Tag Archives: religion

god is community

i like to think about god when i wake up in the middle of the night. i had just finished deepak chopra’s new book on mohammed (review coming up soon). the many stories about the tribes, the complicated family relationships, the exchange with jews and christians, the interdependency with slaves – maybe that’s what made me come up with this idea: god is about community and cooperation. or maybe: god IS community and cooperation.

  • love your neighbour as you love yourself, says jesus.
  • give alms to the poor, says mohammed.
  • respect your parents, says the god of the old testament.
  • we are all one, says the buddha.
  • do not kill one living being, say they jain.
  • ren, a key concept in confucianism, is represented in chinese characters by the image of “human being” and “two”.

religions are, to a large degree, rules for living together. (i know, that’s not a new thought).

“if there were no god, it would be necessary to invent him,” voltaire said. who knows what a god is, whether god exists, and what it means for a god to exist. in my mind, these questions are often not that interesting – clearly, there are important levels at which god/gods exist.

however, i can see how it is through community and cooperation that gods could have been invented. evolutionarily, humans were desperately dependent on community and cooperation. we didn’t have the size of woolly mammoths, the adaptability of the cockroach or the fierceness of the sabre toothed tiger. huddling together, dividing labour, learning from each other as we developed tools were our only chances to survive. (banding together for raids and warfare apparently seemed like a good idea, too). building powerful rituals and stories around these communal means to survive made us stronger.

no wonder there is a god.

buddhist carnival – april 2010

it’s been two years now, i think, that i’ve been starting the buddhist carnival with a poem. this one i found when i was rooting around the buddhasphere in connection with the post on mice, death and neuroticism. when i first found the poem, i didn’t really want to post it. it starts like this

meditation on death
marananussati

like a flame blown out by the wind,
this life-continuum goes to destruction;
recognizing one’s similarities to others,
one should develop mindfulness of death.

just as people who have achieved
great success in the world have died,
so too i must certainly die.
death is harassing me.

death always comes along
together with birth,
searching for an opportunity,
like a murderer out to kill.

(the rest is here)

so why didn’t i want to post it? because it seemed so … morbid. “death is harassing me”, “like a murderer out to kill,” etc. not beautiful. not accepting. such crass language.

fortunately, i woke up from this disney dream. much of death is ugly, unacceptable and crass. prettying it up with songs of hosanna and pink ribbons wouldn’t be very buddhist, would it?

to illustrate the idea of death, why don’t we go to the worst horse. this is a camera.

so what’s the deal here? well, this item is one of the most recent pinhole cameras ” yes, it works ” by the artist wayne martin belger. as belger explains, the camera is “named ‘yama,’ [after] the tibetan god of death. in tibetan buddhism, yama will see all of life and karma is the ‘judge’ that keeps the balance. the skull was blessed by a tibetan lama for its current journey and i’m working with a tibetan legal organization that is sending me to the refugee cities in india.”

cleaning house

let’s stay with a bit of harshness here. “it is important to clean house”, says marguerite manteau-rao, “and keep on purifying one’s mind through unbroken mindfulness. just as critical is surrounding oneself with good people, starting with one’s most inner circle. this is an aspect of practice that often does not get enough attention.” she then goes on to quote from the kesi sutta from the pali canon

“if a tamable horse does not submit either to a mild training or to a harsh training or to a mild and harsh training, lord, then i kill it. why is that? [i think:] ‘don’t let this be a disgrace to my lineage of teachers.’ but the blessed one, lord, is the unexcelled trainer of tamable people. how do you train a tamable person?”

what do you do with untamable people? do you kill them?

dying completely

the barking unicorn is someone who i have come to like (and sometimes dread) because i often feel he’d like to tame me 🙂 while i sorely dislike people’s attempts at taming me (why do you think i dropped out of grade 9, never to return to high school?) i must admit that i’ve benefitted a lot from the barking unicorn’s words. for example, when i went to germany and needed to deal with my pretty intense fear of flying, i decided to build my own in-flight magazine, studded with online writings that i knew would keep my attention. one of them was the barking unicorn’s article about the unicorn and the goddess. it truly brought me grace – and it’s also in line with this whole idea of death that we seem to be pursuing right now. here is a teaser.

