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Chop wood, carry water. January 2, 2015

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“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

—Zen Saying

We tend to think that enlightenment is a single event: BANG! We’re enlightened! Then we rush around shouting “I’m enlightened! Look at me! I’ve achieved the summit!” The ego has taken over again.

This wonderful saying, and that of all enlightened masters, urges us to simply continue as we were, so that we will remain humble and help our community. Meanwhile, we will continue our own practice and growth, and there will be not one, but many enlightenment experiences.

There’s a great story about Dogen Zenji, founder of the Soto Zen School, who continued to practice Zazen (seated, silent meditation) all his life. One day, a monk rose from his cushion and excitedly approached Dogen: “Master! I’ve just achieved enlightenment!!!” To which Dogen Zenji replied, “Continue doing Zazen.” He knew that it was the practice, not the result, that mattered.

Just for today, continue practicing your Five Reiki Principles.

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All that is necessary. August 7, 2014

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“We have no need to teach pure motives to the mind. All that is necessary to make the mind pure is to undo the negative conditioning to which it has been subjected; then we will be left with pure, unconditioned awareness.”

—Sri Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By

Sounds simple, right? The catch here is that innocent little phrase, “all that is necessary.” We live in a society that is awash in what Sri Eknath calls “negative conditioning,” as a glance at the day’s lead news stories makes clear. Today’s featured the beautiful daughter of two famous actors saying that she had such trouble with her body image that she’d once starved herself down to 95 pounds, while a popular food blogger told her 70,000 followers about her eating disorders; a guy left his toddler foster daughter in a hot car while watching TV, until crying children on the show reminded him of her; a 13-year-old black Lab who’d been abandoned by her family walked 30 miles to return to her home, only to be rejected again by her family.

When we think of what occupies our minds—our obsessive interest in popular culture and “celebrities,” the hours we spend in front of the TV, mindless escapes into shopping, hours spent on narcissistic attempts to avoid looking like what we actually look like—it becomes clear that “all that is necessary” will take everything we’ve got. Like a Samurai warrior mastering the Way of the Sword or a chess player (or tennis player) devoting themselves single-mindedly to the game, we must focus our inner strength on removing everything from the mind that is not “pure, unconditioned awareness.”

Can we do it? Of course not. At least, not without help. Sri Eknath recommended daily meditation, along with a brisk daily walk and vegetarian diet. He practiced “passage meditation,” where you link your mind to the sacred by repeating a holy name (such as “Jesus, Jesus” or “Krishna, Krishna”) or favorite passage (such as St. Francis’s “Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace”) over and over during the entire meditation period. This would train your mind to focus rather than flitting all over the place, and the focus on the sacred would bring your mind into alignment with the millions who had chanted or prayed these words before, giving your mind-control (and self-control) an instant boost.

Imagine that you’re driving past your favorite fast-food place, and you can just hear that mega-burger and supersized curly fries and 32-ounce milkshake calling your name. They’re calling… calling… but suddenly, you hear a voice in your mind saying “Jesus, Jesus.” Somehow, you doubt that Jesus would approve of gorging on fast food while millions are starving. You’ve already gone by the fast-food place now, anyway. And you know that there’s food at home that will go bad if you don’t eat it. And, as Pope Francis rightly pointed out, wasting food while the world is starving is a sin. You may not have taken a big step, but you have taken a step to bring your mind and impulses, your conditioning, under control.

Will you stop and pig out next time you pass that place, or be able to resist again? Who’s to know? But every time you’re able to pass it by, or refrain from picking up that celebrity tabloid or clicking on the latest link to the Kardashians, or turn off the TV and do something valuable, whether it’s spending time with your spouse or partner or reading an inspiring book, or just sitting on your deck watching the sunset, or cooking a brilliant meal for your family, you are losing some of the negative mental conditioning and gaining focus.

