INTERSPIRITUAL INSIGHTS AND INSPIRATIONS
Below is 98 days of interspiritual insights & inspirations viewed from a Buddhist perspective. No matter what worldview — Native American, Zoroastrian, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Sikhism and others — there are parallels whenever the goal is the promotion of human flourishing. Pluralistic thinking is key when finding connections with those whose worldview differs. We retain our own commitments while respecting the commitments of others directed toward positive personal, social and community development.
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments. Your insights will give others inspiration.
I bow with respect,
APRIL 14, 2011 – Hello all, Those of you who are following Daily Insights have notice by now that I am deviating from the original book they were coming out of. Interspiritual Insights and Inspirations can come from so many sources and hey, everything changes, impermanence and all that
Today, while cleaning out the drawers in an old desk I came across a book. Actually more than just a book it was like finding a friend who once helped you through some difficult times. Flipping through the slightly yellowing pages (it was published in 1965) I found the notes I had made in the margins.
The book is Living Wisdom from the World’s Religions, 365 Daily Readings of Insight and Inspiration, edited by George L. Abernethy. It is a small book that holds a lot of words, some wise, some might not be considered so wise but all of them have the power to make us think. It is truly an interspiritual and pluralistic tome as it does include the writings of many religious traditions.
Each day I’ll post one and a comment. Read them, ponder them, find the lessons.
Day #1 of Daily Interspiritual Insight and Inspiration
The Parable of Me and Mine (Yogacara Bhumi Sutra – Buddhism)
Some children were playing beside a river. They made castles of sand, and each child defended his castle and said, “This one is mine.” The kept their castles separate and would not allow any mistakes about which was whose. When the castles were all finished, one child kicked over someone else’s castle and completely destroyed it. The owner of the castle flew into a rage, pulled the other child’s hair, struck him with his fist and bawled out, “He has spoilt my castle! Come along all of you and help me to punish him as he deserves.” The others all came to his help. They beat the child with a stick and then stamped on him as he lay on the ground . . . . Then they went on playing in their sand-castles each saying, “This is mine, no one else may have it. Keep away! Don’t touch my castle!” But evening came; it was getting dark and they all thought they ought to be doing home. No one now cared what became of his castle. One child stamped on his, another pushed his over with both hands. Then they turned away and went back, each to his home.
This can be a great teaching parable for children. In the beginning it shows the negative consequences of MINE and how the anger and rage of one person can affect others. There are the Buddhist concepts of selfishness and ego, and causality. In the end it speaks clearly of impermanence. The children forget how staunchly they were willing to protect their sand-castles.
Do you find other lessons here?
Daily Interspiritual Insights and Inspirations – Day #2
Nonattachment — (The Invocation of Sheikh Abdullah Ansari — Islam)
My friend, wisdom lies
In abandoning heedlessness,
In turning the heart away from the worldly objects,
And in gathering provision for the hereafter
Before departure from this earth.
Wealthy men are narrow-hearted,
Others, discontented for all time,
Lament their misfortunes
Real and imagined.
The emancipated are freed
From bonds of being, and non-being:
They have broken the cage
And found their freedom,
They have emptied
The cup of desire;
They strive no more
For worldly greatness.
Freed from joy and sorrow
They have found their true self;
They dwell for ever more
In the wondrous realm of God.
Read this one more time and think sutra. The parallels, taking into consideration the culture and worldview, between Islam and Buddhism shine in this writing. I’ll pick out a few.
Heedlessness is being unaware and unmindful of what goes on around you. Buddhists meditate and practice to develop deeper awareness and a constant state of mindfulness. A Buddhist shouldn’t find any problem in turning away from worldly objects (objects being a placeholder for not only material things but also those thoughts and dispositions that hold us back) and abandoning heedlessness in order to find wisdom. Attachment to objects is a prime cause of the psychoemotional suffering that we strive to overcome.
Freed from joy and sorrow, understanding that emotions are not us, that they are impermanent feelings that pass by is part of a Buddhist discovering the not-self, just as a Muslim may practice the same to find what they see as a true self, one committed to their god. In both cases the practitioner is searching for the concept of self that puts them on a positive path.
So, who was this Sheikh? Sheikh Ansari Jabir ibn ‘Abdullah al-Ansari (1006-1089), a Persian Sufi held the titles of Sheikh al-Islam and Zayn al-Ulama (Ornament of the Scholars). In late Persian documents he was known as The Sheikh of Heret. Al-Ansari penned books on Islamic philosophy and religion. His most famous work is “Munajat Namah”, ‘Litanies or dialogues with God’, considered a masterpiece of the literature of its time. Chances are good that during that time period that al-Ansari had contact with Buddhists traveling the Silk Road.
