Sunday, December 23, 2012

Lessons Of The Holidays

There are spiritual holidays and observances across our different religions that occur throughout the year.  But there is something about the winter holidays that seems to carry a special emphasis in our hearts.  The dramatic change in the sunlight; the chill in the air; for many, the snow on the ground; the warming glow in the fireplace; all seem to call for attention and reach into our most primordial being.  These primordial calls give us the opportunity to reflect over some of the lessons that various traditions offer up to us.

This is a time when the animal spirits are at rest with their kindred animal beings.  The souls of the animals and plants, and Nature herself, are quiet and at peace with the outer world.  And in their rest, they give peace to human souls.  They offer us a time of rest from our past heavy labors, and preparatory rest to strengthen us for our future labors.  There is a calm in the woods and the waters, a calm that begs us to reciprocate.

This is the time of the winter solstice.  It is the longest nighttime and the shortest daytime – an event of many possible interpretations.  The longest night can be our longest sleep; our time to be indoors with family and close friends; a time to be alone in lengthy private meditation and contemplation; a time with the least emphasis on our work.  It is a time when the tasks of the mind give way to the tasks of the soul.  It is also the time for a turning point in our lives.  It is the end of the regression of the light and warmth of the sun, and the beginning point of the sun’s return.  A renewed birth of the sun is also a time for a renewed birth of our lives.  As with all things in our lives, one moment is simultaneously an end and a beginning.  A finishing and turning loose of the old; a starting and embracing of the new.  The true New Year’s celebration.

This is the time of Hanukkah, when one celebrates the unceasing presence of the miracle of God in our lives.  The light of one candle burning continuously reminds us that God is with us in every moment.  It is we who forget to be similarly with God in all that we do, and must be reminded.  The other eight candles of the Hanukkah menorah, commemorating the one day’s supply of oil that miraculously burned instead for eight days, affirms for us that God’s illumination will be with us throughout whatever darkness may shadow our lives.

This is the time of Christmas, when we are reminded that great spirituality flows from the most humble of places.  A humility of the heart, not necessarily of place.  Riches of gold, frankincense, and myrrh may be the measure of wealth by humans.  But it is the wealth of the soul, enriched by God’s presence and surrounded by family and friends of whatever social status, that is our true measure.  Regardless of one’s circumstances, a home can be made for us out of the most basic of materials in the simplest of places.  Our spiritual birth requires only two spiritual “parents” as was taught to us: to love God with all our hearts in every moment; to love one another as equally as ourselves.

Let no person be disconnected from one another as we live each moment within God and with all of God’s creations.  Happy Holidays.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Vastness Of God

Want to know how vast God is?  Stand outside on a cloudless night in August with no moon or city lights, and try to count the myriad stars splashed across the sky in all directions.  Stand on a mountain top and try to imagine how many more mountains rise up behind the few tops you can see.  Stand on a coastal beach and try to conceive of how many ocean waves there are between you and land on the other side.  That is the vastness of God.

Then look into the mirror.  There you will see God’s attention to detail, your unique component part of all that vastness.  It is one of the many mysteries about God – the unfathomable vastness of creation, yet the focus on each single unique detail that is You.  And all Others.  And all other Forms on this planet.

Therein lies the Lesson.  As we strive to think larger, on a much broader plane, far more inclusively – thinking as God thinks – and less on our individual self-centered wants, we need to remember God’s example.  It is in the details played out within the biggest picture, the paying attention to and taking care of each part, that combines together to create the totality of this Universe.  A painting requires myriad dots of color swept by perhaps thousands of brush strokes for the substance of the ultimate picture to come into full view.  So it also takes each individual coming together to create a human race.

God made the billions of us.  God made each of us.  With full attention to the details.  We need to respect, and seek to emulate, such careful attention to detail while never losing sight of the purpose of the resulting sum.  All of humanity matters.  But so do our details matter.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What Is Sacred

A Zen teacher recently stated that, “The whole world is sacred.  So everything that is in it is sacred.  How do we designate things as sacred?  Sacred is simply the act of declaring it so in our hearts.  Ideally to all things.”

Many of us might have difficulty accepting that all things are in fact sacred.  We are used to being far more discerning and selective about what we consider to be sacred.  Sacred is to give an object an added meaning and value well beyond its intrinsic function.  It can be applied to secular as well as religious objects.  Designating an object as sacred can cause us to focus and draw out our thoughts, energies and feelings in a responsive manner not otherwise possible.

