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Be thine own palace, or the world's thy jail.
--John Donne

 

Some have encountered intolerable suffering.  They have spent up to twenty years in prison, and yet some of them have told me it was the best time of their lives, because they were able to do intense prayer, meditation, and virtuous practice.

--The Dalai Lama

 

I wonder if anyone truly realizes what a gift it is to be alone.  Where else can one appreciate the depth of one’s soul?  Of course, most of us wouldn’t choose to go to prison to discover the benefits, but being alone has been given a bad rap—and often I find that people who cannot stand to be alone just don’t like themselves very much.

 

Until you are alone you cannot hear the still inner voice--you know it, the one that says things like: You’re really a jerk, you know that?  And it’s also the one that says: I love you and I respect you and you are really incredible.

 

Aside from the usual jokes about hearing voices, in my experience people refer to these inner thoughts in many ways: calling them messages from angels, spirit guides, channeling, talking to God, etc.  I don’t think any of that really matters.  What matters is there is real and powerful wisdom in these thoughts.  And without enough time alone we may never hear them.

 

We know that too much time alone is bad, but what happens if we don’t get enough time?  Without enough time alone, a kind of pressure builds—thoughts and feelings need to be acknowledged or we risk bringing them out in inappropriate ways—acting out, yelling, all kinds of things.  And who really wants to behave like that?

 

Also, I find that a good number of people have lost a sense of who they are—perhaps never really knew—and they don’t know what they’re here on the planet to do.  So many people seek outside themselves for the answers, when truly they are always within.

 

Sure, you can talk to someone that can trigger what you already know is wisdom at some deep level within yourself—after all, I hope I’m doing that right now with some of you out there!  But you will find that the best spiritual teachers are the ones that encourage you to do inner work on your own.

 

Too much time alone can also be bad of course—or time spent lingering over things said or done that have not been handled skillfully.  Why do we do this?  We wouldn’t take ourselves into an alley and flail away at ourselves physically—so why do we do that mentally and emotionally?  When we have done or said something we regret, when we use our alone time for this, it’s like paying twice.  Don’t do it.

 

So I recommend that everyone reading this schedule some alone time—and do I mean REALLY alone.  There are other times you can go halfway between being alone and in a crowd of friends that comfort and uplift you.  But there is no substitute for truly being alone with your own thoughts. 

 

You also might be surprised at the ideas that come up when you make time to tune out all the flack of the day, concerns about other people, noises.  Soft music is all right, but nothing you would find distracting.

 

If you have never tried this, do it for an extended, regular period—start with a week for fifteen minutes per day.  At first, as with monkey mind, you may see random thoughts come up…but try to direct your soul into a place where you can ask questions and feel safe to know you will get the answers you need. 

 

Mind you, they might not be the ones you expect or want to hear!  But they will be honest.  You might not be able to trust anyone else—but you can always trust yourself.  And if something comes up that feels bad, just be gentle.  Ask yourself what you wanted to accomplish when you did or said the thing, and how you will correct the issue or prevent it in future.  This time is not about beating yourself up—it is about seeing what you need to see, accepting and releasing it.

 

Above all, don’t look at being alone as a sentence.  It’s just not.  In fact, it’s truly a gift!

 

midwestbuddha: (serenity)
Read the latest syndicated article here.

And thanks to all my loyal readers for helping me choose to send this one. ;)
midwestbuddha: (seasoned)
Rather than live under the delusion of permanence, we should engage in spiritual training so that we can enter old age at least with the grace of wisdom.

-- the Dalai Lama

Indeed. Now that I have reached middle age I find that I am more aware that all things end. I don’t dwell on my own death, but I do feel the passing of the years, in my body and my attitudes. And I sometimes wonder what lies further down the road. But I’ve also developed an affectionate compassion for the people I see in their twenties and thirties who are always in some emotional crises or other—I was there once, and am glad to be past that stage of life.

I sense now that younger friends sometimes view me as someone they must be ultra polite with, instead of truthful. I’m surprised they think I can’t see right through this attitude. And although I appreciate the attempt to be kind, it still startles me when I realize they see me as significantly older than they are. Inside, I am still the same person—still full of vibrant and energetic ideas, absurdities and youthful dreams. But outside, there’s no doubt, I look somewhat different than I did thirty years ago. I don’t recover as quickly when I’m injured or ill, and I’m no longer up to date on the latest news, fads and popular celebrities.

Time has passed, and a fair number of years have left their mark on me.

However, the news is still good—great, in fact. In her ground-breaking book Sex and The Seasoned Woman, Pursuing The Passionate Life, journalist Gail Sheehy reveals research showing that women from their forties to nineties are enjoying the best years of their lives, often have new partners and are realizing dreams they had no time for in their twenties and thirties. Likewise, Dr. Christiane Northrup, noted physician for more than twenty-five years, says in her talk Menopause and Beyond, that the longevity for men is increasing as well—and that the men who live longest now are those in relationships with good women.

A friend recently asked if I could live in any period of time what I would choose. I told him, “The future.” In general, even with all its faults and foibles, I still tend to believe that mankind has a glorious potential and I wish I could stay in this lifetime long enough to see it.

Dr. Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist and co-founder of string field theory, has categorized Earth as a “Type Zero” civilization on a scale of Zero to Three because of our present technological advancement. But he also says that calculations show we will reach “Type One” in about one hundred more years, and that right now is the most important era in the human race—this transition from “Type Zero” to “Type One”. That’s because our challenge is to advance to being able to control all of our planetary resources properly, without destroying ourselves.

Nassim Haramein is a physicist that is doing some ground breaking work. In his film Black Whole, The Universe Is One, he suggests that the atoms in our body are actually mini black holes! If Haramein and other scientists can find the key to unlock physical degeneration through his work, it’s likely that humans will live even longer than they are now.

In view of the fact that people will most likely live longer in a brighter future, we have been gifted with the idea of having more time available to learn and grow. This is seductive, in the sense that we can become complacent with our spiritual progress. However, it’s still helpful to consider what Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron suggests:

Since death is certain, but the time of death is uncertain, what’s the most important thing I should do right now?

In my experience, old people trying to get into Heaven are all over the place. So I’m not implying that we suddenly all become do-gooders in fear of our salvation as we age. But it is a perfect time to evaluate which areas of life we still want to improve upon—relationships, goals and dreams, helping our community and contributing to our world.

We still have time—and lots of it, in most cases. By mid-life we almost always also have wisdom and resources to accomplish the things we set out to do. Above all, don’t succumb to the idea that getting older means you can’t. Maybe you have to go more slowly, take a considered approach.

But believe me, you most definitely can—as long as you come from a place of spirit, you will be surprised at how much you can accomplish.

As Queen Cleopatra herself once wrote, Make It Happen!
midwestbuddha: (Default)
The Galion Inquirer decided to use one of my columns on their website as well as in print. :) You can see it here. Just scroll to the very bottom and look under "Guest Columnist". I'm told Is Your Neighbor a Buddhist? will be printed tomorrow and they will also be using Mind Your Monkey but at some future date. ;)
midwestbuddha: (sparrow)
You can't hide what's in your heart.

He kill them wi' their love. Wi' their love fo' each other. That's how it is, every day, all over the world.

