Posts Tagged ‘Religious Life’

For the Benefit of All Beings

August 20, 2015

 Over the last few years I have enjoyed getting back into doing Hatha Yoga. In my early 20s, when I was living on a yoga ashram, I was limber enough and strong enough to assume just about any of the yoga asanas. Unfortunately, I was not able to truly appreciate the healing power of asana. I was too young and impatient. Now, having made 50, and lost the elasticity of youth, I find asana both liberating and blissful. I am aware of asana loosening physical knots and dismantling muscle armoring accumulated over the many years of this life.

However, this practice, while wonderful and helpful, is secondary to living the religious life. The religious life is lived for the benefit of all beings. It is not a path that is overly focused on our own bliss or health or well-being, as helpful as these can be. Rather it is focused on striving to create well-being and happiness for the people and beings around us. It is about living a life that is expansive and open to all.  It is willingness to respond to pain and hurt with compassion.

We begin within our own lives, trying to minimize causing suffering and maximizing benefiting others. Thus the religious life is built on three principle disciplines: ethics, study, and contemplation. We practice ethics so that we may be a refuge and not a threat to others. We use our intellect to study the teachings of awakening so that we may deepen our faith and understanding, the foundations of practice. We continually contemplate the Buddha, so that awakening and compassion may be companions in all that we do.

The religious life, is just that – a life. It is not something that we only do on Sundays, or in the Zendo, or on the Yoga mat. It cannot be set aside or turned off. To be authentic and socially transformative, it can be nothing less than a commitment of our whole life, warts and all, moment to moment, birth to death, to benefiting all beings. 

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

Friends

November 3, 2014

I have been travelling the last couple of weeks. During my travels I have had the opportunity to meet new people and renew old friendships. I have hung out with like minded individuals as well as quite a few people whose views were radically different from mine. Most of these people, whether rich or poor, religious or non-religious, urban or rural, were good hearted people. They were people trying to do the right thing, based on the norms of the community in which they live.

We are all shaped by the people and social structures in which we live our daily lives. The speech and behaviour that we hear and see day in and day out, shape our own thoughts, speech and behaviour. Consciously or unconsciously, we become the things that we consume through our senses. If gossip and back biting are the norm, then we will become gossips. If we continually consume words and images of hatred, fear, and judgement then we will live lives filled with these same qualities. Likewise, if we are surrounded by words and actions of compassion, kindness, and concern for others, then these are the qualities that will adorn our lives.

As religious practitioners we must remain aware of the influence of the ambient culture on our lives. However, if our goal is to create a more loving and compassionate world, a world free of violence and oppression, then we need to make sure that we have friends whose values are in line with that goal. We also need to strive to align our own conduct of Body, Speech, and Mind with the values of compassion and non-harming so that we can be a friend and support to others striving to live world transforming lives rooted in love and compassion.

Peace, Paul

Love and Hope

September 30, 2014

christ of the bread lines

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace, Paul

Photo: Christ of the Breadlines by Fritz Eichenberg

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

Self Power and Other Power

July 2, 2013

One of the fundamental truths of Buddhism is Anatta: that there is no self-existing independent permanent self. Stated in a slightly different way, all things, including our precious selves, are built up of innumerable changing causes and conditions.

In the Buddhist Pureland tradition the truth of Anatta is expressed through the concept of “Other” or “Non-self Power” (Tariki). Amida Buddha is Other. Amida Buddha is that which is not-self. Therefore, we, as Pureland Buddhist practitioners, contemplate Amida, call upon Amida, and center our religious lives around Amida.

Unfortunately, misguided pureland practitioners turned Tariki (other power)  into a sectarian term contrasted against , “the inferior”, Jiriki (Self Power).  The Jiriki schools include Zen, Shingon, Theravada, and others

This sectarian divide is very unfortunate because both the Jiriki and Tariki traditions have strengths and weaknesses.  The former can become a competitive and puritanical self building practice, while the latter can nurture complacency and moral slackness.

As deluded beings caught up in self clinging, it is important to recognize that a religious life is made up of both Jiriki and Tariki.  Self-power is our motivation while we are under the full sway of the Self as real.  Jariki is our modus operandi in a world that appears dualistic, made up of us and them. In this world we understand that the religious life depends on self discipline and self effort. Every day we must choose to observe the precepts. Every morning we need have the discipline to get up and do our daily practice.

While Jariki is important, we must also be mindful that the Self is ultimately empty. Even our desire to practice the Dharma arises form many causes and conditions that are not self. This mindfulness is the “Namo” aspect of the Buddhist Pureland practice of reciting “Namo Amida Bu”. I (self) a deluded and ignorant being, take refuge in that which is other than self (Tariki). Having taken refuge I will strive (Jariki) to undertake the religious life.

In the course of our practice we may have moments of insight, momentary glimpses of Amida’s light. These could range from fleeting momentary intuitions to non-dualistic raptures lasting for extended periods of time, as well as everything in between these two extremes. This is the “Amida” aspect of “Namo Amida Bu”. Each insight, intuition, or rapture connects “us” a little deeper to that which is not-self (Amida), undermining in little ways our self obsession.

After enough time in Amida’s presence, we are no-longer able to fall completely back under the illusion of self. We have, to use the traditional Buddhist term, become “stream enterers”.  This is the “Bu” aspect of “Namo Amida Bu”. It is the life of awakening, the life of faith. We still struggle to practice but a shift has take place and we recognize that we (self) are being carried along by the stream of awakening (Tariki), which is ,after all, nothing other than the wisdom and compassion of the Buddhas.

Namo Amida Bu!

Ananda