We Want What We Think – And Think What We Want

Shakespeare gives us a fine image of good intentions gone awry: to his own detriment, a fellow so eagerly tries to mount a horse that he jumps clear over it. Just so, Macbeth, pondering his plan to murder the king, worries about his “…vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself and falls on the other.”

In the cause of separating church from state, we seem to have o’erleaped ourselves or, to use a more homespun metaphor, to have thrown the baby out with the bath.

As a member of a minority religion, I’m hardly in a position to denigrate the value of religious freedom. It’s a sacred right and the more vigorously it is preserved, the better off we all are.

But religion and spirituality are not the same thing. In trying to protect the interests of the former, we have all too easily sacrificed the latter. In banning spiritual expression from our public schools, a great chunk of what was once an integral part of American heritage and culture has been placed in escrow or some sort of trust account to which a few executors have access and a privileged few may derive whatever moral benefits can accrue to those who gain at the sorry expense of others.

Recently several events brought the problem into focus and clarified, without resolution of course, at least some of the pertinent questions: What have we lost and why did we lose it and what will happen to us if we don’t recover it? Something is terribly wrong.

On July 20th, l969, during the Apollo 11 Mission, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong became the first men to walk on the moon. We earthbound citizen taxpayers were well informed about the lunar excursion and could track the whole adventure. To discuss the details of this scientific achievement, we learned a new vocabulary: lunar orbit insertion burns; lunar module docking and undocking; PDI (powered descent initiation); and a whole litany of terms. We knew how the crewmen urinated and what they ate. This was knowledge in its finest hour and NASA wanted us to know everything… except… well… not the fact that Buzz Aldrin celebrated Holy Communion before he and Neil Armstrong went down that ladder. That we weren’t allowed to know. NASA didn’t think it prudent to inform us that something spiritual was happening on the moon, that men of science could also be spiritual. Of course, we did know that the astronauts were religious men. They had to be religious. We wouldn’t have sent atheists to the moon or even let them into an astronaut training program.

But just a minute here… the Miracle of Transubstantiation on the moon? Somebody partaking of consecrated American bread on the moon? No way. Six years before the lunar landing, the Supreme Court had declared its “no prayers in public schools” version of the Constitution’s separation of church and state and that separation extended even to government-sponsored events on the moon. So NASA drew that religious line in the lunar sand. Why weren’t we allowed to be told about this lunar Communion? Not until a quarter century after the fact did word leak out to puzzle those of us who heard it. Something was wrong here.

Then last September in Boulder City, Nevada, at Grace Church’s interfaith meditation session, Gard Jamison, while speaking about Christian meditation practices, tried to rustle up some audience participation – always a dangerous venture – and referred to the Sermon on the Mount. Hoping to elicit a little feedback, he quoted Jesus, saying, “‘Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall–‘” and then he waited expectantly for the assembly to shout out the answer as to what the pure in heart could expect, but nobody said anything. There was this great silence as Gard, eyebrows raised and mouth open, sat poised to hear the vault of sound break open and the precious answer issue forth… but all he heard was a faint echo of his own voice. It was an awkward moment and I turned to Richard Smith, the Pastor of Grace Church, who, as you might expect, was groaning with his hands over his face; and I quizzically whispered, “See God?” Could it possibly have been something else? Again I asked, “Don’t the pure in heart see God?” “Good grief,” said Richard in perfect agony, “My flock sits there dumbly while a Buddhist knows the Beatitudes.” Well, in all fairness to his flock, his flock was a pretty young flock and this Buddhist was a pretty old Buddhist who happened to have learned the Beatitudes from hearing the Bible read every morning in Public School in Philadelphia.

But we Americans are not allowed to hear the Bible inside our public institutions any more. There’s a line between church and state and that line is drawn between the citizenry and one of the most beautiful presentations of spiritual truth the world has ever known. Nearly an entire generation of Americans have never heard the Beatitudes because the only voices that ever uttered them have been silenced. Teachers can’t teach anything spiritual. And where shall this generation learn? In most American families, Mom and Dad both work and are understandably too exhausted or too hurried to begin each day with a thoughtful Bible reading. And on Sunday mornings, Jesus can speak from the Mount all he wants, but he’d better be calling NFL play action if he intends that his voice be heard in American homes.