The End is Like the Beginning (Rabbinical Ana – Judaism)
A fox saw a fine vineyard and lusted after its grapes. But the palings were placed close together, and the fox was too bulky to creep between them. For three days he fasted, and when he had grown thin, he entered into the vineyard. He feasted upon the grapes, forgetting everything but his enjoyment: and lo, he had grown stout and was unable to leave the scene of his feast. So for three more days he fasted, and when he had again grown thin, he passed through the palings and stood outside the vineyard, as thin as when he entered.
So with man; poor and naked he enters the world, poor and naked does he leave.
A rabbinical ana is an anecdote used by rabbis to teach lessons, and this is a good one. Setting aside the final line this could be a fine Buddhist parable.
Desire can motivate us to do great things, but when it is lust it is more likely to lead to bad decisions. We have all encountered our own “grapes”. There has been that something that we were willing to set aside common sense and wisdom to get.
Work with Hope (Ecclesiastes 11: 1 – 8, Judaism-Christianity)
Cast thy bread upon the waters; for thou shalt find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, yea, even unto eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth. If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth; and if a tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there shall it be. He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and that he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap. As thou knowest not what is the way of the wind, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child; even so thou knowest not the work of God who doeth all. In the morning sow they seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand; for thou knowest not which shall prosper, whether this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good. Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun. Yea, if a man live many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember the days of darkness, for they shall be many. All that cometh is vanity.
Each faith tradition holds a guiding ideal around which its philosophy is built. For the Judeo/Christian faith it is God, in Buddhism it can be said to be the Universal causal process. Pluralism is accepting the traditions of other faiths that lead their participants toward human flourishing and in this passage that goal is evident. What is, is . . . as in the tree falling. As Buddhist we recognize the Universal causal process. Do we always understand why it works the way it does? No, but we realize the truth of it.
The act of “casting bread” and “find it after many days” parallels the Buddhist principles of causality and karma. Our actions lead to consequences and it is our responsible to do good, so more good is generated.
This passage from Ecclesiastes requires action during each moment of the day so that good can come of it. And importantly, it reminds us that there will be good days and bad days; and we should approach them with wisdom born not of ego, but of practice.
The main speaker in Ecclesiastes is introduced as “son of David, and king of Jerusalem”, and the work is thought to be autobiographic in nature. Like the Sigalovada Sutra in Buddhism it presents a way to to live a life that allows one to be a positive example to others. Wisdom is proclaimed to be necessary for a life well-lived.
Sounds familiar doesn’t it?
I bow with respect,
Overcoming Men – (Mahabhrata – Hinduism)
Conquer a man who never gives by gifts;
Subdue untruthful men by truthfulness;
Vanquish an angry man by gentleness;
And overcome the evil man by goodness.
Siddhartha Guatama was a Hindu, and his teachers were Hindu. When Siddhartha looked for ways to explain to others his vision of alleviating suffering and how people should act toward each other it was the teachings of Hinduism that most likely came to his mind. In this passage from the Mahabharata lie four of the messages found in Buddhism.
Compassion and selflessness; Speak what is; Serenity without passivity; The Three Pure Precepts: Cease to do harm. Do only good. Do good for others.
The Mahabhrata has existed in different forms for over 2000 years. It began in oral form as stories of Gods, kings and warriors that priests and holy men improved and story-tellers spread across India. In approximately 350CE the Mahabhrata became a Sanskrit text containing 100,000 stanzas. Still it was fodder for minstrels and theater groups in India and SE Asia. Wonder how many times Siddhartha saw or heard the stories.
The Mahabhrata stands with another all-Indian epic, the Ramayana, are thought to be the genesis of the Hindu culture. Today their impact on the cultures of India and SE Asia are still great. They are also both powerful collections of stories with encompassing visions of Indian humanity, vengeful Gods, and the Hindu culture.
The Mahabhrata would be a great path to understanding the time and culture of Siddhartha, the historical Buddha.
Previous ones are in the Daily Interspiritual section.
I bow with respect,
In Managing Difficulties (Dao de Jing – Daoism)
Manage the difficult while they are easy;
Manage the great while they are small.
All difficult things in the world start from the easy;
All great things in the world start from the small.
The tree that fills a man’s arms arises from a tender shoot;
the nine-storied tower is raised from a heap of earth;
A thousand miles’ journey begins from the spot under one’s feet.
