Friday, December 7, 2012
Two thousand years later, the notion of a micro-managing God-cum-Santa who is keeping track of our deeds and misdeeds seems beyond less necessary, it seems laughable. We understand much of how our world operates, and a detached assessment of life experience should lead us to the conclusion that the sun shines on the good and bad alike. Despite this, many people of Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Pure Land Buddhist, and other religious perspectives await rescue and intervention from God, teachers, or prophets. Many within Christianity seem to believe that abandoning the rescuing God is abandoning the faith. They point to the belief that God is unchanging and seem to believe that it means our beliefs about God can never change.
For Christianity to be credible in the 21st century, it simply has to take science into account as an equally valid revelation of God. We need to grow up and take responsibility for our own behavior and consequences - and be willing to save one another when necessary rather than waiting for Divine intervention, because we in fact are Divine. You see, the problem with believing in Divine intervention is that we cannot explain why some people are rescued by God and others apparently are not. That posits a very fickle, unreliable God indeed - hardly one worthy of the Name, one who might be described as evil - and the old "God's logic isn't our logic" isn't very logical at all.
You see, there still can be Divine presence in the universe without a micromanaging interventionist waiting to absolve some of us from responsibility while consigning others to ultimate lack of forgiveness in the Name of an allegedly forgiving God. There can still be something behind love, compassion, and the interconnectedness of everything and everybody, some common link that brings out the best of us in even the most difficult times. There can still be times when we reach deep and transcend even what we thought were our limits in the way we respond to one another in crisis. Of course, we will wonder why we don't always respond with the same level of compassion that we do in crisis, but that is the point of the spiritual journey - learning to live more and more from the best of our humanity. The standard isn't perfection, but rather effort. The fact that we won't be rescued unless we rescue one another doesn't mean there isn't beauty and transcendence - it means that beauty and transcendence is far more lovely than could ever be imagine because it draws us toward one another and dwells within us. And, if you still want to wait for Jesus to descend on a magic carpet to rescue you, that's okay. Until he gets here, we'll be standing by ready to help.
Monday, December 3, 2012
One of the biggest problems for chronic pain folks is that - despite its prevalence - the medical establishment is often reluctant to prescribe pain medication because of its obsession with addiction while anesthesiologist-led pain clinics do expensive treatment after expensive treatment that they should know from diagnostic imagine aren't going to have any effect but still order. It's a lucrative business, if not a very ethical one. I have had literally tens of thousands of dollars of such treatments - which are often extremely painful -without good result. When I was finally referred to a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist, or physiatrist, he told me that he could tell from my MRI that treatments wouldn't be effective.
I have written in the past, and still believe, that pain has been helpful in my journey because it has taught me that I am not invincible. Pain has also forced me to be dependent on others at intervals, something I am inclined to resist. Because I have a history of childhood abuse I am very adept at blocking my pain mentally, but that doesn't mean it's not there. I have learned that pain impacts our body and psyche even when we are ignoring it, and that if I find myself unable to sit still, restless, agitated, and feeling compelled to move that I am in pain even though I may not be aware of the pain sensation. At times like that, I have learned to take some medication, but overall I tend to under medicate myself. I believe I can "tough it out" and work my way through it, even though I should have learned better by now.
Another thing that pain can cause us to do is to recognize that we can no longer comply with society's expectation of what makes a person productive. It's not possible for me to stand, walk, or sit for extended periods. That doesn't really restrict me as a spiritual teacher, however as I look for part time employment to supplement my income it is extremely limiting. What does it mean to still be relatively young at fifty-two but be unable to work at a traditional, forty hour a week job? What does it mean to have significant restrictions but not be eligible for consideration or adaptations in employment due to disability? What it means is that we are forced to define our productivity in a different way. It also affords a unique perspective on politicians who would characterize us as lazy or not interested in working.
I don't mean for a minute to suggest that those of us with chronic pain conditions are enduring anything that we all don't endure if we live long enough. Some of us are, however, coping with chronic pain at a younger age than most. There are bound to be moments when we wonder why this has happened to us, and those moments are never productive because there isn't a good answer. It seems that life happens to each of us differently. Our energy is better spent learning how to cope with life as it is. It seems to me that one of the better ways to spend our energy is on education the public and our politicians about the reality that we all will face eventually. We will become limited, get sick, and eventually die - not because of weakness or lack of anything, but rather because we all get old, get sick, and eventually die. That is a profound spiritual lesson, indeed.
Sunday, November 18, 2012
I don't believe that people of average intellectual functioning are able to do a very good job of distinguishing between how they interact with their human friends and their friends' needs and the profound lack of needs that any Divine being would have - especially when we factor in the absurd notion of a "personal relationship" with God. Again, to the average person it becomes difficult to distinguish between the relationship they have with their friends and the kind of relationship - if any - possible with a transcendent being. Try as you might to have God over for Cheerios and coffee in the morning, it isn't going to happen. Try as you might to invite God out for a beer after work on Friday, God isn't going to show up. In fact, it is absolutely impossible - and least in the way most people understand what a personal relationship is - to have a personal relationship with a non-human being. It doesn't matter how many times Jesus made it abundantly clear that God doesn't have a body and is in fact Spirit (cf. JN 10), people hear their pastor carry on about a "personal relationship with Jesus" and immediately they plan a party on Saturday night - a classic example of a concept meant to make people better understand Divinity in fact backfiring and leading to all kinds of deluded thought an action. You see, people feel compelled to defend their friends from attack and so they "defend" God from "attack" by those who understand God differently than they do - but what kind of a God could possibly need defending without ceasing to be God?
To me, one of the most appealing aspects of Buddhism is a complete lack of eschatology - talk about "the end times" - largely because to Buddhism the Universe never was born and will never die, it will just manifest differently as causes and conditions change. No Buddhist who understood the perspective of Buddhism could ever justify firing rockets on the Palestine to defend their homeland because (1) Buddhists recognize the interconnectedness of everything and everybody and so understand that to attack another is in fact to attack oneself, and (2) they also recognize that nations and their borders are human constructs that have absolutely no meaning beyond the egos of human beings. Anyone who has ever stepped across any kind of border, from city limits to national boundaries, knows that nothing changes when one crosses a border. The land on one side isn't any different than the land of the other - especially at the border! Similarly, the belief that a truly Diving being - embodied or not - would give a damn about where humans draw borders is absurd! Even more absurd is the unbelievably stupid idea that any Divine being would be less concerned about life than about boundaries, or would be dependent on human action in order to "allow" said Divine being to complete some sort of Divine plan. Such thinking is so dim witted that it is hard to believe anyone who engages in it could toilet themselves without assistance, primarily because they seem to believe the purpose of religion is to transform God by creating the causes and conditions necessary for God to be able to do whatever God wants to do. Could there be a bigger ego trip than that? It seems it doesn't matter how much Jesus spoke directly to our need to love one another and decrease suffering, apparently that is far too mundane for the average "Christian." It is most certainly a function of an ego run amok to believe that, rather than engage in spiritual practice to transform ourselves and create peace in our time, we have been placed on this planet to be God's very special assistant.