I want it over and done. I do. I'm tired, boss. Tired of bein' on the road, lonely as a sparrow in the rain. Tired of not ever having me a buddy to be with, or tell me where we's coming from or going to, or why. Mostly I'm tired of people being ugly to each other. I'm tired of all the pain I feel and hear in the world everyday. There's too much of it.


-- John Coffey, The Green Mile


These words, written by Stephen King, have resonated with me for a long time. I do find it ironic that our innate compassion is so often short-circuited by our improperly seen love for one another.

The other day, my husband and I were on the way to the dentist. His office is downtown, in a part of the city that is still considered upscale. But, as in most cities, there are always places where the homeless take shelter. As we were coming up from the parking garage, we encountered a man sprawled in the stairwell leading up into the hotel above. As we passed, he said in a blurry voice that it was cold outside and he didn’t remember getting there. And my husband just casually commented with something like, “Oh no! That’s not good.”

As we came up into the hotel I turned to Dave and said, “We are so lucky not to be in that position.” He nodded and we moved on toward our appointment.

What was I feeling in that moment? Looking back, it was aversion, guilt and compassion, in that order. When I pass a homeless person without helping them, it has often been because I have nothing to give—I broke the habit of carrying cash some time ago when working in a bad neighborhood and have never regretted it. Sometimes I have small change but often think it won’t be enough to really help. And of course I often hear the voice in my head that says, “They’ll just buy liquor with it. Is that really helping?” Often, lately, I regret that I didn’t do something. I feel so fortunate to have the life I have, and nowadays most of us are a paycheck away from being out on the streets ourselves.

On the way back from the dentist that morning, guess what? The homeless man was still there. Except now he was off the stairwell and into the elevator foyer. The machine where my husband would enter our ticket and put his debit card in to pay was less than a foot away from where he stood.

Now—did I think: awesome! I can help him after all! NO. The truth is I froze, a whirl of alarmed thoughts going through my head, mostly involving whether we were safe in this situation. Dave glanced at the man, who said something like, “I drank so much last night I don’t remember getting here, man. It takes the pain away.” The entire time he was saying this, he kept his back to us, but I could see his hands were moving. What was he doing? I worried. Was he getting out a knife or gun?

Dave pulled a dollar out of his wallet and gave it to him, saying, “Here, go get yourself some coffee.” Then he paid our parking fee as well.

The man turned around, hands empty, took the bill and thanked him. That’s when I realized there was a heat duct behind him and he had just been trying to warm his hands there. The other thing I saw was that he never met my husband’s eyes—never. He couldn’t. He was too ashamed.

And I know exactly how he felt--because I was, too.

How often do we let fear get in the way of compassion? Far, far too often. We know that we’re here to love and nurture one another, but the violence we see around us keeps us from helping the very people that need it.

Am I suggesting you call down every dark alley where you see a homeless person apparently sheltering? No. That would be practicing idiot compassion. What I’m saying is, be a little braver, get a little closer, give a little more. Because awareness isn’t enough—you need to act.

I will, too. Just a little. Maybe, just maybe, that’s all we need.
midwestbuddha: (Default)
First, some background info: the purpose of these interviews is to bring people of all faiths closer together by promoting understanding of different perspectives. Enjoy! And if you would like to be interviewed, I am currently looking for someone who can tell me about their viewpoint as a Hindu or Wiccan. Just comment here and I'll contact you. Thanks!

Interview With [livejournal.com profile] prelocandkanar--thanks again, Beth! Readers: Please note that this interview contains more detail than any other before! But I have retained Beth's answers in their entirety, because I enjoyed them so much and felt confident you would, too. You will see this interview is divided into several sections, due to length. Enjoy!

15.) What are the taboos relating to your faith?

Taboos? I don’t know. Many, many Jews ignore kosher laws, don’t do daily prayers, or keep the Sabbath or any of that stuff, and still consider themselves, and would be considered, “good Jews.” I think being a “good Jew” is synonymous with being a good person, a kind and considerate person, so anything that goes against that – being mean, selfish, uncharitable, dishonest, etc. -- would be the most “taboo.” There’s a word, “mensch” – it means of person of integrity and honor. That’s the goal. The rest is gravy.

16.) Does your faith encourage belief in an afterlife? (i.e. heaven, hell, purgatory, nirvana, reincarnation, etc.)

Afterlife is not an important part of Judaism. Judaism is overwhelmingly concerned with life here and now.

17.) Does your faith encourage belief in more than one deity?

No. However, belief in any God at all is not required at all to be a “good Jew.”

18.) What healing methods are practiced by your faith? (Brief descriptions encouraged.)

Healing methods? Call a doctor! J

19.) Does your faith embrace many sects? If so, feel free to name and briefly describe the differences.

I wouldn’t call them “sects,” but the main branches or denominations of Judaism are Orthodox, Conservative and Reform. A person can and often does switch easily among them.
Orthodox are the most traditional. A sub-division of Orthodox are those that I would call a sect, the Hasidic Jews, are the ones with the hats and black coats. Most Orthodox (in my part of the world, at least) are “Modern Orthodox.”

I grew up Reform (not “Reformed” but “Reform” because it’s still and always changing and adapting), but since switched to Conservative. Reform are the most “liberal.” Services are almost entirely in English, often with musical accompaniment, and almost no one keeps kosher. Many Reform Jews only go to synagogue (if at all) on High Holy Days. Many Reform Jews would describe themselves as “secular Jews.”

There’s a wide range of observance among all branches.

20.) If you are part of a bi-faith marriage, briefly describe an incident you had with a conflict and how you dealt with it…

My husband and I are both Jewish, but he grew up (Modern) Orthodox and I grew up Reform, so we joke that we’re a mixed marriage. When we were dating, he came with me to my synagogue on High Holy Days one day, and I went to his the next day. At my synagogue, there was an organ playing music, we all sat together and the service was in English. Later, he told me that he felt like he was in a church. I went with him to his synagogue. The men and women sat separately, the men below and the women upstairs. The whole thing was in Hebrew, chanted by a cantor on a bimah (a low platform with a table to hold the Torah) in the center of the room, instead of in front. I felt so removed and apart from my then-fiance – as I was! I had such fond memories of standing at synagogue between my mother and father and grabbing their hands and feeling really connected. (Not that I ever “enjoyed” services. Long and boring!) When we got married, we agreed to “split the difference” and joined a Conservative synagogue. It was very helpful that we had a daughter. Orthodox synagogues are not as egalitarian and Conservative and Reform. (Our synagogue has had female rabbis and female cantors.)

It’s interesting that this survey doesn’t ask if one believes in (a) god or God or Diety. I’m going to answer it, anyway. J

I usually don’t really believe in God or any afterlife at all. Certainly not a God that’s involved in the details of our life. If I believe in a God at all, it would be First Cause – that is, something had to create the first particle of matter or energy in the universe. We can trace our solar system back, we can trace our galaxy back, we can propose theories about the Big Bang. But none of our cosmology can understand how this all began. Or comprehend that it might not have had a beginning. How did the first particle of matter or energy come to be? If I think of God, that’s it – First Cause.
More often, I believe in the “god” that is the best part of ourselves, the part of us that reaches the highest moral level we can. If I were to pray (which I don’t), I would be praying to that part of myself that can help me become the best person I could be.

I also strongly believe in noticing, appreciating and enjoying this life to the fullest. I frequently try to stop and notice the beautiful things around me – nice weather, nature. I try to appreciate that I have a healthy body. Because I believe that this life is all there is, I don’t want to miss anything or take it for granted. I don’t want to sleep-walk through it. My goal is to be “present,” “in the moment.” Judaism actually is a useful component of that.