As always, Usui Founder is here to help us with this challenge. By focusing on the Five Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals), reciting them morning and evening, hands in gassho (prayer position), we help our mind stay focused. Choosing one Principle to focus our attention on each day allows us to repeat it, much like Sri Eknath’s passage meditation, when frivolous distractions or habits we’ve fallen into threaten to derail our progress on the Reiki Way.

Just for today, give your mind something good to chew on.

Not forbidden. July 16, 2014

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“Everything not forbidden is compulsory.”
—Quantum mechanics principle, Nobel laureate and physicist Murray Gell-Mann

“Our virtues and our failings are inseparable, like force and matter. When they separate, man is no more.”
—Nikola Tesla

“If we believe that happiness arises only when some external condition is fulfilled, we consign ourselves to a perpetual state of discontent.”
—Sri Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By

“When people see some things as beautiful, other things become ugly. When people see some things as good, other things become bad.”
—Lao Tzu (Laozi)

“Unity can only be manifested by the Binary. Unity itself and the idea of Unity are already two.”
—The Buddha

“If you are unable to find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?”
—Dogen Zenji

A Buddhist walked into a bar and told the bartender, “Make me One with everything.”

Duality and non-duality define the conflict between our mental and spiritual lives. Duality, dividing things into opposites, seems to be our native, reflexive state: this or that, this and that, this not that, this plus that, this minus that. Rich and poor, ugly and attractive, educated and ignorant, delicious and disgusting, old and young, fat and thin, athletic and indolent, pleasant and unpleasant, gifted and hopeless: The list of our dualities goes on and on.

And it is so hard to get away from them, even when we try as hard as we can. They may just be knee-jerk reactions brought on by cultural conditioning, or they may be hardwired into our system as a primitive survival mechanism that we just haven’t been able to ditch as we’ve evolved. Whatever the case, they stand between us and unity with the All, with all there is.

Every time we see a celebrity in a skimpy bikini and think something bad about her, or see a genuinely talented movie star posing in skimpy attire and wonder why women are still compelled to do that, whatever their acting gifts, and men aren’t, or curse an industry that promotes youth and anorexia as beauty while dissing and dismissing age and normal weight as hideous and unnatural, we’re following our natural human impulses. Ditto for cheering on one team and booing another, palling around with one coworker and avoiding another, spending way too much on a hot new car or tech toy rather than buying a sturdy, reliable used model.

Non-duality urges us to rise above all this, to see Kim Kardashian and Mother Teresa as one, Donald Trump and the Dalai Lama as one, Usui Founder and Hitler as one. To see the man who tortures helpless animals or, like Charles Manson, orders his followers to rip a pregnant woman’s baby from her womb, or, like the Taliban, cut the ears and noses off beautiful Afghan women simply because they’re beautiful, in the same light as we see Saint Francis, Rumi, or the Lord Jesus. Can we be, are we as humans, capable of this?

This state of non-duality is the very definition of sainthood, of enlightenment, satori. Its difficulty of achievement is why there are so few saints, so few enlightened ones. Blessed Mother Teresa was able to see in every human, however destitute, however ancient or ill, however hideous, “Christ in His distressing disguise.” She made no distinctions, she saw no duality. Her love was great enough to encompass all, even the rich and superficial.

As followers of the Reiki Way, we have the help of Usui Founder in our striving to move from duality (judgment) to non-duality (acceptance of all), through our practice of the Five Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals): “Just for today, don’t worry. Don’t get angry. Be grateful. Work hard. Be kind.” If we go through our day practicing the Principles as hard as we can, whenever we can, we will be moving further away from duality and closer, ever closer, to non-duality. Supplemental practices like meditation, chanting, and Reiki exercises such as deep (Hado) breathing, visualizations, and Hatsurei-Ho, also further our progress towards experiencing non-duality.

Let’s hit the (Reiki) road!

Just for today, follow the Principles.

Stillness and peace. June 21, 2014

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“For those who wish to climb the mountain of spiritual awareness, the path is selfless work. For those who have attained the summit of union with the Lord, the path is stillness and peace.”

