impression upon others by saying or doing something as well as by not saying or doing something. The question we must ask is what that impression is. Are we contributing to that persons personal, emotional or spiritual wellbeing? Or are we lashing out, and simply wanting to hurt them, to get even. Its difficult to balance the need for directness and tough love with the mandate for compassion at all times. There are times when we might witness someone we love engaged in self-destructive behaviours, and out of our own fear for their wellbeing, we may appear to lash out. Our intention may be good, but the impact on the other person is not changed by the intention. Everyone desires the same thing: happiness and freedom from suffering. From the smallest of microscopic organisms to the most complex beings, every being is hardwired for happiness and nonsuffering. If we cultivate a greater awareness of our own motivations, we can ensure that we do no harm, no violence to another. And that does not make it easier, to be sure. In fact, I can tell you that right now, my heart is heavier than imaginable, because I know that I can say or do no more to inspire maturity, responsibility, growth and self-empowerment in someone entrusted to my care. I must guard my words and actions, and remain vigilant to dispel fears that may arise, leading me to want to lash out. I can simply be love for that person, and all persons by extension, and rely on the assurance that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. Of course, those who are steeped in selfish, irresponsible and often self-destructive behaviours are among the first to rally against anyone appearing to be a teacher. But their rallying is not against those external teachers who manifest in their lives, but to Our Lady, known in Sanskrit as Bhagavati, the culmination of wisdom and compassion. This wisdom and compassion is our true guru our interior teacher. And it is against that indwelling Bhagavati that those we love, who are not yet ready to take responsibility for their lives, rally.

Be unrelenting in your gentleness. Never stop trying to extend love and kindness to those around you. You never know the other persons story. You see, this is one of the greatest reasons for cultivating a true practice of compassion. True compassion is not the kind of love we feel for those close to us. Often that compassion is occluded by our own attachments to those persons. But if we learn to cultivate compassion for all beings, particularly those we do not know, there is a dramatic shift that occurs within our minds. We suddenly learn to dwell in what Eastern philosophy calls the chidikash the heartspace over the head, expounded upon by Indias Swami Nityananda. The chidikash is the sacred space in which our minds merge with our True Nature, the Awakened Nature, and dissolve into the bliss of Emptiness. It is in this space, which sounds a bit esoteric on first read, that we find our real spiritual home Only when we can function from this space, can we effectively serve, forgive, and live. As one cultivates that practice of compassion, and dwelling in the chidikash, then one begins to be able to manifest greater compassion for those they love as well, because the attachments to those persons dissolve with the ego. Suddenly, the expression of compassion becomes unclouded by our fears, our hurts, our impressions or opinions. We radiate the true Buddha/Christ Nature and can begin to heal others, by healing ourselves. Remember this everything that appears in your external life, from the manifestations of aches and pains in your body to the occurrences in the world around you is a reflection of your interior life. If there is chaos around you, there is chaos within you. If there is hunger and dis-ease around you, there is hunger and dis-ease within your mind. These manifestations or reflections of your interior (spiritual) condition are opportunities for you to heal and grow. And when you do that, you find that the external takes care of itself, and begins to transform as well.

How then, does the mind free itself of its accumulated violence, cultured violence, self-protective violence, the violence of trying to protect another through harsh words, the violence of aggression, the violence of competition, the violence of trying to suppress and bully oneself, brutalise oneself, in order to be non-violent? We begin by realising that violence is, itself, nothing more than energy. It is energy that is misdirected in such a way as to manifest aggression. But that same energy, from a non-dualistic perspective, can be redirected toward compassion. How do we do that? We do that by mindfulness. Consider any and all of the times when you have experienced an angry outburst. Ill bet it was only later, when the experience passed, or perhaps even seconds after the outburst itself, that you realised that you were angry. The language used in your self-talk, which is the ego, is an attempt to redefine your nature.

You are angry, the ego tells you. Not really. You are love. But lets not get ahead of ourselves. Were going to use a strategy that anyone can use right away, which allows you to skilfully use the tricks of the ego to your benefit. As I said, mindfulness is the key to transforming violence. If you live from an introspective, mindful and contemplative place, then whenever angry, fearful, hurting or jealous emotions, thoughts or impulses arise, you can immediately recognise them and acknowledge them. Say to yourself, This is an angry thought arising. It wont prevent the thought from manifesting, but will do something much more important. It will prevent you from becoming attached to it. For example, very recently, someone we know did something remarkably irresponsible and reckless. My impulse was to get all Sicilian on them and tell them how badly they are f*cking up their lives and the lives of their loved ones with their stupid, selfish behaviour. But what would that have accomplished? They already know that deep within themselves, and they would only lash out in resistance to the external manifestation of their interior voice/teacher (Bhagavati). So instead, I became quiet and still. I turned my awareness away from the immediate situation, because what that person has done is done that isnt going to change. Instead, I looked at and listened to the interior dialogue, which went something like this: Gurudas, youre angry. No, I am love. This anger is arising from a chain of interdependent causes and effects, and is impermanent it is ego. But youre really pissed I recognise the emotional response to self-destructive behaviour in others, and know it comes from knowing that I have made bad decisions in my life too. Underneath all of this misguided energy is a desire for the other person to find happiness, and stop their self-defeating behaviour, thus ending their suffering. That whole dialogue took maybe one minute, and guess what the anger dissolved, unexpressed. I didnt suppress it. I didnt stuff it and allow it to eat at me. I disarmed it. I recognised that at the root of every emotion and impulse is nothing more than energy, and as the Creator and Architect of my universe, I have the authority and power to redirect all energy for the greater good. Jesus knew this, and used this technique to empower others to experience healing. Buddha knew this and exemplified it in his life and teachings. This is ultimately the foundation upon which the Eight Verses of Mind Training (Lojong) are compiled. Our inattention (dwelling from the ego-mind) attaches us to images, perceptions and notions. These are the delusions which give rise to anger, fear and aggression.

