Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

The Jesus Dharma of Love in Action

December 29, 2013

Both Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa describe their work with the poor, the disenfranchised, the sick, and the dying as, “serving Christ in his distressing disguises”. It is a provocative image. How often do we fail to see the value of, and open our hearts to, those whom we know and love? Not to mention seeing suffering strangers as Christ?

In Matthew 25: 31-46, Jesus, as Christ, reveals that the followers of Jesus will be judged based on their treatment of their fellow human beings.

It is a powerful and moving passage, not for the faint of heart. As with the Sermon on the Mount, it grounds the practice of love and compassion in concrete action: Feeding the Hungry, Clothing the Naked, Giving Drink to the Thirsty, Offering Hospitality to the Stranger, Visiting the Imprisoned. There is nothing “airy fairy” here. This is where the rubber meets the road. Either you are living your faith through love in action or you aren’t. No excuses!

Like Buddha, Christ has turned the Wheel of Dharma. He shows us the way to overcome the horrors and sufferings arising out of greed, hatred, and ignorance. Christ has revealed the Dharma of Love in Action.

It is a Dharma that we as Buddhist should pay attention to. Great Compassion does not make distinctions between good or evil, rich or poor, male or female. We, as practitioners of the Mahayana, the All Encompassing vehicle of Awakening, are the heirs of this Great Compassion. We have vowed to set aside our own awakening and bliss, to plunge repeatedly into the world of Samsara to help all beings.

If we take our vows to save all beings seriously, then our lives will refract, in some little way, the limitless light of the Buddhas. We must, however, make an effort. We must set aside our short sighted goals and desire to see results. The work of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas transpires over vast periods of time, built upon innumerable acts of kindness and compassion. We will never know the effects of the good done in our lives.

The Buddhist path, the path leading to the ending of suffering for all beings, begins with the generosity. Practicing generosity is easy.

  • Give time, care, and compassion to others.
  • Give to those who are less fortunate.
  • Give to organizations and people who are working to alleviate suffering.
  • Give your time to silent prayer and study.
  • Give your life meaning by working for the welfare of others!

Each of us plays a role in creating a world with less suffering, less poverty, less warfare, less greed. Both Christ and Buddha show us the way.

Peace, Paul

Enrich Your Prayer Life in the New Year

December 28, 2013

Christmas has passed. Christ, as baby Jesus is among us. The New Year approaches. It is a special moment in time when we reflect upon the past and the future. We remember friends and family who have departed. We consider what we have done and what has been left undone? Looking forward, we contemplate our hopes and aspirations for the new year.

For people of faith, the new year marks an opportunity to renew vows or refocus on the interior life of prayer and contemplation. Life is both precious and uncertain. We do not know when we will depart this world. More importantly, we do not know the good that might arise if we cultivate an interior life and turn our minds to that which is beyond self.

The new year is a time to take stock of our lives and make a small commitment to deepening our spiritual practice. Nothing grand or heroic is required. The life of spiritual transformation is lived one day at a time. It is lived in the day to day interactions with the people in our lives. It is lived in how we handle the many small challenges and sufferings of daily life.

Here are three simple things you can do to enrich and and deepen your interior life.

1. Prayer / Meditation: Make a commitment to daily prayer, meditation, or contemplation. Again, nothing heroic, like committing to four hours or two hours or even one hour of prayer every day. While laudable, this level of commitment is totally unrealistic for most and bound to failure.

More realistic is a commitment of 10 to 15 minutes of prayer or meditation a day. The best time for prayer is first thing in the morning. Ten minutes does not seem long, but I assure you that on some days it will feel interminable. The first few days or weeks will go smoothly but before long temptations and hurdles will arise. You will be tired or bored or both. Other things will try to crowd into even those few minutes you have set aside. Resist and remain steadfast. If you persevere, you will be amazed that these precious ten minutes were not always a part of your life.