Therefore the sage never attempts great things, and thus he can achieve what is great.
He who makes easy promises will seldom keep his word;
He who regards many things easy will find many difficulties.
Therefore the sage regards things difficult, and consequently never has difficulties.
The historical Buddha taught that learning any skill or teaching is a gradual process. One starts knowing nothing, applies themselves and through practice their actions become so natural as to seem spontaneous. Therefore, a wise man allows himself room to learn and to practice. It is time well spent for a job well done.
Modern scholars such as Roger T. Ames (The Dao de Jing, Making Life Significant) have concluded that the Dao de Jing was not written by Laozi, or “The Old Master”, but was a collection of wise proverbs that, “when authenticated in the conduct and character of the practitioners, result in their personal transformation.”
Again, like the Buddha taught; we should put teachings into practice and verify through experiential verification whether they can result in positive personal and social development.
Mankind Revolves by Deeds (Sutta Nipata – Buddhism)
By deeds one is a farmer and by deeds
An Artisan, by deeds a trader too;
By deeds one is a servant and a thief,
By deeds a soldier and a celebrant,
And even so a rajah is by deeds.
‘Tis thus in truth the wise perceive the deed,
Seers of the origin by way of cause,
Men expert in the result of deeds. The world
Revolves by deeds, mankind revolves by deeds:
As pin holds fast the rolling chariot’s wheel,
So beings are in bondage held by deeds.
This speaks directly to any humans ability to be whatever they strive to be. It is our actions that determine what we are; not our birth place or birth circumstance, not what others tell us we are, but what we make of ourselves.
It also speaks to humans making the world what it is by their actions. It is action (deeds) that are important.
Finally, that the actions we take make us who we are. We can choose to be “in bondage” to our negative dispositions, or choose to develop and maintain more positive dispositions. It all depends on the deeds we choose to do.
The Sutta Nipata is found in the Khuddaka Nikaya, Pali Canon. There are scholars who count the Khuddaka Nikaya as the oldest of Buddhist suttas.
Lying (Al Ghazali – Islam)
Keep your tongue from lying, whether in earnest or in jest. Do not accustom yourself to lying in jest, for it may lead you to lying in earnest. Lying is one of the sources of the greater sins, and, if you come to be known as a liar, your uprightness becomes worthless, your word is not accepted, and [men's] eyes scorn and despise you. If you want to know the foulness of lying for yourself, consider the lying of someone else and how you shun it and despise the man who lies and regard his communication as foul. Do the same with regard to all your own vices, for you do not realize the foulness of your own vices from your own case, but from someone else’s. What you hold bad in another man, others will undoubtedly hold bad in you. Do not therefore be complacent about that in yourself.
One of the precepts of Buddhist is to “abstain from lying”. While you may set the finest examples of compassion, serenity and selflessness if you are known to also be a liar then your positive dispositions will be overshadowed. It is not our duty to judge others, but it is our duty to allow their reflections to show us where we need to focus our attention.
When we abhor another for lying a Buddhist is “looking into a mirror” and seeing what we abhor in ourselves. With that in mind we may “look into mirrors” and see how any other vices we harbor are also muddying the waters of our mindfulness.
Al-Ghazali (1055 – 1111 CE) was Sunni Muslim. As a philosopher, theologian and jurist, his writings and teachings had a great effect on the people of his time, and continue on today. His wisdom and rhetoric in solving the contradictions between the schools of reason and revelation are still studied by Muslim theologians, and had significant effect on medieval Latin thought.
Associations with Men (Menog-I-Khrad – Zoroastrianism)
With enemies fight with equity. With a friend proceed with the approval of friends. With a malicious man carry on no conflict, and do not molest him in any way whatever. With a greedy man you should not be a partner, and do not trust him with leadership. With a slanderous man do not go to the door of kings. With an ill-famed man form no connection. With an ignorant man you should not become a confederate and associate. With a foolish man make no dispute. With a drunken man do not walk on the road. From an ill-natured man take no loan.
This quote from an important secondary text of the Zoroastrian religion presents a great example of why practicing religious and philosophical pluralism can be a benefit to Buddhist practice. At first read, and with little knowledge of the Zoroastrian worldview this quote was confusing. So it was time for research.