—Bhagavad Gita

This passage brings to mind Usui Founder’s climb to the summit of Mount Kurama and 21-day fasting meditation there in a grove of ancient trees. I have a great Reiki book on Mount Kurama, Reiki’s Birthplace: A Guide to Kurama Mountain by Jessica A. Miller, which of course has lots of photos of the mountain. I’d recommend it to anyone who follows the Reiki path. But until I studied Komyo Reiki, the Reiki of Enlightenment, with Hyakuten Inamoto Sensei, I didn’t realize what climbing Mount Kurama actually entailed.

Sensei takes groups of dedicated Reiki students to Mount Kurama regularly, and shows them the Buddhist temples and other sites that are relevant to Usui Founder’s enlightenment and revelation of Reiki, including the amazing trees he was sitting under when the beam of light struck his forehead on the morning of the 21st day and resulted in satori, enlightenment, and the resulting birth of Reiki. And Sensei gives slideshows during his classes and lectures that let the rest of us join him on that epic journey.

These slideshows really were eye-opening for me in terms of what the climb up Mount Kurama really entailed, especially in the heat and humidity or bitter cold that often prevail. We’re talking about thousands of steps here. I’d have passed out and fallen off the mountain long before reaching even a quarter of the climb. (For those who, like me, have no heat and humidity tolerance and aren’t in great mountain-climbing shape, there’s a “cheating” alternative—a sort of ski lift—but since I’m deathly afraid of heights and ski lifts swing you over the drop, that’s not an option for me either.)

So, even though the literal climb is beyond me, the figurative climb via the photos and Sensei’s description was phenomenal. Looking at the tree under which Usui Founder received enlightenment, with its great roots spreading over the earth rather than hiding beneath it, was just incredible. Which brings me back to the Gita.

In many ways, Usui Founder was climbing this mountain, the “mountain of spiritual awareness,” his whole life. Born into a Samurai family who practiced Tendai, “Pure Land,” Buddhism, his first encounters with spiritual awareness were within the Pure Land beliefs and those of Shinto, the national religion of Japan, which honors nature and respects all its aspects as sacred.

This aspect of Japanese spiritual life, practicing different faiths simultaneously without seeing a contradiction but rather an expansion, is quite alien to many Western, and even Eastern, practices. (“I’m a Presbyterian. I’m an Orthodox Jew. I’m a Sunni Muslim. I’m a Tibetan Buddhist. I’m a Catholic.”) But it enabled Usui Founder to investigate many religions, including Christianity, without having to feel that he had to choose between them. His natural curiosity and passion for the divine led him on his spiritual quest, placing his feet on the steps carved in the spiritual mountain long before he encountered the literal Mount Kurama.

But eventually, thanks to his monastic Buddhist mentors and after his world travels, Usui Founder did climb the literal mountain, Mount Kurama. And he did attain satori, enlightenment. And he came down from the mountain and spent the rest of his life doing “selfless work,” healing the victims of the great Tokyo earthquake and innumerable others, attracting thousands of followers and teaching them how to practice Reiki, for physical and spiritual healing of themselves and others.

Did this marvelous, selfless work bring Usui Founder stillness and peace? I don’t know, and I’m not sure anyone living does. But I hope so with all my heart. Because I believe with all my heart that the Reiki path leads to stillness and peace. May each of you who walks or climbs it find this true pot of gold and the incredible contentment that it brings.

Just for today, practice your Reiki Principles and keep your feet on the path. It’s a long climb, but it’s worth it.

Hit the road. May 7, 2014

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“As the Buddha was fond of saying, the spiritual teacher only points the way; we must do our own travelling.”

—Sri Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By

This is such a valuable lesson. Spiritual teachers, including Reiki teachers, can set our feet upon the path, but it’s up to us to find our own Reiki Way rather than clinging to our teacher(s) for continual guidance. Usui Founder, himself a Buddhist, was very aware of this, and he sent the students he felt were ready, such as Chujiro Hayashi Sensei, out into the world to find their own Way and transmit it to others, as he himself had done after his momentous satori (enlightenment) experience on Mount Kurama.

