Monday, July 25, 2011
Friday, July 22, 2011
We have enough religion to make us hate,
but not enough to make us love one another.
--Jonathan Swift, 1706
What our distressed planet needs are xenophiliacs. A xenophile is one who loves and appreciates people who are different. The term comes from two Greek words: xenos (a stranger, foreigner or something unknown) and philos (love). Put together the word literally means “love of the stranger”. It's the complete opposite of xenophobia, those who dislike and even hate people who are different than themselves.
Consider the above quote from Jonathan Swift. It's deeply troubling because of it's truth. Even in the early 18th century author Jonathan Swift observed the dark side of religion. Today, in the early 21st century the truth of his observation can be seen in world-wide conflicts: Muslims and Jews in the middle east; Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland; Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics in various parts of Eastern Europe. There's just enough religion to make people hate but not enough to make them love one another.
Of course, it doesn't have to be that way. If even a few people who adhere to a religion would practice what their faith teaches, it could make all the difference in the world. Some inspiring teachings from the religions which generate the most conflict today include:
* From Judaism: "What does the Lord require of you...to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8, Hebrew bible)
* From Christianity: "Love your enemies and bless those who persecute you." (Matthew 5:43) Also, "Love one another." (John 13:34) Both quotes are those of Jesus.
* From Islam: "A true Muslim is one who does not defame or abuse others; but the truly righteous becomes a refuge for humankind, their lives and properties." (The prophet Muhammad)
For planet earth to be a safer and more hospitable place, it needs more xenophiliacs. That's the essence of true religion. The Chinese sage, Confucius taught: “Is there any one maxim which out to be acted upon throughout one's whole life? Surely the maxim of loving kindness is such.”
Sunday, July 17, 2011
You're alive. That's good.
Lower the bar! - John Tarrant
The word zoetic is an uncommon English word which means “pertaining to life” and implies living which is vital and thriving. Perhaps there have been times in your life when you felt incredibly alive, happy and thriving. At that time you could have described yourself as “zoetic”.
However, many people could not be described that way. They feel they are simply stumbling and struggling through life. Yet, the quote by John Tarrant is well worth reflection upon: “You're alive. That's good. Lower the bar!” To live a life which is rich with meaning, lowering the bar is an excellent idea. Too often our expectations are far too high. We want the best of everything: the best marriage, the best family,the best job, the best education, the best friends etc., and when life does not produce our ideal we become disappointed and, sometimes, even despairing. When things don't work out the way we want them to in our lives, it's worth reminding ourselves: “You're alive. That's good. Lower the bar.”
When we do that, positive energies are activated and we are able to respond with an openness and creativity to life as it unfolds. Consider the example of George Takei, a television actor who appeared in many programs including the Start Trek series. He was born into a Japanese American family. During World War II he grew up in internment camps surrounded by barbed wire and machines. “A searchlight followed us on night runs to the latrine. After the war my parents couldn't find housing and I had a teacher who called me 'little Jap boy' “, he recalls. In spite of injustice and harsh treatment, Takei forgave all. “My parents taught me that being bitter only pickles the one that stews in the bring.” He found forgiving others to be personally “liberating.” Rather than lament the state of his life, Takei said, in effect, “You're alive. That's good. Lower the bar!” In so doing, he went on to have an unusually successful career as an actor.
Perhaps today, if you are feeling discouraged about your life, offer yourself this reminder: “You're alive. That's good. Now, lower the bar!" That way you can nudge yourself from dismay and depression to a zoetic life.
Saturday, July 9, 2011
All beings, without any exception, should be the object
of our love and compassion. Cultivate the same attitude
for all beings as you would feel for your father, mother,
or those whom you love the most. - Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche
A man fondly recalls a time when he was a small boy pleading with his parents for a dog as his pet. At the time he and his family were living in Japan because his father's study had brought them there for 12 months. When he asked for a dog, his parents said he'd have to wait until they all returned to the the United States.
Then, a few days later his parents said he could have another kind of pet. They took him to the local outdoor bazaar and bought a pet for him: it was a grasshopper which came complete with a small bamboo cage. When they got home, his parents taught him how to care for it by feeding it fruits and vegetables. As he offered the little creature a variety of such foods, he discovered the little grasshopper was especially fond of cucumbers and watermelon. Though he had wanted a dog, the boy was now intrigued with this little addition to the family.
One day his mother was preparing flowers for a class she was taking on the Japanese art of flower arrangement. He took the grasshopper out of its cage and put it on the flower blossom of one of her trail arrangements. The little grasshopper began eating away at the blossom. Because the creature seemed so content there, when the son and mother left the house, they simply left the grasshopper on the flower arrangement. When they returned he was still there. Even though he could have easily escaped, he never even tried to do so. When the grasshopper died two month later, the young man cried and grieved the loss deeply.
That story comes from the life of Mark Unno. Today, he is a priest in the Shin Buddhist tradition and a professor specializing in East Asian religions. His experience with a pet grasshopper is instructive for deepening compassion.
It's worth nothing the word compassion literally means “to feel with”. It's equally worth nothing that compassion can be extended not only to humans, non only to beloved traditional pets but to all creatures, even tiny insects. We must not make the error of assigning compassion only to humans and larger animals because they have a mind. The reality is that even small insects have a mind, meaning they have pleasures and exhibit fears. That's what this little boy learned from his pet grasshopper. More of us need to practice such boundless compassion for all sentient beings. The next time you see someone kill and ant or spider, wince. Do your part to educate children and adults to have boundless compassion for all creatures. Do this first by example and secondly by your words.
Friday, July 1, 2011
Buddhism is one of the world's oldest religions dating back to the sixth century. However, unlike other religions which are based on a supreme being, Buddhism is agnostic about God. It is based not upon a Divinity but upon these four basic truths. So here is basic Buddhism in 50 words or less!
1. Life is not perfect.
2. People will be unsatisfied trying to make life perfect.
3. There is a better way to find meaning and fulfillment in life.
4. That better way is by living one's life through mental discipline or meditation (which leads to wisdom) combined with ethical conduct.