Buddhism, on the other hand, speaks to self-transformation and the dismantling of the ego. In doing so it speaks directly to the seemingly forgotten Christian virtue of humility. Buddhism points us within, to the task of uncovering our Buddha Nature which has been obscured by lifetimes of crud caked upon that very pristine nature. We become the change we want to see, we become agents of peace rather than conflict, and we come to see that everything changes and everything dies - even nations. We develop the insight to understand that in killing people to save countries we are only hastening the demise of people in an attempt to avoid the unavoidable - the death of our nation. Every nation whether great or small has died, or will die one day - and the same is true of every person. Attempting to interfere in that pattern will only increase suffering without changing outcomes. Awakening to that reality would go a long way to decreasing the violence in our world.
Friday, November 2, 2012
Way back in the olden days, the 1990s, I was first an Associate and then an Oblate of The Order of Julian of Norwich in the Episcopal Church. It is a semi-enclosed, mixed Order located about twenty minutes west of where I live. Through this time I was also in discernment for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church. When that process fell apart I left the Episcopal Church in late 1999 to accept my first call to ordained ministry. Several months later I also resigned my affiliation with OJN. At that time one had to be a member of the Episcopal Church or a Church in full communion with it to become affiliated with OJN. I could have remained, but there is something about being grandfathered in that has always left me a little flat. If I couldn't be a member of your organization were I to apply today then I don't want to be a member because I applied a couple of years ago. I suspect that comes from being rejected so many times throughout my life - if I am not acceptable for any reason then I will very politely go. For me it's a question of authenticity - I will not pretend to be something I am not. It was a bittersweet departure. I love the Members Regular of the Order, and they were always very kind and supportive of me. When I heard of Mother Scholastica's passing, I cried for days. OJN was one of the few places in my life where I have experienced unconditional acceptance. A while after I left, the Oblates and Associates became ecumenical, which means that had I stayed I would have gone from being grandfathered back to acceptable status. Go figure.
But I digress. Over the past week I have made several trips to Waukesha, where OJN is located, to visit a friend in the hospital. One of our cars is in the shop, so I have been leaving early to take Erin to work and gotten an early start on my day so I was at the hospital early Thursday morning. My friend is recovering from major surgery, so I didn't stay long. I decided since I was only five minutes from OJN I would go to check out new items in the Julian Shop and pray in the chapel for a while. It's such a beautiful, silent space, and it has a special place in my heart as well. I helped in a minor way with the finishing touches when it was built and was present in choir for its consecration. I still remember the incense hanging at waist level - it was glorious. Had I been thinking clearly in 2000, I would never have left - but I was still struggling with having been told by my bishop that I could never be normal because I am an abuse survivor and needed space. Of course I knew he was wrong, but my image of my Church as a place of welcome that believed in redemption had been forever shattered.
As I sat in the chapel in the silence I had a very deep and profound experience that, like all such experiences, is difficult to put into words. I had the feeling that if I stayed there long enough God was going to tell me something that was going to call me to make some dramatic changes in my spiritual life - and I should tell you that I don't normally think that way or use that language, which makes it even more strange. I realized that I was afraid of what it was going to be, and then I realized I had sat in that space before and (metaphorically) run out the door so I wouldn't hear the message. So, you know what I did on Thursday? That's right, I ran out the door. The difference this time was that I knew I would go back next week to hear the rest of it.
Up to this point, it's a little unsettling but not really profoundly so. Then I listened to the CDs I bought while I was there. First, I should re-tell a bit of my history to set the stage. In 1999, when I took my first church, I learned they had a tradition of doing a Lenten book study. Trying to be a good pastor, I asked what they had read the year before so I could have an idea of the kind of thing they had done. They told me they read Thich Nhat Hanh's Living Buddha, Living Christ. I had no idea who he was and had never heard of the book, but I went out and bought it and it started my Buddhist Christian journey. I love his gathas - little poems to be used while breathing in and breathing out as a meditation, like this one:
Monday, October 29, 2012
One of the most appealing aspects of Buddhist teaching for me is the ability to let you be you while I can still be me. I am so very tired of the endless debates that Christians seem to embroiled in about the beliefs of others. While the case of scripture calisthenics one has to get into in order to justify such behavior is impressive, the outcome is not. There is no way to insist that "I am always right and everyone else is always wrong" without sounding - and in fact being - profoundly arrogant. I cannot imagine that anyone who engages in such an ego fest, should they develop the fortitude to step out from behind the veil of fear that makes certainty necessary long enough to actually listen to themselves, wouldn't realize how absurd they sound. Even more damaging and indefensible is the truth that such beliefs have led to every war ever fought.
I used to believe that debating such fools was productive. I now see that any attempt to do so is a complete waste of energy. Nobody needing to certainty that badly is likely to surrender it. They have all of their assertions and rebuttals extremely well rehearsed - so much so that they are quite incapable of an actual exchange of ideas. What they aren't prepared for is someone who isn't interested in the discussion and is perfectly content to let them believe whatever stupid nonsense they believe. The energy wasted in such discussions is better spent doing almost anything - or even nothing - at all.
Thursday, August 30, 2012
I also found Levine's image of God fascinating. It is, of course, fascinating and surprising to find God discussed in a Buddhist book at all. Levine started thinking about God as he worked his recovery program, and was also exposed to God in his study with Hindu teachers. I found his description of God compelling - and interesting personally because I no longer believe in the old white guy with the long beard sitting in a throne beyond the clouds. In fact, I don't believe in a corporeal, or embodied, God at all. As a non-theist, then, what does God look like?
It is easy to get caught in the trap of trying to describe a non-theistic view of God by using a lot of words that don't end up saying very much. Starting points might be that God is the creative energy behind all of life and experienced most clearly in relationship with other human beings and with nature. God is the interconnectedness of everything and everybody, the source of love and compassion, the instinct to reach out to another in their time of need, the ability to be self-sacrificing and to lift others up. Of course, you can't paint a picture of this kind of God that is some kind of portrait of a super-human, but there are images that work. We also might start to conceptualize this vision of God as a feeling of peace or serenity. Most of all, we can feel free to experiment playfully to discover what works for us as individuals.