Then, a few weeks ago, during an email discussion of the cosmic Dharmakaya with Chuan Zhi, the webmeister of our Nan Hua Zen Buddhist Page, I quoted Psalm 8: “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him?” Our webmeister, trained in nuclear physics, emailed me back, awestruck, “That was so beautiful! Where can I find more of those Psalms?” Now, Chuan Zhi is a profoundly spiritual man, a candidate for Buddhist ordination, a man who happens to appreciate the finer things of life: the saxophone of Stan Getz; the poetry of Rumi; Nilsson singing the Liebestod; but he grew up under the new interpretation of a separate church and state; and though he had been apprised of the secrets of atomic power – the boast of a proud nation, nobody had ever so much as hinted to him that it was possible to stun a man with the beauty of one of David’s songs. Something is wrong here.

Is this what the Founding Fathers intended?

As I write this, a neighbor is washing his car to the accompaniment of a boom-box that is dispensing Gangsta’ Rap by the decibel. In this lyrical exultation of free speech, we, the men, women, and children of the neighborhood, are permitted – indeed, we cannot avoid – the brute machismo celebrations of obscenity, violence, racism, drugs, the defiance of elected authority, and the abuse of women and families. Did the Founding Fathers intend that the State may not deprive us of the pleasure of hearing Gangsta’ Rap on our city streets and through our open windows while at the same time must protect us from hearing the Psalms of David in public institutions of knowledge and learning.? I may not have phrased it well, but it is a good question.

What are we really discussing by “knowledge” and “religion”? Certainly not wisdom and spirituality. No, wisdom is to knowledge what spirituality is to religion. They have a relationship but they are not kissing cousins.

To me, knowledge is information and shares this in common with religion: it is organized and disciplined; it is vocal and literal, it is something disseminated, broadcast, discussed. Knowledge wants to be known and seeks a forum’s setting just as a church, if nothing else, is an auditorium. What is a class to one is a congregation to the other.

While knowledge and religion are shared experiences, wisdom and spirituality are not. Nobody can participate in another person’s wisdom or intercept his experience of God. Wisdom is a quiet thing and so is spirituality. However much it’s sought, wisdom doesn’t seek. The wise don’t proselytize – that they are wise makes them know better – and the spiritual more than anything appreciate solitude. Wisdom looks inward and it looks deeply enough to see in itself the essence of all others. And that, of course, is what spirituality does. It retreats into the Void to see the ubiquity of God. Wisdom and spirituality are unitive. They see sameness. Knowledge and religion see and profit from differences.

Where Wisdom is recorded, the libraries of the world’s diverse religions keep the sacred books. And here we may perhaps find at least part of the source of the problem.

Who, ultimately, is responsible for the removal of sacred literature from the classroom? Were we acting to protect the atheist from being subjected to wisdom’s spiritual expression? Or, rather, when the issue first presented itself did we succumb to religious haggling and parochialism, masquerading bigotry as patriotism? Rather than risk having some doctrine of fairness applied, of having to expose our children to wisdom contained in other libraries, did we prefer to remove our separate versions of wisdom from the bargaining table, to secrete them in fortresses – the private schools and other institutions – where followers could flaunt their uniforms of exclusivity and privilege? Did we prefer to hoard our Truths rather than share them and accept a share of others?

If it is true that we have privatized Wisdom, is it not curious that though we insist upon our domestic separation of church and state we have no such requirement for those nations we consider allies? Americans who quite literally could be jailed for reading Proverbs before a public assembly of citizens may be asked to fight on foreign soil in support of governments which have, de facto if not de jure, state-sponsored religions and which, for that matter, may actually be intolerant of the religious views of those American servicemen and women who have come to defend them. It requires no great stretch of the imagination to foresee the possibility that the same fellow who commits a criminal act by reading Proverbs before an assembly of American school children would also commit a criminal act if, when drafted into military service, he declined to fight for the sake of any foreign government which mandated the reading of specific religious literature to its school children.

We are not so naive as to suppose that our government has separated church and state in any meaningful way. Religious institutions are tax exempt just as religious schools, in one way or another, are financially subsidized with state and federal revenues. While the children of the rich or of the righteous hear the scriptures and are nicely groomed for positions of authority – astronauts or politicians, the children of the poor and of the disaffected all too often become street-wise or discover the beauty of Truth by some chance utterance.

