Posts Tagged ‘Love’

Sinning Against Families and Children

May 28, 2018

I usually don’t write about overtly political issues which are often divisive and ephemeral. I strive to use my writing to support and inspire others in the work of building/realizing what Christ called the Basileia of Heaven, Dr King called, “The Beloved Community,” and what we Buddhists know as the Pure Land.

Today, I am making an exception.

We cannot enter the Basileia of Heaven, the Beloved Community, the Pure Land, if we ourselves cannot offer love and protection to families and children. The current administration’s policy of separating children from parents who immigrate to the US illegally runs counter to everything we know about healthy child development.  It harms children, especially the youngest and most vulnerable. It is a policy that results in broken and traumatized children. It is a form of institutionalized child abuse.

incarcerated-teddyMany Americans pride themselves on their faith and strong religious values, central among these being the importance of family. Tearing apart families, even of illegal immigrants, must be a moral issue of gravest religious concern. This is not a political issue for the right or the left. In fact, it is probably one of the most non-political issues of our time. Stated simply: Parents and children — families — should remain united.

Because this is a religious and moral issue, there should be a unified and deafening uprising of outrage and protest across the political spectrum, from the center out to farthest edges of the right and left. It should be the one issue upon which we can all find common cause. We should be united in our declaration that parents and children should remain together.

Depressingly, there does not seem to be a groundswell of moral outrage. Instead we see the usual power plays and political gamesmanship.

Have we as a people of faith fallen so far as to place political party and power over the welfare of children and the integrity of family? If we cannot protect children from the trauma and pain of losing their parents, then the value of religion is doubtful.

It is my hope that as a nation we can recognize as sinful this immigration policy that calls for the removal of children from their loving parents.

It is my prayer that people of faith — all faiths — will live up to their highest ideals and say no to this abhorrent immigration policy. As people of faith, we are called to extend hospitality and love to all, especially the vulnerable, the beleaguered, and the friendless. Children are the most vulnerable. They need our love, our concern, and they certainly need their parents.

Peace, Paul

The Power of Cultivated Beneficence

April 26, 2018

In September of 1947 Gandhi undertook a fast to address the violence in Calcutta that had killed thousands. It was only a few months before his assassination.

Ghastly communal violence verging on civil war was sweeping across India. On the heels of independence, India was being partitioned into two States, Pakistan and India. Political and social forces were fanning the flames of fear to achieve their ends. Political, social, and religious conflict became violent with some of the worst violence erupting in Calcutta.

GandhiGandhi, who had devoted his life to non-violence, was heartbroken by the bloodshed. He travelled to Calcutta to try and help quell the unrest and violence. Initially, he sought to resolve the conflict by meeting with all the involved parties. Not everyone participated and only a temporary respite from the violence resulted.

When the violence resumed, Gandhi felt that the only response left to him was a fast, unto death if necessary. Fasting was a technique he had used many times before. However, Gandhi was 79 at this point. No longer a young man, people feared for his well-being. Undeterred, Gandhi began to fast. The fast, which lasted only three days, had the desired effect. The violence ceased and did not resume. Gandhi’s fast created the communal peace in Calcutta that the government had been unable to realize through policing.

The Calcutta Fast is one of the most outstanding events in Gandhi’s remarkable life. It is almost impossible to believe that a single person could exert such a powerful pacifying influence on a community engulfed in violence and social enmity. Try to imagine someone of significance today vowing to fast unto death unless we stop spewing partisan hate. The idea is laughable. Yet this is exactly what Gandhi did in the much more volatile political climate of 1947 India.

It is undeniable that Gandhi was extraordinary. He was not born that way. He was an unremarkable, shy child and young man. The Gandhi of the Calcutta fast was created through his lifelong struggle to apply the values of Ahimsa (non-violence) and Satyagraha (Truth Force) to all aspects of life, personal and political. It wasn’t easy. He was not immune to failure, missteps, bad decisions, and ridicule. He suffered and knew the inside of a jail cell.

Mahatma Gandhi believed that his lived values exerted a tangible influence on the world. The Calcutta fast affirmed his belief. It also demonstrates for us the effectiveness of applied love and compassion.

