Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

Necessary Silence

February 5, 2017

Silence is not a luxury. It is a necessity. When we are silent, the continual stream of thoughts fall into the background, momentarily freeing us from our self obsession. We awaken to the preciousness of life. In the silent fullness of the moment, we find profound peace.

We cannot find real silence by shutting out the world. We are connected with the world, not independent of it. The noise of the so-called world “out there” always finds a way into our life.

thornsOur situation is similar to that of the misguided ruler in a well known story who pierces his foot on a thorn. Enraged by the pain, he demands that all roads and paths be covered with leather. It is an idea which is both horrifying and understandable. The world is filled suffering (thorns) and we naturally want to avoid suffering. Not only do we experience the various physical and mental sufferings that arise from the world around us, we also experience suffering from the continual onslaught of stimulation, commentary, and fear that is part of our smartphone era.

In the story, the King has a wise advisor who suggests an alternative to covering the roads with leather. He tells the King that he and his citizens can take responsibility for protecting their own feet by covering them with leather.

We, like the King, can protect ourselves from the thorns of life by protecting our minds with meditation or prayer, practices that quiet and focus the mind. These are not the prayers filled with words and petitions, but the spacious prayer of deep listening. It is meditation that allows us to open fully to each breath, each heartbeat, and the interconnectedness of life.

This is the domain of the mystic, the “professional pray-er”. We, as people of faith, must become mystics. The world needs us to be knowers and practitioners of inner silence and peace. We can then offer peace, silence, and hope to those who are lost in the noise of turmoil and angst.

This is the gift we bring to the world, a balm to soothe the fretful mind. The world is filled with words and and busy-ness. Silence and stillness are rare. Few people encounter true silence, within themselves or another.

It is in this silence that the divine moves most obviously. Faith arises in this silence. Unconditional love likewise arises in the heart that is properly ordered and at peace.

If you have not yet found a way to enter into silence, seek out a teacher of prayer or meditation. They don’t need to be famous or exotic or “perfect.”  It should be someone whom you can trust. Learn from them. Practice their technique or method regularly. Be patient. Slowly, over time, you will begin to allow yourself to experience real silence. You may even be amused to discover that it was you yourself who was standing in the way of awakening and peace.

Start today. Silence your phone. Turn off the TV. Shut down your computer. Find a comfortable sitting position and spend few minutes paying full attention to your breath. Don’t get distracted by thoughts. They arise in the same way that sounds arise—naturally. Sounds are not you. Thoughts are not you. Take a vacation from thinking and worrying and planning and just be with your breath. Watch it and learn its subtleties and sensations. Repeat daily. Share your inner peace widely!

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

Praying for Peace

June 18, 2016

In response to the recent shooting at a club in Orlando, our local Interfaith group organized a Prayer Vigil. It was put together very quickly, a testament to the trust and cooperative nature of our diverse religious community.

Prayer Vigil- GroupPersonally, I am a bit skeptical of prayer vigils. Often it feels as though we use prayer as an excuse for not doing the hard work of addressing social ills and injustices. If, for example, we pray for peace because we truly want peace, then our prayers must be those of action to end violence and warfare. We cannot expect peace to miraculously fall from the sky and settle upon the earth. War and violence are the fruit of human action. We, therefore, must be the ones to overcome it. No amount of wishing and praying for peace – devoid of action – will end war.

Nevertheless, as an active member of out Interfaith coalition, I joined in the planning and performance of the service. It was a simple affair, held at local church, and attended by sixty or so individuals.The names and ages of the victims were read by individual attendees. After hearing the name, the congregation responded with, “May you be at peace.” I then sounded a bell, and a candle was lit for victim named. There were music and prayers from local clergy. It was a beautiful ceremony. Though focused on the bell, caught up in details of the service, I was touched by a deep sense of peace and well-being.

Our little ceremony did nothing to address war, gun violence, bigotry, or hatred. It did, however, offer healing. Each person in attendance had been touched by the violence in Orlando. The service offered them the opportunity to share their grief with others, many of whom were strangers. In our our shared witness to the brokenness caused by violence, we – surprisingly – found solace and peace.

There is still violence in the world. But for a short time, on a Wednesday night, we were able to connect with others and find the strength and hope to live faith-filled lives in response to senseless violence and undeserved suffering.