The Old Testament God is often portrayed as cruel, vengeful, and petty. A projection of the times, and not relevant to how we think today. If I were to think about a God at all, it’s a God that’s patient, accepting, and loving. The piece of god that’s in all of us.
midwestbuddha: (Default)
First, some background info: the purpose of these interviews is to bring people of all faiths closer together by promoting understanding of different perspectives. Enjoy! And if you would like to be interviewed, I am currently looking for someone who can tell me about their viewpoint as a Hindu or Wiccan. Just comment here and I'll contact you. Thanks!

Interview With [livejournal.com profile] prelocandkanar--thanks again, Beth! Readers: Please note that this interview contains more detail than any other before! But I have retained Beth's answers in their entirety, because I enjoyed them so much and felt confident you would, too. You will see this interview is divided into several sections, due to length. Enjoy!

11. ) Does your faith require certain types of clothing be worn or avoided?

No, not really. There are many different levels of observance among Jews. For nearly all Jews, there are no restrictions during daily life. Most require that, while praying in a synagogue, men wear a skullcap called a kippah or yarmulke (“yaaam’ aka”). Women may wear a kippah, but do not have to. Many also wear a prayer shawl (“tallit”) while praying in a synagogue. Some Orthodox men wear a yarmulke all the time. The most unchanged denominations such as Hasidism do have other requirements, like for men, wearing a prayer shawl all the time under clothing, using tefillin (straps on the arm and a small box on the forehead containing biblical verses)while saying certain prayers; for women, modest clothing, etc. But that’s only for a small sub-set of Jews, what my family always referred to as “super-Jews.”

12.) Does your faith restrict you from eating certain foods?

Again, it depends on your level of observance. Yes, there are foods deemed “kosher” and “traif” (not kosher), and food that may not be eaten together. Pork and shellfish are traditionally forbidden, and milk and meat may not be eaten at the same meal. In the world I travel in, most Jews do not “keep kosher” at all. Some denominations say that these restrictions were based on food safety issues that are no longer relevant. Many say that following these restrictions is voluntary but encouraged, as a way of demonstrating “intention” and self-discipline, which can help one act correctly in more important matters as well. Other people believe it is an important part of their religion.

I myself don’t keep kosher at all, except during Passover, when I follow the guidelines for keeping kosher for Passover, following restrictions designed to remind us of what our ancestors had to eat while fleeing from slavery in the desert. I use separate dishes at this time, too. I do this because for me, making a “big deal” out of the holidays and following certain rituals increases the “special-ness” of the holidays. For me, rituals don’t have meanings in and of themselves, but they gain deep meaning over time, as you perform them as a child with your family over and over again, and positive family memories become fused to the memory of doing those things with your family, and so they become meaningful in a personal way. This is why I don’t believe in “letting children choose” their religion when they grow up. I don’t have any objection to someone rejecting or changing their religion, but if you’re not raised with some traditions and rituals, whatever they are – you can even make up your own as a family! – the traditions won’t have any meaning for you.

13.) What advice would you give to someone who’s considering joining your faith?

I don’t know. I guess find a synagogue with a rabbi and community that you relate to and that/who reflects your beliefs. If you’re planning to be a “synagogue Jew,” that is. You can practice all of Judaism without even going to shul (synagogue) at all. And ask questions, challenge stuff that doesn’t make sense, and argue. That’s what Jews do. J

14.) What is your faith’s most widely celebrated holiday, if any? (Brief descriptions welcome.)

Most widely-celebrated holiday? Passover. Think of it like another Thanksgiving, in a way. The whole extended family gets together. Guests are invited, including (and sometimes especially) non-Jewish friends. Everyone sits at the table and reads aloud from the “Haggadah,” a booklet that describes the Exodus, story of the Jews escaping slavery in Egypt. Four glasses (or at least, four swallows) of wine are drunk. The youngest child(ren) ask The Four Questions, which prompt the rest to explain the holiday.

Many families create their own version of the Haggadah to reflect their views of what they value most. The Seder can last ten minutes or more than an hour. Then everyone eats a meal with certain traditional food meant to remind us of parts of the story. At the end, most families have a tradition involving the children hiding or having to look for a hidden piece of Matzoh (the flat, unleavened bread that is an iconic symbol of the holiday.) Going to synagogue or services is not part of the holiday.

The holiday lasts for seven or eight days. Many families do two seders, on the first two nights. Some people keep certain food restrictions for the duration of the holiday.
Passover is probably the most beloved holiday. The most important are the High Holy Days: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And the Sabbath.
midwestbuddha: (cat meditating)
Today I'm going to repost links to the top three columns my readers have selected as their favorites. Here we go!

The Zen of Cats

Is Your Neighbor A Buddhist?

and

Mind Your Monkey!


Enjoy all, and have a Namaste!
midwestbuddha: (Default)
First, some background info: the purpose of these interviews is to bring people of all faiths closer together by promoting understanding of different perspectives. Enjoy! And if you would like to be interviewed, I am currently looking for someone who can tell me about their viewpoint as a Hindu or Sufi. Just comment here and I'll contact you. Thanks!

Interview With [livejournal.com profile] prelocandkanar--thanks again, Beth! Readers: Please note that this interview contains more detail than any other before! But I have retained Beth's answers in their entirety, because I enjoyed them so much and felt confident you would, too. You will see this interview is divided into several sections, due to length. Enjoy!

5.) How often do you experience others’ prejudices directed toward you regarding your faith(s)? (i.e. daily, weekly? Is this a common or uncommon occurrence?)

I myself have almost never experienced prejudice. I’m well aware that where I live, it used to be common to have “restricted” neighborhoods or clubs where Jews were not welcome. But I’ve never experienced it.

But what I do feel is my perception, in the US where I live, of the almost universal assumption that one is Christian. It’s subtle but there. Here’s a striking illustration.

When my daughter was very little, in December, we could hardly go into a store or shop without the shopkeeper asking my daughter (in a very friendly manner) if she was looking forward to Santa Claus. Was Santa going to bring her lots of presents? Was she excited? I had trouble figuring out how to handle this.

There was no malice here, only really nice people being warm and friendly. But I couldn’t say, or ask my daughter to say, yes, we were looking forward to Santa. But there was no graceful way to say “no.” Saying “No; we’re Jewish” felt like it might make the other person feel uncomfortable; it sounded like a rebuke and like too much information. I tried saying it with a smile in a casual, off-handed way, but kind of resented being put on the spot. At one point, I thought I had a great solution. My daughter’s birthday is in December, so, when asked about Santa, I’d finesse the question and say, “And she’s looking forward to her birthday, too.” I was so proud of this, until they said, “But you’ll still get Christmas presents, too, right?”

Another example of this is the preponderance of Christmas fanfics around December.

6.) Would you briefly describe one such incident, how it made you feel and what you did about it?

I guess I just did.

7.) What is your favorite faith tradition?

I guess the Passover Seder, with its celebration of freedom and insistence that it’s understood as a universal and timeless theme. There’s a line in the Seder that says that each generation recognizes a new affliction or prejudice that had not been acknowledged before, and must work to overcome it.

8.) If you could dispel the most common misconception about your faith, what would it be and how would you go about it?

