Posts Tagged ‘Love’

Bearing Witness in Hilo

September 1, 2017

At 4 p.m. on Monday, August 28, 2017, a small group of Buddhist and Christian clergy gathered near the corner of Pauahi Street and 17_08_28 Event 2Kamehameha Avenue in Hilo, Hawaii. After an opening reflection by Rev. Linda, we moved to the street to offer a prayerful response to the hate and racism that has become so visible in our nation. We held signs reading: “Racism is a Sin,” “Love not Hate,” “Justice for All,” etc.

17_08_28 Event 4As our vigil continued, we were joined by more clergy and people of faith. Our numbers grew to over forty individuals Bearing Witness to the truth of love and justice. There were Lutherans, Methodists, Catholics, Unitarians, Episcopalians, United Church of Christ, Pureland Buddhists, and others.

Across the street, counter-protesters set up graphic signs and began to spew hate and slander at our group. In addition to insults and curses hurled at the group as a whole, they taunted clergy members by name. A few counter-protesters crossed the street to challenge the people in our group and stir up confrontation.

We held our discipline. We were not provoked. We responded to the baiting and hate with patience and forbearance. All the while, drivers honked, waved, and generally expressed support as they passed our group.

17_08_28 Event 1At 5 p.m., we moved under a nearby tree for a closing benediction by a Buddhist priest.  Even in prayer, the counter-protesters harangued us with hate speech. Nevertheless, Rev. Shindo reminded us that hatred is not overcome through hatred, but only by love.

Afterwards, Rev. Eric had us link elbows in the way that clergy had linked elbows when confronting the white supremacists and nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was a simple and powerful gesture.

We must resist the evils of hate, racism, and bigotry. We cannot stand aside. Faith17_08_28 Event 3 demands action. However, we are not alone. We can go forward, arm-in-arm, as brothers and sisters, to confront the hatred and racism which is obviously growing and festering even in our East Hawaii community.

Peace, Paul

Compassion is Challenging

April 1, 2017

I often write about the importance of cultivating love as a spiritual practice. This is natural. I was raised in a Christian household in a dominantly Christian country. Love is the spiritual value at the heart of Christianity. It informs how we interact with those around around us —Love of neighbor. It dictates how Christians relate to God: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul.” It also defines Jesus’ incarnation and ministry. He is continually pointing us beyond our limited and parochial love towards the vastness of divine love.

Love, however, is primarily an outward flowing thing. We can love others without being transformed by them or gaining an appreciation for their situation and struggles. In some Christian theologies, therefore, it is possible for God to love us completely without being changed or affected by our sufferings and joys.

Compassion_GraphicCompassion is a different matter. Compassion means to “suffer-with.” Having compassion means understanding and sharing in the suffering of another. Even our most hated enemy, for example, doesn’t want to get sick. Like us they experience emotional ups and downs, get frustrated, experience anger and happiness, and generally share in the entire panoply of life. While we may disagree with or even oppose their actions, compassion allows us to recognize that they, our enemy, are not fundamentally other.

Compassion is the spiritual expression of our interconnectedness. We are connected to and therefore affected by the people and beings around us. Compassion affirms this interconnected reality through our courageous willingness to enter into mutually transforming relationships with others. Compassion is responsive. Our compassion responds to the people and situations we encounter. Since those situations are not of our making, compassion opens us up to new possibilities, new understandings, and new ways of living in the world.

When we “suffer-with” others, we instinctively want to alleviate the pain and suffering of the other person. The familiar analogy is that of our own bodies. If we touch a hot stove, we instantly take action. We recoil! If we have been burned, then we seek medical attention or apply a soothing ointment.

Often, unfortunately, there is little we can do to alleviate another’s pain. If they are hungry, we can, of course, try to feed them. But in the relatively affluent West, suffering is often less concrete and more existential. In these situations the best we can usually do is recognize another’s “pain.” We can see them for who they are: precious beings struggling to do the best they can.

Compassion is challenging for many of us today. We are caught up in the outrage and anger of the current political environment. We tend to objectifying political opponents as “fundamentally other.” This objectification is both un-true and lacking in compassion. If we truly live in an interconnected world, then our political opponents cannot be intrinsically or objectively bad (evil). They may have a different vision for the future. Their ideology may be diametrically opposed to ours. They may be woefully misguided. The may act in harmful ways. But they are still human. Their lives are filled with many of the same sufferings and joys that we ourselves experience.

Because politicians often have power and privilege, we can be resistant to allowing ourselves to feel compassion for them. It is much easier to generate compassion for the downtrodden and persecuted who lack even the basics of life. It is hard to be compassionate towards the powerful, who have material security and luxury. Nevertheless, the rich and powerful are suffering as well. They have succeeded materially but still experience discontent and dis-ease.