“The religion was founded by Zarathushtra in Persia — modern-day Iran. It may have been the world’s first monotheistic faith. It was once the religion of the Persian empire, but has since been reduced in numbers to fewer than 200,000 today. Most religious historians believe the the Jewish, Christian and Muslim beliefs concerning God and Satan, the soul, heaven and hell, the virgin birth of the savior, slaughter of the innocents, resurrection, the final judgment, etc. were all derived from Zoroastrianism.” http://www.religioustolerance.org/zoroastr.htm
In an article on the Hinduwebsite, Jayaram V writes, “In Zoroastrianism there is a great deal of emphasis on leading a balanced life. While living upon the earth one should aim to ‘seek the maintenance and prosperity of the body without injury to soul and preservation of the soul without injurty to the body (ironically this quote is also from the Menog-I-Khrad)’. One should avoid excesses of all kinds, such as covetousness, lustfulness and unseasonable chatter. The body and soul should be well maintained by practicing the three commandments preached by Zoroaster; good thoughts, good words and good actions. Actions should be guided by the principle of moderation for the greater good of oneself and others. The body should not be subjected to extreme harshness but kept strong so that it would be immune to the evil forces.” http://www.hinduwebsite.com/zoroastrianism/practices.asp
Now, reading again the beginning quote it is clear that one should avoid contact with individuals whose motivations may not be positive (in Buddhism, their intent). For a Zoroastrian this could lead to unbalancing the soul. The concept of avoiding excess though can be seen as directly paralleling the Buddha’s teachings of moderation and the Middle Path.
Here is the experience of pluralism. While on the surface this Zoroastrian teaching seems strange, looking deeper there is an element of taking a path to positive personal and social development that parallels that of Buddhism. We practice pluralism by learning the commitments of other worldviews while strengthening the commitments of our own. This allows us to actively engage in dialogue with people that hold other worldviews.
Irony (Yoruba Proverb – African Religion)
One who has planted a hundred pieces of yam, and says he planted two hundred, will have to eat his lies when the yams are finished.
Yoruba proverbs are known for their inherent logic and the above is a great example. Perpetrating deceit when speaking with others can, and likely will result in negative consequences to the speaker.
A student/practitioner of Buddhism will clearly recognize the karmic backlash just waiting to happen in this instance. The Universal causal process also works on a type of cosmic logic. If you haven’t done what you said you’ve done you’ll know it now, others will discover it later, and there will be consquences to face.
The Yoruba people of Africa have been a culture in one form or another since the first millenium BC (the Nok). Then, archeological evidence shows they were already working with iron. For their history the Yoruba people have maintained a vibrant oral tradition of history and social proverbs, and one of beautiful and functional art.
Today there are an extimated 25 million Yoruba living centered in the northwestern part of Nigeria.
The Four Virtues (Samyutta Nikaya – Buddhism)
Who doth what seemly is and fit,
And on his back the burden bears
With vigor, he may riches find;
Speaking the truth he wins renown;
And friends by giving he will bind.
In this world and where life shall be
Thus will he lose all misery.
Whoso the Layman’s life doth seek
In pious faith and hath these four –
Veracity and self-control,
Steadfastness, generosity –
When passed away, he’ll weep no more.
The four virtues are the ethical and social practices of lay Buddhists. They are also the initial practices of the Six Refinements* of Buddhist practice; the remaining two usually directed at, but do not have to be limited to monks. The Six Refinements are: generosity, morality, tolerance, energy, meditation, wisdom.
It begins with the refinement of generosity, “by giving”. This giving is not practiced to “bind” friends, instead it is the layperson who is bound to the act of generosity through practice.
One is practices veracity (truthfulness), is an example of ethical conduct (morality). Their counsel is sought after and trusted.
They exhibit patience (tolerance) rather than anger, serenity rather than anxiety.
Tasks are approached with energy (vigor) and action. They remain steadfast in the face of adversity.
It is not a matter so much of faith that a layperson should do these things. Generosity, morality, tolerance and energy are useful and productive (pragmatic) ways to approach life in a causal Universe where positive actions lead to positive results, result in positive actions.
Traditionally meditation and wisdom were refinements thought more suited to monks. For American Buddhists and progressive Buddhists of other traditions this is no longer the case. Meditation is critical for us all to develop higher levels of mindfulness and wisdom that comes through practice and study gives us all better tools to succeed in the first four refinements.
The Samyutta Nikaya, known as the Connected Discourses are part of the Sutta Pitaka. They can be found in the Tipitaka, “Three Baskets” which also include the Vinaya and Abhidharma Pitakas.
*Commonly they are known as the “Six Perfections”. In Engaged Dharma, and from training as a Pragmatic Buddhist, we use the word refinement. Perfection implies permanence and in Buddhist philosophy there is only impermanence, the potential for change. Refinement reflects that potential.