So the religious person sees the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail as objects which embody the whole of that particular religious Founder himself.  A house of worship is defamed when attacked by warriors or vandals because one believes that is where God and humans come together.  The burning of a book of religious teachings instigates rioting by true believers in the words of the sacred Koran.

Secularly we designate as sacred those lands and buildings where great tragedies or suffering occurred, seeking through such a designation a way to somehow make sense, if not mentally reverse, what happened there.  So “Ground Zero” in New York City and the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City are memorialized as sacred places to try to compensate for the incomprehensible acts that happened there.  Similarly, the battlefields of Gettysburg, Normandy and countless other such sites, and the killing ovens at Auschwitz and numerous other places of slaughter, are given high sacredness in direct counterbalance to the lowliness of humans’ descent into inexplicable inhumanity.

Nationally, our patriotism gives an almost mystical cloak around one of the few remaining copies of our Declaration of Independence, or a tattered 200-year-old American flag flown at Fort McHenry.  Patriotic pilgrimages are made to the places of great events – Valley Forge, Appomattox, the USS Arizona – just as religious pilgrimages are made to the holiest of spiritual places the world over.  In each and every profession or art form, those objects that constitute the ultimate iconic achievements of those endeavors are treated as if godly themselves.

Meanwhile, on our Native-American reservations and in Buddhist meditation halls, sacredness is not subdivided into a selection of particular objects peculiar to the individual person.  All things are from the Great Spirit Creator, fulfilled through Nature’s Life Force, made universal in application by all forms of earthly life.  All life appreciates all other forms of life, and respects the inherent value and purpose in each.  Thereby, all that we see, touch and know is made sacred.  Even when we are called upon to interfere in an object’s natural course of being – as when we must terminate a life or mar the face of God’s earth – one does so with care and empathy.  Because the sacredness in us honors the sacredness in all other things.

So what is sacred to you?  And if it is not “everything,” what are you leaving out?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Simple Blade Of Grass

Consider a simple blade of grass.  Consider how much humanity there is in that simple blade of grass.  And how much it can resemble, if not exceed, those of us with “higher intelligence.”

A simple blade of grass can be stubbornly determined enough to break through almost any obstacle in its way, including rock and concrete, seemingly defying physical impossibility.  It thrives when given a rich and nourishing environment and room to grow, but it will nevertheless develop to its best possible capacity regardless of the limiting conditions of its environment.  It requires little in order to survive, but will become unruly and die if over-fed or over-tended.  It grows best when it is periodically trimmed and sent back near to its roots; shorn of its excesses, it can begin a new cycle of growth having been reminded of and re-grounded in its original purpose.  There are endless varieties of grasses, but they can coexist together even if it means one opts to take a diminished role in order to accommodate the needs of a more dominant or needy one.  It knows that there is strength in numbers, requiring many other individual blades of grass in order to collectively create a lawn, a forest bed, or a great plain of waving grasses.

That blade of grass is virtually indestructible, so that even when it appears to have died it is merely lying dormant, ready to near-magically come back again if given proper attention.  It is clear in its original purpose for being, and so willingly gives of itself back to the ground or to other larger life forms so as to provide nourishment to others.  It does so knowing that it thereby contributes to the development and betterment of the whole of Life, causing a ripple of extended consequences beyond what it can see or know within a continuing cycle of sharing.  It can be shaped and regulated for a time by the whims and conventions of Man, fueling the illusion that man can “control” his/her environment.  But in reality it does just fine (if not better) following the higher conventions of Nature and drawing from the sustenance provided by God.  In the winter, it is wise enough to take time to pause and renew itself so that it is ready to take advantage of the next season for personal growth when that time presents itself.

Lacking the higher intelligence of human beings, that simple blade of grass has never declared war on anything.  It has never killed another life form simply to enjoy the act of killing or to prove anything to its peer grasses.  It has never needed to vote on a set of rules in order to control its capacity for evil conduct.  It never takes more than it needs nor steals what does not belong to it; it is content with what it has.  It cannot comprehend the idea that it “owns” the soil in which it resides, versus sharing it with others during its time.