2. Scripture: Make a commitment to the daily reading of scripture from you religious tradition. Again, nothing grand and heroic is required. Don’t make it complicated. Just take a few minutes everyday and read a short passage. There are many wonderful books and Apps available that can provide you with daily readings throughout the year. There are also books on how to read and contemplate scripture, while valuable, do not let these become barriers to actually reading the texts. The texts themselves, if encountered on a daily basis, will be enough.

3. Community: Consider regular attendance and membership in a church from your religious tradition. I know that this is a big barrier for a lot of spiritual people. I am definitely sympathetic to people who have been turned off by their local Christian Church or Buddhist temple. Dealing with people, church structures, uninspired sermons, mumbled hymns, and bad or offensive theology can be a real challenge. I get that. However, none of us can live a religious life in isolation. We need both the support and challenges that are found in a religious community.

Whatever your path, make a commitment to enrich your interior life in the New Year. If you know what that will look like, try it out in the few days leading up to the New Year. Is it realistic? Is it doable? If yes, then start today. If not, make some adjustments and try again.

Finally, have some compassion and forgiveness for yourself. Even ten minutes of prayer or meditation a day is a big commitment. You are bound to fail occasionally. That is fine. It is not the end of the world. Just start again the next day.

Peace, Paul

Buddha and Christ

December 26, 2013
Buddha and Christ behold one another.

Buddha gazes upon Christ. Christ gazes upon Buddha.

This wonderful picture, which was taken during a Buddhist retreat at a Christian monastery,  speaks deeply of the relationship between Christ and Buddha.  They, Buddha and Christ, are different, yet they both exist in the shared space of our world.  Because this is a Buddhist retreat, the followers of Buddha are bowing toward the image of Buddha.  This does not devalue the existence, life, and teachings of Christ. Rather it is only a shift in focus.

Likewise, if the photo had been taken from the other perspective, i.e. behind the image of Christ, with Christians at prayer before Christ, their prayer and focus on Christ would in no way diminish the life and teachings of Buddha.

Here Christ gazes over the prostrating forms and sees Buddha.  Buddha looks over the heads of the disciples and sees Christ.

Both, I imagine, rejoice in lives lived in deep faith, love, and compassion.

Namo Amida Bu!

Ananda

Rejoicing in the Birth of Holy Beings

December 19, 2013

It is a joyous occasion when holy beings appear in the world.  They turn people’s minds away from hatred and greed and open their hearts to love and generosity. They offer humanity a way out of the cycle of selfishness and violence that causes so much suffering.  Their very lives and words point us beyond our limited selves.

Therefore, we should celebrate the approach of Christmas, which marks the birth of Jesus, the Anointed One, with whom Gautama, the Awakened One, would have found much common ground. Like the Buddha, the mother of Jesus had celestial visions foretelling Jesus’ birth and greatness.  Like the Buddha, Jesus’ birth tells a lot about his message and his audience.

Unlike the Buddha, Jesus was born into a poor family in humble, i.e. impoverished,  circumstances. Shortly after Jesus’ birth, the Holy family is forced by political strife to flee to, and live as refugees in, another country. They do not return home until there is change in political leadership.

It is not surprising then when we encounter Jesus, as an adult,  hanging out with and teaching the impoverished, the oppressed, and the outcasts. His teachings and stories are grounded in the everyday struggles and experiences of a people living in difficult situations with little if any political power or social standing. The miracles that surround Jesus address concrete needs: Hunger, Sickness, Death, and Hope.

The Christian message is not the same as the Buddhist Dharma.  Nevertheless, we should honor Jesus and learn from and be challenged by his teachings.  We should appreciate similarities, praise lives lived in deep faith, and rejoice in all good that is done in the name of Jesus.

Most importantly, we should celebrate the hope and promise that the baby Jesus offers a world filled with war, poverty, and discrimination.  Jesus offers us Love: Love as a way of life and as cure for the ills of the world.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

Nembutsu in the West

September 22, 2013

Nembutsu, which is considered the simple in the path in the East, is not at all a simple path for Westerners who were raised in a secular culture informed by Judeo-Christian religion. There is no cultural foundation of Buddhism upon which to teach the simple practice of Nembutsu.  In teaching the Nembutsu we must also teach the fundamentals of Buddhism.  It is here, in teaching Buddhism to non-Buddhist Westerners, that the ground can get treacherous.  Buddhism is not Christianity.  In fact Buddhism offers a pretty radically different understanding of the universe than the Judeo-Christian world view. The danger is that in trying to explain the Dharma we might wrap up our Judeo-Christian cultural paradigm in the robes of the Buddha and call it Buddhism.