Virtue (Law of Manu – Hinduism)
Daily perform they own appointed work
Unweariedly, and to obtain a friend –
A sure companion of the future world –
Collect a store of virtue like the ants
Who garner up their treasures into heaps;
For neither father, mother, wife, nor son,
Nor kinsman, will remain beside thee then,
When thou are passing to that other home –
Thy virtue will be thy only comrade.
Not sure when this translation was done but I am fairly certain that Brahmins didn’t use “thee” and “thou”. Still we always have to remember the time, place and culture not only of the original text but also of the translator/translation. That said, let’s go on.
This could be seen as a companion to Day #11. As Siddhartha was a Hindu right up ’till the day he died it isn’t suprising that what became Buddhist teachings so parallel some Hindu ones. Siddhartha probably wasn’t expecting to be the progenitor of a new “religion”. He was more likely wanting to inject a new philosophy of The Middle Path into the faith he grew up with. It wasn’t until after the Buddha’s death that his teachings became a “faith” of their own in some traditions. Because Buddhism was being offered in countries and cultures who had strong faith-based worldviews this was the most skillful way to spread the message that Siddhartha worked so hard to develop. There are two important concepts to be derived here: pluralism and pragmatism.
“the future world” can be viewed as the changed person one becomes after each unique experience and action. Looking to what can be of value in alleviating suffering right now, in this world we inhabit, it is more useful to be virtuous (ethical) so that our positive actions and thoughts have effect on those around us. It is our positive personal development that has a direct karmic effect on the positive development of the society that we are a part of.
The Law of Manu is more commonly refered to as the Manu-smriti. It is the foremost book of the Dharma-shastra, the Hindu code in India. Tradition and legend says it was written by the first man and lawgiver, Manu and in written form dates from the 1st century BCE. In it are the commitments incumbent on Hindus that follow the dharma.
Water (Dao de Jing – Daoism)
The best of men is like water;
Water benefits all things
And does not compete with them.
It dwells in [the lowly] places that all disdain –
Wherein it comes near to the Dao.
In his dwelling, [the Sage] loves the [lowly] earth;
In his heart, he loves what is profound;
In his relations with others, he loves kindness;
In his words, he loves sincerity;
In government, he loves peace;
In business affairs, he loves ability;
In his actions, he loves choosing the right time,
It is because he does not contend
That he is without reproach.
The image of water can be applied equally to all people who have developed their “flood-like qi” as the interconnective force in the causal Universe is described by Roger Ames and David Hall in The Dao De Jing, a Philosophical Translation. Water as a descriptor of dao – “way-making” – is one’s insistent particularity provides the most extensive range of influence or potency in shaping one’s world. Water, flowing or still, is an insistent force that definitely shapes the world while working within it.
Think of the first meeting between Buddhist philosophy and the philosophy of the Dao. Separated by thousands of miles and the gulf of different cultures there was an undeniable sameness of purpose. A wise person recognizes the value and “way making” of all stratas of society, and sets the example of acceptance.
From the earth, to the learned words of others the wise person listens and learns. They show compassion through their words and actions. No matter their role in society they fulfill it with expertise and altruism.
The wise are not adversaries with those around them. Instead they realize their interconnectedness and garner the respect and honor of others.
I recommend two great books about the Dao. Dao De Jing “Making This Life Significant” by Roger Ames and David Hall, Ballantine Books, 2003, and Taoism, The Parting of the Way by Holmes Welch, Beacon Press, 1957.
The Paradox of Riches (Uttara Dhyayana Sutra – Jainism)
Men who acquire wealth by evil deeds will lose it,
falling into the snares of their passions,
and being held captive by their hatred.
Wealth will not protect a careless man
in this world or in the next.
If somebody should give the whole earth to one man,
he would not have enough,
so difficult is it to satisfy anybody.
Your desires increase with your means.
If there were numberless mountains of gold and silver,
they would not satisfy a greedy man,
for his avidity is boundless like space.
What avail riches for the practice of religion?
If the whole world and all treasures were yours,
you would still not be satisfied,
nor would all this be able to save you.
This passage from the Uttara Dhyayana Sutra warns of the danger of greed and avarice. From a Buddhist perspective greed and avarice come from unnatural attachments to material things, attachments that lead to psychophysical suffering. The “having but wanting more” and the “having with fear of losing” are powerful negative motivators.
“What avails riches for the practice of religion?” Jainism tends toward a sharply delineated world and phiosophy of black of white. Riches and material things directly oppose the pursuit and practice of faith or philosophy. This is where Buddhist philosophy and Jainist faith diverge.
