Today marks the third day of the Whole World is a Single Flower teleconference hosted by the Kwan Um School of Zen, an international school of Zen founded by the late Zen Master Seung Sahn. I was originally contemplating attending the conference live in Singapore and Malaysia. The conference is held evry three years to promote the notion that all beings and all things arise at their core from one universal root or what is termed Buddha Nature. Approximately 2500 years ago, on Vulture Peak in Northern India, the Buddha demonstrating this essential truth when he picked up a lotus flower. At the end of World war two, Zen Master Man Gong, a predicesor of Mastr Seung Sahn wrote a calligraphy that said, “The Whole World Is A Single Flower.” It was his great hope, and indeed, the purpose of Zen, to help people realize their essential nature. “It means that you and I, the sun, and moon, earth, and sky, air and water, are fundamentally not separate or different. We each have the same root.” Therefore by realizing our original substance, “a single beautiful world flower of equality, harmony, and peace might again appear.”
Master Seung Sahn founded the conference as a way to disseminate this critical message world wide, and to bring together peoples from various countries, traditions and cultures to join the spirit of harmony, compassion and understanding. What better time for such a message to blossom as the world faces such daunting existential challenges. Climate change, pandemics, social injustice and so on are not limited to any one place or culture. Such problems point directly to the interdependence on all people and physical conditions.
Due to the outbrek of Covid-19, plans for a live conference were scrubbed. But due to the miracle of telecommunications and the internet, the hosts of the conference managed to put together a flawless and engaging program, that in fact allowed for many more people to participate than would have been otherwise possible. Sitting in my bedroom, I was able to listen live, and even post questions to illuminated masters from all over the world as they delivered talks on a range of topics. Of course this meant that time zones were radically different depending on where in the world one is located, but in fact it is all the same moment for each.
Since the outbreak of Covid, the Zen community has rapidly adapted, as I’m sure have other spiritual communities. And so as Master Seung Sahn is often quoted as saying, “Bad Situation… Good Situation! And so whereas previously my local Zen sangha in Binghamton NY only met one evening every week, now we can sit together three mornings a week and two evenings. Furthermore I often sit with the New York City sangha on Saturday mornings where I can also have koan interview with a master wherein he can test and provoke my practice. We also have multiple all day intensive retreats also led by Ji Do Poep Sa Nims (koan masters) as well as full Zen Masters. I can also sit with any other group in the world, the only limiting factor being differences in time zones that may not be conducive to my work schedule.
During services and retreats, all aspects of the zen experience are conducted. Bowing, chanting, interviews and of course meditation. Individuals are designated with tasks whether it be hitting the moktak… a hollow gourd in the shape of a fish used to keep time for the chanting. Also someone is in charge of orchestrating the zoom session and calling folks one by one into the “breakout romm’ wheupon they meet with the master apart from the main group. I doubt the masters of old forsaw such degnations as “zen zoom master” of “zen zoom moktak master. “
Thus, now anyone, no matter where they live in the world, providing they have internet access, can fully participate in all the activities of spiritual practice. While technology can often be used in unskillful ways and spread ignorance and harm, as with any technology, it can be used as a tremendous force for good. Thus “good” or “bad” is not inherent in the technology, but rather in the manner in which it is utilized. I for one am extremely grateful for the vast opportunities this has provided me. I very much hope many others take advantage and use the “ bad situation” as an opportunity for positive transformation. My guess is that even after this pandemic abates and live practice is once again available, online sanghas will continue to proliferate.
The existential threats that face the world will likely grow in frequency, duration and intensity. We can wring our hands in despair or recognize it as a form of “fierce grace” to force world-wide transformation. But this transformation will not be brought about by governments or any life changing new technology or invention. No gods or superheroes will magically save us. These worldwide occurances are the result of our collective karma and our transgressions against the planet, other life forms, and each other. Therefore, it is only by spiritual revolution, awakening to our true nature, and thereby engaging in correct action, that our karma can be transformed and a process of renewal commenced. We must realize that the whole world is a single fower and that each deed and action whether for good or ill, will reverberate throughout the cosmos. We can no longer afford the delusion of permamence, separateness and egocentric identity.
So here is a simple koan. Why do I wear a mask? Answer…. For you!
PS… a simple Google search can help guide one to meditation groups whether in your geographic area or anywhere since time zone iss now more relevant than geography. New folks are always welcome and beginning instruction will be offered. Help will always be granted to those who earnestly seek.
Please feel free to comment below with questions, comments or anything else.