Because Judaism is, to a large extent, both a faith and a people (and a culture), there are misconceptions about both Judaism and about Jews. I guess the misconception is that Jews are “different” or “other.” How would I go about dispelling it? How about something like this survey?

9.) If you left a previous faith for the one you now call your own, why did you do so and how do you feel about your previous faith?

I didn’t leave a previous faith, so this doesn’t apply.

10.) If there were one thing you could change or eliminate about your faith, what would it be?

I’d go back to the biblical story about Abraham and Sarah and Ishmael and Isaac, and hit Abraham and Sarah upside the head. In the story, they behave abominably. I’m not a big believer in the literalness of biblical stories, but that still doesn’t keep me from arguing about the many stories that I think demonstrate bad choices, wrong-headedness, “lessons” I disagree with and versions of a god that does not match my sense of what a Deity would be. (Ditto the Sacrifice of Isaac story. No caring God that I can imagine would ask this of a parent. Not even as a test. It’s sick.) Jews and Arabs have so much in common; we’re fellow Semites; cousins. Many customs are the same, like the prohibition about pork. I wish relationships between Jews and Arabs were better, and it may be silly, but if Abraham had acted more in line with Jewish principles of Tzadakah (charity, justice, righteousness), maybe we wouldn’t be in this situation today. (Am I joking? I’m not sure…)
midwestbuddha: (Default)
First, some background info: the purpose of these interviews is to bring people of all faiths closer together by promoting understanding of different perspectives. Enjoy! And if you would like to be interviewed, I am currently looking for someone who can tell me about their viewpoint as a Hindu or Sufi. Just comment here and I'll contact you. Thanks!

Interview With [livejournal.com profile] prelocandkanar--thanks again, Beth! Readers: Please note that this interview contains more detail than any other before! But I have retained Beth's answers in their entirety, because I enjoyed them so much and felt confident you would, too. You will see this interview is divided into several sections, due to length. Enjoy!

1.) What is your chosen faith?
Jewish.

2.) Please briefly describe the basis of your faith, as you see it. (Feel free to quote a brief sacred text which illustrates this description for you.)
Judiasm is based on monotheism (the idea that there is one God), and is equally based on living an ethical, moral life. Actually believing in God is optional.

3.) Were you (and your mate) raised in your chosen faith? If not, how did you learn about it?
Yes, my husband and I were both raised Jewish, but in different ways.

4.) What is the most compelling element of your chosen faith, for you?
I would choose to be Jewish even if I hadn’t been born to it. Here’s why. (I am describing the style of Judaism I was raised with. As with most religions, there are other “flavors” that may not agree with everything I say. But my rabbi does, and so do most Reform and Conservative rabbis and their congregations.)

Judaism does not require you to suspend your intellect. It doesn’t insist that you believe in miracles, the literal truth of biblical stories or even in God. It does encourage you to question and think for yourself. Its primary goal is to guide and encourage people to lead ethical, moral lives and to treat other people well.

Judaism has no interest in converting or persuading others to Judaism. It doesn’t insist that Judaism is the only “true” way. It doesn’t tell people that are not Jewish that there will be “consequences” to not being Jewish.

It has virtually no political structure, in that there is no “chief rabbi,” and no dogma handed down. The only political structure is the tumult of each synagogue with their rabbi, cantor and board of directors. The appropriate comment here is, I think, Oy. No dogma?? Two Jews = three synagogues + 5 opinions. [Old joke: One Jew, stranded on a desert island, builds two synagogues. Why? The other one’s “the one I wouldn’t be caught dead in.”]
Judaism has almost no interest in the afterlife. Everything about it is concerned with this life, and living a good, honorable life. There is no “burn in hell,” there is no concept of “original sin.” Judaism tells you that you should act in a moral way not in order to “buy” yourself a “reward” in the afterlife, but simply because it’s the right thing to do.

In Christianity, one goes to confession, and the priest gives penance, after which the sin is absolved and one is “clean” again; at least, that’s how I understand it. In Judaism’s equivalent, Yom Kippur, one appeals directly to God to be forgiven for one’s “sins” – But! You can’t be forgiven until you’ve asked the people you’ve wronged for forgiveness, and done something to (attempt to) make your misdeeds right.

In Christianity (as I understand it), one often goes through clergy or prays through intermediaries like saints. (Maybe more so in the past than now??) In Judaism, if you want it, everyone has a direct line to God. (I guess I know that Christians also believe they can pray directly to God, but the custom seems to be to often go through an intermediary.)

Also, on all the political and cultural issues that are important to me, Judaism comes out on the “right” side of the issue: gay rights, women’s rights, reproductive freedoms, diversity issues, etc. (Although Jews of a different political outlook from mine can also find Jewish communities that reflect those points of view, I’m sure.)
midwestbuddha: (God hows it going)
First, some background info: the purpose of these interviews is to bring people of all faiths closer together by promoting understanding of different perspectives. Enjoy! And if you would like to be interviewed, I am currently looking for someone who can tell me about their viewpoint as a Hindu or Sufi. Just comment here and I'll contact you. Thanks!


Interview With [livejournal.com profile] mr_picard in Germany--thanks again, Alex! Readers: Please note that many of my regular questions didn't apply, but I've retained Alexander's original answers. In some cases, I felt the lack of a traditional answer very illustrative of this belief system itself. In others, I simply appreciated Alex's sense of humor. :D Enjoy.

1.) What is your chosen faith?
- I'm an atheist. Which means I *have* no faith.

2.) Please briefly describe the basis of your faith, as you see it. (Feel free to quote a brief sacred text which illustrates this description
for you.)

- The basis for atheism is that there is no God.

3.) Were you (and your mate) raised in your chosen faith? If not, how did you learn about it?
- (I do not have a mate.) I was not raised an atheist, my parents are/were protestants. I was not raised in that faith, however. I was just baptized as a baby because it's what everyone does. I was sent to a protestant kindergarten because it's what everyone does. I had protestant religion classes in school because I was a protestant. I could have stopped those at least, but then I would have been forced to take ethics classes, which, in my opinion, would have been just as boring. Teenagers don't particularly care for school classes, no matter what subject they're about. ;) I left church a few years ago because I was not about to pay church tax - why would I pay taxes in order to support something I have never believed in?

4.) What is the most compelling element of your chosen faith, for you?
- That I don't have to speculate on what some entity/deity wants or does not want me to do.

5.) How often do you experience others’ prejudices directed toward you regarding your faith(s)? (i.e. daily, weekly? Is this a common or
uncommon occurrence?)

- Fairly uncommon. Religion is not a very important part of peoples' lives over here. An atheist is not uncommon. People just don't really care about such things. It's also not common to talk about your beliefs over here, which is why no one would ask about it unless it's an official function and they need your data for registering you for something (citizenship and such). Religion (or the lack of) is seen as something deeply private.

6.) Would you briefly describe one such incident, how it made you feel and what you did about it?
- I was once bullied via AIM by a right-wing Christian who was telling me all about how wrong I was and how I'd end up in hell. It made me angry. I was not trying to impose anything on him, so why did he feel free to try and pressure me into believing what he did?

7.) If you could dispel the most common misconception about your faith, what would it be and how would you go about it?
- Atheists are not horrible persons. In fact, I think I turned out fairly decently. I am quite capable of behaving despite not having any rules set for myself by whatever deity there is.