The Middle Path can be followed by a wealthy person. With the realizations of the value of generosity, the reality of impermanence, and selfless practice a rich person can work to promote human flourishing. It is not materials goods and possessions that pose the danger, it is the perspective of them that can cause suffering.
Mahavira is the name most commonly used to refer to the Indian sage Vardhamana who established the central Jainist philosophy. In the Jain tradition he was the 24th and final Tirthankara. He and the Buddha were contemporaries though there is no record of the two ever meeting. In some sutras the Buddha is questioned by disciples of Mahavira. It is strongly believe that during the Buddha’s time that Jainism already was a prominent faith in India, having much influence on the culture. It is also thought that some of the first “Buddhists” were Jains. In an example of pluralism the Buddha bade them to also hold to their Jain identity and practices.
The Uttaradhyayana Sutra is one of the two important sacred texts of the Jainist faith. It is found in the Mula Sutras of the Sventambara canon. These writings offer the aspects of the Jaina doctrine and rules. Of all the Jaina sutras the Uttaradhayana contains the very words of Mahavira.
So, did Siddhartha practice the Jain faith in his search for the answer to human suffering? It is entirely possible. There are many parallels in teachings to be found.
Keeping the Law Whole (James 2:5 – 10 — Christianity)
Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? If ye fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: but if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.
Being the Holiday season I picked this particular passage from the Bible because of “Thou shalt love thy neighbour . . .” figuring it to be appropriate. Admittedly I have little experience with Christian theology (which is why I hope Ven. David adds a comment or any readers with a deep Christian background) so after reading this over multiple times:
I took this to mean that to God the poor have nothing to be ashamed of if they are faithful worshippers. As long as they “love thy neighbor as thyself”. The word ‘respect’ was confusing as that is a positive concept; except after some research I found that in this context it can also refer to showing preference or partiality to one group or person. In a Buddhist perspective it relates to not being pluralistic in thought, word and action. That is definitely a negative disposition.
In order to gain some insight I researched and found this commentary from Bibletrack: “It’s bad to esteem one Believer over another. To favor the wealthy-looking man over the poorly-dressed man is to superficially judge based upon “evil thoughts” (verse 4). Wealth has nothing to do with one’s standing with Christ (verse 5), so he encourages his readers not to show the same disdain for the poor that the rich of the world do (verse 6). After all, it is they who persecute all Believers (verse 7).” This has some parallel to Buddhist philosophy in the ideal that money or material possessions isn’t what is important. For Christian theology it is faith and belief in God, and for Buddhists is it more the personal our words and actions as they benefit others.
The concept of being “guilty of all” because of “offend in one point” seems drastic. As human beings we are likely to mess up now and again, but we can do better next time.
Any feedback on this posting would be appreciated as I am “committed to lifelong learning”.
The Practice of Religion (Benjamin Whichcote – Christianity)
It is essential to religion, to live according to the difference of good and evil: religion issues in holiness, uprightness, integrity, and separation from iniquity.
No man is born with wisdom and virtue; but every man hath himself as he useth himself.
Follow not blindfold, but as having one eye upon the rule, and the other upon the example.
For any pursuit of philosophy or faith this short writing holds lessons. Here is one Buddhist’s perspective:
While Buddhist philosophy doesn’t look to good/evil it does look to good/bad choices. Committing to, and practicing the Middle Path that Siddhartha offered is the only way to get the full benefits and positive developments possible.
The Buddha teaches that learning is gradual and any person can gain wisdom and develop positive ethical character through practice and commitment.
And, the last line may hold the most profound and difficult lesson in all of Buddhism. The Buddha teaches that we shouldn’t take any teaching at face value, we shouldn’t just believe. Instead we should put teachings/lesson into practice and determine for ourselves its efficacy (experiential verification). He put his own offered philosophy in this category and that is what sets Buddhist philosophy apart from other traditional faiths. It is not be “taken on faith”; it is to be tested and a personal realization, positive or negative, reached.
Read and internalize the lessons and then use yourself and those who are your “mirror” to determine the rightness of the Middle Path.
Doing a little research on Benjamin Whichcote (1609 – 1683) it was surprising to find that his views showed parallels to Buddhist philosophy. After graduation from Emmanuel College in Cambridge he went on to be a sought-after college tutor and speaker. In 1636 he was ordained a priest and became the lecturer each Sunday afternoon at Trinity Church in Cambridge. Whichcote was popular for his views on liberal thinking and toleration. The website Bookrags describes Whichcote’s style, “It was his habit to speak from notes; he introduced into pulpit oratory a new, vigorous, colloquial, epigrammatic style in contrast to the traditional formal discourse. Various versions of his Sunday lectures, reconstructed from notes, were published after his death in 1683 and constitute his most substantial work.”
