Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

Who is our Neighbor?

October 28, 2016

I am a bit of a religious geek. I enjoy studying religion and reading a wide variety religious texts in diverse traditions. Thus, I recently found myself reading some of the writings of St. Augustine.

St. Augustine quotes as passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans where Paul says, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor.” Obviously, St. Paul is referring to the Jesus teaching to, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

good_samaritan_wattsThe question that follows naturally is, “Who is our neighbor?” Jesus is asked just this question in the Gospel of Luke. He responds with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. It is a very compelling exchange between Jesus and the questioner, because ostensibly the questioner is asking about how he can “inherit eternal life.” The answer Jesus evokes from the questioner is, “Love your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Of course, for Jews living in Jerusalem at that time, there were a lot of purity rules. There were people who fell outside the Law and thus were not considered one’s neighbor. So the questioner asks, “Who is my neighbor?” In response, Jesus launches into the parable of the the Good Samaritan.

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’”

Now if you are like me, and went to Sunday School and attended a lot of Church, you know that the parable of the Good Samaritan is often taught in a very moralistic way, which is unfortunate. It misses the heart of what Jesus is teaching us. It is not a moral to be learned, but instead a profound insight into a spiritually rich life of love.

At the end of the parable, Jesus ask the questioner, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The questioner responds, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus then instructs the man to, “Go and do likewise.”

Jesus does not identify any particular group as neighbors. He does not give a long list of who is a neighbor and who is not. Rather, he points out that if one has compassion—Mercy—in one’s heart, then everyone is potentially one’s neighbor. Our neighbors are determined not by outside circumstance but by the love in our hearts. Love is how we, to use the biblical phrase, “inherit eternal live.” Without love for others, we are spiritually dead.

Love of neighbor is the forge in which the love of God is honed. Any hate or dislike in our heart limits our ability to love God. Hate makes it impossible to love God with “all of heart..and all of our mind.” It divides the heart against itself. Our flesh and blood neighbors show us the fullness—or lack thereof—of our love. If we cannot love our neighbor or, alternatively, be neighborly towards all, then our love of God cannot be “full hearted.”

Jesus is reminding us that the spiritual life is a matter of the heart. “Eternal Life” is inherited by those whose hearts are so consumed by love that hate cannot find a foothold. When love is complete—perfected if you will—“Eternal Life” exist in each and every moment.

Thus the path to “Eternal Life” is the daily practice of love towards friends, family, strangers, and enemies; all of whom are neighbors to the one whose heart if filled with love.

Peace, Paul

Photo: By George Frederic Watts – A collection of Symbolist art postcards, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2919777

Prayer, Love, Social Transformation

May 20, 2016

As a religious person who has worked for many years in non-profits that serve “the least of these,” it is abundantly clear that we cannot fix people. Each person must work out the tangles and knots in their own lives.

We can, however, respond to the people around us with love and compassion. Listening to them deeply and acknowledging their humanity, we offer what help we can. Often the specific and concrete help, though necessary and important, is insufficient. There are huge structural issues that keep people in poverty. We can and should address these social ills.

The most immediate social ill, the one that we as individuals and as faith groups can heal, is the stigma attached to poverty and lack. The “poor,” the “homeless,” and the “hungry” are first and foremost people – just like you and I. They are, to use the language of Jesus, our neighbors.

Holding a Tea CupTherefore, simply giving food to the hungry is not enough. We must love the ones we serve, expecting nothing in return. Love must be freely given, a heartfelt response to the intrinsic value of another person. Such love is a universal salve. It is the essence of prayer and has the power to heal wounds of the spirit. It can provide peace and respite to the weary and downtrodden. Collectively, it paves the way for the radical transformation of society into one based on love and compassion, in which privation is unknown.

In Christianity, this is the realization of the Realm of God. In Buddhism, it the manifestation of Amida’s land of love and bliss.

Peace, Paul

Drought

February 10, 2015

“I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.”

Matthew 25:35

It is hard to believe that here in Puna, one of the wettest places in the US, we are experiencing a drought. The roads are dusty and the grass is brittle, crunching underfoot as we walk across the yard.

Because of the isolated and rural nature of the area we live, most of us catch our own water. There is no county water coming to our homes. We bath and cook with rainwater. Which is wonderful until one faces the very real possibility of running out of water. It is not something that most people in the west ever contemplate.  Water is so abundant that we take it for granted and get frustrated instead when the internet goes down.

We cannot imagine what it would be like to go without water for a day. How much harder it is then to understand what it must be like to live where water is scarce? No water to drink or bath with. No water for washing: dishes, clothes, hands, etc. No water to cook with. No water for your crops or animals. No water for sewage. What must it be like to be parched? Few of us in the West have any idea.

In ancient times, offering water was an act of hospitality that could be life saving. The Pali Cannon is filled with accounts of people offering the Buddha water for washing and drinking. Likewise, I am certain many individuals offered Jesus water while he traveled around arid ancient Palestine.

Holding a Tea CupWater is such a simple and important gift. It is a precious and life giving resource that many in the world do not have. In the West we are blessed. The act of offering drink to the thirsty is more about hospitality. It is the act of opening our heart to another person and quenching, in some small way, their loneliness.  It is an opportunity to share in our common humanity with all of its joys and sorrows.

However, let’s not forget those who do not have access to clean water. They have as much right, and certainly as much need, of water as we ourselves do.

Peace, Paul

Love and Hope

September 30, 2014

christ of the bread lines

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” St. Paul

 

Here in Puna, on the Big Island of Hawaii, we seem to be transitioning from one disaster into another. In August, Hurricane Iselle pummeled the Puna district. No lives were lost, but many lives were disrupted.

Now, we are watching, waiting, and stressing as a snaking flow of lava works its way down from the volcano towards the populated areas of Puna.

There is very little to be done except make plans to evacuate and help those who will be displaced. Against volcanic lava, the living life blood of Madame Pele, we are powerless to protect peoples’ houses, businesses, and livelihoods. Loss and suffering are the nature of this world.

Adversity, such as this, can bring out the best and the worst in people. Hopefully, those of us who have rooted ourselves in a religious practice can respond with compassion and forgiveness. It is in these difficult times, when people despair and feel lost, that we, as religious practitioners, can provide support, strength and hope. Not with fancy words or religious dogma, but through compassionate action that reveals our deep concern and love for all.

There are certainly very real and concrete actions we can take to alleviate physical suffering. However, to relieve this existential angst, we must be willing to open our hearts to the fundamental, and shared, pain of human existence. The very real human experience of loss, insecurity and mortality.

It is a pain we all know. It is a pain we often try to avoid. However, if we are willing to set aside the judgements and fear and the stories we tell ourselves about others. If we quiet the mind and still the fear inside our own hearts, then we can see each human being as they truly are: A precious being worthy of love and compassion.

Often we we fail to love each person we meet. It is an almost impossible task. But we are people of faith. We have faith that if we keep striving to love all, to hold each person dear, that slowly, over time, perhaps over life times, love will begin to leak into our lives and relationships despite our flaws and imperfections. And at the right moment, when faced with someone who is lost and in need, that spark of love may be just enough to awaken the faintest glimmer of hope.

Peace, Paul

Photo: Christ of the Breadlines by Fritz Eichenberg

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