There is a beautiful story in the movie “Zen” about how Dogen Zenji, the 13th-century founder of the foremost Zen school, Soto Zen, is asked to come to the rescue of the leader of Japan, who’s suffering from a nervous breakdown because of all the horrible deaths he’s inflicted on his enemies. Dogen agrees, because he, like the lord who asked him, is convinced that all Japan will disintegrate into chaos if this ruler can’t keep his grip on the reigns of rule.

After arriving, Dogen asks the ruler if he can cut up the reflection of the moon in the water outside his castle. Well of course I can, the ruler replies, grabbing his sword and hacking into the water. The image of the moon splits in half. But, even as the ruler is smirking in triumph, the ripples his sword made in the water calm, and the image of the moon reforms, whole and pristine as ever.

The ruler realizes that Dogen is pointing the way, and begs him to stay and continue to teach him. But Dogen knows his work lies back at his modest monastery far away, so he resists all the ruler’s promises of vast wealth and influence and a huge monastery and goes his way. As he departs, the ruler recites one of Dogen’s own poems, proving that he, too, is ready to do his own travelling.

Did the ruler stay in touch with Dogen? The film doesn’t say, though it shows all of his closest disciples finding their own and varied Ways after his death. Should we stay in touch with our Reiki teachers? Absolutely. Should we find our own Way? Absolutely. Are these things incompatible? Absolutely not. The spiritual teacher sets our feet on the path, but we are the ones who have to walk it.

Just for today, keep walking.

Let in the light, let the light out. April 9, 2014

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“Nirvana is not the extinguishing of a candle. It is the extinguishing of the flame because day is come.”

—Rabindranath Tagore

“Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”

—The Buddha

I love these two quotes about candles, and how they guide us on our Reiki Way. The first reminds me of Usui Founder’s description of Reiki as “a torch in daylight.” Who needs a torch when the light is already here? How much brighter a torch burns in the darkness! In the daylight, it’s hardly visible. And yet, it still burns. Usui Founder reminds us that our work in the world, on ourselves and others, is important, even if it’s barely seen, and that it will remain important until, in the beautiful Christmas prayer of Fra Giovanni, “the day breaks and the shadows flee away.” Then, when the true light breaks fully in our hearts, we can embrace nirvana (enlightenment, satori) and blow our candles out.

The Buddha’s quote about happiness brings to mind Usui Founder’s Five Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals), which he described as “the secret method for inviting happiness.” The Buddha sums this up by urging us to share, not hoard, our joy. Lord Jesus said much the same when he told the parable about hiding one’s light (candle) under a bushel (basket). The Buddha points out that sharing happiness with others will not diminish our own happiness in any way, even if we share it with thousands, with everyone we meet. It is when we try to store happiness that it slips away.

Just for today, remember that happiness is meant to be shared.

Finding the truth. March 20, 2014

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“If you are unable to find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?”

—Dogen Zenji

“Each being is itself pure source, and pure source is nothing but each being.”

—Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

“I believe in person to person. Every person is Christ to me, and since there is only one Jesus, the person is the one person in the world at that moment.”

—Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

“Be here now.”

—Ram Dass

All these spiritual teachers, and many others, such as Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, understood this great truth. Enlightenment does not come from outside, it comes from within. It comes from being fully present to each moment, to everyone and everything that presents itself to us.

This is much harder to do than to go on a spiritual pilgrimage to “find” the truth, to find enlightenment, satori. How great to head off to Sedona or Stonehenge or the Vatican or a Buddhist temple or Zen monastery or Reiki cruise or you name it to find peace and enlightenment. How terribly hard to be a dishwasher in a restaurant, working over scalding water on your feet for hours, paid minimum wage and expected to work as fast as humanly possible, and find truth where you are. How hard to be Mother Teresa, pulling maggot-eaten, abandoned, starved bodies from the gutters of Calcutta, and find the face of her Lord in every single one.