8.) If you left a previous faith for the one you now call your own, why did you do so and how do you feel about your previous faith?
- I never had any faith in the first place.

9.) If there were one thing you could change or eliminate about your faith, what would it be?
- Nothing.

10.) Does your faith require certain types of clothing be worn or avoided?
- No.

11.) Does your faith restrict you from eating certain foods?
- No.

12.) What advice would you give to someone who’s considering joining your faith?
- Make it so.

13.) What is your faith’s most widely celebrated holiday, if any? (Brief descriptions welcome.)
- Is there a national atheism day in the US? I don't know. There definitely is none over here.

14.) What are the taboos relating to your faith?
- Only the general taboos that society has agreed upon, but they have nothing to do with atheism.

15.) Does your faith encourage belief in an afterlife? (i.e. heaven, hell, purgatory, nirvana, reincarnation, etc.)
- I don't know. I don't think about such things. Which, I believe, is why I'm an atheist.

16.) Does your faith encourage belief in more than one deity?
- I don't believe in ANY deity.

17.) What healing methods are practiced by your faith? (Brief descriptions encouraged.)
- Medical ones? lol Cold, hard medical science? I don't know.

18.) Does your faith embrace many sects? If so, feel free to name and briefly describe the differences.
- Atheism isn't a faith. It is the lack of faith. Therefore sects, which tend to believe in this or that deity, entity, whatever - would be illogical.

19.) If you are part of a bi-faith marriage, briefly describe an incident you had with a conflict and how you dealt with it…
- A certain bald starship captain I *would* like to marry is one of the most die-hard atheists in the entire galaxy, actually. ;)
midwestbuddha: (not that different)
Do you know someone who is so beloved by animals that they immediately cuddle up to them? Someone who has had things stolen from them and inexplicably returned? Who is “religious” about what they eat and how much they weigh? How about someone who is active in politics and has a progressive mind set? Know anyone who is tolerant of others? What about that person who is genuinely interested in other people? Who gets spotted in a crowd and everyone sings or claps? Do you know someone who moves toward what they dislike in order to change it instead of away? How about that person you know that dropped out of college to pursue a different career path? Who do you know that is a perfectionist? Someone who composes songs? Someone who has helped another get started? What about that person you know that names their characters after family members? Do you know someone whose mother still knits them sweaters?

What do all these people have in common? They were all one person: Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers Neighborhood.

I was lucky enough to read this article in a friend’s journal the other day. And I found myself wondering, even though he was a Presbyterian minister, if Fred Rogers might not also be Buddhist…because he certainly personified many Eastern principles as well.

I’ve written before about how the idealism behind all faiths is essentially the same. But what about the term “neighbor” itself? The days of borrowing a cup of sugar or having a bit of gossip over the backyard fence are mostly behind us. So it seems to me we have to think in terms of everyone being our neighbor...especially when people are as close as a click or Skype away. With that in mind, you want to look for the qualities listed above as a good reference point for how you choose neighbors. And, interestingly, they probably won’t be the people you expected!

My husband is one of those people that animals love. To our mutual embarrassment, I’m usually ready to cuddle up to anyone else’s pet we come across—but invariably the animal runs right to him! My boss, being a power lifter, is very careful about what he eats and that he weighs enough for his meets. I once enjoyed dinner in a group with Mark Lenard (who played Spock’s father in Star Trek the Original Series). I never forgot how he wanted to hear all about every one of us instead of talk about himself—not what you’d expect in an actor! And I have a cousin who is bravely writing a memoir about her family. Just yesterday, we met a man named Chris on the street who asked us for a dollar. He told us he lives at a homeless shelter downtown, but on the weekends visits his elderly mother and helps her do things she can’t around her home.

I’m proud to have all of these people as my neighbors. Won’t you tell me about yours?
midwestbuddha: (dear jesus)
First, some background info: the purpose of these interviews is to bring people of all faiths closer together by promoting understanding of different perspectives. Enjoy! And if you would like to be interviewed, I am currently looking for someone who can tell me about their viewpoint as an Athiest or Jewish person. Just comment here and I'll contact you. Thanks!

Interview With [livejournal.com profile] fleurette:

1.) What is your chosen faith?

I am a Christian...a Christ follower.

2.) Please briefly describe the basis of your faith, as you see it. (Feel
free to quote a brief sacred text which illustrates this description for
you.)


From the Bible; John 3:16; For God so loved the world, He gave his only
begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have
eternal life.

God's son, Jesus, was sent to live as a man, and to take on the sins of man in order to take man's punishment upon Himself, so that we can be saved. God is Holy, untouchable, but through Jesus, who intercedes on our behalf, we can each have a relationship with Him.

3.) Were you (and your mate) raised in your chosen faith? If not, how did you learn about it?

I was raised more or less, in the Roman Catholic Church, which is a major
segment of Christianity. I was baptized, that is, sprinkled with holy water
in a traditional ceremony when I was a baby, and I attended Catholic school
in first and second grades, during which time I took my first Holy
Communion, Protestant Christian school in third and fourth grades, two
(secular) public schools in fifth grade, and back to the same Catholic
school for grades 6 through 8, during which time I was confirmed in the
Church. High school was secular and private, yet it was during that time I did the most spiritual seeking.

My mom was raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, and so my dad, who was
raised Protestant, had to take instruction and promise to raise me Catholic,
but really as a family, we didn't practice the traditions on a regular
basis, and to my mind, became progressively less Catholic in tradition,
though not necessarily less Christian.

I began to discover Christianity in a more personal way during my time in college...and I attended both Catholic Mass and Protestant services. When I was on a retreat with my college Christian group, I discovered people who weren't just trying to convert me, but were real, living their faith, and generously sharing it -- at the end, we wrote notes to each other...kind of like signing a yearbook or something, and the chaplain referred to me as a committed Christian, and I decided, why not?

4.) What is the most compelling element of your chosen faith, for you?

There is nothing we can do to deserve God's love. He gives it
freely if you just ask. God's love and forgiveness is for everyone...even me!

5.) How often do you experience others prejudices directed toward you regarding your faith(s)? (i.e. daily, weekly? Is this a common or uncommon occurrence?)

I've been lucky enough not to have experienced much of this prejudice
directly, but I see it often enough to realize that it is a common
occurrence. Most of the prejudice is directed toward the negative
stereotype of the evangelical Christian. Back when I was in high school and college, the televangelist scandals were at their ugly peak, and it felt almost like there was a stigma attached to being a "born again" Christian, and even now, people sometimes assume you to be close-minded and bigoted if you happen to be Christian.

6.) Would you briefly describe one such incident, how it made you feel and what you did about it?

There was only one incident, in the virtual realm, that is, entirely online. I had a subscriber to my live journal question my faith because I dared to speak as though homosexuals were people who deserve rights like anybody else. That, and the fact that I am not conservative. I don't mind friendly agree to disagree discussions, but this person, who claimed to be Christian, was mean-spirited and advocated murdering other peoples' pets, and wouldn't accept it. I deleted her, of course!

7.) What is your favorite faith tradition?

Probably singing Christmas carols...also, communion. Our church does this monthly...we eat and drink together in remembrance of what Jesus did for us.

8.) If you could dispel the most common misconception about your faith, what would it be and how would you go about it?