We all want the generation of citizens which follows us to have more opportunities than we had. Whether an illiterate man does or does not want his children to learn to read, we insist that his children shall at least attend school and be given the opportunity to learn.. That man, regardless of his desire, is unable to teach them; and we, therefore, supply by law the means of their education. But a religiously disaffected man, who is likewise unable or unwilling to impart traditional moral values, may raise, to use a Biblical quote, “a generation of vipers” for all anybody cares. We’ll simply build more prisons, a Constitutionally permissible solution.

No, we cannot be certain that the children who are denied access to scriptural wisdom will never occupy positions of authority. Power is no respecter of persons. We have had our fill of godless dictators just as we have also had a surfeit of religious fanatics whose fervor was never tempered by spirituality, or by anything resembling universal love and tolerance. Nothing in recent years has broadened the horizons of such persons. If anything, their vision, thanks to our turn towards separatism, has further narrowed to an on-edge knife blade’s. All proclaim One Virtuous Fatherly God but limit God’s legitimate offspring to the members of their particular society’s brotherhood.

What are the real ligatures of religion? Are they not those lines of Truth, those sutures, those Scriptures and Sutras and Suras that bind us to God? Those Sacred Lines of Thought which infuse knowledge with wisdom, which impart conscience to science, which inform fact with meaning and give significance to event? And do they not also tie us to the mystery of life with awe and reverence? For two hundred years the Republic flourished, enriched by freely stated spiritual expressions. Where was the problem that required judicial redress? The definition of prayer could perhaps have been clarified, but the system wasn’t broke and it didn’t need fixing. In repairing what was not broken, in tinkering with the freedom of expression, the Court created an instrument which no longer operates with any common sense. Gangsta’ Rap versus the Beatitudes… and Gangsta’ Rap wins? Is the quality of any American’s life improved by this?

Perhaps when public “prayer” was first suppressed we began to flatten the moral landscape, the topography of divine providence and individual responsibility. We no longer seem to walk resignedly through the Valley of Death or to climb the Path of Righteousness to reach self-discipline’s heavenly summit. We seem instead increasingly to be mired in a swamp of torts and government programs which compensate the consequence of immoral or self-indulgent behavior. Nobody is responsible for his own choices and mistakes; and were it not for the error of others, we should all live a thousand sybaritic years.

I recall no instance in a public classroom when a teacher used the Bible in an attempt to further his own religious agenda. Teachers, the educated among us who serve all too often as surrogate parents, were, in my recollection, invariably circumspect in their Biblical selections. Perhaps a professional pride made them respect their roles as being not merely purveyors of knowledge but as instruments of wisdom. I, for one, miss hearing that I could lift up my eyes unto the hills to find some needed strength and being reminded that though I spoke with the eloquence of angels if I didn’t have love in my heart, I might as well shut up.

And so we silence the voice of Wisdom; and many there are who, strangers to its resonance, will one day mediate the great issues of science and law, of genetic engineering and organ transplantation, of zoological experimentation, of weaponry, of interplanetary decorum, of privacy, of worldwide electronic communication, of censorship, of ethics, fairness, and political responsibility, and who will supply their generation with a definition of human decency.

The fourth event that led me to consider this problem was reading a poem by Wislawa Szymborska, the Pole who recently won the Nobel Prize in literature. Szymborska, too, seems to have been considering the problem of knowledge without wisdom. She, too, came of age when Communism had succeeded, admirably in its terms, not only in separating church from state but in replacing church with state and, of course, in eradicating spirituality altogether from its Manifesto of political ideology.

Meaning and Significance, Reverence and Awe were sent into exile, leaving Knowledge behind, alone, grim, and quite bewildered.

Her poem “Going Home” was sent to me by a thoughtful friend, Father Mark Serna, a Benedictine Abbot who knew how troubled I had been about NASA’s censoring the news of Buzz Aldrin’s lunar Communion.

I’ll leave you with Szymborska’s poem which has been translated by Baranczak and Cavanagh:


He came home. Said nothing.
It was clear, though, that something had gone wrong.
He lay down fully dressed.
Pulled the blanket over his head.
Tucked up his knees.
He’s nearly forty, but not at the moment.
He exists just as he did inside his mother’s womb,
clad in seven walls of skin, in sheltered darkness.
Tomorrow he’ll give a lecture
on homeostasis in megagalactic cosmonautics.
For now, though, he has curled up and gone to sleep.


