Archive for April, 2016

Agape and Christian Charity

April 19, 2016

An advanced degree in religion can sometimes come in handy, as was the case when I found myself explaining charity to a group made up predominantly of Christians.

Charity comes from the Latin translation of the Greek word άγάπη  – Love.  (Άγάπη is spelled agape in English, which can also mean wide open.) Agape is the the heart of the Christian teaching. Christ taught that the nature of God is Love. Over and over again, Christ demonstrates that no one and no group is beyond God’s love. Following Christ means living, or at least bearing witness to, that divine love. Agape is lived in the most mundane circumstances as well as the most challenging. Love is practiced by bearing wrongs, turning the other cheek, healing the sick, and caring for the “least of these.” Love is “sharing the good news” of God’s love, through our actions as well as our words.

Charity is an act of divine love. It is the way we express agape – God’s love – despite our personal likes or dislikes. Christ gave us clear guidelines on practicing love, even when we are in the presence those we cannot personally love. My personal limitations, judgements, and dislikes should not be a barrier to carrying out the “works of mercy” or extending hospitality to another. If we are truly faithful, then we know that God’s love is not lessened or limited because we find someone despicable. God’s love is omnipresent. Charity is our response to God’s love. It is our willingness to love and serve everyone we encounter, simply because God loves us all.

Peace, Paul

Mudita: The Joy of Joy

April 14, 2016

Sympathetic Joy is the most common translation of the Buddhist term mudita. Mudita is finding joy in the joy of others. It is spontaneous, unconditioned and unlimited. It is the joy of aliveness, of being itself. Mudita is spiritual joy.

We have all experienced mudita, most likely in presence of children. The joy of children is so pure and unbounded that it is contagious. Seeing a child engaged in joyous play, we ourselves are touched by joy. The joy we feel is not something we own. We did not produce it through our own efforts. It arises from outside ourselves. We simply enjoy the the joy experienced by another being.

laughing-buddha-figureIn Buddhism there are techniques to simulate mudita. They are valuable and can help us be more open to the arising of spontaneous joy. In their simplest form, one strives to wish others happiness and remember to celebrate others’ successes.

However, we must not mistake the map for the territory. The cultivation of joy is a close approximation but not the real thing. Since the practice is contrived, it is easy to get caught up in judging our success, or lack-thereof, in finding joy in others’ joy. We may become frustrated by the arising of negative thoughts, judgements, and jealousy – the antithesis of joy.  We may wonder how we can we feel joy in another’s success, when we are jealous of that success?

True mudita arises in spite of our imperfections and negative thoughts. Spiritual joy is a vast ocean upon which thoughts are only ripples. Negative thoughts may continue to arise but are insignificant in the presence of mudita.

Ultimately, mudita arises from beyond what we think of as self. Mudita is the nature of the measureless. It arises naturally when our hearts open to the unconditioned. When we are touched by the unconditional, we experience boundless joy in even the smallest moments of life. Unfortunately, we are usually too caught up in conditionality – planning for the future, reliving the past, judging and weighing each experience – to see the joy present in each moment.

Awakening to mudita begins by paying attention. This is why prayer and meditation are so important. They help us slow down. Through contemplation, we become comfortable with stillness and quite.

Our world is frantic, filled with information and activity. It is not a conducive environment for deep peace. Taking time – daily – to sit quietly can seem like a herculean task. Nevertheless, inner stillness – peace – is worth the effort. It allows us to see the world anew. Over time we become more capable of experiencing spontaneous joy. We begin to rejoice in the sights and sounds of nature, the joy of friends and family, or just in the joy of joy – our own or that of another.

Peace, Paul