I think a huge misconception is that Christians are all alike, and mostly close-minded, conservative, and homophobic. Stereotypes unfortunately have their basis in truth, so it's true that there are Christians who are like that, and make it harder for those who don't fit the stereotype. Not sure how I'd dispel it except to act in such a way that others can see that I am not like that at all.

9.) If you left a previous faith for the one you now call your own, why did you do so and how do you feel about your previous faith?

I never left my faith, but I did switch the way I practiced it. I found a church in which I felt comfortable and accepted in, and it just wasn't Catholic. The Roman Catholic church is a big part of my heritage and a wonderful way to worship...some of the Catholic traditions are beautiful, meaningful, and if your worship there is based on faith, and not just repeating the actions, it can be a true blessing. Christians worship the same God, but not in the same way, and that's perfectly OK.

10.) If there were one thing you could change or eliminate about your faith, what would it be?

I think I'd just encourage more openness and sharing between denominations.

11.) Does your faith require certain types of clothing be worn or avoided?

Not mine personally, though there are requirements/restrictions in some denominations, and among some clergy and other individuals.

12.) Does your faith restrict you from eating certain foods?

No, but again there are some denominations and even some individuals who consider dietary restrictions based on their faith.

13.) What advice would you give to someone whos considering joining your faith?

I'd say go for it...don't worry, you really don't have to be perfect...it's perfectly fine to be a work in progress!

14.) What is your faiths most widely celebrated holiday, if any? (Brief descriptions welcome.)

Christmas and Easter, both celebrated widely and in a secular way, but Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, and Easter celebrates His resurrection from the dead.

15.) What are the taboos relating to your faith?

Blasphemy...denouncing God, which I think is pretty universal. Some denominations would include specific examples of depravity, sexual immorality, drug and alcohol abuse...but there are a lot of variables.

16.) Does your faith encourage belief in an afterlife? (i.e. heaven, hell, purgatory, nirvana, reincarnation, etc.)

Heaven and Hell. Purgatory as well for Catholics.

17.) Does your faith encourage belief in more than one deity?

Not at all. However, we do believe in the Holy Trinity, which is God the
Father, God the Son (Jesus) and God the Holy Spirit. These are three
persons in the same God...three aspects of one deity, all holy, all
powerful, all knowing.

18.) What healing methods are practiced by your faith? (Brief descriptions encouraged.)

Simple prayer for healing...in which one asks God to heal someone.
Anointing with oil in conjunction with such prayer.
There are sometimes people who God grants the power to heal, but the point is: God is doing the healing, and man is just the instrument.
Healing by the medical profession -- God provides us with skilled people to do his work.

19.) Does your faith embrace many sects? If so, feel free to name and briefly describe the differences.

Many! For example, the Roman Catholic church has many traditions, including praying the rosary...a set of beads, each bead denoting a particular prayer, the sign of the cross, "in the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit (Ghost)" while touching head, chest and shoulders. Sitting, standing, kneeling at different parts of the service. In the Christian and Missionary Alliance church I attend, we sing songs of praise together, and listen to the pastor talk about how the stories in the Bible relate to us...which is actually a common thread between every Protestant and Catholic church service I've ever attended. In many African American churches there is a rich tradition of Gospel music, and there is much loud, worshipful participation...some churches are quiet and traditional, others are louder and more contemporary, but the message is the same!

20.) If you are part of a bi-faith marriage, briefly describe an incident you had with a conflict and how you dealt with it.

I'm not married; although my parents came from different denominations, I
don't consider it bi-faith because they're simply different, yet both valid
traditions of honouring the same God. They never had a problem with it,
though I hear of Catholic/Protestant marriages sometimes going through that.
I would say a couple should try and focus on what they have in common rather than where they differ.


Thank you so much, [livejournal.com profile] fleurette! Feel free to share your experiences with this faith in comments below.

Namaste, all!
midwestbuddha: (cat meditating)
Are pets Buddhists? They do seem to have an intimate understanding of the five hindrances to enlightenment: anger, attachment, restlessness, sleepiness and doubt.

Take the cats we have had:

Sunny talked and cried. His demands went on endlessly (to be let into the bedroom, usually). Even if he did give up and go downstairs, you would hear about it in the morning!

Funny…but how often do we humans become attached to what we fancy we must have? How often do we find ourselves doggedly (or, cattedly) pursuing happiness?

Then there was his sister, Butch. Butch would join the others in milling about my legs at meal time. But if someone else got the first bite she was hissing. And if another cat came near while she was allowing you to pet her, you could expect hissing at the very least.

I know, you’re thinking: “What a Butch!” But I finally figured her out.

Judging by the size of Sunny, Butch was the runt of the litter. She probably had to fight to get food growing up. I started to see Butch as conditioned to aversion, habitually reacting to old problems without a sense of connectedness to other beings.

Do you know someone like this? Well, maybe she’s just…a Butch.

Our first cat was the Duchess. When Duchess came to live at our house she took up residence in the basement and we didn’t set eyes on her for three weeks. Duchess, you see, was afraid of loud noises, strangers, laughter, sudden movements--and Butch.

You could usually find Duchess in the basement—although she did come upstairs if her food dish was empty or she sensed I had on my favorite pair of black trousers. She’d jump into my lap, purring loudly, until she judged enough of her white hair had coated them sufficiently. But let someone walk in the room suddenly—and she’d be off like a shot!

She was just a scaredy cat.

How often do we humans do this: scare ourselves with or run away from things…through doubt?

And then there was Mr. Dingle.

Dingle’s green eyes were quite captivating, especially when he gave you his “killer cute” look while sprawled on his back.

Dingle couldn’t stand being inside. He was a walking advertisement for restlessness—and could hear a door to the outside open, no matter where he was in our house. It didn’t matter if he was napping or having a good wrestle with one of the other cats—he could hear that door open and was there in ten seconds flat. My evening greeting to Mr. Dingle routinely consisted of, “Get back!” as I held him aside at the front door while retrieving the mail.

Once, Dings escaped for four days—a classic case of “Looking for Mr. Dingle”--while I fretted and mourned. Finally, he showed up, covered in motor oil and very hungry.

From time to time before, he’d ventured out briefly, of course—but rain would send him back in almost immediately, while snow between his toes literally stopped him in his tracks—and for two days one winter he cried and cried, as if asking irritatedly where the grass had gone, and why didn’t we bring it back right now?

How often do humans do this: become restless for some unnamable, unknowable more—and then when we finally get the thing, we discover it’s not, after all, what we really wanted, anyway?

Every time I consider them: Sunny—caught by attachment, Butch—torn by aversion, Duchess—separated by doubt, and Mr. Dingle, with eyes so big—restless for the wide, wonderful, sometimes painful unknown, I realize anew how the hindrances are related. Sunny’s attachment also showed anger, Butch’s anger her fear of loss, Duchess’ doubt, so like Butch’s sense of separation and Dingle’s restlessness, filled with so much attachment…

I’m thankful to have known these feline teachers, now gone, but once placed in my life to show me the effects of the five hindrances, and how I must be aware of them.

But…what about sleepiness, you ask? Well, that’s actually a dog story—so that will have to wait for another day.
midwestbuddha: (tree)
I once attended a production entitled The Reality Bathtub. The theme of the play was a wistful look at why people don’t act as they believe—openly and honestly, instead of saying one thing and doing another.