Emptiness (Sunyata) is not a synonym for the Judeo-Christian God. Faith is only a loose translation of wide range of terms used in Buddhist texts of various languages. Meditation is an english word that is a applied to a  vast number of different Buddhist contemplative practices and yogas. As Buddhist practitioners and teachers we need to be aware that we are practicing a religion that is in translation. 

Nembutsu is a non-self (anatta) or a beyond (parasamgate) self practice. In this sense it is similar to the many other Buddhist practices we encounter in the West. However,  without some grounding in Buddhism the Nembutsu, like other Buddhist practices, can become  just another self building practice.  A practice used to better our selves but divorced from the teaching of non-self. 

Bettering ourselves is important. We should try to be more compassionate and ethical people.  However, this, at least for the Nembutsu practitioner, is secondary, a benefit arising out of the Nembutsu. Nembutsu, as a truly Buddhist practice, can awakens us to the reality of Measureless Awakening: a reality in which we live and breath but are unable to perceive because we are caught up in avidya (ignorance) and cling to self as real.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

 

Christianity and Torture

April 22, 2009

More of the “Torture Documents” from the Bush Administration have been released to the public.

I am not sure which is more disturbing, the torture itself or the fact that it was authorized and applied under administration of a self proclaimed evangelical conservative Christian.

Christianity is, after all, a religion based on the teachings of Jesus who was brutally tortured and executed at the hands of the Roman Empire.

Jesus was:

– Flogged

– Beaten, Mocked, and Humiliated by his prison guards (Don’t forget that crown of thorns!)

– Physically Broken Down (Carrying that cross couldn’t have been easy.)

– Executed by means of Exposure, Suffocation, and Accumulated Bodily Harm (Crucifixion is the punishment for sedition.  It is meant to be slow. It is meant to send a message to the population at large.)

Additionally, many of the early followers of Jesus were likewise tortured and crucified.  

Did we as country, under Christian leadership, abandoned the message of Jesus and instead embrace the ethic of the Roman Empire?

Peace, Paul

A New Friend

October 5, 2007

A week ago Friday I had the good fortune to meet Martha Hennessy, granddaughter of Dorothy Day. In good Catholic Worker form we met at a picket against the War.

I was introduced to Martha as a “Buddhist Catholic Worker”. It is not the first time such an introduction has been used and not at all wrongly. I was raised Methodist, converted to Buddhism at 18, and discovered Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement in college. These 3 religious influences have played a strong guiding role in my life. The Methodist upbringing set deep roots in a biblical understanding of the world. Buddhism offered a methodology for prayer and contemplation that was sadly missing from the protestant Christianity of my childhood. The Catholic Worker provided an example of how one can aspire to embody and live according to the Sermon on the Mount, which is, in my view, the heart of the Jesus teachings, the core of the Gospel. The Catholic Worker offers a model for how we can embody the love and compassion of our religious teachings in the world. This is especially important for Buddhists, who can sometimes can get lost intellectualism and otherworldliness.

Since our meeting on Friday, Martha and I have had several opportunities to get together and “talk story”. We have had wide ranging discussions on the Catholic Worker, Dorothy Day, Religion and Spirituality, and life in general.

It is always heartening to share one’s concerns and hopes with another who shares much of the same religious language. Though Dorothy Day was a very significant figure in the 20th century, especially among Catholics, she is not that well known to the general public. This is a shame because she worked to embody the best of the Christian and Catholic teachings. Her life is an example of what is needed to create truly peaceful and just world.

I am looking forward to spending more time with Martha and exploring together how to live an authentically religious life.

Peace, Paul