“dancers die completely… when a dancer dances she ceases to exist, annihilated utterly as if she had never been.”

a dancer’s ego is what dies and ceases to exist. the ego is that which considers itself an “i” separate from everything else. the ego is your delusion that you are you and the rest of the universe is not you. ….
the ego is the final, tallest, thickest barrier to enlightenment. when the ego dies and ceases to exist, one enters the state of being enlightened, of realizing that there is no “i” and no “you”, no “here” or “out there”. there is no dancer, no illusion of an “i”. there is only all in one. the dancer ceases to occupy a place in existence, and the goddess fills her place.

although her ego dies, a dancer persists as the vehicle she drives – a fleshly body with perceptions of sensation, experiencing things. when she is dancing – enlightened – a dancer experiences bliss – a quiet, serene state of contentment with things just the way they are. …

“let go over a cliff, die completely, and then come back to life – after that you cannot be deceived.”

enlightenment changes an aspect permanently, even though that aspect may be reborn into samsara again (“get a new vehicle,” in that metaphor). this change, this difference from those who have yet to “die completely,” is the goddess kiss to which i refer. it is the indelible mark of one who has been “made more than mortal forever.”

to dance is to be out of yourself. larger, more beautiful, more powerful.
this is power, it is glory on earth and it is yours for the taking. ~ agnes de mille

from dying to awakening and knowing: words

jayarava has a very interesting post about linguistics, discussing the word “knowing” in various languages. for example

there is [an] important sanskrit verb √budh ‘to perceive, notice, understand, to awake’. from this word we get the important buddhist technical terms buddha ‘awoken, understood’ and bodhi ‘awakening, understanding’. we also get the verbal noun buddhi ‘intelligence, reason, mind’. the only trace of this word in english is in the word ‘bid’, as in “do as i bid you” which is related to the causative form bodhaya- ‘to inform’ via the anglo-saxon bÄ“odan ‘command’.

words for buddhism, and for christians

for decades i have harbored an interest in buddhism, however i would quickly become so confused when confronted with all the different kinds of buddhism and words that were so foreign to me that my head would spin and i would simply give up. finally, i decided i was going to stick with it ……. and now i see that the very confusion i had experienced is probably similar to what someone who grows up in a non-christian culture would experience when learning about christianity. within christianity there is more than the catholics (and all of their “varieties”) and the mainline protestants (with their own different sub groups) but all the small community-based, storefront churches as well. what is a buddhist, a muslim, a hindu to do when confronted with all this?

so it has been with me as i learned about theraveda, mahayana, zen, tibetan, pure land, vajrayana, etc. once i began to at least attain a basic understanding, the next question began to arise …. so which one should i study and/or follow?? in fact, i hear this question quite often among those who are searching for a path.

here is my reflection on this question ….. first, i asked myself, how did i choose to become catholic? well, i didn’t really, now did i. it was a decision that was made for me by by parents, my family, my cultural and national heritage. hmmm …well, my parents or my family are not going to be making this decision for me. i am not aware of an english or polish tradition of buddhism, so i have no cultural group to return to ….. and i certainly don’t want to choose the wrong buddhism to learn about ………… after all, i already have 50 years into this catholicism, i am not so sure i am going to have another 50 years to develop my understanding of buddhism, so i had better get it right!!! (maybe, if i am lucky, in my next rebirth i will be born into the right one!!!)

here is how i have answered this question for myself …. i have decided to simply pay attention to where i am.

this – and more – is from a buddhist catholic.

buddhists, christians and social media

continuing in the vein of buddhism and christianity, here is something that attracted me first because of the title – why do we need a buddhist social network – but ended up interesting me more because it offers yet another angle on the question of whether buddhism, at least here in north america, is more of a religion or more of a (sometimes neutral?) common ground.

