A Very Important Message to All Pet Owners

catPlease love all sentient beings. We seem to have the perception that animals (a highly conotated word) are somehow mindless entities that have no desire to live or be happy. When i grew up, I grew up in a family of outdoors-man/women, I was fishing by the time I could walk and hunting by age 13. I was always in the woods or by water, nature was my refuge. One day I asked my father, “Are animals afraid when we kill them?”, he replied, “They don’t feel like we do.”, and that was my belief throughout my teen years. I believed that animals were just shells filled with instinct and devoid of feelings or desires. As I got older, and started practicing Buddhism, I stopped hunting due to the requirements of Sila (precepts), and to be honest, this was the only reason why. When I was ordained, I stopped even fishing, and held the precept of ” Not taking life strongly”, even to the point of saving insects; however, lets be clear, it was due to my precepts, not insight. As the years rolled on, I noticed my sense of empathy growing and growing until I truly, deep down, began to see that all life is interconnected and of one source. With this insight I realized that all life, no matter how small, is of great value and a part of me. I don’t go around sweeping the ground before me or filter water to avoid killing microscopic life (not that their is anything wrong with this) but, I do go out of my way to preserve all the life that I can. Not just preserve it but, nurture, respect and love it. Sometimes this is hard, especially with praying mantises but, that is another story.
When my family moved into our current house we were left with a fish tank. I had always wanted a fish tank, and feeling like a kid getting a new pet hamster, went to the pet store and picked out two Oscars, after researching the type of fish I wanted, large, intelligent and with a long lifespan. I had always fished and never gave whether fish had feelings or personalities any thought at all, fish, even Kurt Kobain said they didn’t have any feelings. After a year of having them, I cant express how wrong I was. They have personalities, they are affectionate, they become depressed (neat thing is their colors change with their emotional state), they play and they fear pain. Am I trying to say they sit around pondering the meaning of life, no, they are fish, they do as fish do; however, maybe they could teach us a thing or two. We seem to have a huge problem with just “being” human and result to all kinds of distractions to avoid being human beings. What life is of more value than another? What life form does not seek to live in peace? All life is different, we all are unique expressions of the universe. How wonderful it is to be born a human, to have such an ability to play with mirrors and to see into our true nature. I know, with no doubt, we are truly the universe becoming conscious of itself, how wondrous! This gift, of being human, should be used to protect life, and ensure its health and wellness, not abuse and discard it.
In closing, over the years, I have accumulated five stray cats, and each of them have their own unique personalities, just like people. It may sound strange but, they have taught me a great deal about my narrow views. I know, whenever I would hear someone make such a statement, I would say to myself “Oh my god”, spare me. However, this is the truth, and if we open our minds to the possibility that “animals” are cohabitants of this planet, and not lessor beings, we become able to see each and every animal as a precious brother or sister.
At my zendo, we do not take life, and there is no meat allowed in the temple. Furthermore, we do not kill insects or mice but, try to trap them humanely and release them; that’s if they are a nuisance. We have a couple of mice who run around the zendo, and they have never been an issue; however, I think they moved out as we have not seen them this year. These animals experience many of the same emotions I do, and from what I have observed, revel in life the same way we do. Yes, they are also packed full of instincts, some of them brutal; however, so are we! We are animals, whether we want to believe it or not, and the sooner we realize this, the sooner we will drop the whole “Animals are here to serve mankind”, scratch that, “The world is here to serve mankind”, the sooner we will break through our pride and arrogance and see all life as valuable.
One more point, it is a bit off topic; however, worth mentioning for my Dharma Zen Brother and Sisters who do not see a place for Sila in Zen. Sila is a great tool to aid us in correcting our ignorant behavior, just long enough for us to begin healing and growing. The above story is a great example of the value of sila and how this temporary framework can give us the structure needed to build our own foundation. The vow of “Not taking life” seems like a daunting task, no? Saving and protecting all sentient beings? First of all, it all starts with you and some hard work, and from this hard work, we naturally begin to awaken from our slumber and grow open and vast. Even simple karma, such as spraying your animals, supporting no-kill shelters, looking at animals with an open heart, or ushering an insect out of window, versus crushing it, are all seeds of Dharma. As a result of our actions, our heart grows open and wide, expand outward we embrace all life equally, thus reclaiming our true place as Buddhas. The more we awaken these seeds, the more we cut out the roots of ignorance and allow our ture nature to bloom. With this simple vow, we embody the Dharma and our actions manifest into the world, quickening the wondrous manifestation of our true Dharma Body.