Whichcote was inspired by, and was an inspiration to his audiences. To lead an ethical life he believed that a person could perform actions that were “good or bad”, “right or wrong” in their nature (for an Engaged Pragmatic Buddhist it is intention). Furthermore a person strived to perform good actions not because of commandments, but instead because good acts conformed more with how nature intends man to act. To Whichcote religion and morals should liberate man rather than impose on his inherent sense of good.
This is an excellent example that no matter the philosophy or faith or worldview there are adherents who can follow their commitments while accepting and promoting positive changes within them.
The Faults of Others (Dhammapada – Buddhism)
The fault of others is easily perceived, but that of oneself is difficult to perceive; a man winnows his neighbor’s faults like chaff, but his own fault he hides, as a cheat hides the bad die from the gambler.
If a man looks after the faults of others, and is always inclined to be offended, his own passions will grow, and he is far from the destruction of passions.
This passage from the Dhammapada speaks directly to some of the most difficult challenges a Buddhist practitioner faces. Each of us have negative dispositions that we must recognize and then work to change for the better. This can only begin with a regimen of meditation and rigorous self-honesty. The meditation helps us develop the awareness/mindfulness necessary to recognize and the rigorous self-honesty can help us develop compassions for ourselves.
We recognize the negative dispostions and we have to recognize that we are only human. And, being “only” human and subject to dependent origination (causality) we have the power to make changes in our selves.
It may not be that we don’t perceive our own faults and instead perceive the faults of another. It is more likely that we perceive both but focus on the faults of others . . . because . . . in them are mirrored our own perceived faults. Or, “I’m rubber, you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.” Except in this case it’s the reflection of a mirror that is revealing something you might not want to acknowledge.
Our inclination to be offended rises from the same place. How dare someone offend us by recognizing or insinuation that we might have negative dispositions. Here is where my root reacher, Eubanks Sensei says we can really practice Buddhism. We can say to ourselves, “I am so glad that this person tried to anger or upset me because as a practicing Buddhist I am better able to handle it.” Why might we be better able to handle it? Because of our meditation and mindfulness practice. We recognize the arising of negative dispositions and immediately work on them.
The Being of Man is Like a Forest (Masnavi – Islam)
The being of man is like a forest; be full of caution of this being if you are of that breath. In our being there are thousands of wolves and hogs. In our being there is the righteous, the unrighteous, the fair and the foul.
That trait which is predominant decides the temperament: when gold exceeds copper in quantity, the substance is gold. The quality which is predomimant in your being – you will have to rise in the very form of that same quality.
At one moment wolfishness comes into man; at another moment, the moon-like beauty of the face of Joseph. Feelings of peace and of enmity go by a hidden road from bosom to bosom.
Nay, indeed, wisdom, knowledge, and skill pass from man even into the ox and the ass. The untrained horse, rough and unformed, becomes of good easy paces and docile; the bear dances, and the goat also salutes. From men the desire of doing something enters into the dog: he becomes a shepherd, or a hunter, or a guard.
Every moment a new species appears in the bosom; sometimes a demon, sometimes an angel, and sometimes wild beasts.
From that wonderful forest with which every lion is acquainted there is a hidden road to that snare, the bosoms of men.
In May of 2000 I first read this particular passage and I wrote this in margin: “Be aware of the many changes in your attitude and view. What is in your heart will be what shows.”
Today this speaks an even deeper message, one again so parallel to much of Buddhist philosophy. Indeed there is the potential for human beings to take many paths (what some term emptiness I prefer to define as potential) and it is up to each individual to make the best possible choices.
My root teacher emphasized that what we think determines how we act, and conversely how we act determines how we think. This is at the core of practice; thinking and doing in order to think and do.
That our actions can alter the thinking and doing of animals is clear proof that we can do the same within ourselves and be examples to others. We have the knowledge, and we have the responsibility.
The Masnavi is a extensive and influential book of poetry written in 1250 CE. The author was Jala ad-Din Rumi (1207 – 1273 CE) who also promoted and taught Sufism. He was the founder of the “whirling dervishes” sect of Sufism.
