Posts Tagged ‘religion’

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


November 28, 2014

Gratitude, like some much of religious life, is a combination of practice, perseverance, and openness. Gratitude is cultivated slowly, over years and decades. It involves the daily recollection of the many things, great and small, that we receive each day. Some days the practice is easy, other days it is a struggle to be grateful. Often it can be helpful to remember that many individuals lack even the basics of food, water, clothing, and shelter. Remember also that others are suffering the ravages of war, or experiencing ill health, or perhaps mourning the loss of loved ones.

This is a good practice. However, is important to remember that “the map is not the territory.” The daily practice of gratitude, while important and valuable, is only a technique. It is not true gratitude. It is a close approximation.

True gratitude is a spiritual experience that arises as if by accident. The self, with its blue skysmall concerns, falls into the background and suddenly we are overwhelmed by gratitude. Perhaps the blueness of the sky becomes almost unbearable. Or maybe the kind words of a stranger brings us to the brink of tears. Such gratitude cannot be conjured. It arises spontaneously and does not add to our sense of self but rather strips us down to nothing as we encounter the wonder and power and mystery that is existence.

Peace, Paul

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

Does Religion Offer Hope?

January 8, 2014

A friend recently asked me if I thought that religion had anything to do with hope? I said, “yes, and If your religion isn’t offering you hope then something is wrong.”

However, as I reflected a little deeper on the question, I began to wonder how much real hope religion offers in today’s world. Certainly religion offers us, personally, much that is valuable. But does religion offer us the hope of solving the very real challenges of a world entering into the dramatic and possibly catastrophic era of climate change?

As a person of faith, I would say that the answer is “yes” and “maybe”. Religion, in theory, shows us the way. Religion offers selflessness, restraint, sacrifice, compassion, forgiveness, and faith as a response to scarcity, hardship, and suffering. It offers lives lived individually and collectively in the sharing of resources and in the care of those who are suffering. Religion offers us the only real solution to a world being consumed, quite literally, by greed.

The hope that religion offers the 21st century is found in the living of exemplary lives of compassion and concern for others. Religion must do the hard work of “saving souls” from the suffering and hellish future that will result from global climate change, war, and privation.

If we are serious about our religious lives then we cannot turn away from suffering. We must live our vows to to save beings from suffering, not in some vague philosophical way, but now, in this lifetime, in real and concrete actions. We must alleviate suffering as it exists in its many forms today, and we must work in the world to prevent future suffering. The work of saving beings, in this lifetime and on this planet, from tremendous suffering, will require heroic acts of selflessness by large numbers of individuals. It is up to us, as people of faith, to take up the work of the saints. We cannot wait for someone else to come forward and do the work. We have the answers. All that is left is to live the Truths that we all know to be true but have been afraid to accept and put into practice.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul


May 26, 2008

It is hard to believe all that has transpired in the last 2 years.   Well actually the last 5 years!   Yes, before we pulled up stakes and moved to Hawaii, I had helped form and “build” a Buddhist Center.  It was a bumpy road, but something beautiful was indeed created a vibrant center of spiritual practice and social engagement.  We ran events throughout the week: Meditation, Study, discussion, and various ritual activities.  I engaged with local churches and volunteered with hospice (5 years) and the prison system (4 years).  We started a local Chapter of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.  We put on a successful concert fundraiser to reach out to the public at large.  We also hosted many teachers, mostly Tibetan, as they gave profound teachings on the Buddhist Dharma, everything from basic meditation and ethics to Dzogchen.

And then, for me at least, it all went wrong.   Things that I had ignored, both in the group and in myself, came together to create a situation I was ill prepared to deal with.  I left.  However, I am happy to report that the Buddhist Center continues on and seems to be maintaining a full schedule.

Shortly after it all hit the fan, Judy and I were offered an opportunity to go to Hawaii to start and run a Buddhist Center on the Big Island.  In hindsight it was probably too soon.  We needed time to heal.  Nevertheless, we sold pretty much everything and relocated to the Big Island.  Once again it went wrong, and very quickly.  This time I think it is fair to say, given the rapid melt down of the situation, that much of the unraveling was about the organizations involved and the powers and people above us in those organizations, and not so much about us. We just chose the wrong situation based our own karmic tendencies.

In any case, for a few short months we successfully ran and built up a Buddhist retreat center.  We also organized and supported many teaching events around the Island.

I did not see it at the time, but this second organizational implosion was to mark a shift in my approach to religion.  In fact the last year and half have forced a deep process of self analysis and critique.  (In the meantime, I have been living simply, some would say primitively, and working on a peace and justice farm, growing food and challenging the violence and injustice that is creeping into our society because of a lack of vigilance by us, the citizens.)

The inspiration for the original Buddhist Center arouse out of a vision of the potential for Buddhism to be a transformational force in society.  After all, the world is suffering from the plague of violence.  Buddhism has a very strong and clear stance, so I thought, against violence and killing.  The goal of Buddhism is the elimination of Dukkha, suffering, which seems like a very noble goal on both the practical and ontological levels.

It is this vision of societal transformation that has driven and formed my life over these last many years.  I have been trying, again and again, to align my life with this vision.  It is and was a powerful vision. It has wrapped itself around my being and cannot be shaken.  It is what I must do, even if I fail and fall on my face again and again.

The question now is, where to begin?  Religion, philosophy, metaphysics, mysticism, spirituality, gnosis, occultism, whatever we call it, must be about the transformation of society in very real and concrete ways.  Inner personal transformation or salvation alone is not good enough.   We, as a species, are up against the wall.  Our normative social, religious, and economic paradigm has brought us to the edge of total violence (nuclear war) and ecological disaster.

Religion, to paraphrase Neitzche, is dead.   Religion still has power, but has sold its soul.  It has, in its many forms, aligned itself too closely with the “principalities and powers” that are leading us down the path to disaster.   There are, of course, religious people and even organizations that are doing great things.  But on the whole, religion is a lead weight pulling us down. This is not to dispute the fact that within the vast accumulation of religious literature and teachings from the past thousands of years there are not to be found valuable tools that can be used in the struggle to transform society.   Many teachers and teachings have historically appeared in the world and challenge normative society and its values.  However, today, we do not have the leisure of thousands of years to work our the salvific principles of a given religious teaching in history.  We are on a short timeline. We have decades not millennia. 

I do not yet have a form or specific direction, but I can feel the pressure to begin and I know that this time the shape will be very different from my past experiments with manifesting this vision.

Peace, Paul