We should think of that simple blade of grass often, for the many lessons it can teach us.  In its soul may be more humanity and intelligence than to be found in the entire human race.  It encourages us to pause and ask, what is the possibility that we could all grow up to be as wise as a simple blade of grass?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Importance of Life

Your life is very, very important.
      So do not take it so seriously.

Your time is very short and limited.
      So relax.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Loosening The Bonds Of Church

Lately, I have listened to a number of people talk about the difficulties they are experiencing with their religious affiliation or specific church (or other religious group) connection.  Certainly it does seem that today most all organized religions seem to be in internal turmoil, and this institutional turmoil is leaving many people in personal turmoil over their personal faith.  This turmoil is often reflected in the continually diminishing number of occupants in the pews, the oft-stated worries about “the graying of the congregation” as young people turn away from church attendance, reduced financial support, and confusion about church mission and role.  Conversely we have the phenomena of the Evangelical mega-churches with their tens- and twenty-thousand members.  These numbers perhaps suggest a desire for “strength in numbers” as a defense again religious turmoil, rather than having to face the many challenges of direct human relationships that are encountered in smaller congregations.

Many people are struggling with what they have been given regarding their religious teachings and ritual, and the messages they hear inside their local church, versus what they see happening in the world and what their hearts and minds are saying to them.  Hypocrisy between spoken words and daily actions is all too frequent.  The religious teachings do not seem to fit today’s circumstances or reflect in personal conduct.

In sorting our way through this fog of spiritual doubt, it may be helpful to remember that God is all things spiritual, who thinks and acts on a plane far beyond our capability.  But religion is human, not God, and thereby inherently reflects all human limitations and shortcomings.  And our church is simply everyday people, no more nor less than the neighbors who live on our block, or the co-workers we meet each day at our job.  The church is its people, with all the people frailties that that entails.  So the church necessarily has limits on what it can accommodate and explain.  God has no such limits.

When we feel that we are in conflict with our religion or church, there is a basic question we need to reflect on: is our religion or church failing and needs us to remedy it?  Or is it we who have simply outgrown what it can offer to us?  A child must one day leave the teaching environment of its parents; we must similarly leave a job when it comes to limit, not nurture, our career.  So it is with our understanding of, and relationship with, God.  The difficult spiritual questions we ask are the tools that move us from being a spiritual child doing what we are told to do, versus becoming a spiritual adult.  An adult able to use God’s guidance and the lessons of the great Teachers to answer for ourselves our questions about how to live, how to be with others, and how to find fulfillment in this lifetime.  In the end, we are not the servant of the church; in all humility, the church is the servant to us.  Our focus and responsibility is, and should be, only to God.

Humans have a natural instinct and drive to want to “fix things” that are broken.  But sometimes what has been broken is simply the restrictive bonds that are tying us to that which is no longer supporting us.  In which case it is we that need to be fixed.  Fixed by leaving that known safety of our current religious house – be it our parents’ teachings, our church, our spiritual community.  Fixed by going out to make our own spiritual way through this abundantly rich yet often-frightening unknown vastness of Life.  If that time to grow comes upon us, we need to embrace it and go to that new place where we have been called.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Preachers and Pastors

We have many kinds of religious preachers in our midst today.  What they share in common is their emphasis, by training and inclination, to speak to matters of religious dogma, or to personal opinions of interpretation of a specific teaching, or to matters of the Church as an organizational entity and hierarchy.  It is all a great deal of time spent telling others how to think and how to live.  Some of that preaching is worth listening to.  Some is not.

On the fringe of this preaching are those who focus on division, hate and judgment, which appear to clearly fall outside of the core teachings of most all religions.  Recently in a small North Carolina town, a preacher spoke from his pulpit to his Sunday congregation that the solution to the homosexual “problem” was to build two high, electrified fences each several miles square.  All the lesbians would go inside one fence, the gays in the other, and then they would be left to starve to death.  Just prior to this, Franklin Graham was prominent on television ads advocating passage of an amendment to the North Carolina constitution to ban same-sex marriage and any other form of “domestic partnerships” except a marriage between male and female.  It was blatant political advocacy, with the ads paid for by the Billy Graham Evangelical Association.  (Inexplicably to me, their tax deductible status remains unchallenged by the IRS.)  Awhile back, there was the preacher of a tiny congregation in Florida advocating the burning of the Qur’an, an act more hostile than anything written in the Qur’an itself.  Then there is the preacher from Kansas who leads his family and adherents to military funerals around the country to chant that the decedent’s death is God’s punishment of our country’s evil ways.

