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Author of this essay:

Abbot John
(December 20, 2008)

High Water Everywhere (A Welcome to Our New Priests)
by Abbot John

A friend of mine and I were recently engaged in that seemingly never-ending discussion about science vs. religion when he asked me what kind of idiot is it that would think some “make believe” spiritual reality while so many are suffering so much in the “real world”. He didn’t phrase it so much as a question but as a final declaration and confirmation of his point concerning “religious idiots”. As a matter of fact he said it with such force that I felt just like Peter before the rooster crowed three times. But before the words, “Beat’s me…I don’t know” or a simple smile passed my lips I stopped. It is precisely this suffering (and more) that the Buddha addressed when he said:

“I teach only the fact of suffering and the way to the ending of it.”

This rising tide of fear is not unique in type or time. It is a constant fact of the human condition. Perhaps I was just born on the wrong side of the tracks, but I know very few people who have not felt suffering of this kind. It has been around since we’ve been around. So long, in fact, that it should be clear by now that the end of this suffering will not come about by establishing an improved version of either Adam Smith’s or Karl Marx’ economic philosophies. The Buffalo will not return and the end of suffering comes from another source.

Some things are under our dominion and some are not. Before I begin mumbling and meandering away let us: Welcome! to all the new priests that have recently been ordained into our Order. My heart-mind knows the privilege you now have and some of the obligations. As to your vows, and as before, you cannot enter Nirvana until every individual sentient being enters Nirvana, may you take solace in the truth that there is no such thing as an individual sentient being.

As I took a few seconds to look over the photos of all our priests, new and old, it was gratifying to recognize something fundamental in each and every one; sometimes it was the inclination of the head, sometimes it was the smile in the eyes, sometimes it was the pain. Humor me for a moment and go to the Clergy page and gaze at the look on the face of our newly elevated Assistant Abbot Yin Cai Shakya. Please accept my apologies Yin Cai.

Are you back with me? Well that photo invoked in me instant understanding and recognition. I know that look very well. I felt those very same thoughts at one particular point in time. I hit a 250 yd drive right down the center of the fairway and when I reached the ball I found it sunk deep…down in an old divot. The ball was looking at me like a suspicious gopher peering out of his hole. That look on Yin Cai’s face appears right before you make the decision, to either play it as it lies or do a soft shoe shuffle and nudge the ball a bit left or right. You think…after all, who really knows? Remember, as our late meditation master once told me, golf and Zen are games for noble men. It is up to us to keep our own scores. The only competition we have is with our own egos, and believe me that’s as tough as it gets. The real truth is discovered when we play it as it lies. Leave the soft shoe shuffle to priests of another kind or the ego of another man. Our work is clearly right before our eyes.

As we look at the photos and imagine a bit of the lives behind them it is astonishing to see how far flung we are. How different our backgrounds are. When we are all sitting around the beauty salon getting our hairs (I only have three left) arranged, I wonder what reasons we would speculate that brought us together. Some may say it was the search for truth or the realization that Buddha didn’t lie. But, as the most cynical Abbot any order has ever had, I would probably say it was pain. Pain and suffering, and the hope for the alleviation of it, is what brought us together. What keeps us together are the other things, the realization that there is a way to end suffering and all it takes is to lose that deep seated sense of a privileged unique self.

As we go through our individual journeys it may be difficult at times to see through the masks of all the charlatans and false saviors that prey on vulnerability but it is not hard to see those who are in pain. Suffering is hard to fake. As your cynical Abbot I would encourage you to help those in need but beware. Predators abound and sometimes appear as sheep. With all that in mind, it may be beneficial to recall Robert Frost’s precautionary words. Remember, not everyone who seeks you out is after salvation.

Neither Out Far Nor In Deep

The people along the sand
All turn and look one way.
They turn their back on the land.
They look at the sea all day.

As long as it takes to pass
A ship keeps raising its hull;
The wetter ground like glass
Reflects a standing gull

The land may vary more;
But wherever the truth may be--
The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea.

They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
But when was that ever a bar
To any watch they keep?

Good Luck.

Humming Bird