To be here now, to find the power of now, which is truth, freedom, and enlightenment, you must learn to give all of yourself in every moment to the now, to what is before you, be it a body in the gutter or a boring colleague who’s droning on and on, or making tonight’s supper or watering plants and dusting shelves or doing hands-on Reiki or reading an uplifting book.

To help you focus and go deeper, to slow down time so each second stretches to infinity, Usui Founder gave us the Five Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals). He began them with “Just for today” not just because he realized how hard it was to actually practice them, but to remind us to be in the moment, in the now. Maybe we forgot and got angry a moment ago, or we caught ourselves worrying about that performance review or a bill coming due. But Usui Founder in his wisdom reminds us that we shouldn’t waste time beating ourselves up, we should just get back to the now, the present moment, and try to focus on the Principles.

The past is past. The present is here. We are who and where we are. Let’s look for the truth right here, right now, inside ourselves, and in everything and everyone we encounter moment by moment on this earthly plane.

Just for today, find your truth.

What is the question? February 17, 2014

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In the classic story, the seeker asks the guru, “Master, what is the answer?” And the guru replies, “What is the question?”

For most seekers, the question is along the lines of “How do I reach enlightenment?” For those of us who follow the Reiki Way, the answer is simple: Practice, practice, practice! Keep your feet on the path. And if you lose your Way, and stray from the path, return to it; it will be waiting for you, always, with joy, not judgment.

Longtime readers will recall this story, one of my favorites, that speaks to this question perfectly:

A man ran up to a wise old monk and asked if attaining enlightenment was difficult. “Oh, no,” the monk replied, “it is not difficult.”

Imagine the man’s glee! “I knew it all along, there’s a secret shortcut, I’ll be enlightened tomorrow!” In our age of immediate gratification, when we can’t stand waiting five seconds for our computer to come on, and waiting 10 minutes for our server to bring us our food causes outraged tweets and complaints, we can certainly relate.

But the monk hadn’t finished speaking. “One has only to begin, and then continue.”

Picture the horrified man slinking away, much like the rich man who’d approached Jesus and asked to be one of His followers, only to slink off when Jesus said He’d welcome him if he’d sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor.

What, me work?! And yet the fourth of Usui Founder’s Five Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals) is “Work hard.”

This does not mean running a marathon when walking a mile will do. What it does mean is deliberately and continuously doing your work, not looking ahead, not glancing behind, not congratulating yourself on your progress or berating yourself for not making more progress. Not getting angry if you’re not living up to self-imposed goals or worrying if others seem far ahead. Just continuing to put one foot in front of the other and keeping on the path.

One has only to begin, and then continue. Ultimately, the question doesn’t matter, and the answer is always before us.

Just for today, stay on the path.

Everything and nothing. January 16, 2014

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One of my favorite cartoons shows the Dalai Lama opening up a birthday present and finding that the box is empty. “Nothing!” he exclaims, a huge smile on his face. “Just what I always wanted!”

I was reminded of this today when Amazon sent me a recommended list of books and DVDs. One of them was a book by David Carse called Perfect Brilliant Stillness, about his enlightenment experience and what others might make of it. Hmmm, I thought, clicking the link to read more about it.

Many of the Amazon reviewers (and there were at least 50) mentioned “Advaita” when discussing the book. What was that? I headed to Wikipedia to find out. According to Wikipedia, Advaita Vedanta is now the most accepted school of Hindu thought, though its origins stretch back to the flowering of Buddhism in India. Advaita itself means “not-two” in Sanskrit, i.e., nonduality. Wikipedia defines it as referring to “the identity of the true Self, Atman, which is pure consciousness, and the highest Reality, Brahman, which is also pure consciousness.”