When I hear the latest such outrageous words or actions making it into the headlines, I cannot help but wonder what the personal story is behind these people’s formation.  What was it in these preachers’ life experiences, or the shortcomings of their accomplishments, that would drive them to such beliefs and actions – beliefs that anger, hatred and punishment can be God’s real intention for human beings.  In these preachers’ seminary school, monastery or mosque, what teachers taught that violence (physical or mental) against others could somehow be expected to result in peace and fulfillment for either the perpetrator or victim, versus teaching that “violence begets violence” and “what you sow you reap?”

Somehow our desperate need for true pastors – in whatever title from religion to religion – has gotten lost in the incessant drumbeat of dogmatic preaching.  Pastors who are more concerned with comforting those who are ill, lost or troubled than with admonishing them.  Pastors able to give suggestions and guidance rather than marching orders.  Pastors able to help people think through and find their true spiritual beliefs instead of doing their thinking for them.  Pastors able to listen instead of talk, to be a spiritual friend rather than a judge and jury.

It is not easy for the religiously trained to move from preaching to pastoring.  But it is possible.  Pope John Paul II seemed to retain his sense of being a parish priest in spite of the huge size of his enlarged parish and the demands of managing his church structure.  H. H. the Dalai Lama speaks often of being “just a simple monk,” reflecting his humility as much as his role.  Reverend Desmond Tutu’s infectious enthusiasm for his fellow man despite his hurtful experiences from South African apartheid are inspirational.

We never lack for preachers.  But what we really need are the pastors.  By any formal title or none.  From whatever classroom of training, including the classroom of the experience of life.  Less talking and debating, more holding of another’s hand after a good hug.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Keeping The Silence

I was recently corresponding with a friend who had just returned from a week-long silent meditation retreat.  Such periodic experiences are a special opportunity to put aside the noise of our normal daily routine and spend a weekend, or particularly a week, in a quiet environment focused on reconnecting with ourselves and with the greater Universe.  Regardless of the specific emphasis of such retreats, we cannot help but experience some change in how we think, feel and act from this time well spent.  Such was the experience for this friend.  But her other observation was that, “I have wanted to continue this silence after coming home, but it has been difficult.”  It is a common lament and frustration – after the creative bliss of a dedicated spiritual time, how do we keep that experience going after we are back in “the real world”?

One way is by focusing on the fact of the quiet, of the silence.  If we really seek to pursue this continued state of quiet, we will find that we actually have more control over our noise than we may like to admit.  All audio and video equipment has an “off” switch that we can use; it is our choice whether to switch it to “on.”  Do we really have to check our email, Facebook and Twitter pages every few minutes of the day?  Do we really need our cell phones on 24 x 7 and have to answer it the moment it rings at someone else’s convenient time?  (We managed to miss calls for over one hundred years quite successfully; the inventor of the telephone refused to even have one in his house!)  Do we really need to watch television shows that educate or entertain us very little, but simply instead serve to occupy or distract our thinking?  At work, do we really need to work through lunch, versus go out for a few minutes for a quiet walk by ourselves?  (The work will always be there no matter how many hours we put in.)  When we drive our car, do we listen to the radio or listen to our thoughts?  Like anything else in our external environment, we can be the victim of our circumstances or the determiner.  We may not have complete control over our time and schedule, but we have more than we like to admit.  It is all about our choices and commitments.

But there is another kind of quiet that we experience at our spiritual retreats.  It is not the fact of the quiet that surrounds us there.  It is the spirit of the quiet that comes to reside in our heart and mind.  The quiet of the retreat allows us to infuse our thinking with an unfamiliar pause.  A pause to reflect about our thinking, a pause to consider our actions.  A moment to re-identify what we are truly about, what God wishes for us, and what we wish to be with God.  It is a quiet of mind and spirit that enables us to act from a thoughtful decision rather than making a reflexive action.