Humming Bird


Author: Ming Zhen Shakya

ZATMA is not a blog. If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching, please contact the editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

Originally published in 1996 titled, A NOBEL PRIZE, LUNAR COMMUNION,

Ulterior Defenses


       Say what you will, you can’t keep a dead mind down.”

Samuel Beckett, More Pricks Than Kicks


People buried in their egos – victims of their own poisonous anger, lust, or ignorance – find release only when they can spew that venom onto others. It’s the only catharsis they get. We hear them on moonless nights, stalking the land, targeting anyone within spitting range.

To avoid the mess during these Nights of the Living Dead, the rest of us have to find a Refuge… and wait for sunrise. It helps to understand – if not the source of their venom – at least the display of it. Sometimes we encounter it “in kind” and sometimes “in degree.”

The “degree” is easier to see. We all feel that we’ve imposed ethical limits upon our behavior, limits that constitute a boundary between acceptable and unacceptable actions. “He is a terrible man. He beats his wife for no reason at all. (Pause) I beat my wife, too, but I make sure she deserves it before I strike her.” In prison ministries we often see a rationalized hierarchy of crime. “I may be guilty of armed robbery, but I’ve never raped anybody!” Sometimes the hierarchy stumps us. A man who is serving three life sentences for multiple murders can say, with perfect equanimity, “If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a thief.”

No, it is difference in “kind” that gives us trouble. A change in kind is an apparent change in genus and species. We think we’re seeing one kind of animal, but in reality we’re seeing its natural enemy. This is not quite the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” motif. The wolf knows he’s a wolf and the wooly garments are a conscious disguise. If caught with his toes or his tail showing, he knows he’s been busted. The wolf is not deluded enough to growl and bare his fangs and insist that his accuser is a vicious sheep hater – the only reason he could possibly have for calling him a wolf. This kind of response is a purely human one.

In such a self-absolving defense tactic, the person unconsciously assumes an identity opposite to that of his true victim, i.e., the person he can righteously accuse of having the very same faults as those that got him buried in the first place. If he is a fearful coward – one that would betray his country at the slightest inconvenience, he may emerge from his interment as a martinet, swaggering with stick and sneer, exhorting his subordinates to commit acts of cruelty upon some ‘cowardly’ enemy, deriding his men as wimps and unpatriotic pansies, and punishing them harshly if they are in any way reluctant to inflict such injuries. If there’s one thing he hates, it’s a coward.

If, on the other hand, a person is consumed by violence, he may rise to extol the virtues of peace, castigating those who would commit what he considers to be unconscionable acts of cruelty against a helpless and innocent victim. If the innocent victim is on death row for having tortured and murdered, awaiting execution by lethal injection, the protesting cry will be an accusation that the state and all its citizens are ignorant barbarians. He raves on, describing in excruciating detail the horrors of all state executions from the disembowelments of the Inquisition to those of faulty electric chairs. He never describes the tortures the killer inflicted upon his victims. The most painful and prolonged deaths imaginable are somehow incidental, for he has unconsciously identified with the killer.

Again, it is in the exaggerated response that we find a clue to the nature of this inversion.

Recently in Phoenix, Arizona, a group of animal-rights activists produced a billboard that protested slaughtering animals for food. The obvious intention of the billboard was to denounce all killing as wrong. This objective seems to be a good one, but how was it presented? It showed two large side-by-side photographs: one of emaciated Holocaust victims and the other of healthy pigs. People who ate meat were compared to Nazis. “The Holocaust on your plate!” read a caption. Jewish leaders were understandably appalled by the comparison. Since when and on which planet can the persecution and murder of six million human beings be in any way compared to the meat industry? The man who designed the billboard said that he was Jewish and had relatives who had died in the Holocaust. He could not understand why ethical people could possibly object to his artful concept.

The fact is that without the meat and poultry producers and the fishing industry much of humanity would be condemned to starvation in or out of concentration camps; and the fact is also that the production of vegetables takes its own toll on animal life, for when forests are felled to make farm land, bird and animal habitats are destroyed; and when that land is plowed and the crops are fertilized and sprayed with pesticides, creatures die. Being a vegetarian is a conscious choice we make and we don’t consider others who make a different choice to be cannibals or Nazis. The Chinese sangha is usually completely vegetarian; but Buddhists in Sri Lanka eat sea food and do not consider this to be a violation of their rule against killing animals; and many Japanese orders also eat meat – usually with the proviso that the meat is donated rather than deliberately purchased.

