Archive for November, 2014

Gratitude

November 28, 2014

Gratitude, like some much of religious life, is a combination of practice, perseverance, and openness. Gratitude is cultivated slowly, over years and decades. It involves the daily recollection of the many things, great and small, that we receive each day. Some days the practice is easy, other days it is a struggle to be grateful. Often it can be helpful to remember that many individuals lack even the basics of food, water, clothing, and shelter. Remember also that others are suffering the ravages of war, or experiencing ill health, or perhaps mourning the loss of loved ones.

This is a good practice. However, is important to remember that “the map is not the territory.” The daily practice of gratitude, while important and valuable, is only a technique. It is not true gratitude. It is a close approximation.

True gratitude is a spiritual experience that arises as if by accident. The self, with its blue skysmall concerns, falls into the background and suddenly we are overwhelmed by gratitude. Perhaps the blueness of the sky becomes almost unbearable. Or maybe the kind words of a stranger brings us to the brink of tears. Such gratitude cannot be conjured. It arises spontaneously and does not add to our sense of self but rather strips us down to nothing as we encounter the wonder and power and mystery that is existence.

Peace, Paul

Who Will Teach Love and Compassion?

November 17, 2014

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Receiving the news of Buddhist Teacher Thich Nhat Hanh’s ill health and approaching death, I am reminded again that no one escapes death. Life passes very quickly and we have a very short time in which to try to live healing lives of love and compassion. If we are not careful, we can miss our opportunity to live deep and faith-filled lives.

The passing of a teacher, like Thich Nhat Hanh, is a reminder that the responsibility for religious teaching is transferring from one generation to the next. Though not a student of Thich Nhat Hanh, I am acutely aware that many of my teachers have now “left their bodies.” At what point, or what age, do we begin to step into the role of teacher? It is a scary prospect to have responsibility for the care and guidance of another’s religious life. Especially when it feels as if one is just now begining to actually walk the path.

Bo Lozoff, another teacher who has passed, used to chide me by saying that we need to wake up to the fact that we are now becoming the religious elders of our community. Of course he was teasing me about getting older. However, his point was also that if we – those who have dedicated our lives to religion – do not own the role of “elder”, who is going to pass on the teachings to the next generation?

Certainly there are different levels of teachers. Many will teach in little ways by the lives they live. Others will have one or two students. Other teachers may have large followings. The numbers are not important. Rather, what is important is a willingness to help others along the path. Without teachers and guides, how will the next generation awaken to the religious life of love and compassion?

With deep gratitude I bow to my many teachers. I offer prayers for the well-being of all and pray that the light of measureless compassion may never be extinguished.

Peace, Paul

´╗┐Teachers, Gurus, Guides, and Mentors

November 10, 2014

If you spend any time at all reading religious texts, you very quickly encounter the idea that in the religious life you need a teacher, guide, guru, or spiritual mentor of some sort. This is probably mostly true. It can certainly be helpful to have the assistance and guidance of someone who has some depth of experience in your chosen religious tradition. It is especially true if you would like to pursue the religious life in some depth. I know that there is a school of thought that posits that the only teacher you need is yourself, since, according to them, all the religious knowledge is contained within yourself. However, I don’t buy into that argument. It makes religion the only skill which we do not learn from others. And since we know we learn love and empathy from our parents, I am sceptical that we just intuitively know how to live a religious life. Yes, we may be born with some intuitive religious spark, but transforming that spark into the focused flame of love and faith that can “move mountains,” takes training and guidance. In short, it requires a teacher.

The teacher is important because they help you look at yourself. Of course every encounter, every experience, pleasant or unpleasant, presents an opportunity to see into your own mind. Every little personal hurt is, in theory, an opportunity to deepen our love and compassion. Most of us, though, respond, quite naturally, to pain and hurt with blame and anger. The teacher, however, acts as a mirror. Not only do they give us intellectual knowledge, teach us various religious practices, and strive to set an example of how to live a religious life, they allow us to see our own pettiness, our own insecurity and fear, our own anger and hatred. The teacher is, of course, not perfect. However, this is besides the point as long as they are living a noble and moral life. We accept the teacher as reflecting the highest light of our tradition. Their imperfections and foibles are just another opportunity to deepen our own love, compassion, and forgiveness, which is, after all, the whole point of the religious life.

Personally, I have been very fortunate to study with some amazing teachers, mostly Buddhists. Though I have also been deeply influenced by a handful of Christian leaders as well as a few yogis. I am not a particularly good student, being a bit rebellious, independent, and little full of myself. So for much of my early life I tended to move around quite a lot, studying with different teachers, for various amounts of times and at different levels of intensity.

However, as I have matured, or aged, my religious life has become more stable. My faith has deepened and I have become deeply aware of the long term nature of religious transformation. Perseverance has become the ballast of my religious life, keeping me upright, counterbalancing unexpected emotional squalls, and generally keeping me on track.

Thus, in October, I had the good fortune to join with my local religious community for a period of retreat with the Head of our Religious Order, who has also been my Religious teacher for close to 10 years. It was a wonderful experience, filled with much fellowship and a deep sharing of the religious life. Most importantly, at least for me personally, was the opportunity to renew ties with my teacher, the person I rely upon to help me continue to grow and mature in the religious life.

Peace, Paul

Friends

November 3, 2014

I have been travelling the last couple of weeks. During my travels I have had the opportunity to meet new people and renew old friendships. I have hung out with like minded individuals as well as quite a few people whose views were radically different from mine. Most of these people, whether rich or poor, religious or non-religious, urban or rural, were good hearted people. They were people trying to do the right thing, based on the norms of the community in which they live.

We are all shaped by the people and social structures in which we live our daily lives. The speech and behaviour that we hear and see day in and day out, shape our own thoughts, speech and behaviour. Consciously or unconsciously, we become the things that we consume through our senses. If gossip and back biting are the norm, then we will become gossips. If we continually consume words and images of hatred, fear, and judgement then we will live lives filled with these same qualities. Likewise, if we are surrounded by words and actions of compassion, kindness, and concern for others, then these are the qualities that will adorn our lives.

As religious practitioners we must remain aware of the influence of the ambient culture on our lives. However, if our goal is to create a more loving and compassionate world, a world free of violence and oppression, then we need to make sure that we have friends whose values are in line with that goal. We also need to strive to align our own conduct of Body, Speech, and Mind with the values of compassion and non-harming so that we can be a friend and support to others striving to live world transforming lives rooted in love and compassion.

Peace, Paul