That is the quiet we truly seek at our retreats.  The external quiet nurtures us, but it is not really why we are there.  It only helps us practice for the spiritual quiet that we truly seek; the quiet of spiritually listening to often unheard voices.  We can do much towards turning the outside noise switch to “off” and getting some measure of emulated quiet.  But when we take a moment to stop and hear and consider before we act, seeking to act in God’s way, that is when we truly “keep the silence” of the retreatant.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Easter Message

Today is Easter Sunday, the holiest day in Christian practice.  The day Christians believe Christ rose from his earthly death, transcended his crucifixion, and affirmed his divinity with God.

Whether one is a believing and practicing Christian or believes in Jesus’ resurrection or not, there are powerful lessons and inspiration in the Easter message.  A message of steadfastness in the face of threats and accusations from one’s enemies, silently holding fast to the spiritual purpose of our life.  A message of commitment to one’s faith, commitment that would go so far as to choose death rather than yield to the constant pressure to deny that faith.  A message of forgiveness towards those who knowingly or unknowingly cause us harm and pain, for “they know not what they do.”  A message of compassion for our human frailty and doubts in times when we question whether God has forsaken us in our faith.  A message of knowing when it is time to leave God’s work to others as we move on to a new existence unknown but undeniable.  A message of recognizing when we have done what God has asked of us, and “it is finished.”

These messages can be found in some form in the lessons from all of the Great Teachers we have been blessed to have guide us, reflecting the same exhortations and challenges toward our committing to faith.  These Teachers taught not by rules, not by the laws of the state, not by force or domination.  They taught from the heart of goodness, directed to the hearts of others.  They taught to the eye by showing themselves to be true living examples of that heart.  They taught to the mind by illustrating in understandable stories the irrationality of our limited human thinking, and the higher thinking that can be available to us.

We approach Jesus as one of those Great Teachers.  We approach him not on the basis of labels, ritual, church structure, and theological argument.  We approach him simply on his words, on his teachings, on his proofs by his actions.  As we do with all of God’s Great Teachers.  It is the body of Jesus’ teachings that we honor and celebrate on Easter, teachings that require neither an interpreter nor an intermediary.  They are lessons for all of us; lessons for each of us; lessons in harmony with God and all of God’s Great Teachers.  And the lessons start with Good Will Towards All Men And Women.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Lessons of THAT Religion

We have innumerable religions across our globe, some with millions of adherents down to individual enclaves set in a single rural or tribal village.  Most of the larger groups break down into subsets, sub-subsets and more, finally into micro-sets.  These religions may differ over allegiance or interpretation of their founding or current teacher; over dogma and teachings; over ritual and practice; over how the religion integrates (or not) into the secular culture of one’s everyday living.  But some form of difference from among myriad possibilities drives them apart from each other.

When two different religions meet, the all-too-often response is division.  One might reasonably presume that religion should be the great unifier and bridge among humankind.  Inexplicably, it is more often the separator.  One seeks to dominate the other rather than to celebrate the other.

God created all of these many religions and their variations for two reasons.  One, given that each human is an individual being with unique thinking and response mechanisms, these many religious options give each of us the ability to find the best possible vehicle to envelope and express our unique spiritual self.  Second, this diversity of religious thought gives us a tool by which we can better understand, and therefore practice, the religion we do ultimately choose.

This available tool is why we are called to examine religions other than our own.  Not to be pulled away from our religion, but in fact to be pulled deeper into it.  As children we accepted without thought, without question, without experience the religion presented to us.  When we later use the beliefs of other faiths and dogmas to ask questions about our own, use other religions as a reflection towards our own, we do not betray our religion.  Instead, we are forced to move from our current limited understandings and practices and instead dig more deeply through what we think we believe, and as a result come away with knowing we do believe.

It is by reflecting our own experiences and beliefs off of others, by entertaining questions from those who have different beliefs and experiences, that we can see things that we had never seen before.  From these reflections, we begin to ask ourselves the questions that we had never even thought needed asking.  We see familiar images in a new, fresh way, from a vantage point we had never considered.

It is just as we use a mirror to confirm or deny what we think we look like; the mirror leads us back into ourselves now knowing what we do look like.  From that deeper knowledge of ourselves we can now move into a better, more informed spiritual place.  The mirror guides us; it does not swallow us.  There is nothing to fear from learning, but there is much to be gained.