Freud once studied the violent tactics of a group of anti-vivisectionists – a group which opposed the use of animals in the study and perfection of surgical techniques. He concluded that many of these people harbored a terrible streak of cruelty in their own psyches. They projected evil intentions upon the physicians and concealed their own fascination with torture and pain under the guise of being gentle and protective champions of the innocent. It was in the extremity, the exaggerated protest, the proffering of sensational photographs of such surgical experimentation, that their fascinations were rewarded and, ultimately, the nature of their tactics was revealed.

This is not to say that surgeons – and cooks and hunters, too – are exempt from the ordinary restraints of civilized behavior. Of course they must act with mercy and respect for the creature they are using, capturing, or cooking. But our reflections about their moral responsibilities are best left to moments when we are inclined to be more judicious. Tossing a living lobster into a pot of boiling water is not something we like to think about before we put that bib on. And when it is our child who is under a brain surgeon’s knife, we don’t want to review the records of the surgeon’s practice on dogs. A collar decorated with the fur of an animal who died wretchedly with its foot clenched in a trap would be nobody’s idea of a fashion statement – if we paused in our admiration to take a conscientious moment for that idea to occur.

It is when we do take time to reflect upon moral issues that we need to consider the motivation of those who so vehemently question other people’s morality – and this includes our own outcries as well.

The mature person who objects to capital punishment does not make a hero of a condemned man or a villain of the judge who sentenced him. Neither does he identify with the executioner. He speaks instead of Constitutional issues; or to the raising of civilized standards; or of spiritual prohibitions against the deliberate taking of life. He petitions and editorializes and lends his support to those organizations which further his aim to change the judicial system. We readily see the difference between this reasoned and determined approach and the approach, for example, of certain antiabortion groups who, in the name of the sacredness of human life, murder doctors and other medical personnel; or of those who have been so traumatized by the poultry industry that they make a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant the equal of Auschwitz, The Colonel an Eichmann.

Buddhists who’ve been buried in their own egos often get their disinterment passes by shouting that somebody in the vicinity is violating a Precept or one of the Vinaya Rules. It never occurs to them that they are shifting a burden of guilt onto someone else. Whether the transfer is hissed or shouted, the theme is always the same: the assumed superior stance of one person over another.

I recall a strangely nasty transfer by one very moral Buddhist lady. In Taiwan I was indebted to a nun for having helped me, and since she refused to be compensated, I said that I’d take her to breakfast at the Grand Hotel for her birthday the following week. The Grand Hotel is an extremely imposing structure; a kind of Camelot to most local people, and the nun was excited finally to enter the building. As we sat in the dining room she giggled as she looked over the menu, trying to decide what to order. She selected an omelet that had some kind of mushroom filling. She loved eggs, but because of their expense they were never – except in egg-drop soup – served in the monastery. The waiter took our order and then a woman, who was sitting at a nearby table, got up and went into the kitchen. Then, imperiously, she came to our table, trailing the waiter. That she was rich and Buddhist was obvious… she wore much diamond and jade jewelry along with a humble wooden-bead bracelet. She called the nun, “Sifu…” and, in crisp Mandarin which I did not understand, informed the nun that pork fat had been used in the preparation of the mushroom filling… that pork fat had been so extensively used in the kitchen that the only thing she could recommend that the nun eat was oatmeal or rice. She said that it was because she was so concerned for the nun’s adherence to the principle of nonviolence that she was troubling herself to issue the warning.

I didn’t know what she was saying, but before I got the translation, the nun simply asked, “Would you mind having oatmeal?” I said that I didn’t care. The nun’s mood sank, and we ate oatmeal. My companion confided that the woman contributed money to the monastery and that her ‘recommendation’ was therefore a kind of command. I glanced at the sumptuous meal on the woman’s table and wondered how this public benefactress could be so petty in private. I know only that her motives had nothing to do with the nun’s spiritual welfare. Nobody uses pork fat to soft-boil an egg or serve one poached on toast.