i was thinking about exactly how the buddhist community here in columbus is different than the christian communities in which i grew up. in the christian faith- and in most others as well- you find a good church, and then you keep going to that church exclusively. every once in a while there might be an event with multiple churches, but for the most part people either stay put or they stop going altogether, especially if other family members attend a particular branch.

in the buddhist community however, there is a tremendous amount of sangha-hopping. in fact, buddhist sanghas tend to be more of a ‘family’ set-up, where each person has an immediate sangha and an extended sangha who are often times scattered all over the world. while large traditions often sponsor the opening of large, beautiful new temples, these are not representative of the number of people that might actually practice their tradition alone, even amongst their own regulars.

the second major difference is that americans frequently attend retreats and dhamma talks held by monastics regardless of their tradition (with the exception of people who belong to ethnically close-knit buddhist communities). this is tantamount to catholics going to southern baptist revivals to ‘broaden their experience’. both are christian- but how much do they really mix? on the other hand, one of my dear friends is a japanese nichiren buddhist with whom i have gone to a variety of buddhist events all over town- even the tibetan temple downtown. this is unusual when you compare buddhism to other faiths- but then, buddhism tends to defy these concepts (and all concepts as a rule).

buddhist concepts, reiki concepts

let’s end with a rather longish treatise on the question of whether reiki has a buddhist origin, by oliver klatt, reiki master and editor of the german-language reiki magazin. i have to admit that i did not read through the whole article; i’m including it here because sometimes reiki gets all cute and new agey on us, and i find it refreshing when someone takes a more sober in thorough approach to investigating things.

we often read today that the usui system of reiki has a buddhist origin or that the spiritual roots of the system are in buddhism … taking a closer look at the spiritually significant elements of the usui system as the first step [i] examine them to determine if they have a special proximity to buddhism. then, in a second step, it appears reasonable to examine the spiritual orientation of the usui system as a whole and to also scrutinize it for a special closeness to buddhism. it appears to make sense for both steps to also examine a possible proximity of the usui system with the other major spiritual traditions and religions of the world. if it turns out that the usui system actually does have a close proximity to buddhism but is also close to the other religions and spiritual traditions, then we cannot claim that the system has a “special close relationship” with buddhism … in summary, no special relationship between the usui system of reiki and buddhism is discernible; in any case, no closer proximity than it also has to other religions or spiritual traditions.

godthink

god is not one, for someone with my buddhist and ecumenical leanings, was a bit of a provocative book title so i started reading it with some resistance. was this going to be some rabid right-wing pseudo intellectual trying to persuade me that all gods are bad except his?

really, the title of the book should be “if you think all religions are the same, you’re ill-informed and unrealistic when you hope that your attitude helps world peace.” (clearly, the people at harper-collins are better headline writers than i.)

far from a raging religious conservative, the author, stephen prothero from boston university, calls for empathy and a celebration of diversity while acknowledging the reality that the vast majority of people who practice a religion feel very strongly and protective about the details that make up their religion. while every religion “asks after the human condition. here we are in these human bodies. what now? what next? what are we to become?”, they tend to differ sharply among what philosopher of religion ninian smart calls the seven dimensions of religion: the ritual, narrative, experiential, institutional, ethical, doctrinal and material dimensions.

prothero makes a good case for his idea, although some of his arguments are a little circular. for example, he tells us that each religion articulates

a problem
a solution to the problem
a technique for reaching the solution
an exemplar (or exemplars) who chart the path from problem to solution

for example

in buddhism, the problem is suffering; in christianity, sin
in buddhism, the solution or goal is nirvana, in christianity, salvation
in buddhism, the technique is the noble eightfold path; in christianity, a combination of faith and good works
in buddhism, exemplars are, among others, bodhisattvas; in some forms of christianity, saints

this analysis is not a bad idea. prothero readily admits that this is a very crude lens, and i quickly came to like the book because he so freely admits to this and other shortcomings. however, what he doesn’t acknowledge is that it is easy to make the point about the divergence of religions if he is the very person who sets up the criteria by which this divergence is to be measured. this is all the more interesting because he points to that very problem with others: “there is a long tradition of christian thinkers assuming that salvation is the goal of all religions and then arguing that only christians can achieve this goal.”