Even if we choose not to use reflection to understand our spiritual selves, we can still learn to better understand our neighbor of a different faith.  An understanding based upon information, not superstition and inherited prejudice.  From that, perhaps we can then become one of the links in a bridge of human understanding that we are currently missing.  That which is unfamiliar is that which teaches us.  Perhaps that alone is worth reflecting on.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Spirituality Is Hard

On February 20, 1962, 50 years ago, John Glen blasted off into America’s first orbital space flight.  Only seven months later, John Kennedy spoke at Rice University and committed the country to landing a man on the moon and safely bringing him home “by the end of the decade.”  It was a heady statement given such limited success and proof-of-concept to date.  Why take the risk and go?  Obviously this was yet another battlefield in the running cold war with the Soviet Union.  But as Kennedy famously went on to say, “We choose to go to the moon … not because [it] is easy, but because [it] is hard.  Because this goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone.”  Doing the hard thing demands of us to focus our energies, explore the real depths of our creativity; it moves us from dreamer to doer, from “wanna be” to “being.”

Living spiritually should be easy.  Spirituality is knowing that we are, at our core, a good human being.  That we live responsible to and interdependent with other forms of life.  That we should live as a positive impact on ourselves and others.  That we live within a source, a presence, an energy greater than just our self, a form of being that exerts some level of influence in how our life unfolds.  That we are the object and outcome of a creation, and we have likewise within us a creative capability.  That in some manner or another, our life will transcend, if not extend, the life we are experiencing at the moment.

Given all of these positive affirmatives, it would seem that living spiritually should be easy, natural, and consistently rewarded.  But it is not easy.  It can, in fact, take all the energy we can muster.  External adversity comes our way.  Others in our interconnected web do not live spiritually in their interactions with us.  Living spiritually requires constantly making choices among options about what to do, what actions to take, what to conclude.  But there is seemingly little time left in the day for such reflection and judgment.  The thoughts we do have seem filled more with old concerns, rehashed memories, and disturbing feelings than with calm clarity of thinking.

Most of the time it is easier to just drift along, spontaneously reacting to what comes at us than expending effort truly thinking about what we should be doing.  It seems easier to just do “something” quickly, check it off the list, and move on to the next demand-of-the-day than to stop and figure out the best right thing to do.  It is easier to be content with where we are than to challenge ourselves to shed old beliefs in order to incorporate new learning.  It is easier to believe we are right than to assume there is something more for us to learn – about ourselves and others.  It is easier to stand pat than to challenge ourselves to reach for the stars.

The actor Martin Sheen has been an engaged activist for social justice all his life.  When asked how he manages to stay committed to “the cause,” he replied, “You fight for social justice not to change the world.  Not even to change your family and your friends.  You do it from inside of you.  Because you cannot not do it.”  So it is with living spiritually.  There is always not enough time, not enough energy, not enough …  But at some point in your life, you simply do it anyway.  Without excuses.  It becomes your true priority.  All else drops to second position.  You do what is hard, because you cannot not do it.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

In Pursuit Of Perfection

“Perfection is not attainable.  But if we chase perfection we can get excellence.”  (Vince Lombardi, legendary NFL coach.)

Perfection, like most things in life, can be a double-edged sword.  Our pursuit of perfection can help to stimulate our energies and focus our concentration so as to move beyond mediocrity, beyond just getting by, and help us to extract the full measure of possibility available within a task.  Yet when we put an expectation on us of achieving perfection we can be demoralized when that perfection is not achieved, and be blinded to the good we have nevertheless done.  Where do we set that bar of perfection, and where do we position ourselves towards that bar?

For the ancient Greeks, perfection was an idealized state, rising above one’s inherent flaws, separate from the reality of how things actually are.  Hence human, animal and inanimate things were portrayed in an unnatural way – how things were imagined should be.  This perspective permeates the thinking of Western humankind in its judgment of “quality.”

On the other hand, for the Buddhist perfection is a state of absolute reality.  Things are inherently perfect just as they are, as they were created, with no need to add to them or make them something else that they are not.  We need only to understand what things truly are versus their distortions that we see.  For the Greek, symmetry – rarely found in nature – is all important in design; for the Buddhist, symmetry is a jarring unnaturalness in conflict with nature.  The Greek loves angles; the Buddhist loves meandering curves.

