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Individualism Vs Groupism and What Could It Mean to Be A Human-Being


Rohatsu Sesshin 2016

When I was training directly with Genjo Roshi, over a 15 year period or so, there was one particular teaching that he returned to again, and again. It had to do with having the capacity to stop holding on to one's personal and localized perspective, and Be... In... the Perspective of so-called "Other." Some of this insight came from he and others from Daibaizan Choboji participating in a Bearing Witness retreat and sitting on the sorting tracks of Auschwitz Birkenau, that was the great catastrophe of humanity.


It wasn't merely having the ability to see from the position of another. For him that was not enough. For him that was merely empathy. Being a psychotherapist by trade, he would say, sociopaths and narcissists have the ability to empathize with a target and make great use of that ability against their prey. Within the interactions with so-called other, he would invite us into "Empathy + Caring... which is known as sympathy... and "Leap," into the perspective of so-called other 360°, embodied with completeness. For him this was quite clearly an essential element to experiencing conscious contact with One's Buddha-nature... One's Universal Identity of Loving Presence. He would say, "Without that, we tend to exist more like beast, rather than Buddha."

Rev. Seiho (L), Dr. Charles Johnson, Genjo Marinello Roshi

At first, I didn't take his words to be true. Initially it sounded somewhat philosophical or poetical. It was through years of hard training that I discovered this to be neither poetry or philosophy, but Reality. What made the first 20 years of my training so difficult was not my body. The difficulty was with the mind. I was a well-educated and trained puppet of myths and self-serving perspectives of a culture that was designed to keep a particular way of life going, instead of authentically evolving.


Please don't view me as frivolous for saying that in the movie, "The Matrix," when the character Morpheus says to his young protégé Neo, "We normally don't free a mind that is as old as yours, it has a hard time letting go;" of the dreams and illusions created by ego that views itself as a discrete, in someway disassociated identity that deludes itself into thinking it's functionally alone. That's very close to the truth. It's a way of seeing and thinking that makes us capable of functioning independently, without having to care or have healthy regard for others; despite the fact that each of us is a kind of wave, with very personalized characteristics, riding in unity atop a single and vast ocean of Being.

Individualism is okay, until you need Groupism and healthy cooperation to help society survive catastrophe; whether it's the local challenge of a tornado or flooding, or global like a pandemic influenced by COVID-19, chemical dependency, the climate crisis, health, food, economic insecurity, or even the right to vote, for that matter.


One of my personal Seihoism's is "Recovery is a team sport." It stems from the reality that if I could have gotten clean, and do recovery on my own, I would have. The reality is that it required the guidance, care, and the ability to have trust in others. A life in active addiction can be a long running episode of self-will run riot.


I was taught early the interconnected nature of what is required to attain and sustain recovery. Where I'm grown up we have something called the Twelve Traditions. They're spiritual principles that are required to live within healthy community. The First one is: “Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery/healing depends on unity.” In the Narcotics Anonymous Basic-Text, in the essay about the First Tradition, it reads as “We became part of a group and found that we could recover/heal. We learned that those who did not continue to be an active part of the Fellowship faced a rough road. The individual is precious to the group, and the group is precious to the individual.” Symbiosis.

Obon | Dai Bosatsu Zendo Kongo ji | 2019

In Twelve Step Recovery-land there's a beautiful story about being at a camp fire, singling out and removing an ember from the fire. Alone and by itself, the ember doesn't have enough force or resources to sustain itself. The fire goes out. When it's placed back in the shared fire, with there other embers of wood, it reignites and burns again. The reality of the campfire is the same us and how we could relate to each other.


Whether we see it as being in the campfire of life, or wave and ocean nature, we are very much in the same scenario. In the framework of the Twelve Traditions, the Fourth could be reframed as: “Each person should be autonomous except in matters affecting their close relationships or society as whole.” I call our experience "Autonomous interdependence." To describe this I reflect on my kids. We hold the same DNA in common, yet how we manifest our DNA is personal, to one's thoughts, feelings, and talents, but as we lived in the same house, we cooperated together to allow for harmony and safety. Autonomous interdependence has infinite scaleability... if... if... if... we have the ability to Be authentically... sympathetically... in the perspective of so-called "Other," placing as the Twelfth Tradition says, "Principles above and before our personality..." our ego... or agendas... or tendencies of selfishness... exclusion... and othering.


There's a wonderful retranslation of the famed "Metta Sutra..." Interconnecting threads of Loving-Kindness, that Shakyamuni Buddha, by Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, who in deeply embodies bodhisattva practice... the grandmotherly kindness that cares for all, in a kind way, that allows for dignity. It speaks well to the interwoven nature of Individualism and Groupism harmonious Way of Being.

For All Beings…

"May all beings be cared for and loved,

Be listened to, understood and acknowledged despite different views,

Be accepted for who they are in this moment,

Be afforded patience,

Be allowed to live without fear of having their lives taken away or their bodies violated.

May all beings

Be well in its broadest sense,

Be fed,

Be clothed,

Be treated as if their life is precious,

Be held in the eyes of each other as family.

May all beings

Be appreciated,

Feel welcomed anywhere on the planet,

Be freed from acts of hatred and desperation

including war, poverty, slavery, and street crimes,

Live on the planet, housed and protected from harm,

Be given what is needed to live fully, without scarcity,

Enjoy life, living without fear of one another,

Be able to speak freely in a voice and mind of undeniable love.

May all beings

Receive and share the gifts of life,

Be given time to rest, be still, and experience silence.

May all beings

Be awake."

Today is the celebration of Martin Luther King Jrs. Birthday. Sadly as one of my dear friends noted to me the other day, it's become a fetishized, commoditized day, that commemorates the life of a man who was working in his own creative and talented way in deep operation with "Beloved Community," to heal not just America, but our world. America is not the only caste system in existence. Perhaps the oldest is actually India having us by 6,000 years. If nothing changes, nothing changes. Change requires more than saying. Change requires actual doing. Sentiments and sentimental statements are not enough. As monk Hotei said, "We must enter the village with helping and doing hands," not leave people down in the mud of suffering. I can stand, extend both my arm, and hand as a steady support as you lift yourself with your Buddha-nature... your Universal Identity of Loving Presence to creatively act through unconditional positive regard... or what some describe as goodwill. Please confirm this through your own unique and beautiful Way of Being. To act as Buddha rather than beast is a choice.


--Dignity and Grace





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