another (small?) weakness of the book is that prothero does not do much to bolster his arguments – that religions are more different than alike, and that negating this difference detracts from harmonious co-existence – with evidence or reference in the relevant literature. he doesn’t point out who makes counter arguments (and how they might be refuted) or who else makes arguments similar to his. i put the word “small” in parentheses because the book is clearly meant as an introductory text for a wide audience. a person interested in the subject would do well to do some further reading.

these weaknesses aside, i am enjoying reading this book. prothero underlines that religions must be looked at warts and all, and from the point of view of its ordinary practitioners, not from the point of view of mysticism. i haven’t come to a conclusion yet whether i agree with that (i suspect that i might come to think that both perspectives are useful) but i welcome the chance to think about religions from that angle.

prothero’s concept of “godthink” is also interesting – a “naive theological groupthink” that lumps all religions into one, and which is practiced by theists and atheists alike.

i read the beginning and the end of the book and have a feeling that i have a good sense of prothero’s main arguments. and while i believe, perhaps mistakenly so, that i have a good grasp of the general outline of most of the religions he discusses in the middle of the book – christianity, islam, judaism, confucianism, daoism, buddhism, hinduism, yoruba and atheism – prothero has piqued my interest enough for me to look forward to what he has to say about these religions. so stay tuned; i think i’ll mention this book again.

christmas, love, agape

these days i really seem to enjoy to quote from books.  here’s one i have talked about before: the priority of love: christian charity and social justice, by timothy p. jackson.  let me give you some quotes.

jackson puts the christian virtue of charity in close context of agape.  according to the stanford dictionary of philosophy, “‘agape‘ has come, primarily through the christian tradition, to mean the sort of love god has for us persons, as well as our love for god and, by extension, of our love for each other”a kind of brotherly love.”  says jackson, in his often woolly and overly academic yet nevertheless deeply touching way:

agape is beyond all economies of exchange, all questions of desert or contract

one does not determine love to be the universal human good the way one might discover a dime in one’s pocket.  love makes itslef the good by enriching whomever it touches

the love awakened in us by god’s own love has priority in relation to other basic values … it is their necessary source and end

he quotes liberation theologist juan segundo

to love means to lose our autonomy and to become dependent on another … all love is a gamble … it is an act of faith launched into the air, without any precise name or clear content.  it is a belief that love is worthwhile …

then ..

there is a sublime excessiveness to charity manifest in words as diverse as jesus’ sermon on the mount, lincoln’s second inaugural address, and etty hillesum’s letters from the concentration camp

jackson maintains that their charity (and by extension he points to all christian charity, i would assume) is indiscriminate, indomitable egalitarian, “made perfect in weakness” (2 corinthians 12:9) and almost paradoxically expansive.  he also suggests that

because of its chronological priority (loving care is the first thing we must receive as infants), its axiologocal priority (without care individuals do not mature into responsible persons), its lexical priority (without care we have no substantive access to other human goods) and its priority of itself (care’s agenda is to make others caring), agapic love is rightly deemed the first virtue in all contexts.

and of course jackson cites the famous, beautiful words of saint paul in first corinthians 13:4-8

love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  it does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  it bears all things, believes all things, endures all things.  love never ends.

if the jesus religion (or any religion, for that matter), please don’t throw out these words with the biblical bath water.  while they are written from the point of view of a theologian deeply rooted in christianity, i think they still have something to offer to anyone who thinks about and wants to contribute to good relationships among people, or/and with the divine.

and, what can i say, it’s a fitting post for christmas day 🙂

november 2009 buddhist carnival

middle of the month: it’s buddhist carnival time! being all busy with NaNoWriMo, this is a quickie version – a little taste from the blogosphere, a buddhist smorgasbrod:

a zen tale from secret forest

the disciple threw stones in the water all day long. the next day, the master told him:
“do throw a stone in the water.
“why, that’s absurd! i won’t do that.
the air stood still like the surface of the lake.
“what have you learned today? ” asked the master.
“that i don’t have to do everything you tell me to do.
the neutral light unveiled a matte reflection of the leafs of the medlar tree.
“it’s a lot more than you learned yesterday.