By cultivating mindfulness (attention and awareness, rooted in wisdom and compassion), we become unattached to images, perceptions and notions. Our fears dissolve and all aggressive energy is redirected toward healing and wholeness. Again, quoting the sage Krishnamurti, To be free of violence implies freedom from everything that man has put to another man, belief, dogma, rituals, my country, your country, your god and my god, my opinion, your opinion, my ideal. All those help to divide human beings and therefore breed violence. And though organised religions have preached the unity of mankind, each religion thinks it is far superior to the other. Make a personal decision to end your contribution to violence today. Disassociate yourself from activities and groups which support or teach or foster separatism, elitism, discrimination and dogma. Work toward becoming more mindful, more aware, more awake. Cultivate a genuine desire to help alleviate suffering and unhappiness, wherever you find it, beginning with your own heart. The message of the Great Rabbi was clear, Love your Awakened Nature, the Sovereign Essence. Love one another. Love yourself.

On Mindfulness
I often think that one of the great ironies is that there are books written about contemplative spirituality and the Dharma of the Enlightened and Anointed Ones. Ironic, because in order to truly derive any benefit from those words, we have to be able to recognise them as meaningless. There are volumes of books written on mindfulness. And it is true that one must understand what mindfulness is, and that it is healthy to learn ways to practice mindfulness. I've written books on the subject myself. Yet none of these books can really help you achieve mindfulness. Only you can do that for yourself. Mindfulness is the term we use to describe the practice of bringing our full awareness to the moment. It is a practice of continuous refocus, breath-upon-breath, until that focus is so refined that we are consciously aware of the space between those breaths. The great Perennialist Rabbi Jesus taught his disciples to refocus their minds on the true nature of their "god" -- which Jesus defined as being Love Itself. Nearly four decades after the legend tells us that Jesus died, during a time in which other legends tell us that he and his family were in Kashmir, another Perennialist teacher, Paul of Tarsus would call this way of mindfulness "the mind of Christ" -- describing it as something we already possess, but "forget".

The essential truth is that we don't need complicated explanations of what mindfulness is, because mindfulness isn't complicated. In fact, whatever complicated explanation you might have heard about mindfulness, you can be certain was what mindfulness is not! If you simply sit still, right now, and close your eyes, allowing yourself to hear, smell, feel and touch all of the sensations occurring inside you, around you and through you... and then gently open your eyes, allowing yourself to notice each of the things you see and perceive... you have just practices mindfulness. With practice, the awareness you just brought to that series of moments, which may have been distracted right now, because you were reading this article, will become richer, fuller, more present. If you did not stop what you were doing, and did not attempt the exercise, you know what mindfulness is not... and you experienced, with equal value, the way in which distractions and unuseful decisions can keep us from spiritual growth and awareness. When I wrote the book, The Dharma of Compassion, my original publisher called it "a great contribution" to the world of spiritual development. I laughed at her comment! There was nothing great about the book itself, nor about its author. And the book was no great act of compassion. It was a book. In order for that book to have any merit, it would have to reduce the suffering in the world. In and of itself, it could not do so. Therefore, only if that short book inspired someone to take action -- to volunteer at their local hospice or soup kitchen... to clean up the side of a highway... to engage the spiritual lessons they embraced in a meaningful way that impacts and ensures social justice -- only then would it have been a worthwhile contribution to the overwhelming mountain of literature that already exists on the subject. Several folks have emailed me to ask what kind of "sanctuary" I intend to build for the Spiritus Project -a grassroots, interspiritual movement, which gave birth to the Zenkondo Sampradaya. Put simply, it will be a place of Great Tranquility, where practitioners can come to learn the Dharma of Compassion, and be trained in practical ways to engage their spirituality in forms of service, social justice and healing work, back in their home communities. It will be a place where I teach those who are ready to delve more deeply into the practice of awareness in the moment, so that they not only focus on the breath, but on the space between the breaths... the place I call The Origin -- borrowing from a Japanese Zen teaching -- which is known more commonly as unyata. There, each student has the potential to experience unyatananda -- the bliss of the Origin/Emptiness. But it will also be a place where most of the teaching is not structured, but occurs organically... in the Sacred Silence... a place where people from all spiritual traditions can come together, and dig deeper into their own paths, by learning more about the paths of others. And it will, I am hopeful, be a place that inspires others to continue the work we are doing.

You already have all you need to know, within your heart. It rides on the current of each inward breath, and is shared with the world around you on the exhalation. Just take time to sit with it, listen to it, and when the seemingly endless chatter of the exterior life dies down, you will hear Her... the Mother of the Dharma... your own interior voice or akti. And you will have found your home in the Silence.

One may give without loving, but one cannot love without giving. -Tenzin Yangchen Ma