Saturday, August 11, 2012
One of the sure tests of authentic spirituality is that it doesn't reinforce our prejudice but rather challenges us to grow in ways that are less than comfortable. If your religious or spiritual outlook never challenges you to grow, what you are really saying is that right now, at this very moment, you know all there is to know, you are completely awakened and enlightened, you are the messiah, you are God - and such delusions indicate a need for emergent psychiatric treatment. Yet, such a religion is just what a great number of people look for because growth is hard and uncomfortable at times. Surrendering our preconceived notions is an admission of imperfection, and the ego does not like to admit its shortcomings. Clergy of all stripes are just as bad when they are unable to admit they don't have all the answers, when they believe their job is to pour right information into the chirping mouths of the faithful while forgetting that when birds feed their young they are really offering them regurgitated nutrition - fine for birds, but hardly appropriate nourishment for human beings.
I want to encourage all people that if your spirituality or religion isn't challenging you need to ask yourself if you are honestly taking all of it into consideration or whether you are picking and choosing the pieces that are easy to swallow and rejecting the rest. If you find that is your practice, I encourage you to engage more fully. If, in fact, you are engaging all that is offered and are still not being challenged, it's time to move on. The God you are meeting is too small for you!
Friday, August 10, 2012
For the purposes of this article, a religious Christian is someone who identifies as a member of any Christian denomination with the possible exception of the United Church of Christ, which has taken great care to buck the Christian religious trend, but not in all of its Churches. A religious Christian is anyone who adheres to any doctrine or dogma that creates in and out groups, that holds that Jesus is the only path to "salvation" (whatever that is), that believes it has a duty to convert people to become Christian, or that seeks to impose their will on anyone at all - or the culture at large.
Also for the purposes of this article, a spiritual Christian is a person who finds value in the the teachings of Jesus but also recognizes that we live in a pluralistic culture. This person categorically rejects doctrine and dogma as human created constructs that often as not have nothing to do with the life and teachings of Jesus and everything to do with human beings' power and control games. They refuse to reject anyone for any reason, and feel compelled to protect the vulnerable, the oppressed, and the at-risk at any cost.
So here's my message: It is impossible to be a religious Christian without also being an unqualified asshole.
You can talk to me all you want about wanting to change things from the inside, about how things are getting better, how I should be patient, and I have a one word response for you: "No!" You see, while you are living inside the institution your money goes to support the politics of hatred and violence. Your church friends are running around being roundly critical and judgmental toward others. Your peers - good Christians all - are doing things like shooting up the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin because God only likes white people. They are also driving around Milwaukee verbally, physically, and sexually assaulting anybody they don't believe conforms to their gender norms; telling abject lies about agencies that provide vital services to poor women like Planned Parenthood - largely because they quite honestly don't like the poor and don't want to help them; seeking to impose their archaic beliefs about birth control on the population at large; trying to return science education to the dark ages; ranting on about "faggots"; and generally doing everything they can to make the world an uglier place, all in the Name of Jesus - a Jesus who would not recognize them were he to return today. You see, if you hang out with these people in their little hate-filled country clubs they call churches and don't denounce them and move away from them, you are part of the problem even as you delude yourself into believing you are working for a solution.
I, for one, can't remain silent any longer.
You see, I had to step outside religious Christianity to Buddhism to get instruction on Christian values like compassion, empathy, loving your neighbor, and not offering a knee jerk response to every situation I encountered. Once I was outside looking in, I could clearly see all of those teachings in the biblical record of Jesus. I could also see how little was made of those essential qualities in religious Christianity. Whether it's small minded bigots like the Episcopal Bishop of Milwaukee, Steven A. Miller, attempting to purge his diocese of gay and lesbian clergy or the head of the largest organized crime syndicate in the world, the Vatican, covering up the rape of untold children by his priests, I just don't see Jesus in the Church any more. Remaining inside the Church isn't working for change, it's being complicit with bigots and felons - and that, in my book anyway, makes you an asshole.
Even the historic black churches seem to spend most of their time oppressing members of their own community and lacking the back bone to take responsibility for their bigotry against the LGBT community and instead blaming the Bible for their small mindedness. The problem is that the Bible doesn't say what they claim it does, but I guess truth has never stood in the way of the Church practicing what it's best at: hypocrisy and oppression. Every once in a while, a group of people inside the church manage to take the first steps in starting a discussion about her poor behavior - only to be greeted by threats of physical assault by other pastors and parishioners, assholes all.
Even worse are the New Agers who have left the Church and now stand on the fringes encouraging people to just think positively and so change their world. Really, asshole? So what you are saying is that those people inside that Sikh Temple brought this tragedy on themselves because their thoughts were somehow flawed? Do you really believe that nonsense, or is it just that you - in a manner strikingly similar to those inside religious Christianity - prefer to believe that you can control the world rather than learning to respond to it in a healthy manner?
You see, religion - and a fair amount of spirituality - has long deceived people into believing that if they just do/think/believe the right things then nothing bad will ever befall them. The problem is that's a lie, and it's the worst kind of lie there is - it's a lie that makes everything the fault of the victim, because those who are emptying the wallets of the faithful are only too quick to say that the faithful obviously weren't doing as they were told.
At this point, I have lost all respect for the Christian tradition I once loved. I still love Jesus, and value his teachings highly. My problem is that I find no trace of either Jesus or his teachings in religious Christianity.
Sunday, July 29, 2012
I started "falling apart" when I was forty-five years old. I will turn fifty-two in September. I had my ankle reconstructed at forty-five and discovered when they gave me crutches after surgery that I couldn't use them because of an existing shoulder injury that I had learned to live with. Eight months later, at forty-six, I had my right labrum and rotator cuff repaired. While I wouldn't recommend anyone have two significant orthopedic surgeries in one calendar year - I thought it was a good idea because my out of pocket maximum had been reached in the first surgery and the physical therapy that followed it - my rationale for repairing my shoulder was sound, even if the timing wasn't. I reasoned that at some point in my life I would need to use either crutches or a walker again. In 2011 my rationale proved sound when I had spinal fusion and needed to use a walker for a couple of weeks. Back surgery is never a complete success in the sense that one never becomes "good as new." That having been said, even though I've not returned to one hundred percent I am at eighty to eighty five percent - a very significant improvement, indeed. Now it's a torn labrum in my left hip, and as much as I don't want to admit it I will probably need to have it surgically repaired sooner rather than later because it is getting worse rather quickly. What started out feeling for all the world like a bad groin pull and sort butt now clicks and sometimes makes it difficult to bend over or stand back up after sitting on the floor.
Quite often I find myself wondering if all of this is "normal." People in my family didn't talk about physical aches and pains due to being of northern European heritage and, in the case of my parents, rather heavy alcohol abuse that may well have masked whatever physical pain they were having. I wonder how many other fifty-one year old people have the physical health issues that I do, as if being able to identify myself as normal or abnormal would change the reality of my situation. The truth is that if I live long enough I will one day reach the age where most of my peers have physical limitations and whether or not I started earlier than most will be irrelevant.