***

we all tried so hard. and it didn’t seem we wound up any more loving or enlightened, just uptight. i remember how we disapproved of those who’d given up their vows, stopped being monks. “he disrobed!” people would say in a voice hushed and aghast, as if the guy had been waggling his private parts in a schoolyard.

that’s part of a very interesting entry by guttersnipe das about wrestling with spirituality.

***

dharmafied offers a video of the compassion mudra.

***

learning from a cat: from on the training floor

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idra’s net = internet? need i say more?

***

zen and the art of playing pool from my twitter friend, barking unicorn

***

what happens when you get impacted by no impact man:

do you know this expression, “i’m teaching my grandmother to suck eggs?” it’s a british expression. you know like when you don’t have any teeth and you’re like that (mimics gumming food) it’s like sucking eggs. so if you teach your grandmother to suck eggs, you’re teaching your grandmother to do something she already knows how to do? so when i say this to you, you already know this…

there’s no antagonism between living happily and living environmentally.

***

and finally, a bit of blasphemy from mind on fire.

image by heiwa

spiritual language

a while ago we talked about the lack of scripts for talking about mental illness (at least in “polite society”), and before that we had a conversation about how uncomfortable it can be to engage in peaceful communication.  and now evan took up the topic the other day and asked how can we talk about our spiritual experience?

“i find it hard to talk about spirituality,” he says.  which is interesting: spirituality is a much talked-about topic, especially on the internet.  so what’s the problem?  let me attempt to summarize evan’s ideas:

we don’t share a widely understood language, notwithstanding the fact that many different religions are represented, from christian to buddhist to new age.  in the media, these languages appear side by side, almost as flavours to go shopping for.  this is very different from the experience of spirituality, which, to name but a few,  can go to the depths of who we are, can mean “waking up” or “dying and being re-born”, or can have a feeling of inevitability – very different from shopping.

the wide variety of languages that can be found can also be beneficial; we now have the opportunity to talk to people from many spiritual traditions, even those who have none.

we need to represent our spiritual experiences, with poetic and academic words, with images, with sound – and we will probably be telling our spiritual stories for a long while before we will start understanding the language.  we will need to become sympathetic and respectful listeners and viewers and doers. our language will need to stay close to our experience.

this is different from religion, which has often been presented in terms of intellectual belief. this leaves out much of our experience: the delights of the senses, the connecting with others through emotion, moments of transcendence and intimacy …

evan finishes the post with this:

this post i hope is just a preliminary. i would like to hear about your spiritual experiences and whether these experiences have led you to any particular tradition; have you drawn on various different traditions, or even formulated your own? what aspects of your life do you regard as spiritual? are there some parts of your life that you don’t see as spiritual?

i am curious about that, too.  before we go on to exploring this, i thought it would also be interesting to go back to the two posts i mentioned at the beginning and see whether some of the commenters have ideas that may apply to spirituality.

make it positive

alexander zoltai suggested framing things in positive terms.  so perhaps rather than saying “it’s difficult to talk about spirituality” we could say “discussing spirituality is new for me and i’m excited about experimenting with different ways of talking about it.”

avoid labels

evan himself had the idea of avoiding labels.  instead of mentioning the catch word spirituality or words like god, church, prayer, etc. one could describe the actual experience.  “the other day i went for this beautiful walk; the leaves were of all conceivable shades of red, gold and brown, the sky was blue, the air was fresh and clean; it just made me so happy and grateful to be there right at that moment!”

do we really need to talk?  how about listening?