Peace, Paul

Photo: Some of the members of the “Interfaith Communities in Action.”

Awakening to the Fullness of Life

June 5, 2016

“This food is a gift of the the whole universe: the earth, the sea, the sky, all sentient beings. In this food is much joy, much suffering, much hard work. We accept this food so that we may follow a path of practice and help all beings everywhere.”

The sacred is present in each moment. Prayer is our ongoing and active relationship with the sacred – with life. While prayer can take place at set times and places, it is not limited to the chapel or meditation hall. The whole of our lives are potentially prayer, filled with wonder, gratitude, and contentment.  Prayer awakens in us spiritual joy (ananda), which is often evoked by even the most mundane of tasks.

Such was my experience as I made Jelly from our abundant harvest of Lilikoi, also known as Passion Fruit. It is one of the fruiting vines that thrives in the few inches of soil that covers the hardened lava in our neighborhood. We have tried to grow many types of plants, in all sorts of raised beds and containers, but only a few flourish without constant attention and fussing over. Even bananas, one of the more prolific plants in our area, don’t do well in the shallow soil.

Making JellyIn the kitchen – bursting with gratitude – I sang and chanted while working. I was aware that these exotic fruits were a precious gift and that I was participating in the fullness of life by making jelly – heating the juice, cleaning the jars, measuring, etc. I found that all of life was present in the kitchen. The making of jelly had become a prayerful act of gratitude, honoring the gifts that nature had so freely given.

We cannot survive without food. Yet it is easily taken for granted in a society of great abundance like the U.S. We forget how fortunate we are and overlook the working of the elements or the human sweat and suffering that is in every bite of food. We do not appreciate how entirely dependent we are on other beings and the whims of nature for our very survival. Each morsel of food is truly a “gift of the whole universe.” It is a gift that often goes unnoticed.

Prayer helps us notice these small gifts of life. Prayer delights in the ordinary, the beat of our heart, the movement of our breath, the way soap bubbles cling to a freshly washed plate, or the cheerful chorus of frogs at night. Wonder and sacredness abound in the prayerful life.

The Zen saying goes, “Before enlightenment chop wood carry water, after enlightenment chop woodLilikoi Jelly carry water.” Enlightenment is awakening to ordinariness, which – it turns out – is not ordinary at all. It is not something we get or achieve or find somewhere else. Enlightenment is found in the many little moments of everyday life.

Prayer, which is a less grandiose term than enlightenment, is simply awakening into the fullness of life, which may be found in something as simple as making jelly on a Saturday afternoon.

Peace, Paul

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

Mudita: The Joy of Joy

April 14, 2016

Sympathetic Joy is the most common translation of the Buddhist term mudita. Mudita is finding joy in the joy of others. It is spontaneous, unconditioned and unlimited. It is the joy of aliveness, of being itself. Mudita is spiritual joy.

We have all experienced mudita, most likely in presence of children. The joy of children is so pure and unbounded that it is contagious. Seeing a child engaged in joyous play, we ourselves are touched by joy. The joy we feel is not something we own. We did not produce it through our own efforts. It arises from outside ourselves. We simply enjoy the the joy experienced by another being.

laughing-buddha-figureIn Buddhism there are techniques to simulate mudita. They are valuable and can help us be more open to the arising of spontaneous joy. In their simplest form, one strives to wish others happiness and remember to celebrate others’ successes.

However, we must not mistake the map for the territory. The cultivation of joy is a close approximation but not the real thing. Since the practice is contrived, it is easy to get caught up in judging our success, or lack-thereof, in finding joy in others’ joy. We may become frustrated by the arising of negative thoughts, judgements, and jealousy – the antithesis of joy.  We may wonder how we can we feel joy in another’s success, when we are jealous of that success?

True mudita arises in spite of our imperfections and negative thoughts. Spiritual joy is a vast ocean upon which thoughts are only ripples. Negative thoughts may continue to arise but are insignificant in the presence of mudita.

Ultimately, mudita arises from beyond what we think of as self. Mudita is the nature of the measureless. It arises naturally when our hearts open to the unconditioned. When we are touched by the unconditional, we experience boundless joy in even the smallest moments of life. Unfortunately, we are usually too caught up in conditionality – planning for the future, reliving the past, judging and weighing each experience – to see the joy present in each moment.