As with the practice of love, it is important to practice extending compassion to specific people in specific situations. We need to use our hearts, imaginations, and life experiences to help us appreciate the reality of another’s difficulties.

The most natural place to cultivate compassion is in our own daily lives. We can open ourselves to the joys and sorrows of the people and beings we encounter everyday. We do not need to “like” or “agree-with” a person in order to have compassion for them and their particular situation. We simply need to recognize that they too are suffering.

Compassion takes courage. Once we have seen into another’s life and tasted their sufferings, we are forever changed. We respond to them and to the world differently. Over time this transforms the way we live and how we view our work. Specific goals are contained within the much bigger goal of: Ending suffering in all its forms! In the rough and tumble world of politics, our goal is to alleviate suffering, even for those individuals whose words, policies, and actions create and perpetuate suffering in the world.

Peace, Paul

Love: Turning the World on Its Ear

March 19, 2017

Metta is the Pali term for love. In Buddhism, love is not the sentimental emotion we are so familiar with in the West. It is simply the heartfelt desire for the wellbeing of another. Metta has much in common with the Christian concept of  (Άγάπη) Agape.

Extending love or metta to those around us has a long history in Buddhism. It is said that the Metta Sutta (Discourse on Love) was given by the Buddha Shakyamuni to a group of monks that were on retreat in a particularly dismal forest filled with thugs and criminals as well as evil spirits, ghosts, and demons. Naturally, the monks were scared. They sought out the Buddha and asked for permission to go to a different forest retreat, preferably one that was not haunted.

The Buddha denied their request. Instead he gave them instruction on how to practice love. Admonished, the monks returned to the forest and practiced metta as instructed. Over time, the thugs either left the forest or converted to Buddhism. The demons and spirits were pacified and became protectors of the Dharma.

The Buddha’s admonishment to practice love in the places we find unpleasant, and towards the people who make us uncomfortable, is very relevant in today’s politically charged environment.

I think the Buddha understood that the monks in the above story were actually pretty safe physically. He certainly wouldn’t have put them in harm’s way. It is also likely that he knew many of these monks came from the upper classes of society. They had been raised with privilege, protected from many of the hard realities of the world. Though they had embraced the Buddha’s teachings, they still carried their aristocratic arrogance and prejudice. They expected deference and respect. They certainly weren’t in the habit of relating to or needing to rely upon people whom they previously considered “unclean” and beneath them.

Like these monks, we too have prejudices. We judge. In judging we trap ourselves in a world filled with haves and have-nots, likes and dislikes, self and others. Judgement and prejudice isolate us from the world and the people all around us. It skews our vision. Instead of seeing a world filled with beauty and novelty, we see only our own — often negative — judgements.

The way out is love, as the Buddha, and Jesus for that matter, clearly understood. Love takes us beyond our “selves.” It breaks us free from the suffocating stranglehold of judgement. Through love we touch and are touched by the divine. Love enables us to see the world as it truly is — wondrous and sacred.

Amida Buddha’s Pureland is realized in moments of unconditional love. The Divine breaks in upon us when we extend ourselves beyond the protective confines of  “me and mine” and embrace our neighbor as Christ or Buddha.

Practicing metta and living a life of love turns the loud and conflict ridden world on its ear. Love offers welcome to friend, stranger, and enemy alike. Love takes us beyond ideology and dogma. It transcends social “norms” of  rich and poor, clean and unclean, conservative and liberal.

Practicing love does not require special initiations or secret religious teachings. Love simply takes time, perseverance, and an openness to a radical transformation our hearts.

We can start today by extending love to the people who are around us. Tomorrow do the same. The day after that do likewise. Day after day, continue to love everyone and slowly the hates and hurts in our heart will be replaced with love, compassion, and understanding. We will find happiness and peace. It is also likel that the world around us will have changed for the better.

Peace, Paul

Generosity in the Streets

November 28, 2016

Running errands in downtown Hilo, I came across a familiar homeless man sitting on the ground and leaning against a store front. He was heavyset with wild hair. His sixty or so year-old face showed the unmistakable signs of a long life of alcoholism. He was also wearing a the black robe of a Zen priest and being conspicuously ignored by the many people passing him by.

As I approached, I said to him, “Nice robe!” He responded by asking for two dollars, which I gave to him. After a few pleasantries, I continued on my way.

homelessThe two dollars I gave him was not going to radically change his life, but it was what he asked for and what I could offer in the moment. This small act of generosity was not something I had to consider or agonize about. Long ago I decide that my practice would be to try and give to, “all who ask.”

