Longest Retreat

dsc00202My name is Kevin from Tehachapi Karuna Sangha, and I’m nearing the end of a lengthy prison term. During those years of confinement I have learned valuable, life enhancing truths from my exposure to many different religions and belief systems. Whether from Christian or Druid, Jew or Muslim, esoteric or atheist, Hindu or Buddhist, I am a better, more well-rounded man as a result of my willingness to listen and learn from those around me.

Several months ago I signed up to attend a twelve week addiction recovery program sponsored by the Buddhist community called, Refuge Recovery. While participating in the series of lectures and meditation I became impressed with the pragmatic value of Buddhist teachings. Not only are there teachings of generosity, kindness, forgiveness, common to all faiths I had previously studied, but the Buddhists also provide training in down-to-earth practices that actualize such lofty teaching for each participant, integrating the principles into their everyday lives.

Strong, consistent emphasis on mindfulness, mental discipline, and deep, penetrating meditation are a few of the Buddhist tools for achieving, in very practical terms, the lives most other religious camps preach but all too rarely practice. As a result of my own personal growth through this twelve week program I decided to begin attending Buddhist services and explore more of what I began to believe would, at the very least, provide for me a mechanism by which to fortify my own religious faith.

I should tell you a little more about myself here. I love learning about the world around me, and I love exploring ideas about how my little own personal micro-cosmic view might fit into a grander, universal whole. When I meet others with similar yearning, I always feel as if I am with family-cut out of the same cloth. It has been a source of frustration in my life, both before and after my arrest, to have not found many who share in my child-like awe and wonder at the beauty and glory of nature – both that beneath our feet and skyward.

Yesterday I was privileged to attend a Buddhist retreat where I sat before the Buddhist monk, Venerable Xian Zhong. Before this time I had already been blessed with meeting regularly with an inmate Buddhist facilitator, we affectionately refer to as ‘Doc”. Doc runs the Refuge Recovery program and is, himself, a recovering soul from the terrors of drug abuse. From Doc’s stories about his past selfish, self-centered, self-destructive life I had already seen for myself a living testament for the Buddhist approach to putting a broken life back together. Doc is a remarkable example of the power potential to be found within Buddhism.

While I sat listening to this humble, yet enthusiastic monk I was quickly aware that his words were spoken in what I have come to accept as the “Spirit of truth”. There are unseen, unheard energies in our universe. Physicists speak of “dark matter”, and “dark energy” as comprising better than 96% of the cosmos, meaning that we can only directly observe less than 4% of the entirety of what we know, but cannot detect, is out there. I have come to believe that truth, not facts, not mundane observations, but sublime, universal truth comes to us from the unobserved majority of our universe – and perhaps beyond even there.

As Venerable spoke, the inner part of me, my “heart”, resonated. I have felt this same resonance many times before as I read from sacred texts from all cultures in our multi-ethnic world. Whether from the Bible, the Vedas, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, or Plato – when I read the words of any sage, guru, prophets, or philosopher inspired from the unobserved reals my heart sings, vibrates, swells and becomes softer, more pliable. Such was the case before Venerable Zhong yesterday.

To be sure, at least on the surface, there are distinctive beliefs within every approach to enlightenment, or rebirth, that are unique and apparently irreconcilable to other faiths: reincarnation, transubstantiation, miraculous conception, ancestor worship, speaking in tongues, etc. Every church, synagogue, temple, community have their particular peculiarities. But, beneath the doctrines, rites, and rituals of every group is a commonality, and that singularity binds us all – no matter your congregation – Love. Compassion. Eager forgiveness. Self-sacrifice. Nobility in personal grow. This is what I have found in every religion or belief I have studied. This is at the heart of Buddhism. This is the resonating truth I heard with my heart coming from my new friend, brother, and fellow lover of all things truthful, the passionate humble Buddhist monk, Venerable Zhong.

I invite all my fellow sentient beings to join me in the search for universal truths. You can find them at any community dedicated to the ethereal. But if you care to investigate Buddhism for yourself – go there with an open mind and a soft receptive heart and hear with the inner ear. Let your heart sing with the compassionate message of truly right hearing.

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