Recently I had to pacify a Buddhist gentleman who had been publicly humiliated because he wasn’t sufficiently peaceful to suit the leader of his Sangha. A war protest march had been planned in his town and he, a Viet Nam veteran, declined to participate. For some reason he assumed that stating he was a combat vet would serve to explain his refusal; instead it made things worse. Someone in the group said, “And you’re proud of that?” This insulted him, and he responded at the same level of insensitivity. His Roshi informed him that if he didn’t publicly express repentance for his military activities he would have to be expelled from the Sangha and, worse, could not even be considered a Buddhist – the Vinaya Rules made this absolutely clear!

He wanted my reassurance that he was still a Buddhist. I knew his Roshi to be a rather unabashed sexual predator and so I found it privately amusing that he, above all people, would cite the Vinaya Rules as a standard of behavior. These rules are listed in a worst-first order, and that the absolute worst of the worst sins was committing any kind of sexual act (“carnal knowledge of any one, down even to an animal”). I didn’t tell him that his teacher was the last person in Christendom to accuse anyone of breaking Vinaya Rules; I just explained that these rules applied to monks and monastery life.

Many Theravadin orders still adhere to the Vinaya Rules; but the Mahayana orders do not. I know of no Mahayana order that forbids, for example, eating after the noon hour.

But even when a Mahayana school insists, “A Buddhist may not eat meat!” it is always with the understanding that he lives in an area in which he has a choice and can eat other foods. We do not deny the Dharma to Eskimos or other northern people or to desert dwellers because they cannot grow vegetables, fruits, and grains. Populous island areas are also heavily dependent upon seafood as protein sources. Self-imposed starvation is not an option in The Middle Way.

Pointing accusingly at other people’s offenses requires scrupulously clean hands. This is a universal principle in law except, perhaps, in the judicial proceedings of the Cosa Nostra. When two men rob a bank, intending to split the loot, and one of them runs off with all the money, the victimized robber cannot charge him with theft or seek redress of his grievance in the civil courts.

Seeing that our hands are dirty requires a degree of self-awareness that we usually don’t possess. As the Buddha said, “The faults of others are easily seen, but one’s own faults are seen with difficulty. One winnows the faults of others like chaff, but conceals his own faults as a fowler covers his body with twigs and leaves.”` (The Buddha, Dhammapada, XVIII, 252.)

Ordinary flaws, those convenient hypocrisies we devise to get out of uncomfortable positions or to gain personal advantages, are far easier to recognize than the ones that are not just covered by twigs and leaves but are buried beneath them.

If we haven’t yet used a defense mechanism to dig ourselves into a pathologic hole, we can try routine Buddhist self-help techniques. Success depends on luck and on having attained a certain proficiency in meditation. There is a line that is crossed when fascination becomes emotional involvement. Whenever we notice that we are aroused – by either attraction or aversion – we can try to analyze our response.

Unfortunately, by the time we are emotionally “hooked” we have passed the point of disinterested observation and our conclusions are likely to be prejudiced. Hsu Yun noted that the best time to become aware of our connection to a person or object is at the very beginning, when fascination has not yet progressed to emotional involvement. Initial actions and reactions are rather like the experience of seeing a dog pass a narrow window. By the time we’re aware that a dog is passing, we note only the dog’s body and then its tail. In order to identify the dog we have to put a head on it… to go into our subliminal data banks and retrieve information of which we originally were not quite conscious. This task is referred to in the mondo concerning the master and the novice who asks when he will achieve enlightenment. “When you came here tonight,” the master asks, “on which side of the door did you leave your slippers?”

Naturally, the novice does not have the meditative proficiency necessary to recall details that his brain recorded, but which he made no conscious attempt to remember. Just as a journalist learns to ask the relevant questions, “Who?”; “When?”; “Where?”; “Why?”; “How?” and so on, we have to try to connect various stimuli, to establish a causal link, and try to determine the critical point – the point at which our interest was aroused. We often find that we make the same kind of mistake over and over. We can never “catch” ourselves before we fall into the trap.

If, on our own, we cannot reconstruct the chain of impulses, the actions and reactions, the events that led us into the troublesome situations, we should seek the assistance of a good therapist.

It’s only when anger, lust, and ignorance of the true nature of reality progress, unimpeded by constructive and corrective review, that we find that the defensive foxhole becomes a trench, and the trench a spiritual grave.

Humming Bird

Author: Ming Zhen Shakya

ZATMA is not a blog. If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching, please contact the editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

Indeed, Everything Comes to Awaken Us!