Our culture is very embodied - more than we need to be and more than is healthy. I was abused rather profoundly as a child and I recognize that led to two seemingly contradictory tendencies. On the one hand, I always made sure I was strong and able to take care of myself as an adult should anyone attempt to transgress against me as an adult and, on the other hand, I wasn't very invested in caring for my body - a body that had let me down when I needed it most as a child. So I exercised and lifted weights to increase my strength and stamina and I also ignored my body when it told me something was wrong. In other words, the only one who got me here is me!
One day, however, even the most grounded among us will experience what I am experiencing now. If we believe our body is our "self," then we surely will experience our "self" slipping away. While I am a true believer in interdependence, I do not relish becoming physically dependent on others one moment sooner than necessary. Perhaps I feel unsafe, or (more likely) unworthy of the level of care that I may need a bit sooner than most. On the other hand, the opportunity for spiritual practice in the midst of all of this is enormous. I am daily reminded of my own impermanence, and my ego (in the Eastern sense) is regularly assaulted by these small reminders that there is no permanent, unchanging Craig who will go on forever. Maybe the grace in all of this is that since I am a slow learner I have been given early lessons!
I have always found suffering to be an extremely spiritual circumstance. There is something about being reminded that we aren't islands onto ourselves or the masters of our own destiny that has great value. Balanced against that are concerns about remaining gainfully employed and being emotionally available for friends and family. As in so many other areas of life, it becomes necessary to find and maintain balance. You might well say that balance is the heart of all spiritual practice! After all, not many of us can run away to a monastery or become a hermit in a remote cave, as appealing as that may be at times. While some people are called to such practices, even in the monastery or the cave there are questions of balance in our relationships, our schedules, and finding food and water.
The spiritual life, especially in Christian circles, has suffered because somewhere along the way some fool decided to create a false dichotomy between sacred and secular and so between daily life and spiritual practice. There is no such distinction. A spirituality that makes us feel great at church or in the meditation hall but doesn't impact our home life is perhaps the worst kind of self-deception because it creates a part of ourselves that is irrelevant. That's obscene, and may be a significant part of the decline of institutional Christianity. We are spiritual beings having a human experience, which means the human experience is the subject of spiritual practice - from eating, drinking, and shitting to wondering how we are going to get up that flight of stairs it is all grist for the mill. The challenges of life are the vehicles for our growth and awakening. They may not be fun, but they are essential!
Friday, July 27, 2012
Is Buddhism a religion? I suppose that depends on how one defines religion. I heard an interview the other day in which the person being interviewed defined a religion as a belief system that looks for outside intervention from a force more powerful than oneself, an intervention that rescues us from an unpleasant circumstance. That perspective hadn't occurred to me, so I spent some time reflecting on it. How does it impact Christianity? If one follows the traditional Christian path and believes that Jesus "saves" us from hell, then Christianity is a religion. On the other hand, for someone like me who can no longer believe in a hell from which humanity needs saving, I suppose it could be said that the Christian path is spirituality, not religion.
Some people are quick to point out that the root of the word religion, "ligare" means "to bind [back] or to tie." That certainly has been the experience of religion for many people, but I have to ask whether or not that remains a valid goal. Is the purpose of religion in our lives to control us, or to keep us from doing something that we shouldn't? Is that even desirable? Many of us have, indeed, felt constricted by religion - not in the sense of being kept from doing the things we ought not do, but in the sense of being kept from achieving our full potential. In my experience, spirituality tends to encourage us to achieve our full potential and sees us not as some kind of animal that needs to be tamed but rather as a human being with a conscience which tells us when we cross a line of propriety.
So we return again to the question of Buddhism as religion. If we accept the definition of religion offered above, that religion looks to an outside person or force to rescue us and also binds us back from doing the things we should not do, clearly Buddhism is not a religion. Buddhism places the responsibility for our self improvement project squarely on our own shoulders - right where it belongs. While Buddhism doesn't rule out the possibility of a God, it does hold that we are the agents of our own salvation. I value that emphasis on personal responsibility and the lack of an outside agent who forces us to misbehave. When Mara, who might be understood as temptation, comes to visit we are encouraged to treat Mara with compassion. We treat our temptations with compassion rather than attempt to deny they exist in order that we might appear holy to our friends. Can we make peace with ourselves? If we can, then surely salvation exists and we are saving ourselves.
How does this square with the Jesus experience? Truthfully, Jesus laid out a path for his followers to walk and was critical of the religious and political leaders of his day who sought to convince the people they were beholden to the leaders themselves for their salvation. There is no small amount of irony in the truth that as the Christian religion grew it tried to convince it's adherents that they were beholden to the Christian religious leaders for their salvation. I believe Jesus would have opposed that behavior as much in the Church that claimed to follow him as he did in the Jewish leaders of his day.
Is Buddhism a religion? Only if you make it one by distorting the teachings of the Buddha. Is Christianity a religion? Only is you make it one by distorting the teachings of the Christ.
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Rebirth, on the other hand, holds that our essence returns but nothing more. For me the problem in that belief is that in Tibetan Buddhism great Lamas are not only reborn but are in fact reincarnated. In fact, the great masters are thought to be able to predict and/or control the place of their next "rebirth." When the suspected reincarnation is found, he recognizes the things that belonged to him and pictures of people associated with him in his previous life. Apparently, in the transition from schmuck to enlightened person to Bodhisattva the circumstances of rebirth/reincarnation change and come under the control of the individual - or something like that. Frankly, I'm not buying it. I am suspicious of all double standards, and to me (you can, of course, make up your own mind) the whole notion of Bodhisattva vow - that we vow to return even after achieving enlightenment until all beings are enlightened - rather argues against rebirth and in favor of reincarnation. Taking the Bodhisattva vow means that me, myself, and I - empty though we may be - are coming back.
Speaking only for myself, of course, I do believe I have a soul and I believe that soul is impermanent in that it is always changing/evolving because nothing in life stagnates without dying. I believe that soul carries over from lifetime to lifetime, and while I am ambivalent about the assertions of some that they can recall entire previous lives, there is the little matter of a recurring dream I had as a child of being dressed in fur and a metal helmet with horns on it, running through a town, and being run through with some kind of spear. I had this dream long before I knew what a Viking was, and long before I knew I was Norwegian. Then again, it may not mean anything.
Theologians constantly argue about things like this and make pious declarations of what we ought to believe - a grand display of arrogance if ever there was one. The truth is that nobody knows what happens after we die, and there is no proof that anyone has ever come back or even been reincarnated - though for my part I find the Tibetan system compelling. There is the little matter of the several "books of the dead" from antiquity that purport to tell us precisely what happens according to different traditions - but all they really are is collection of the speculations of ancient theologians, who seem no less arrogant that contemporary theologians. One might say they were ahead of their time!