Though we are not Gandhi, we all exert a tangible influence on the world. For most of us, our influence is small. We probably can’t stop a riot. But we have the potential to be a positive influences in our communities. In Buddhism this influence is our field of merit. And yes, there are individuals who have a negative sphere of influence. However, most of us are neutral. We are neither particularly good nor evil. We don’t realize — or don’t believe — that we are influencing and impacting the people around us through our actions, words, and thoughts. Not recognizing the potential of our simple presence, we do not proactively cultivate beneficence through love and compassion.

Gandhi’s fast was an extraordinary reminder of the power of cultivated beneficence. It provides a window onto a world radically transformed by love, compassion, and non-violence. In our cynical eyes, the creation of such a world seems impossible. People were no less cynical in Gandhi’s time. Their cynicism, however, did not stop Gandhi from demonstrating that what others thought impossible was in reality possible. Maybe it is time for us to follow Gandhi’s lead and demonstrate that love can indeed overcome hatred.

Peace, Paul

Are We the People we Want to Be?

April 17, 2018

These days my heart is broken by our national drift towards callousness. Our elected officials, the people we put in office to express our shared values and vision, are trying to make it harder for individuals to receive food assistance.

There are solid logistical reasons not to do this, and I am certain they will be articulated in the national media. However, I am more concerned about what this shift in policy says about our shared moral values.

Sharing BreadFood is one of the necessities of life. Feeding the hungry is perhaps the simplest tangible act of love and compassion that we can undertake, individually and as a nation. It alleviates an immediate and real need — hunger — and in doing so directly improves another’s life.

Feeding the hungry is an act of generosity, a universal religious value. Giving food to the hungry is one of the specific acts of love that Jesus advocated. Feeding the hungry is a Christian value.

As a nation, we have more than enough food abundance to easily end hunger in the United States. This abundance is reflected in the large amounts of food we export and the vast amount that we regularly throw out. Nevertheless, hunger persists in our nation. Working families struggle to put food on the table. American children experience hunger. Simultaneously, stock prices and market values hit record highs.

Is this truly who we are as a nation? Are we proud of the fact that in the United States 13.1 million households with children are food-insecure? Does hunger and privation alongside fabulous national wealth reflect our shared values?

Hunger in the midst of national abundance is not a moral value I can accept. Rather, I believe that as a nation we are enriched by values of generosity and concern for the well-being of our neighbors, friend and stranger alike. We are a stronger nation — literally and figuratively — when we feed all who live within our borders. We are lessened and morally compromised when we allow poverty and hunger to thrive despite our great national wealth, power, and resources.

Jesus famously said, “You will know them by their fruits.” It is time for us as a nation to look at the fruits of our actions and ask ourselves, “Are we the nation and the people we really want to be?”

Peace, Paul

Antidote to the Poison of Divisiveness

April 5, 2018

Compassion means to feel with. It is a sharing in the feelings of others. It is a heart practice. It comes from the heart and is at the heart of the religious life.

lotusHis Holiness the Dalai Lama, a tremendously erudite and agile thinker, teaches constantly on compassion. Wherever he goes, he continually reminds his audiences that everyone is alike in wanting to avoid suffering and desiring happiness. We all want to be happy. We all seek to avoid pain and suffering. This is a universal experience.

This is easy to understand. Since we, as religious people, want to be more compassionate, it can be tempting to use this understanding to practice with the intellect alone. We might try to move through the world each day thinking, “May you be free of suffering. May you find happiness.” Such thoughts are valuable. They are a good place to start.

However, the truly transformational potential of this practice is awakened by taking our own emotions -—  hurts, fears, and joys — and using them in our practice of compassion. With a little attention, we can become aware of the emotions, thoughts, and sensations that arise when our feelings get hurt, or we get sick, or we experience loss, etc.

We may also notice our aversion to these negative experiences and have an aha moment. “Oh…I really don’t want this negative experience right now.” That insight might be quickly followed by the realization that others are just like you in not wanting to feel what you are feeling.

Likewise, you can use your joy and happiness to empower your practice. When you are “in the zone” and everything seems to go smoothly, recognize it. Acknowledge your happiness. Notice what it feels like. Notice how you desire to hold onto happiness and keep it from ending. Then reflect on the fact that others are just like you in desiring happiness. This is what everyone wants. And so you contemplate, using your joyous feelings: “May you — and you — experience what I am feeling. May you be happy!”