People are often scandalized when they see me give money to someone on the street. One person, who witnessed me doing just this, called me the next day to give me a piece of their mind. It was long lecture about the evils of giving money to drug addicts and frauds who need to just “get a job.”

What could I say? It might all be true. They may indeed take the money I give them and use it to purchase alcohol or drugs. They might be scamming me. They might also need the money to buy food, or pay for a nights lodging at the shelter, or to pay bus fare, or meet some other “legitimate” expense. And, of course, it is also possible that they may not be drug addicts, or even be unemployed for that matter.

Whatever the case, as a person of faith my religious practice is to extend love and compassion to all. Sometimes this means taking direct action to meet a need or alleviate some little suffering. Most of the time it simply means smiling, offering a kind word, a patient ear, and a generous thought or prayer for the well being and happiness of the person right in front of you.

Peace, Paul

Photo by: A McLin

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

Planting Pinapples, Cultivating Love

October 3, 2016

Recently I planted a dozen or so pineapple plants. To start a pineapple, you plant the top, removed during cleaning. Older plants produce multiple “suckers” that can be also planted. Over time, one or two plants can multiply into dozens of plants.

Our pineapples are descended from pineapples given to us by friends. (We have both white and yellow varieties in our garden.) It is almost certain that the friends who gifted us with our first pineapples, likewise started their pineapples from fruits given to them.

img_0348Pineapples are a type of bromeliad. As such, they do not need a lot of attention—at least in the backyard garden. They grow well, if slowly, in the little soil that is available on a volcanic island. While there are areas with deep soil on the island, we cannot afford to live in those areas. Instead, we live on a newish lava flow and have only a few inches of cindery soil that we have augmented with homemade compost in our “garden.”

It can take two or three years for a pineapple plant to bear fruit. The fruit itself takes many months to mature. Which means—to go all Buddhist on you—that when the pineapples do fruit, I—the person who planted them—will no longer exist.

The person who harvests, cleans, and enjoys the fruit will be a different person, though they probably will still be called Paul. For this person,
the fruit will be a gift—the result of genetics, environment, generosity, and some human effort. And since life is fragile, it is possible that some person—not named Paul—will be enjoying the fruits of my recent toils.

If we reflect deeply, we may recognize that all of our actions are like planting pineapples. We say and do various things today, which will bear fruit in the future. As with pineapples, our actions happen within a larger environmental context that shapes how the fruits of our actions mature.

The question to ask ourselves is, what types of seeds are we planting today? What kinds of fruits do we hope to see in the future? If it is the fruit of love, then our actions, words, and thoughts today should be loving. If it is compassion, peace or happiness, then those are the things that we need to be sowing.

To borrow from a famous but anonymous quote, “The best time to begin cultivating and practicing love is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”

Peace, Paul

Hugging Buddhas

September 12, 2016

“In this world, hatred is not overcome by hatred. Hatred is overcome by love. This is an unending truth.” – The Buddha

Universalism, a belief in universal salvation, arose out of a Christian understanding of an all-loving and omnipotent God. Such a God, so the thinking goes, will save all people no matter how they act in life. Both the good and the evil are saved.

This God is very much like the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who love all, have compassion for all, and work for the salvation of all. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas do not deal in judgement and damnation. They understand that violence and hatred cannot be overcome by more violence and hatred. Rather, breaking this endless cycle of suffering occurs through love. It is only through the awakening of love that one’s heart is radically transformed.

Those whose hearts are unawakened live in Samsara. It is a vast wheel of existence upon which one finds rapturous heavens, agonizing hells, and everything in between. As long as our hearts remain unawakened, we rise and fall, life after life, through the various pleasures and pains of different existences. It is something that we experience, on a lesser scale, in our current lives filled with different highs and lows.

chenrezigAwakened-hearted beings live in Nirvana because their entire beings are love. Their world is not divided into love and hate; there is just love. There is simply the desire that all find happiness. The religious life is, therefore, the pursuit of  salvation for all. It is the life of love and compassion, expressed through our actions, words, and thoughts.

There is a wonderful section in the Longer Pureland Sutra where the Buddha Shakyamuni is describing to Ananda the different Buddhas in Amida’s realm of awakened bliss (Sukhavati). He states that some Buddhas have an aura that extends a fathom, some a league, some two leagues, etc. A fathom is the length of one’s arm span. Shakyamuni is indicating that the light of some Buddhas only extends to the people they can hug. That seems small. And yet, how wonderful it is that there are hugging Buddhas.