In the end, I believe that what really matters is that each of us arrives at a resting place (as opposed to a conclusion) in our journey that we can live with. If it fits right now, I believe that is a good and beautiful thing - as long as we keep our minds open to new information and possibilities. Once we close ourselves to the possibilities, we close ourselves to growth and turn instead to paying more attention to defending our entrenched beliefs than to the beliefs themselves. There's a name for that, but I suppose I use it too often...just turn down the lights, light some candles, maybe play some soft music, because all productivity has ceased.
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
I can't count the number of times after giving a sermon or a talk someone will come up to me, grinning from ear to ear, and tell me they just loved how I said "xyz." I sure am glad they got something they could use from what I said, but more often than not I never did say "xyz" or anything even close to it. Now, that's fine with me, but can you imagine how much more lost in translation our messages are if someone is tweeting them as we are speaking? The world can wait for whatever important information we glean from the meetings, conferences, and social events we attend. In fact, the world will be rewarded for its patience by receiving a tweet that is at least peripherally related to what we said.
We already spend far too much time not listening to what's is being said. We formulate our response to the statement of friends and loved ones before they have finished their thought. We participate in a culture that actually encourages multi-tasking, which fragments our attention even more than it already is. We want everything - even information - now, right now, and so the information we receive often isn't even completely formulated in the speaker's mind before we start not listening and formulating our response. Is it any wonder our relationships are mired in communication problems? We have forgotten how to communicate!
In the end, it's a matter of mindfulness. Do we want to be here, now, and experiencing life, or would we rather be distracted, deluded and completely ineffective? If Twitter is any indication, its the latter! Count me out.
Thursday, July 5, 2012
Lately, I have discovered a whole new, much broader application of what I charmingly call "The Shit Principle." It works like this - people do stupid shit all the time. They live their lives being less than true to themselves, in the closet over any number of issues. Friends betray friends, or refuse to see them in public for fear of the opinions of others, they start unwise relationships or unwisely end stable relationships, they quit good jobs in favor of bad jobs - the list is virtually endless. Sometimes, those bad choices cause us to feel hurt but upon close examination (and to borrow a tired, but honest, break up line) it's not you, it's them. What I mean to say is that not only can't we protect people from themselves, we also shouldn't take other people's foolish actions personally. Their seeming inability to face reality just isn't our issue - but, oh, how we love to try to make it our issue.
Ultimately, the only one we are responsible for is ourselves. If someone doesn't want to associate with us, unless we have been displaying some fairly inappropriate behavior, it's that person's inability to accept reality as it is that drives their decision. Despite that, we often find ourselves embroiled in an unpleasant story - fantasy, really - of our own construction in which we play the villain or the abused party. Let it go, it's just not your shit.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
Meditation teachers often speak of the pause that occurs after one out breath ends but before the next in breath begins and also after the in breath ends but before the next out breath. Contrary to what many of us believe, breathing is not continuous. To be honest, while I have always found that fact interesting and an aid in maintaining mindfulness, I wasn't sure that it had benefit beyond the meditation cushion or (in my case) chair. Then I noticed a change in myself. I noticed I wasn't reacting nearly as fast as I used to, and that is loaded with benefits.
When we can learn to pause before responding to a situation, from relatively benign to potentially violent, we are more likely to respond in a way that is actually helpful rather than one that exacerbates the situation. Part of the reason we are able to do this is that we see the actions of the other more clearly and discover that they are most likely responding from their pain and/or fear rather than what is actually happening. This helps us to respond with compassion even to potentially violent people because we understand that nothing personal is happening. In fact, when I think back on the times that I have responded in ways that were less than helpful, I was almost always responding to what I perceived was a personal attack. Over time spiritual practice helps us to see that there really is no such thing as a personal attack because attacks are always the result of distorted perceptions.
This reveals the problem with those programs such as CDs that claim to put you in the meditative state of a long term meditator. Even if they actually put us in that state, they cannot give us the experience of sitting with our lives year after year. There are no shortcuts, but the benefits of sustained effort are more than worth the time!
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
At first it seems very simple. It seems like all we need to do is take the welfare of the person we encounter into consideration. We not only avoid doing what hurts them, we also try to take action that will in fact help them. It sounds so simple, and it is - as long as we only encounter one relatively content person at a time. Sooner or later, though, we are bound to encounter two people who aren't getting along. How are we to tell what is best for both of them, especially if their disagreement goes back years? What if their disagreement is taking place in public, and our intervention - even when well conceived and perfectly carried out - will leave at least one of these two people diminished in the eyes of the witnesses? How do we act in the best interest of a person who is about to do physical harm to another? How do we respond with compassion to an angry, raging person who might harm us?
These questions and many more point out the truth that while loving-kindness might sound light-weight, it is anything but. While theoretical solutions might be easy to arrive at, our attempts to apply them in the real world often show the situation to be much more complex than our theories anticipated.
I have come to the conclusion that the person I most need to show kindness to is myself. That doesn't mean that it would be healthy or desirable to permanently isolate myself in a self-love fest in a distant cabin far away from civilization, though as a vacation spot it might be very helpful, indeed. It does mean that my ability to practice loving-kindness toward others will be severely impaired if I end up compromised due to lack of self care. It is perfectly acceptable to not know the best action to take in a particular situation and so take a pass and just walk away. It is perfectly acceptable to take time off to care for self. We really do not have to solve all the world's problems. Rather, we are called to address the ones we can and stand with those who need the support of community. At times we do have to intervene either physically or verbally, but more often we just are called to be fully present.
As one who has battled rather unhealthy childhood training all of his life, I need to constantly remind myself to care for me. I'm far from perfect, but getting better and better as time passes. That being said, there is still a long way for me to go. Part of being compassionate toward myself is learning that having a long way to go is perfectly permissible!
Thursday, May 10, 2012
I find myself evolving, though fortunately not in the political sense but rather as a result of my spiritual practice combined with the changes and challenges that my physical self has had to face in the last six or seven years. I heard a colleague of mine talking about a connection between pain and even injury in certain parts of the body and trauma of one kind or another earlier in life than predates either the awareness or onset of pain or injury. He made a pretty convincing case that you can make connections in at least some people between the kind of trauma they experienced and the location of their pain and/or injury using the chakra system. I tend to be skeptical of those kind of connections, but at the same time I can't deny that my second chakra pain and injury history may very well be tied to childhood trauma. For that matter, the very oddly located thoracic spine injury I have (I was told by a physician that such injuries are usually only seen in severe car accidents) may be likewise related to the heart chakra's response to childhood trauma. On the other hand, there was that 1A industrial extension ladder I lifted that caused me to feel and hear a pop in the precise location of the injured disc. I will certainly grant that there can be more than one cause for any event, and I remain open to suggestions about all of this, but it certainly is curious. I cannot help but wonder, is there some aspect of me that I am hiding from myself to my detriment? What's more, no matter how equanimous one becomes toward ones pain, it remains true that outside the monastery there are things that have to get done and they can't get done when pain is too incapacitating.