listening is something that ian from quantum learning said is important: “listen for what sits under the words of others”.  talking is about communication.  communication is as much, or more, about listening as it is about speaking.  listening closely to what the other has to say, or wants to say, may give us clues about how to engage with them regarding spirituality.  or it may just end up being that listening to them will be our spiritual experience.

choose who you talk to

sandy said that in connection with talking about mental illness it “takes quite a bit of getting to know someone before they’ll own that their life has a problem.”  in my experience, they same holds true regarding spirituality.  maybe that takes us back to listening again.  through listening we form relationships, relationships that may then be ripe for a discussion of spiritual experiences.

yet another commenter wrote that it feels good to share such experiences with others who have been there themselves.

using the written word

marie said “having a blog that brazenly describes what is going on with me ‘in secret’ is helpful. i write under a pen name; but when i want to share that side of me with someone in my 3D world, i can simply point them to my blog.”  this reminds me of a minister i was once friends with.  we could talk about a gazillion things but not about spiritual matters – for that we needed the framework of the pulpit, from which he spoke most movingly.

just keep talking

another commenter recounted that the only way he achieved a well enough state to have nice conversation as well s complete wellness was by continuously talking.  so here the advice would be to just keep on talking, no matter what.  this goes with what another commenter mentioned, namely that it’s important to remember that when we are afraid of judgment by others for talking about “strange” subjects, it often comes from being afraid to be judged my ourselves.   not everyone will understand, and that’s ok.

what do you think?  how can we talk about spirituality?

the dalai lama in vancouver

last week i had the pleasure again to see the dalai lama. the topic of the talk was women and peacebuilding. i’d like to share with you my notes, taken down as closely as possible in his delightful language.

this is the third time i’ve seen the dalai lama. one of the things that i enjoy about these talks is that they always underscore the same message, but from a slightly different angle. also, simply being in the presence of the dalai lama (even when he falls asleep partway through the session, as he did this time, so exhausted from his super demanding schedule) is inspiring. not because he is grave and religious. he is the funniest head of state i’ve ever encountered; a trickster, really. you know that smile that he always shows? it’s the smile not only of happiness but of someone who delights in having fun and making jokes, and that comes through all the time in his talks. and like any true comedian, he is irreverent, he always looks at the status quo and says, “hmmmmmmmmmm ….”.

another thing i absolutely love about him is the ease with which he says, “i don’t know.” wouldn’t it be wonderful if more people in authority would simply say “i don’t know” when they don’t have an immediate answer to a question? no spinning, no ignoring the question and talking about something totally different, no pretending you know … so refreshing!

the quotes below reflect in a small way, i hope, the dalai lama’s commitment to compassion, his view on the role of anger, the importance he places on motivation, his urging us to take action, his deep respect for diversity, his global thinking, and his deep passion for the environment, the alleviation of poverty, and the central place of education.

the dalai lama will be back next year, i hear. we here in vancouver are very lucky to have been chosen by him as the dalai lama center for peace and education.

compassion practitioner

some anger also have role

harsh method does not mean we feel anger towards the person

anger immediate motivation

be content and still outraged

serious concern for wellbeing of humanity

anything that is harmful, you oppose

“what is your greatest fear?” “environment. gap between rich and poor, not only on international level but also on national level.”

frustration creates anger, sometimes violence

the female? good talk, i like it

they call me many things. god king, living buddha, monster, feminist – don’t matter

if no more dalai lama – no important

in case female dalai lama can be more effective – why not?

where is compassion? in the slums

media should pay equal attention to the positive things

“do you feel optimistic about the world?” “oh yes! our life starts with compassion! our life begin with lovingkindness”

this body go well with peaceful mind

we need motivation

compassion really also from the beginning to the time of death

human nature gentleness

whenever i meet young people, i give them hope and importance

peace starts within ourself. then that creates a certain atmosphere

will we be an extremist for love?

the facts should be written down, and then there will be a change in consciousness

everything tight, fear, distress: no creativity

there must be opportunity to express human potential

different country, different situation

whole world become like one community, then implement local situation – but same goal

i want to say yes to everything!

research and education very essential



image by elton melo