For instance, picture these scenes:

A housewife is shown, playing the Mrs. Cleaver role to the hilt, serving her family breakfast and reminding the kids not to miss the school bus, when two policemen come to the door. They inform the family that neighbors have reported a sudden rash of obscene phone calls, and they’re investigating. Shocked, the mother denies any knowledge of these events, and bids them goodbye with all the saccharin at her disposal. (In a subsequent scene, this same woman is revealed as the obscene prankster.)

In another scene, a man vehemently accuses and condemns his son as gay. (Later we see the father in a romantic encounter with another man).

And so on…..

Later, two girls appear sitting in a bathtub marked REALITY in large, red letters along one side. They briefly discuss the theme—why are other people this way? If only, etc. Then, as each character in the play is revealed as their true selves, they take off an outer garment and drape themselves on or near the bathtub with the others.

It was only afterward that I posed some mental questions to myself: “What if your bathtub is inside a larger bathtub? Or…what if everyone has their own bathtub?”

In any event, the image of the Reality Bathtub stayed in my mind, and I found myself pondering it once again at sangha the next morning. During walking meditation I began to contemplate the concept of reality For instance:

When we walk toward an object, it appears to move—not only toward us, but often up and down as well. Suppose…we didn’t know the object wasn’t moving? I mean, how do we really know what reality is? Well, I thought—the obvious way: we can feel and see ourselves moving forward, toward the object, not vice versa. And we have also been taught that this is how reality works…

But even so, what if we didn’t have this knowledge?

One of the things practicing Buddhism does is bring your awareness pointedly toward whatever concepts you cling to most fiercely, and with all the compassion of the Noble Ones, then blithely rubs your nose in them….. So it was for me, as I began to realize how often I had been judgmental of my fellow beings just because what they understood about the nature of reality was different than my own concept!

I returned to my contemplation of a tree just outside the window of the dharma center, and tried to imagine all the ways I might perceive its movement, if I had never reached my current understanding of the nature of reality. For instance:

If I walked down a street and saw a tree move, might I assume that my walking made it move? Quite possibly. But what if, on another street on a windy day, the trees moved when I didn’t, could I conclude that some other person’s footsteps had moved them? Or that I could only move the trees on the previous street?

Why yes—I might conclude anything.

There is a wonderful book by Shunryu Suzuki called Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind which addresses just these issues: that, in order to become enlightened, one must fully examine every experience as though it has never happened to one before, and therefore one can have formed about it no preconceived notions.

So, now—you try. I’ll turn my back while you slip into the Reality Bathtub. Now, what do you see? Nothing yet? Well…that’s okay.

You see, being in the tub isn’t nearly as important as the realization that its sides are both flexible and transparent. That means: your reality doesn’t end when it hits a barrier called “me”—and I can see inside your tub, because when I look at you I also see myself.

Could you pass the soap, please? Meanwhile, keep looking. You never know what you’ll see next…
midwestbuddha: (tree)
A friend and I once had a wonderful, philosophical conversation on the subject of karma. He thought each being chooses the pattern of their life before birth, while I was of the opinion that each life is shaped by the karma incurred in previous lives.

So—which of us was right?

Interestingly, we’re both right.

According to Buddhism, there are six realms of existence: the four lower realms, the human realm and the higher planes, called deva and brahma.

If you’re like me, you just read that and thought: Four hells? Yep. If we allow our minds to become conditioned to anger, greed, delusion and hatred—well, let’s just say they “leave the light on for ya”.

But, when generosity and morality are practiced, karma leads us to the higher planes where beings dwell made entirely of light that live in a blissful state.

Okay—so…how can one both choose their fate before birth and accumulate positive karma to occasion rebirth in a higher realm?

Here’s how:

Many years ago, I was privileged to attend the death of my husband’s father, Eugene Jones. Privileged because I feel transitioning from this realm to the next is both wondrous and mystical.

As often happens when children are confronted by the death of a parent, my husband and his siblings began questioning what they’d always been taught about death and the afterlife. Their reactions varied from shock to feelings of abandonment, and even having been cheated.

In an effort to express comfort, I picked up Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield’s book, Seeking the Heart of Wisdom. It read:

The karma generated at the moment of death plays a crucial role in determining the circumstances of rebirth… the mind states generated by the performance or remembrance of wholesome or unwholesome actions in the last moments before dying will condition rebirth.

I had felt this at the time, as we all stood around Dad’s bedside, speaking our final, loving words to him while weeping. I had felt it at my mother’s passing too, as I thought my last words to her as she lay dying: “Thank you for my life.” Surely it was the communicating of our memories of his generous, loving actions that brought Gene what Seeking The Heart of Wisdom refers to as proximate karma, in those moments.

Or else, what happened next could not have…

For, as we sat in Dad’s hospital room, only a few moments after his last breath, a nurse put her head around the door, saying apologetically, “I’m so sorry to disturb you. But I wanted to make sure no one in here had pressed the nurse call button…the strangest thing just happened: every light on the floor just went on. I’ve never seen anything like it! We have to check all the rooms to see if anyone needs help…”

Goodbye, Dad, I thought to myself, I’m glad you’re a deva now.

Gene Jones, by everyone’s account, was an extraordinary individual. Literally everyone at his funeral had a story to tell about his sense of humor, his patience, generosity—but especially, his kindness. One of the boys my husband had played with as a child, now a minister, delivered an address centered around Dad’s favorite answer when someone asked how he was: “Simply splendid!” That was Dad: responding to each new day, each moment, with positive karmic actions. And therefore, choosing his own rebirth in the deva realm.

My e-mail friend was recently distressed and frustrated by all the waves of illness he’s endured in his lifetime. Despite his point of view, he questioned: Why would I choose such a difficult and painful life for myself?

Buddhism teaches that the human plane of existence is the perfect realm in which to earn merit (good karma). This is because it is the middle ground between the perfection of the heavenly realms and the torment of the hells.

Does this answer your question, my friend? You live this painful life to perform merit despite it…and therefore occasion your own rebirth in a happier realm.

So—do we choose our fate, or does karma?

Both, is the answer!

Ah, I know what you’re thinking now: Simply Splendid!

Risk

Jun. 29th, 2011 08:29 pm
midwestbuddha: (life is not serious or permanent)
When the postman tossed the mail onto my desk at work I suddenly stopped to look more closely at the magazine on top. The cover showed a man almost completely covered in honey bees! The title above him was one simple word:

Risk.

Later that day, I found that the image of the man covered in bees, unmoving, unblinking (risk) stayed with me. And I started thinking about what spiritual risk really means for most of us.

There is a risk we take when we share our deepest fears, beliefs, even our wildest dreams, worst memories and personal disasters with others—the confessions of wrongdoing, the catalog of our mistakes. Ironically, it seems that sharing these things with people we love is harder than with strangers—why?

Because in doing so, we risk losing the image they have of us.

But, what is this image? Is it in our eyes, our face, our body? Does it arise as a result of our actions or of our character?

The Dalai Lama is famous for saying at the beginning of his talks, “Some of you have come here expecting something.” Then he’ll give a toss of his head—throwing off your image of him, perhaps?—and continue while smiling, “Don’t expect so much…”

So—how does one go about learning to take spiritual risks? And, for that matter, are there right and wrong risks to take, spiritually?

Yes. I think so.

One right risk to take is forgiveness

This is especially hard, for we always fear we will be hurt again. And many people associate forgiveness with condoning abuse, which it does not. Forgiveness simply says: I acknowledge you hurt me, I choose not to hurt either of us any more by holding on to what happened, and that it no longer matters.