I don't feel that we really evolve in any substantial way until we are forced to evolve. It seems to me that the two most common situations that force us to evolve are significant life crises and more gradual life changes or challenges that force us to see that our understandings or world view no longer fit our situation. In short, we come to realize - either gradually or suddenly - that things don't work the way we thought they did. I have found that meditation helps me examine those changes and not get hooked by them as often, but I also am learning that seeing things more clearly as a by-product of spiritual practice often compels me to re-evaluate not only my life priorities but also my involvements. One example is that as we come to see more and more clearly the fictional nature of so much that our society sees as extremely important - the political process, the stock market, economics in general, and a host of other systems based more in superstition than reality - it becomes more and more difficult to get excited about them. The political process is one I am struggling with mightily in this Presidential election year, but for some reason that isn't a struggle that bothers me much. I struggle much more on a day to day basis with my physical limitations. As much as I recognize the value of living in the present moment, at times I wonder how I will contribute financially to my family as my limitations increase - which surely they will, if for no other reason than aging.
The struggle that I find most difficult right now is finding support for my practice. I confess that a lot of the responsibility for that struggle lies in the fact that my practice is rather eclectic, especially in the Midwestern United States. I have spent the last seventeen years concerned about holding open space for others to practice in, initially in a more traditional space and in the last several years in a very progressive place. Still, the question becomes a variation of, "who cares for the physician?" Ultimately, of course, we all are responsible for caring for ourselves. What I seek is a place to be nurtured, and I need that to be a place where I am not Bishop Craig Bergland. I recall when Frank Griswold was Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church he got caught attending Mass in street clothes at one of the Catholic Cathedrals in New York City. It didn't bother me at all, but it bothered a lot of people inside the Episcopal Church at the time. I remember that he explained that he just wanted to go somewhere to worship where people didn't know him and he could be himself. Unlike the assertion of the theme song from the TV show Cheers, sometimes you don't want to go where everybody knows your name.
To be honest, I struggle with even going to a local Buddhist Center because (1) I resonate most with the Insight Meditation tradition and the nearest center is seventy-five miles away, and (2) regardless of the Tradition, "church people" are church people, and can be irritating as hell. I realize that makes such people a focus for practice, and I am working on that. I have done a pretty good job of constructing ministries that don't attract church people, so at least I don't have to deal with them often. As an aside I still recall my first visit to a Sharon Salzberg talk in Madison, WI - the aforementioned city seventy-five miles from me. I remember my absolute shock at seeing the same behaviors I had seen for decades in Christian Churches displayed by the Buddhists gathered for Sharon's talk, with the appropriate changes in detail to fit the different context. Instead of kneeling on a kneeler with perfect posture and hands clasped together, the holier than thou Buddhist women felt compelled to sit full lotus in a folding chair with hands in a perfect mudra. I kid you not. There also was the same back biting and gossip, the same looking around to see who was present and who wasn't, the same evaluation of who was wearing what, and all of the usual nonsense. I'm not looking for the perfect place, mind you, just a place where I can be comfortable and be just plain old Craig. It's not as easy as you might think, but we all do need a place like that - a place where we can progress at our own place both in terms of practice and commitment. I'm not at all sure where that is for me at this point in my journey, but I recognize I need to find it.
One way I am seeking to construct a place of support for those on a similar journey is through a website and community that will be up and running by May 15th, if I can get the people at GoDaddy.com to answer a simple question, at ContemplativeHeart.org. The group is called the Contemplative Heart Community, and there will eventually be a Facebook Group as well. It will be a place for all who are interested in Contemplative Prayer or Meditation to find similarly inclined people, to share experiences, to be of mutual support, and to see what develops. If you have an interest, check it out!
Monday, April 30, 2012
Several years ago I read of a woman who identified herself as a Buddhapalian. She was a Buddhist-Episcopalian, and I thought that name was very catchy, and may have applied to me if I was still an Episcopalian. Then a little while later I was in an ecumenical book study with a woman who identified as a JewBu. Very nice as well, but I'm not Jewish. I settled for Christian Buddhist or Buddhist Christian, depending on which happened to tumble out of my mouth at the time. Buddhian didn't seem to have much staying power, and Chrisdist seemed to have the same problem - plus, it sounded an awful lot like a form of muscular dystrophy. "Did you hear that Bob's son has Chrisdist?" "Dammit, that's rough!"
Then I started to reflect on the fact that I really don't consider myself a member of institutional Christianity any more. Even a rat leaves a sinking ship, and I had jumped overboard a few years ago. So, while sitting on the toilet the other day (don't laugh, that's where Martin Luther wrote his 93 theses!) I pondered how to describe my spirituality. It occurred to me that Buddha offered me a way to work with my mind, and Jesus offered me a way of life, and both Buddhism and the teachings of Jesus equip me with the tools necessary for spiritual transformation. Jesus and Buddha. Then it hit me: I'm a JeBu! How cool is that?
Friday, April 13, 2012
Fortunately, those of us whose spiritual journey straddles Christianity and Buddhism know better. Our practice calls us to transform emotions, and recognizes that the seeds we water are the seeds that grow. If we water the anger in our consciousness, we become more angry. If we water the peace in our consciousness, we become more peaceful. It sounds simple, and the theory is indeed simple, but it takes practice and commitment. It requires the willingness to really examine ourselves honestly and do the hard work of transformation. That transformation doesn't happen overnight and it usually isn't dramatic. No fireworks are likely to accompany our change. Gradually, however, we notice that we don't get hooked as easily, that we don't respond quite as quickly and aren't provoked quite as easily. Our "buttons" are harder to find and harder to push. We become kinder and gentler.
Nobody has the "right" to walk around acting out their anger. Rather, we all have the responsibility to transform our negative emotions and recognize them for what they are - unskillful responses to stimuli. We would do well to spend less time judging our attitudes and feelings, and more time transforming them. If we are to have peace on Earth, that peace needs to begin in each of us.
Monday, April 9, 2012
Friday, April 6, 2012
Monday, April 2, 2012
Sunday, April 1, 2012
I believe the single most important gleaning from Buddhism in my spiritual journey is mantra practice. Since I am a prayer bead guy, I like to say my mantra with a set of mala beads, but the absence of the beads doesn't stop me from praying. Mantra practice IS meditation, and I especially appreciate my mala on long car rides, like the one we have made to Minneapolis and back twice in the last three weekends. On the way up last Thursday I was able to spend several hours with my mantra and it was simply delightful.