For many, God (by whatever name) is the only perfection.  In God all things are correct; from God all things are intentional, without shortcomings.  Yet the danger in believing that God is “perfect” is that we attribute a static-ness to God, that in being perfect God is fixed and unchanging.  Someone once wisecracked that “an expert is someone who thinks there is nothing else to be learned.”  We risk that same trap when we equate perfection with “nothing else to learn,” that perfection is absolute, that God is perfection and unchanging.  Change does not imply that the old was wrong; change simply brings us the next phase and understanding of what can and is intended to be.

I personally believe that God is not perfection in a “fixed” sense of being.  The one constant in the whole of the Universe is that nothing is static; everything is always changing, evolving.  If the Universe is God’s ultimate creation and intention, why would God be separate from this fundamental truth, this basic physical / metaphysical law?  So I believe that God also learns, changes, and grows in wisdom just like the rest of us.  It is just that God starts from a much broader and more knowledgeable starting point of wisdom.  Which is why I am undisturbed by the seeming conflict in the God of Genesis, of the Gospels, and of Revelations.  The distinctions simply reflect God’s own growth over time, of God’s extreme excellence from a pursuit of perfection even now not yet achieved.

Perfection is not a destination or endpoint.  It is not a standard of measure or judgment.  It is an important moving vehicle on which we travel on our human journey, through which we fulfill our possibilities and perhaps inspire the journeys of others.  All is perfect at its creation; all is perfect when it remains true to itself; all is perfect when it moves to the next level, as is intended.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Treat Others, Treat Myself

Treat others as you would treat yourself.  A simple thought.  Treat others in the way you would want them to treat you.  A powerful thought.  How we treat others is the mirror image of the treatment that will come back to us.  (“What goes around comes around.”)  A highly difficult practice.

There are few of us who desire to be treated poorly, without understanding or compassion.  Unless we are in a period of time or state of mind when we are caught up in our own drama, our own self-abuse.  In these difficult times, we can put ourselves into a trap of negativity which feeds on itself and feeds upon our hopelessness, drawing in all that we futilely protest that we do not want.  So in its own deceptive way, we still choose to treat others in such a way that they will give back to us the negativity that we in fact are wanting in that moment.

But that kind of negativity is not how we are to live our lives.  It is not the environment in which we can emotionally thrive, mature, create, and reach peace and fulfillment.  But as with all things, we have to create the environment for ourselves that we truly desire.  If everything moves in a circle – which it does – we need to send out that which we wish to receive back.  The headlights coming toward us are the other end of the taillights we sent out ahead of us.

It is simply the Golden Rule.  It applies to our close individuals, the casual acquaintances we encounter, the societies and nations which need to coexist.  One presidential candidate proposed the Golden Rule as a new basis of U.S. foreign policy:  “treat other nations as we would like them to treat us.”  It inexplicably brought boos from a debate audience filled with people who would otherwise no doubt describe themselves as “a religious person.”

In virtually all religions the Golden Rule shows up in one form or another.  In his book Toward a True Kinship of Faiths, the Dalai Lama tells of receiving a printed card at an interfaith gathering, on which was written:
·       Hinduism: “This is the sum of duty; do naught onto others what you would not have them do unto you.” (Mahabharata 5:1517)
·       Judaism: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman.  This is the entire law; all the rest is commentary.”  (Hillel, in the Talmud for the Sabbath 31a)
·       Zoroastrianism: “That nature alone is good which refrains from doing to another whatsoever is not good for itself.”   (Dadisten-I-dinik 94:5)
·       Buddhism: “Since others too care for their own selves, those who care for themselves should not hurt others.”   (Udanavarga 5:20)
·       Jainism: “A man should wander about treating all creatures as he himself would be treated.”   (Sutrakritanga 1.11:33)
·       Daoism: “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.”   (Tai-shang kan-ying P’ien)
·       Confucianism: “Do not do to others what you would not like yourself.  Then there will be no resentment against you, either in the family or in the state.”   (Analects 12:2)
·       Christianity: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”   (Matthew 7:12)
·       Islam: “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.”   (Hadith of al-Nawawi 13)

The Jewish Torah/Old Testament gives us Ten Commandments for ethical and spiritual living.  Similarly, it would worthwhile for each of us to identify the ten specific ways we would like others to treat us.  It is not necessarily an easy list to write.  But our ten ways also tell us ten specific ways we should treat others.  Ten criteria to reflect on before we make decisions or take actions involving others.  I have my list.  What items are on yours?