PS – I have nothing against those who hunt or fish for food, actually, the contrary. In my view, it is a much more humane to take life with a high caliper rifle than the modern methods of slaughter.

The goverment now takes even the most basic need, food, away from the poor.

I am just beside myself with this one, okay, let me be honest, angry. Fudo sits over my shoulder spurring me on. Instead of working towards bridging the gap between the wealthy and the poor, the house has voted to expand it. I will not say “the republicans” are to blame, even though they control the house, as I think both parties are equality at fault. Not only do i perceive both parties at fault but, the American people, the author included. Both parties continue to ignore the voices of the poor. Yes, there has been positive change in the past few years with human rights, especially for GLBT men and women; however, we continually and historically forget the poor! Anyone who has even done their homework or taken an Inro to Social Services class knows the old claims about the poor choosing to manipulate the system in some vie to live some sort of life of leisure on the working person’s dime is absolute rubbish. Yes, it is true it it sometimes does happen, however, who would choose to live on food stamps and a $300 a month welfare check for a family of four. A lot of middle class families themselves are now struggling to cover their basic needs, while the fat cats tip the scales even further. The shelters are full of stories from people who lost their jobs and ended up loosing everything, there are countless people three paychecks away from homelessness. Now, imagine how a poor family of four who must make less than $18,016 a year to qualify for food stamps. The 2008 census showed the middle class range to be $37,000-$75,000, and the average to be around $50,033. The department of commerce states middle class to be between $50,000-$122,000. It is beyond me to understand how the government, and its people, think it is a good idea to further abandon those who need help the most. We are not talking about paying for a vacation to Mexico here, we are talking about putting food into the mouths of children and their caregivers. Is it their fault, are they just lazy? Do they just need to be cut off, and like birds, they we disappear and find subsistence somewhere else? This seems to be the main stream belief, as I do not see the same attention on this issue that I see on others. Lets not turn a blind eye and let these people fall through the cracks. It is time to give these men, women and children a voice, and with that voice, value and equality. We all seek happiness and peace, and the sooner we realize that our happiness is interconnected with others, the sooner it will be truly realized!


New Sitting Day and Time Wednesdays 6-7:30am (Starting Dec. 4)

On December 4 2013, Blue Mountain Zendo will be adding a weekly Wednesday morning sit from 6-7:30am. Out of all the great sitting times, dawn is the most moving for me. What a great way to begin your day, still and wide awake!

For years, I have heard the same question being asked, “How do you practice at work.”  I respond with something along the lines of “Just work”. My answer is usually met with a look of confusion and disbelief. Sometimes they think I am joking. How could this be so? I know, too simple. There must be more, and where is the dog and pony show? There must be some theory, ritual, or some additive to make work “spiritual”. How could something as simple as sitting in silence, transform a day of pressure and PowerPoint, into peace and possibility? It all starts with you! Everything you need you have, actually, you have much more than you need, and zazen is the distillation process which helps you filter out much of that draining sludge. What is left is the fertile soil of a still and present mind which functions much more efficiently and effectively than a mind full of silt. On a very basic level, we may find that we tend to be calmer and more productive at work, and on another level, we may realize that there is no intrinsic difference between what we designate as spiritual and not spiritual. Could it be that simple? Are we the gatekeepers of the barrier which prohibits us from seeing the perfection in our every step? Could it be that no matter what we experience it is merely a different flavor of the same essence? Yes, there are myriads of flavors, and every moment is different from the last. Some flavors are strong, some are subtle, some we like, and some we don’t, nevertheless, it IS the same wondrous nature. The most powerful teaching I ever received was “Just keep sitting”, pretty simple, I took it to heart. After twenty years, I still view that “just keep sitting” as inexhaustible. Every moment is an inexhaustible opportunity to practice, and I hope together we can sit and enjoy the dawn of the breaking day.