Christianity needs to recover a practice, and I would suggest they recover contemplative prayer via mantra practice. Christianity needs to transcend its image as something you plug into on Sunday morning and then disengage from until the following Sunday, and it also needs a spiritual practice one can engage in without the Christian community present. Human beings need to tap into their spirituality regularly, and my life stands as witness that mala practice can be transformative.
Centuries ago, the Catholic Church recognized that lay people needed a practice. At the time, monks in monasteries recited all one hundred fifty psalms each day. Since lay people were largely illiterate, and books were still extremely expensive because the printing press had not yet been invented, reciting the psalms was out of the question. For this reason, the rosary was born. The laity could pray one hundred fifty Hail Mary's and recall fifteen "mysteries" of the life of Christ in the process. The rosary had the dual function of being a doorway to contemplation and a tool for teaching the Gospel. As someone who prayed the rosary for years, I can attest that it is indeed a doorway to contemplation. For me, the "mysteries" and the interspersed "Our Father's" were a distraction to the rhythm of the prayer. Just when it seemed I was getting into the groove, I had to stop and knock out another mystery and an Our Father.
Mantra practice, on the other hand, is just the mantra - and you can choose your own or ask a spiritual friend or guide to chose one for you. I often recommend "Thank You" as a beginning mantra, because gratitude brings us to the present moment as well as being a spiritual quality worth developing. If you are inclined, you can direct your "thank you" toward a deity, but it isn't necessary. What is necessary is to do the practice. I'm a bit unorthodox in that I recommend buying or making yourself a small set of prayer beads and saying you mantra in the car, on a walk, while watching television, whenever you can find a moment, for at least the first thirty days. (Quite honestly, I take my mala wherever I go.) In that way, you build a habit and the mantra becomes a part of you. Of course, it would be ideal to also be able to find a period of ten to thirty minutes to sit quietly and intentionally to say your mantra in addition to praying it on the go.
Mantras aren't panaceas, and they aren't magic. The repetition of a mantra does lead endorphines to be released in our brains, which means it feels good. More importantly, though, a mantra brings us to the present moment over and over again. I have seen my personality transformed over the last twelve years of dedicated mantra practice. It wasn't like someone flipped a light switch, it was more like I had been soaked in a vat of calmness, compassion, clear vision, and peacefulness. Much to my surprise, one day I looked back and realized that transformation had occurred - and it keeps on happening. To me, this is a spirituality that works. It takes time, and dedication, but it isn't really all that difficult - and the rewards are unbelievable!
Sunday, March 25, 2012
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Monday, March 12, 2012
I believe that healthy spirituality always leads us to care for others. I also believe that we can have all sorts of motivations for caring about others, a good many of them rather self-destructive. We might care for others to build what I call our spiritual resume. This is especially prevalent in Christianity, where despite all of the teaching about God being loving, forgiving, and "saving" us through grace, most people still keep close track of their good deeds so that in the event that we should arrive at the pearly gates of heaven and the powers that be have not been duly informed of just how wonderful we are we can simply pull out our spiritual resume and clear the whole matter up before it gets out of hand, thank you very much. The problem with spiritual resumes is that they make our selfless acts of compassion and caring for others selfish rather than selfless. We don't care at all about Mildred, whom we are visiting in the retirement home, we are using her in hopes of saving our own butts at the gates of heaven.
His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama has taught extensively that (to paraphrase) peace is achieved one person at a time. We can hardly work for peace unless we have peace in our hearts. Of course, we don't have to be perfect before having an impact. Each step along the way toward peacefulness makes an impact. We don't have to sit in our rooms until we can emerge enlightened - if we did, we might miss lifetimes of opportunities to alleviate suffering here and now. I believe we do have to stay in our rooms until we see the truth of interconnectedness. An effective exercise in this endeavor is to count the number of people, places, and things we encounter in the course of a single twenty-four hour period that we brought to our life without any assistance. The answer may surprise you. It will also cause you to begin to appreciate just how interdependent we really are.
There are countless causes battling for our attention - in itself a curious and at times at least spiritually violent process. It seems that everyone with a case of indigestion wants to start a petition on Change.org. I have started to evaluate those requests and the causes I support or am otherwise connected with in terms of whether the increase the polarization in our already divisive society or whether they are able to take a position without demonizing the other. Would it surprise you if I told you not one has passed the test?
Of course, that may be a sign that people who understand non-duality need to make themselves available to the many important organizations that work for justice in our world. Changing what has become common practice will not be easy. What we may need are people who are very well grounded in their own spiritual practice and understanding of interconnectedness to start or join existing organizations that operate from this understanding. There are some that exist already, and there is certainly room for more. We could also talk with our friends and family about the truth that even those we disagree with are at the very least our brothers and sisters.
Whatever we decide, it is important that it is grounded in our spiritual practice, that we continue to transform and grow on our own journey. We don't need to have all the answers today, no matter what our hell bent for speed society would like us to believe. Our culture didn't get into this mess overnight, and it isn't going to be transformed overnight. As individual practitioners, if we rush in without adequate grounding and preparation all we will do is burn out - which, because of interconnectedness, hurts all of us.
Monday, March 5, 2012
Thursday, March 1, 2012
As far as Christian Buddhists go, the usual "big three" theological objections are the following:
1. Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and Buddhists don't believe in a creator God. Although the Buddha refused to comment on the concept of God, Buddhists believe that the universe always has been and always will be.
1A. My answer to this is that I do not believe that Jesus is the biological or unique son of God and I don't believe that Jesus understood himself in either of those ways. He most likely believed that he was the son of God in the way that every human being is a son or daughter of God. If by creator God you mean a God with a big old workshop filled with tools in which everything was created, then I don't believe in a creator God either. I do believe that God has always been and always will be, and was the energy that caused our universe to come into physical being, which is pretty much the same as the universe having always been and always continuing. Granted the form will change, but since Buddhists believe form is emptiness that shouldn't be an issue.
2. Christians believe that Jesus died to save them from their sins and, except for Pure Land Buddhists, Buddhists don't believe in an external savior or power. Rather, Buddhists believe that all people have Buddha Nature and need to clear away the obscurations currently concealing their Buddha Nature.
2A. My answer is that not all Christians believe in atonement theology, and I certainly don't believe in it. I am just fine with Buddha Nature, and find it to be amazingly parallel to the notions of Christ Consciousness (I actually prefer the term God Consciousness or God Nature) and/or indwelling Divinity being present in all human beings.
3. Budhhists believe in reincarnation while Christians believe in one unique life.
3A. Both statements are imprecise and therefore problematic. Buddhists actually believe in rebirth, which is best understood as a less specific form of continuation than reincarnation, which is actually a Hindu belief. In either event, there have long been - back to the earliest Church - Christians who believed in reincarnation. The differences and the nuances are far from insurmountable.