May we all be so fortunate as to be transformed into hugging Buddhas, who share their unconditional love and compassion directly and immediately with those we encounter every day.

Namo Amida Bu.

Peace, Paul

Do Good Anyway

August 15, 2016

On a recent Thursday, the non-profit that I run received a call from an older woman who needed help. She said she was living in a house without power or water, which is not that uncommon where we live. Like many others, she did not have a car. Most distressing, she said she did not have any food. I believe her exact answer, when I asked her if she had any food was, “I have a can of beans.”

There was more to her story and I spent quite a bit of time listening to all the twists and turns of how she came to be in her current situation. Whenever possible, I tried to connect her with resources or agencies that might be able to help. Mostly, I just listened. There was not much we or anyone else could do in the way of concrete action. Once someone has fallen deeply into poverty, the climb out – if it is even possible – is slow and long. This woman had, by her own admission, significant unpaid utility bills and no real way to pay them off. She was stuck.

Giving BreadThe one thing we could do is get her some food. I called several food pantries, including one that was just a mile away from this woman’s home. None of them were willing or able to deliver food to the woman’s house. In the end, I decided that we would take food from our pantry and deliver it ourselves, though her house was some distance away.

Unfortunately, when we arrived at her house with the emergency food assistance, no one was home. We tried her phone but there was no answer. We checked with her neighbors, who told us the woman had not been around in weeks. They all spoke ill of her.

Most people would be disheartened by this turn of events. Indeed, back at the office the staff challenged my decision to take food to this woman. They said that I was too nice and that people take advantage of me.

I disagreed. “Goodness” is not diminished by the harmful or unwholesome actions of others. Our job, individually and as an organization, is simply to do good. We help people by trying to alleviate their suffering in whatever way we can.  How people respond is not our concern. We simply work on adding more good into the world, in as many ways as we can.

Of course some people do deceive and “take advantage” of us. They are in the minority, but it happens. Often, such deceit is more a cause for compassion than anger. These people’s lives are in such a sad state that they feel that they need to lie or manipulate us to get something that we would freely give them.

Doing good is an expression of love. It is an act of generosity. It is not transactional. It does not seek a reward or payment, which is easy to forget in our world permeated by buying and selling. Doing good simply adds love and good into the world; nothing is taken away or lost. We are not diminished in any way through our kind and loving actions. However, the world around is improved a little with each act of generosity, of good, of love.

Peace, Paul

Cultivating the Seeds of Love

August 4, 2016

Violence continues to fill our daily news cycle. Much of the reported violence is in distant communities, both within the United States and around the world. No matter where the violence occurs—Germany, France, Turkey, Iraq, or Florida—it is always horrible and distressing. Mostly we are powerless to respond. We may live too far away. Alternatively, we may lack the skills and knowledge to be of much help during the crisis. Often all that we can do is fret and stew in anxiety, which is of little help.

It is important to remember that acts of violence do not arise out of nothing. They always have precipitating causes and conditions, which may stretch back over years, decades, and even centuries. The acts of violence that erupt today are the fruit (result) of seeds (causes) planted long ago.

Non-violenceSeed_germination (Love), likewise, does not arise out of nothing. Today’s acts of love are the fruit (result) of seeds (causes) planted long ago. Fortunately, love has causes that can be cultivated. In t
he same way that we can create conditions conducive to violence, we can create the conditions for love to arise. Each and every day, we can choose to plant seeds of love or seeds violence in the world.

Love is the desire for the well-being of others. It is radically inclusive, excluding no one. Practicing love does not require special training, equipment, or techniques. It does, however, require a daily commitment to love one’s “neighbors.” And everyone is our neighbor, whether we meet them in person or through social media. Not only must our actions and speech reflect our desire for the happiness and well-being of others, but our heart and mind must also hold our neighbors lovingly. This is a hard and humbling practice. However, over the long arc of history and even the short arc of our lives, it can be socially and personally transforming.

Over time, we will find that our lives are filled love and not hate. We will, as a result, be happier and at peace. However, these are just the superficial effects of the daily practice of love. The deep and long-term effects of our practice are virtually impossible to discern. Perhaps a kind word or look turns an individual down a better path. Maybe a loving act today plants the seed for some future good we will never see.  Only Buddhas know the full effects of our actions.

Perhaps this is the greatest challenge. Ultimately, the practice of love is an act of faith. Faith that love is more powerful than hate and violence. Faith that love will transform the world into a realm of peace, joy, and well-being, what Christians call “Heaven on Earth” and Buddhists call a “Pureland.”

Peace, Paul

Photo: Seed Germination, USDA

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