Awakening to mudita begins by paying attention. This is why prayer and meditation are so important. They help us slow down. Through contemplation, we become comfortable with stillness and quite.

Our world is frantic, filled with information and activity. It is not a conducive environment for deep peace. Taking time – daily – to sit quietly can seem like a herculean task. Nevertheless, inner stillness – peace – is worth the effort. It allows us to see the world anew. Over time we become more capable of experiencing spontaneous joy. We begin to rejoice in the sights and sounds of nature, the joy of friends and family, or just in the joy of joy – our own or that of another.

Peace, Paul

Prayer Life

November 26, 2015

The Religious life is the life of prayer. Prayer is the continual expression of compassion in all that we do, say, and think. Prayer is the yoga of the heart. It is the interior process of “yoking” one’s heart to the unconditioned, that which is unborn, undying and beyond quantification. Hand holding malaIt is not just time spent in formal meditation or contemplation, though those times are important. Rather, prayer encompasses every moment of every day. Prayer is the kind and generous ways we think about and relate to the people around us. It is the joy we find in another’s happiness and the sorrow we feel when we see someone suffering and in pain. Prayer is the loving of those who seem unlovable. It is the willingness to care. Prayer is the desire to be a source of happiness and comfort for friends and strangers alike. Prayer is life; it moves through us with our breath and pulse. Prayer is the antithesis of, and antidote for, violence, greed, and hatred.

In our particular tradition, prayer takes the outward form of calling on, or being mindful of, or contemplating Amida Buddha (Measureless Awakening) with the phrase, Namo Amida Bu! This six syllable phase of sacred sound is a form of the Buddha. Thus to recite Namo Amida Bu is to open ourselves to the presence of the Buddha in our lives and in in life. Namo Amida Bu awakens in us a sense of the sacred. Through the Buddha we touch – are touched by -unconditional love, compassion, and joy. Through Namo Amida Bu, we begin to access the life of Prayer, which is, simply, the overflowing of love and gratitude into the world.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

A Life Lived Deeply

January 6, 2015

Buddha handsA new year is here. The previous year is gone. Some of us have lost friends and family over the course of the year. Others have made new friends, entered into new relationships, and seen the birth of children.  None of us has passed the year without being touched by impermanence and change.

Life is passing by so very swifty. If we are not careful, we may find ourself on the cusp of death, filled with regrets and doubts. So let’s use the turning of the new year as an opportunity to take stock of our lives. Let’s take some time to reflect and ask ourselves, have we lived a noble life? Is the world a better place, filled with more love and compassion, because of the life we have been leading?

In our heart, we already know the answers. Life is precious, sacred even. Yet most us  do not have a sense of the sacredness of life. We miss it because our lives are filled with the press and stress of the work-a-day world. There is no time for stillness, and wonder, and gratitude. Today’s world does not support such idleness.

Thus to live a life of prayer, to live deeply and embrace the sacredness of life, is to live counter to the ambient culture. Certainly it is not easy. The path, however, is clearly marked. Set aside time each day for silence and prayer. Give up anger and cultivate love as much as possible. Read and study the lives of the many great beings who have glimpsed the fundamental goodness of life. Practice generosity and kindness toward all you encounter. Keep the sacred always in mind.

Such a life has transformed whole societies. In our case, if we are lucky, through our efforts we may be able to bring a little light to someone in pain and sorrow who has lost all hope. What a wonderful gift that would be.

Peace, Paul

Photo: Wyoming_Jackrabbit

Giving It All Away

April 19, 2014

Generosity is essential to our lives. It is so pervasive that we often do not see it. Yet we practice generosity each time we feed our family, friends, or pets. We are generous when we spend time listening to a friend or family member. We are generous when we offer a kind word to someone. We are generous when we give our time to help others. However, we rarely stop and recognize these as generous and kind acts.

Likewise, we often do not appreciate the generosity that we receive from others: the kind words, the smiles, the work that others do. In truth we receive more than we give. Nothing that we now have has not been touched by innumerable other beings. Additionally, the very air we breath, the water we drink, the food we eat comes to us with very little effort on our part. Something as simple as the lettuce in our salad is produced by the hard work of farmers who have cultivated that variety of lettuce over hundreds years with the help of the sun, rain, and the whole living system that is the earth.