Unfortunately, in their attempt to avoid ego-identification, many of the reviewers tripped all over themselves, creating wildly humorous multiple negatives. One went so far as to refer to himself as “this body/mind unit,” as though he were a robot. Ironic given that they’d all chosen to review the book from a personal perspective.

Ah, well. Laughter is the great healer, as the Dalai Lama, with his perennial smile and laughter, knows better than anyone. Those who take themselves too seriously, even as they deny all sense of self, are stoking their egos at the expense of their enlightenment. None are as filled with radiance, with joy and laughter, than those who are truly enlightened. Their faces shine with realization, with oneness with the All.

Just for today, find what you’ve always wanted.

Step on the brake. August 5, 2013

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“Sitting quietly, doing nothing,
Spring arrives, and the grass grows by itself.”
—Zenrin Kushu

“Never be so focused on what you’re looking for that you overlook the thing you actually find.”
—Ann Patchett, State of Wonder

“If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.” (unattributed)

Our society is always in such a rush. From the moment we rise until the time we go to bed, we’re busy, busy, busy trying to do fifty things at once. Insomnia has reached crisis proportions in this country because we can’t even manage to turn off the to-do list once we turn off the lights. Morning can’t come soon enough for us, so we can run on the hamster wheel again!

This is perhaps even more true of those of us who follow a spiritual path like the Reiki Way. Not only do we have bazillion chores, errands, deadlines, and family issues and needs to deal with like everyone else, but we aspire to wisdom and compassion, even enlightenment. And we want to get there as fast as possible!

So we cram in as much meditation, yoga, and as many other spiritual practices as possible, as if we were following some sort of sacred diet and exercise program. Instead of the Paleolithic Diet or the Atkins Diet or the South Beach Diet, we’re on the Reiki Diet, trying to shed all our excess pounds of limiting baggage as quickly as we can. Stillness, observation, appreciation fall by the wayside as we frantically measure our daily progress en route to our goal.

There’s also the comparison trap, so prevalent across our culture. How do we measure up against other people? Do other Reiki students in our class seem more “spiritual” than we do? If we’re Reiki teachers, are our Reiki classes drawing as many students as so-and-so’s Reiki classes? Yikes.

Comparison is a distraction, even a poison, since it takes us from stillness to envy. Spirituality is not a competition. It is not a sport. It is not about us versus them, and if we’re on the winning team. It is, ultimately, about learning to be still, and being comfortable, at peace, being still.

Stillness is at the heart of every spiritual practice, be it meditation or yoga or kendo (the way of the sword) or chanting or calligraphy or hands-on Reiki or prayer. The poet T.S. Eliot described it as “the still point of the turning world.”

Not being still means not just that we don’t want to take the time to see the world and other people and creatures around us as they are, to take the time to appreciate and enjoy them. Ultimately, it means that we don’t want to spend time with ourself, because we don’t like our perception of ourself and don’t want to see us as we are. By constantly rushing, multitasking, distracting ourselves, we can avoid that person we don’t want to see in the mirror or even think about.

And yet, without accepting, loving, and spending quiet time with ourselves, there is no possibility of spiritual growth. You cannot feel genuine love for others if you don’t first love yourself. “The way is not in the sky. The way is in the heart,” the Buddha said.

I will tell again the wonderful story of the enlightened monk. An eager seeker asked him, “Tell me, great Master, is attaining enlightenment difficult?” The monk replied, “Attaining enlightenment is not difficult.” You can picture the excitement of the seeker. He knew it all along! There was some simple trick, The Enlightenment Diet, that would propel him to nirvana in three weeks, and now the monk was going to reveal the secret to him! Picture his chagrin at the monk’s next words: “One has only to begin, and then continue.”

We all need to walk the Reiki path a step at a time, not judging others, not judging ourself, not making pointless comparisons, not rushing, but savoring every step of the way. The Buddha also said, “It is better to travel well than to arrive.” And that means frequent stops to smell the roses. Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring arrives, and the grass grows by itself.

Just for today, take time to hear the grass grow.