Posts Tagged ‘Dorothy Day’

Creating a More Compassionate Society

December 9, 2014

peter_maurinIn this last month of the year, I have found myself dipping back into the writings of Dorothy Day. I am rereading parts of her autobiography, “The Long Loneliness.” She and Peter Maurin and the Catholic Worker continue to inspire and shape the way I understand what it means to live a religious life.

Being a Buddhist myself, some of the Catholicism does not resonate. Nevertheless, the fundamentals of striving to live a life rooted in faith and love and forgiveness are solid. The emphasis on voluntary poverty, non-violence, and a willingness to take personal responsibility for effecting positive change in the world are as relevant today as they were when the Catholic Worker was founded in 1933.

Watching the grotesque theater that passes for politics, it is clear that politicians are not going to be able to address the serious issues facing us today. There is just too much money and power to be had by protecting the status quo: A world of greed and hatred.

We, individually and in small groups, must find ways to live lives that value and promote peace and compassion. The seeds of a more compassionate, a more loving, and more peaceful tomorrow are found in the accumulation of innumerable little daily actions, words, and thoughts. It is found in how we treat our neighbors. Do we speak kindly and compassionately about others, or do we engage in gossip and vicious speech? Do we think about those who are difficult, or have wronged us, with compassion and forgiveness or anger and impatience?

This is the hard long term work of creating a more compassionate society. Of course it is not enough to be satisfied with our own inner transformation. We must also do the important work of creating a better world by, “Resisting oppression and assisting the afflicted.” This is where the rubber meets the road. To end war, or end hunger, or protect children from harm and exploitation, we must be willing to work towards these goals in real and concrete ways. We ourselves may not see an end to war or poverty. But if we adhere to non-violence, compassion, and love as our method, we will find the goal is already present in the work that we do.

Life is short. Tomorrow may never arrive. Today, let’s begin to live compassion filled lives so that our children may grow up in neighborhoods, cities, and societies that are free of war and privation.

Peace, Paul

Photo of Peter Maurin care of Jim Forest

Love is an act of Faith

October 20, 2014

In a recent blog post, I shared the wonderful woodcut from Fritz Eichenberg entitled “Christ of the Breadlines.” It is a powerful and moving piece of art that inspires and challenges me to try and encounter each person I meet with love and compassion. Though coming out of the Catholic Worker tradition, this picture is an image of what Mother Theresa called, “Christ in his distressing disguises.” It is a romantic depiction of what it means to recognize the intrinsic or sacred value of each human being. Certainly we would like to think that we could see the effulgent Christ, or Buddha for that matter, within each person, no matter how dirty, dysfunctional, dishonest, or seemingly unlovable. However, as Dostoyevsky points out, and Dorothy Day was fond of quoting, “love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” We all imagine that we want to be able to love everyone, until we understand the cost of that love. To love all, we must be stripped our of selfness, our revulsion, our judgement. The practice of love is an act of faith. To strive to love all unconditionally is to be humbled and humiliated, daily, by own selfishness and imperfection. Faith allows us to continue to love in spite of our shortcomings and failures.

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

The Works of Mercy

February 4, 2013

I am a Buddhist, not a Christian.  Yet the teachings of Jesus are part and parcel of the way I see and understand the world.  It is my personal belief, that the Sermon on the Mount is one of the best and most succinct teachings on living a spiritual life.  The Works of Mercy offer a concrete guide to acting compassionately in the world.  Dorothy Day, cofounder of the Catholic Worker and an exemplar religious practitioner, is reported to have said, “the Sermon on the Mount is our Manifesto. The Works of Mercy are our rule.”

The Works of Mercy can help us Buddhist avoid an overly inward and cerebral understanding of Compassion. They can ground our compassion in relationships that help us see the reality of the suffering of poverty, lack, and powerlessness. Like the street retreats conducted by Roshi Bernie Glassman, the Corporal Works of Mercy can challenge our understanding of the world and who we are.

The Corporal Works of Mercy:

  • To feed the hungry
  • To give drink to the thirsty.
  • To clothe the naked.
  • To visit and ransom the captives.
  • To shelter the homeless.
  • To visit the sick.
  • To bury the dead.

The Works of Mercy teach that the thought of compassion is not real until it is manifest in action. The Works of Mercy reminds each one of us to take responsibility for the care of our brother and sister beings.

The Saints are inspiring because of their willingness to personally take responsibility for the wellbeing of us all.  Look at some the great beings, the religious lights, from the past 100 years: Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Aung Sang Sue Kyi, Corrie Ten Boom, Bishop Tutu, Dorothy Day, and so many more.

They show us the way. Each of us, if we so choose, can try to follow their example in our lives. We begin with the little actions of our day-to-day lives. Responding to little hatreds and sufferings with compassion and love, trusting in the Dharma and Amida’s saving grace. We can strive every day to remember that Amida’s great vow encompasses all: the hungry, the dysfunctional, the criminal, the dirty, the homeless, the addict, the thief, and even those who are good and holy.