Realizing how little we do and how much we receive is to awaken a deep sense of gratitude. It can be a transformative awakening and the foundation for a vibrant and joyous religious life.To study the Saints is to understand that the religious life is about giving everything away. This may mean voluntary poverty but more likely it involves giving away our self cherishing. It is a willingness to give up clinging to our little hurts and petty vengeances. It is setting aside the score card of who has hurt and harmed us. It is embracing forgiveness and opening up the heart and striving to respond to all with love, compassion, and prayer.

The religious life is about giving our lives to and for the benefit others. In prayer, we pray not for ourselves but for the welfare of others. We perform works of kindness and mercy in response to the needs of others. We forgive, that our hearts may remain open and free. We understand that love is life, and is thus transformative. Love is the most valuable gift we can give. Thus we offer love and compassion to all: Friends, Enemies, and Strangers.

This is hard work. It takes time and perseverance. Give as you are able. Offer kind words to everyone you meet. Pray for the well being and happiness of all, especially those who have harmed you. Know that Love is limitless. The more you love the more love surrounds you. It does not mean that there will be not suffering or pain. It only means that such pain will be held within the embrace of a loving and generous heart, a heart which sees beyond the pain and suffering of this world.

Peace, Paul

Other Centered Salvation

March 3, 2014

As religious practitioners it is good to be aware of our motivation for practicing religion. Buddhism identifies two basic religious motivations: self motivation and other centered motivation. In the former, we are primarly interested in our own salvation. Religious practice is about ensuring our own personal liberation form suffering. Self salvation may be an assurance of our own rebirth in heaven. It might also take the form of self perfection, in which we undertake various practices or austerities to help us transcend the sufferings of existence. Self salvation can also be found in striving for a personal religious experience of release or transcendence. All of these are important and common forms of salvation.

The desire for salvation from suffering can, however, also arise as a compassionate response to the suffering of others. This is other centered salvation. It is seeking salvation to alleviate the suffering of others. This altrusitic motivation is the force that motivates Saints.

We can walk into any church or temple and find many good people who are practicing the way of self salvation. However, it is also likely that we will find a few people whose hearts are so on fire with compassion that they must live their lives in the service of others.

In Buddhism we might call these people Bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas have vowed to save all of the numberless sentient beings. It is not a vow to save just the nice and good people. It is a prayer to save all, even those who are causing great harm in the world. It an aspiration to save all beings, whether they are animals, ghosts, demons, celestial beings, or humans.

Of course, we are imperfect and deluded human beings. Our motivation tends to be mixed. Sometimes we just want to escape. At other times we are moved by concern for others. The Bodhisattva path can itself be a form of self salvation, a sort of justification of self by good works.

Therefore the Bodhisattva path must be rooted in both compassion, for the suffering of others, and wisdom, which takes us beyond self. As long as we are caught up in the limitations of self centeredness, we will judge. That is the human condition: judgeing and comparing. To get beyond judging there must be an encounter with that which is measureless. This is the nature of religious experience. It is the arising of Wisdom. Bliss and joy are just side effects. The real power of awakening, of transending self, is that we are overwhelmed by unconditional love and compassion.

Touched by the measureless, we find the strength to persevere in the endless work of saving all beings. Those whose hearts have been awakened by the pain of others are not be content to abide in heaven while others continue to suffer. Such a life would be hell. We must get our hands dirty and strive to help all. It is not that Bodhisattvas are better than those who are content with their own salvation. Bodhisattvas are just driven to help all who suffer. The very existence of suffering beings is unbearable to the Bodhisattva.

If you are called to walk the Bodhisattva path, do not think that your will end suffering with some heroic act or effort. That is the thinking of self centeredness. Humbled by encountering the measureless, we accept our limitations. We recognize that we will not be able to see or understand the fruits of our actions. Therefore we try to live in such a way that our very lives embody, in some small way, the potentiality of unconditional love and compassion.

Feed the hungry. Strive to end war and hatred and violence. Work to stem the tide of greed and consumerism. Do these things because suffering is unacceptable. The way of the Bodhisattva is the way of love and compassion. Violence, greed, and ignorance are the very roots of all suffering. They are the three poisons of existence. The antidote is indiscriminate love and compassion administered consistently and with the patience of the Buddhas.

Peace, Paul