We, each one of us, have failed, fallen, stumbled; missed the mark of the Spiritual High Bird. Not one of us can cast a stone, not at another or even towards ourselves. Aspersions are never helpful despite our propensity to toss them around.

What does matter is to know firsthand, in our own skin that everything is a spiritual message. When we know this in our heart-spirit we see that is is our response to the misstep that matters.

Are we able to study the failing and see what the obstruction is within our mind? Or do we make excuses, cover it up, polish it with blame for and against others.

The current situation in the nation of separating children from their parents and the following turn around is a case in point. It was a misstep. A mistake. A failure. But the President seemed unable to admit any misstep. Any mistake. Any failure. Instead, he made it into a photo opportunity; a show of words of compassion by signing an executive order to stop a policy that he instituted. On the footsteps of the turn around of the policy he declares a dictum to the Attorney General to file legal proceedings in California to alter the longstanding 1980’s Flores settlement that protects unaccompanied minors (children) crossing the border.

The President and his loyalists made a mistake with the initial policy. OK. We all make mistakes. But the odd bit is that the President did not admit his mistake. I bring this current example up because it, like everything comes as a spiritual message for spiritual adepts. And I am not referring to the content of the error, but of the silence of an admission of it. Let me explain.

I think it is very difficult for most of us to admit our errors, our missteps, our failings….and like him, we go to all lengths to conceal, hide, and cover them up. It’s human nature to make an effort to make ourselves look better than we are, but it is the better, more nobler person who is able to avow his missteps to himself and if need be to others as a way to begin to go beyond the ‘human’ or mundane polishing of the ego-me (the e-me).  

Recognition of our missteps is a step up towards transcendence. It doesn’t mean that we need to broadcast our faults in public (unless our misstep is a public failing) but it does mean we confess our faults to our Self, to take responsibility without shame or blame and for those who are fortunate enough to have a spiritual confidant to tell them.

When we are unable to reveal our failings to ourselves in this manner and to express it to a spiritual confidant we are in the grip of pride. And pride, as most of  us know,  along with hate are the two obstructions that will keep us from the gate of liberation.

I refer us all back to the article Two Leashes: Narcissism & Humility and in particular the mention of the two deficits which are: (1) an inability to know our limits (this includes knowing our faults) and (2) an inability to ask for help.

I encourage each of us to study our e-me with a flashlight; looking for the ways we think “I alone” without any “help” can discover the Spiritual High Bird of liberation.  I encourage each of us to study how when we believe and think we know more than others, how when we think we are right and how when we see ourselves as superior we are being obstructed by pride and hate.

In order to do this work we need to add a study of how we do or do not seek “help.”

One way to examine this muddiness is to look at what you refer to when you think, speak and act. Is your self-exam a mirror of self-reflection on how right, knowledgeable and superior you are? Does it generate hate?

The current national error is a strong teaching for all of us. The President made a misstep. It took massive national outcries to get him to change and reverse his policy.

What does it take for you to see your missteps?  When you discover or realize your failings, what do you do?

There are two lessons here. One, everything for the noble spiritual adept is a spiritual message and (2) if you think you have made no mistakes….well… Ahem! I would suggest you have another look.

Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

ZATMA is not a blog. If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching, please contact the editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

No Sides! No Sides! —- FREE E-BOOK —-

Credit: Fa Ming Shakya


No Sides!

No Sides!

by Ming Zhen Shakya


With a simple computer click we choose “like” or “dislike” over and over again and without a notice the computer begins to present us only with “things” we like. Pop-ups from all sides….making an effort to persuade us, to sway us….

In a contentious time when everything seems unreliable where everything is up for grabs Ming Zhen Shakya offers us an opportunity to practice the pull for this and the push for that. She goads us, lures us, all the time getting ready to pull the rug out from under our beliefs and opinions. At the edge of thinking something is right or wrong she goes beyond and leaves us up in the air….uncomfortable, in the lap of Zen Buddhism.

It is difficult to read an article that is edgy…and this one is. It pushes beyond easy comfort of right and wrong…but takes us to the place which Rumi describes as the “field beyond wrong-doing and right-doing.” Ming Zhen invites us to meet there, no matter what shows up…it is what a Zen Buddhist adept does….


No Sides

Humming Bird
AKA Zen, Justice and the Martial Arts Originally published in 2000

Author: Ming Zhen Shakya

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