Conclusions. Of course, there are other objections. The one thing all of the objections have in common is that they assume an orthodox or pseudo Christian perspective. Jamyang Khyentse wrote a book entitled Why You're not a Buddhist that assumed an orthodox Tibetan Buddhist perspective. Ironically, Tibetan Buddhism is the latest developing major school in Buddhism and is much different from Zen and Theravadan Buddhism. Were the same standards applied to the then emerging Tibetan Buddhism by Zen and Theravadan Buddhists one cannot help but wonder if they would have been defined as Buddhist or not.
Once again we are confronted with the issue of what constitutes a gate keeper into a tradition. Certainly, an individual teacher or Bishop has every right to determine who they accept as a member of their particular corner of their tradition. However, traditions are broader than any one manifestation of a tradition. So often, there is a drive to maintain orthodoxy that is partly understandable but partly a manifestation of an unhealthy desire to control what should be a living, growing thing that risks killing it.
We are in a period of evolving spirituality. On the Christian side, the mainlines have imploded and what will emerge from the ashes remains to be seen. On the Buddhist side, a uniquely American Buddhism is in the process of emerging. Both traditions are evolving and very fluid, a word that applies to the entire contemporary spiritual landscape. Try as they might, traditionalists will be unable to control the process. The good news is that teachers like Tara Brach are finding ways to hold open a spacious presentation of an emerging American Buddhism that leaves room for people from diverse backgrounds and beliefs. As someone from a Christian background, I appreciate teachers like Tara who resist the temptation to allow former Christians to poison a group by instituting an anti-Christian bias. That bias has poisoned the Unitarian Universalist and New Thought movements as well as parts of the emerging American Buddhist tradition. We need to be in a space where people are encouraged to deal with residual issues from their former traditions rather than carry them forward and inflict them on other groups.
In the end, whether individual people from their own perspective want to admit it or not, there are Christian Buddhists and Buddhist Christians and a collection of other blended spiritual perspectives. That is always a good thing, because it indicates that people are interacting with their spiritual selves. The worst thing that can happen on the spiritual path isn't experimentation, it's apathy. As this process continues, those with a vested interest in their particular institution will resist the changes that emerge. That speaks more to what people do when they sense they are losing their power than it speaks to this process. Some are bound to take things to a place that is unrecognizable. We need to recognize that is perfectly acceptable if our goal is that people find their authentic spiritual selves. For those of us who have no choice but to ask the tough questions, it's an exciting time to be alive.
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Friday, February 17, 2012
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Sunday, February 12, 2012
Saturday, February 11, 2012
I am reminded of a training I went to some years ago with the Gamaliel Foundation outside Chicago. In the interest of full disclosure, I believe there are serious flaws with the philosophy and practices of the Gamaliel Foundation. Not the least of these is that in their zeal for systemic change they completely dismiss those individuals and ministries that work to address people's needs in the present moment in a practical way. They actually believe, for example, that people who are engaged in feeding the hungry are doing worthless work because they should be working for systemic change to eliminate the causes of hunger - never mind that such work takes time, and in the meanwhile literally tens of thousands of people will die of hunger. Philosophically it all sounds very nice, but practically speaking it comes up rather short.
As someone who considers himself a Buddhist Christian, which is to say a Christian who has been influenced by Buddhism, I am very appreciative of the work of Engaged Buddhists. Engaged Buddhists work to address societal problems in the present while also working for systemic change. Followers of Jesus will recall that he advocated not just forgiving your enemy, but actually praying for your enemy and loving them. He also, in his farewell discourses, suggested that the Apostles carry a sword with which to defend themselves. When we have important work to do, we need to be sure we are actually able to carry it out.
Our society seems to have problems understanding some key distinctions in addressing problems. Among them are the differences between symptoms of a problem and the causes of a problem - including the fact that very few problems have only one contributing cause. Dispassionate analysis is an important component in developing solutions - but in the meantime we also need to do what we can to ease suffering. This calls for a multi-focal approach to our problem solving, and more than a little compassion. We don't have to jump to hasty decisions if we are prepared to ease suffering until the systemic issues can be addressed. Abandoning our compassion is never an asset.
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Sunday, February 5, 2012
Thursday, February 2, 2012
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Saturday, January 28, 2012
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Sunday, January 22, 2012
Saturday, January 21, 2012
Thursday, January 19, 2012
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Monday, January 16, 2012
Sunday, January 15, 2012
Friday, January 13, 2012
It can be overwhelming. Life comes at us at break neck speed even if we only consider the parts of which we are made aware. When you add to it the various organizations seeking to mobilize us with petition drives about everything from serious issues to how the people at Lego market their toys, things can get out of control pretty quickly. Some of those petitions seems to have an impact, while others do not. Whether or not the same objectives could be achieved through other means is debatable, what is certain is that the organizations circulating the petitions are little more than lobbying organizations the agendas of which we happen to agree with. The problem is that the impact of all of this information, when coupled with the declarations of emergency that accompany everything from fundraising drives for political candidates to the aforementioned gripe with Lego marketing, can easily become overwhelming. We can feel powerless, agitated, anxious, and/or any of a host of other feelings. Do we abandon hope, disengage from society, and withdraw from the rat race?
Withdrawing can be an effective strategy, and a valid one at that. The problem is that most people who assume activist postures are, in fact, activists. Remaining withdrawn is very difficult for activists because it goes against their nature. What to do? The advice to "pick your battles" is rather ineffective, because to pick our battles we still have to expose ourselves to more of them that we can healthily engage - unless we learn to detach.
Attachment comes in many forms. When I worked in hospitals for the first time in the mid 1990s I was surprised to see the nurses become extremely distraught when their patients died - not just the hard cases like young patients, but even the deaths from natural causes after a long life well lived. They lacked the ability to detach, and so to them each death was like the death of a family member. Of course, part of the problem in these situations is that our culture has a very unhealthy attitude toward death. The other part of the problem was that they were unable to do the best they could to help their patients and then step back and allow the Universe to unfold as it will. The same is true for activists. All we can do is the best we can. The outcomes of situations and circumstances simply are not up to us. They are determined by almost innumerable factors, most of which are beyond our control. We get in trouble when we try to take responsibility for things that we can only impact in a limited way.
Each generation has its crises. The only thing they have in common is that good people do the best they can, and whatever will unfold does, in fact, unfold. There is one other thing they have in common - the world keeps on turning. If indeed we are spiritual beings having a human experience, we keep on "turning" as well. In the interim, if we do the best we can and leave the outcome to the Universe we will find that we still sleep at night, experience much less anxiety, and even a growing sense of peace. And, when we need to, we can take a break from the grind and trust that the world will not fall apart in our absence.