All are already saved by Amida’s Vow.  The Works of Mercy offer us an opportunity to share in Amida saving grace, to see Amida’s light in all beings, and to participate in the creation of a pureland right here and right now.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

She lived life as though the Truth were actually true.

January 28, 2013

“She lived as though the Truth were actually true.” Dan Berrigan responding to the question, what had most impressed him about Dorothy Day.

Another year has passed and I find myself once again diving into the writings of Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker.

What is it about this woman, that I never met, that has so gripped my heart? Reading about her last days and passing brings tears to my eyes and the painful feelings of grief and loss.  Her death is as a light lost to the world.

I do not have any delusions about my ability to live the life she lived. I have tried and failed. The constant lack, the day-to-day struggle for the many simple things of life, was, for me, defeating.  There is nothing romantic about poverty, which Dorothy Day often called precarity.

I do not yet have the faith to live the life that Dorothy Day lived.  A life lived with the poor. A life lived in dependence upon providence and prayer.

However there is still much I, a Buddhist, can learn from Dorothy Day, a Catholic. Dorothy Day shows me that the teachings of the great religious teachers of this world are not just aspirational. They are livable and living teachings which each of us must strive to live. The “Sermon on the Mount” must be put in practice on a daily basis.  The Buddha’s compassion must be practiced in real and concrete ways in our daily lives.

In Dorothy Day’s life I find a woman of Faith struggling to live the teachings of Jesus as a response to the inner transformation that is the awakening of Faith.

In Dorothy Day’s life I find the inspiration to respond to the daily challenges of life with Faith.

In Dorothy Day’s life I find the strength to resist the temptation, albeit poorly, to respond to hatred with hatred.

And finally, in Dorothy Day’s life, I am challenge to live my Faith more deeply and to love more broadly.

Namo Amida Bu!

Dire News

May 9, 2008

This past Saturday Malu Aina hosted another successful farm day.  In addition to the regulars we were joined by 3 students from the university and a young couple on holiday from Vancouver.   It rained on and off through the morning but we still managed to plant some sweet potatoes and weed the ones planted last month.

Additionally, we transplanted our “Taro Collection”.  The collection is made up of about 22 varieties of Taro which we are cultivating to help maintain the genetic diversity of Taro.  Before the Hawaiian islands were colonized by europeans there were said to be over 200 varieties of Taro being grown.  Currently, there are only about 50 or 60 in cultivation.

Everyone was in good spirits and lingered over lunch until 3 in the afternoon.  Though this was a joyous and hopeful event, I am trouble by the many ominous signs and dark tidings from around the planet.

The paper today, as on many days, was filled with dire news.  The cost of oil continues to rise, which makes everything more expensive.  Living on an island, we feel the higher cost of fuel very quickly.  The prices we pay for food seem to rise weekly and the cost of gas moves upward on a daily basis.  There are also reports from around the world of food riots.  These have been triggered both by scarcity and the fact that staple foods are becoming unaffordable.   More and more people on the planet are lacking the necessities of food, water, shelter, and basic medical care.

As a society we should ask ourselves what role have we played in the creation of this current crisis?  What is it about our societal system that is creating such privation and suffering.  Why are we “choosing”, consciously or unconsciously, to live in,  participate in, and perpetuate a system that requires that others go without?

Dorothy Day saw the systemic nature of the evils we as a society participate in with such cold thoughtlessness.  She called it the “filthy rotten system.”  As a Catholic, she saw the “Works of Mercy” and teachings of Jesus as way out, a way to build a new system based on love and compassion.   She spent most of her adult life battling the “filthy rotten system” and trying to create something new and better.

Are we willing to do likewise and challenge and change the system?  There doesn’t seem to be much time left before things really get out of hand.  Those of us living today are the ones that must do the hard work of eliminating the many threats to humanity created in the last 50 years.  If we fail in our work, or simply do not see it as necessary, some of us may be alive to usher in the end of the human era.

The transition between yugas (cosmic aeons) is always a messy affair.  It is a point of transition, a bardo of sorts.   It is a moment in time in which change happens quickly.  However, we, collectively, must be the instruments of change.  There will be no rapture or miraculous divine intervention that saves us at the last minute.  We are on are on own and must awaken to this bardo, this time of transition.

If we are to survive then we must abandon our suicidal pursuit of greed and violence and find the resources for positive change within ourselves.  We must, as Gandhi said, “become the change we wish to see.”  It is a teaching far more profound than it appears at first glance.  It is formula for change from someone who took on, and defeated, the then most powerful nation on the planet. 

The possibilities of the future lie within us .  Will we choose the path of gods, and create and protect life, or the path of demons, who love death and slavery?

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