As your compassion matures, you may be moved to try and give your happiness to others. Or you may want to take on others’ suffering. Practiced in this way, all the pains and joys of daily life are opportunities to continually contemplate our similarities with others. We are all human. No matter our station in life, age, sex, or race, we all desire happiness and seek to avoid suffering. Out of this profound realization, compassion and love naturally arise for the people we encounter on a daily basis, either in person or through the media.

Such compassion can be a powerful antidote to the poisonous divisiveness currently running through our society. Compassion includes all — lovers, friends, associates, and even enemies — who like us desire happiness and want to avoid suffering.

Peace, Paul

 

 

 

Universal Salvation not Individual Salvation

February 17, 2018

I spend a lot of time working with our local Interfaith group. I do this because I believe that here in the United States we need to shift the dominant religious narrative from one of individual salvation, to that of Universal Salvation.

Individual salvation, has its place. It is especially important for the powerless and oppressed. It offers hope to those who cannot change the world around them. It can provide healing to those whose spirit has been broken.

Individual salvation is a bit like money. For those who have few means, it is vital and life saving (salvific). For those of great wealth, it is often a source of self-indulgence and gluttony. For the wealthy, the principle virtue is necessarily generosity —using one’s wealth to benefit those who suffer disproportionately because they have so little.

We who are fortunate in our liberty and abundance have an obligation to work for the salvation of others. Universal Salvation is our moral imperative. To luxuriate in comfort and safety while children and others remain unfed and unsheltered is fundamentally wrong. We all know this.

The work of helping others can seem daunting. It may be hard to know where to begin. As trite as it sounds, compassionate action begins with compassionate action. It doesn’t have to be grand or perfect, it just has to happen — daily. Because really, salvation is not hard.

Mary Carrying JesusYou don’t need to be a Saint to offer salvation. You certainly don’t need a complicated philosophy or theology or soteriology. You simply need to be willing to help others. Salvation can be offered in the form of  food for the hungry, shelter for shelterless, employment for unemployed, medicine for the sick, friendship for friendless, comfort for the distraught.

Salvation is the universally welcoming spirit. It is present when we set aside judgement and discrimination and accept others just as they are. Salvation is awakening to the reality that all beings are our beloved neighbors

Universal Salvation is the life path of love and compassion. It is practiced in an ever widening circle. Proximity is key. We cannot understand those whom we do not know. We cannot offer love and assistance — salvation — to those who are unwelcome, either explicitly or implicitly, in our churches and temples.

Ultimately, all are worthy of food and shelter. All are worthy of respect. All are worthy of love. All are worthy of salvation. We simply need to be willing to share our spiritual and material abundance in order to offer Universal Salvation to all.

Peace, Paul

Image: Mary holding the broken body of Jesus.

The Buddha of Light

December 21, 2017

RadientLet us remember Amitabha — the Buddha of light — on this Winter Solstice. Whether we are overcome by physical darkness or emotional despair, know that Amitabha’s radiant wisdom, compassion, and love are accessible in all places and all times. Thus, Amitabha is known as:

  • the Buddha of Measureless Light
  • the Buddha of Boundless Light;
  • the Buddha of Unimpeded Light;
  • the Buddha of Incomparable Light;
  • the Buddha of the Light of the Monarch of Fires;
  • the Buddha of Pure Light;
  • the Buddha of the Light of Joy;
  • the Buddha of the Light of Wisdom;
  • the Buddha of Continuous Light;
  • the Buddha of Inconceivable Light;
  • the Buddha of Ineffable Light; and
  • the Buddha of Light Outshining the Sun and the Moon.

Do not lose hope! Open your heart to the light of awakening. Turn your mind towards the possibility of a world filled with love and compassion. Live your life inspired by that vision. Take refuge in Amitabha’s spiritual radiance. See Amitabha’s light everywhere and in everyone. Offer kindness to all. Inspire others so that they may find hope, wisdom, and joy.

Namo Amida Bu and Happy Solstice.

Peace, Paul

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