This does not mean you re-open yourself to abuse. In fact, to do so could actually be dangerous. What it does mean is that you mentally release the image you had of the other person. And, truly, of yourself…

Another right risk—and closely related to forgiveness—is generosity. Buddhist texts tell us:

“There are these five seasonable gifts. Which five? One gives to a newcomer. One gives to one going away. One gives to one who is ill. One gives in time of famine. One sets the first fruits of field & orchard in front of those who are virtuous. These are the five seasonable gifts.”

In giving, there is often the risk that what we give will go unappreciated or unrewarded. But karma teaches that all generosity is amply rewarded, even when given with the intention of receiving in return.

Yet another risk is speaking your faith.

It always feels like a risk to open that part of our hearts to others that has experienced the sacred. Beings ignorant or frightened of other faiths might consider Buddhists, for example, to be “idol worshipers”. There is also rampant misconception about the Buddhist view on the existence of a supreme being—and this sometimes attracts ridicule, or even contempt…

Nevertheless, we must follow the Noble Eightfold Path—we must practice right speech and right action in these matters.

Ok, what about wrong risks?

The perfect example is: non-practice. Here is a good rule of thumb I learned from my sangha: never read more than you sit. In other words, it is not your advanced knowledge of the sutras that will lead you to Nirvana—but instead it is the calluses on your behind!

Incidentally, this is one reason why I have chosen Buddhism as my faith—because you can occasionally refer to the state of your behind and not be thrown out of the program! (grin)

The risk here is that by not practicing and seeing the results of your practice each day, fear and doubt may creep in. And, as we know, allowing even one of the five hindrances within our minds brings with it all of the others as well.

So—keep sitting meditating (praying, chanting) even if only fifteen minutes per day. Doing so effectively eliminates the risk of losing your faith. Although you could possibly lose…
…your image of yourself…

Good Luck!

Moments

Jun. 14th, 2011 07:56 pm
midwestbuddha: (silence)
There are times in life when simple awareness can be extraordinarily comforting. The five hindrances can be such a frequent part of our lives—feelings of anger, fear, restlessness, desire, (even sleepiness!)—that one clear moment can bring us back to the here and now with astounding grace and beauty…

Consider the foggy morning I was standing at the bus stop, fretting over the duties I had before me to accomplish that day at the office. Out of the blue, I noticed a car coming toward me had the most amazing aura around it I’d ever seen! What’s happening here? I thought. I continued to watch for a moment as the car passed my position. As the next car passed and the next, I saw they all had this amazing glow about them—it was the fog, of course: a multitude of microscopic droplets of water, refracting the headlights of each car as it passed in a golden haze—like a candle, upon a far sill.

Suddenly, I realized there is a part of my heart that rejoices in these small moments of beautiful awareness. And I started thinking about other moments I had known:

The first summer I moved in with Dave and the kids there was a lot of adjusting to do—this was the most people I’d ever lived with in my life! So, of course there were conflicts. One evening I went out on the front steps to brood…angry and frustrated thoughts roiling in my brain.

Gradually, I noticed there was a lovely glimmer to the grass…and a moment later I could clearly focus on a spider’s web caught amongst a few moist and shimmering blades. Wasn’t that extraordinary! Look at the way the slanting evening sunlight catches the web and makes it sparkle! I started to think about all the little creatures living at that level of our world—wondering what their lives were like. How wonderful! I thought—to have no care in the world besides bumbling along, carrying food back to your family. No one among those blades worries about what someone said to them or whether they can live with another’s messy habits. How amazing the simple, peaceful lives that go on under our feet, every day. What we humans could learn from ants about acceptance and equanimity!

Or, for that matter, what we could learn from moths about courage and fortitude…

While I worked at a restaurant, one of our cooks, Alan, came to me during the morning. There was something he wanted me to see at one of the dining room windows. Suspecting one of the usual tricks—our cooks were always up to something—I approached the pane with caution.

As it turned out, what Alan wanted me to see was on the window, not through it--a tiny white moth, no larger than the nail on my index finger.

Alan had traded a shift with someone else so he could work this morning and have the evening off. So I really didn’t know him very well. But what I was to learn in the next few moments was a new awareness—not only of my world, but of one of the people I saw every day…

He pointed at the window. “Look.”

I looked.

“No, really,” he smiled quietly. “Look.”

This time I noticed the moth wasn’t just sitting on the glass…it was clinging to it. The brisk March wind tugged at the little creature, ruffling what looked like snowy fur along its thorax. Still, it never moved. What holds it on there? I wondered, examining its tiny, insectile claws closely.

Amazing! I remember thinking. Is this the way all life is: from this tiny creature to…me, to my neighbor, to my enemy? All just clinging to life, maybe not even knowing how or why?

How fragile life is!

And how fragile our emotions…how easy it is to get caught up in the fear, anger or doubt of the moment! Awareness—that’s the key. To look around, notice gifts of spirit in the world all around us, and to know that the next extraordinary moment of life is just around the corner—waiting to be discovered…
midwestbuddha: (buddha)
Namaste, Readers! Know that if you are just joining this column, you can scroll back one entry to find part one of this article. :)


In his travels, Siddhartha was once asked, “Are you a god?”
He answered, “No.”
“Are you a wizard, then?”
“No.”
“Then, you are a man?”
Again the answer: “No.”
“Then, what are you?”
“I am awake,” came the wise response.

With this incident, the Buddha taught that simple awareness was the key to the understanding of all things.

Although Jesus taught that all things are in the hands of God almighty, he also seems to have believed that the common man held much more personal spiritual power than he realized…as, when performing miracles, Jesus would say: “Go thou, and do likewise.”

There are many stories of the miracles Jesus performed: the loaves and the fishes, healings…and, of course, his resurrection and ascent to Heaven.

Likewise, there are stories of great battles ended by the Buddha with a simple touch of his hand to Mother Earth, causing her to tremble in witness of his right to win them.

Regarding miracles, Borg’s book quotes:

“Truly, I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” --Mathew 17:20

A monk who is skilled in concentration can cut the Himalayas in two. --Anguttara Nikaya 6.24


According to Marcus Borg, the one major difference between Jesus and Buddha was Jesus’ social and political passion, which the Buddha apparently didn’t possess. He also believes that this accounts for Jesus’ public activity being so brief by comparison. Here are some passages that seem to support this:

“Whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you.’” --Luke 10:10-11

“The wise man does not befriend the faithless, the avaricious and the slanderous, or the one who stirs up strife; the wise avoid the wicked.” --Udanavarga 25.1


To obtain salvation, they taught:

“Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” --Mathew 5:19

“These worthy beings who were well-conducted in body and mind, after death have reappeared in a happy destination, even in the heavenly world. But those worthy beings who were ill-conducted in body and mind, after death, have reappeared in the realm of ghosts.” --Majjhima Nikaya 130.2


Now, read these passages from The Parallel Sayings regarding the deaths of these two awesome figures:

Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. --Mathew 27: 50-51

At the Blessed Lord’s final passing there was a great earthquake, terrible and hair-raising, accompanied by thunder. --Digha Nikaya 16.6.10


I can find no better way to end this review than by closing as Borg does, and quoting the famous poet, Kipling:

There is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth, /When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!

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midwestbuddha

June 2012

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