The Fordam University website says of Rumi, “Jalal, when only twenty-four, succeeded to his learned father’s headship of the great center of learning in Asia Minor, and with youthful enthusiasm spread his impassioned Sufi doctrines far and wide. We are told that in his house there was a central pillar, and that when Jalal was “drowned in the ocean of love,” he would take hold of that pillar and set himself turning round it, and improvising his frenzied poetry. When the more conservative Muslims remonstrated with Jalal because his Maulavis danced and sang, even at funerals, Jalal responded “When the human spirit, after years of imprisonment in the cave and dungeon of the body, is at length set free, and wings its flight to the source whence it came, is this not an occasion for rejoicings, thanks, and dancing?”
Truth and Falsehood (Bhai Gur Das – Sikhism)
Truth and falsehood stand to one another
In the relation of a stone to an earthen vessel.
If a stone be thrown at an earthen vessel,
It is the earthen vessel which will break.
If the earthen vessel be thrown at a stone,
It is again the earthen vessel which will break.
In either case
It is the earthen vessel that suffers.
Truth is immovable and on safe ground,
Falsehood stands, and trembles, on an insecure basis.
Falsehood, which is deceitful, ever ails,
Truth is ever safe and whole.
Truth is strong and cannot be broken apart. Falsehoods (lies) can be broken apart. From experience most people can attest to the “truth” of this.
There is a danger though when it comes to Truths with a capital “T”. We must be open-minded enough to realize that with time, better science, better technology, better scholarship, or change of culture what was Truth may in fact be truth. truth with a small “t” is one that is subject to the same impermanence as everthing else. At this moment, from a pragmatic Buddhist perspective there may be only one Truth, that of impermanence, and even that could be proved wrong
Bhai Gurdas was a Sikh thought to have been born between 1543 – 1553 CE. He wrote some of the finest Sikh literature and philosophy, and scribed the words of Guru Arjan Dev Ji, the 5th Sikh Guru in 1604. He was not only a scribe, but also a great scholar of Sikhism, Persian and Sanskrit, and preacher of Sikhism, as well as a renowned poet.
Attaining Spiritual Perfection (St. Francis De Sales – Christianity)
You see that the mountain of Christian perfection is exceedingly high. O my God! You say, how shall I be able to ascend it? Courage, Philothea! When the young bees begin to take shape, we cal them nymphs. As yet they are unable to fly to the flowers, the mountains , or the neighboring hills in order to gather honey. Little by little, by continuing to feed on the honey which the old ones have prepared, the little nymphs take on wings and acquire sufficient strength to fly and seek their food all over the country. It is true we are as yet but little bees in devotion. Consequently, we are unable to fly up high in accordance with our plan, which is nothing less than to reach the peak of Christian perfection. Yet, as our desires and resolutions begin to assume a form, and as our wings begin to grow, we hope that we shall one day become spiritual bees and be able to fly. In the meantime let us feed upon the honey of the many good instructions that devout persons of ancient days have left us. Let us pray to God to give us “wings like a dove,” that we may not only be enable to fly upward during the time of this present life, but also to rest ourselves in the eternity that is to come.
From the window of my home office I can see the spire of St. Francis De Sale church so this was an opportunity for me to learn more about this Catholic saint. I went right to the source, American Catholic.org. Now I know that he is the patron saint of writers, authors, journalists and the deaf. There is a certain amount of irony noted as I spend my day behind a keyboard.
From the website: At 35 he became bishop of Geneva. While administering his diocese he continued to preach, hear confessions and catechize the children. His gentle character was a great asset in winning souls. He practiced his own axiom, “A spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrel full of vinegar.”
Besides his two well-known books, the Introduction to the Devout Life and A Treatise on the Love of God, he wrote many pamphlets and carried on a vast correspondence. For his writings, he has been named patron of the Catholic Press. His writings, filled with his characteristic gentle spirit, are addressed to lay people. He wants to make them understand that they too are called to be saints. As he wrote in The Introduction to the Devout Life: “It is an error, or rather a heresy, to say devotion is incompatible with the life of a soldier, a tradesman, a prince, or a married woman…. It has happened that many have lost perfection in the desert who had preserved it in the world.”
St. Francis De Sale was a devout man who believed and taught that Catholic laypersons should strive for sainthood just as ardently as one who took ordination. In our Buddhist practice we, as Engaged Buddhists, believe that anyone has the capacity to be a Bodhisattva. In either instance it takes practice and commitment to walk such a path, but the journey can be filled with human flourishing.
The image of “spiritual bees” is a fine one. We sometimes get a “buzz” from our meditation practice, or a brief enlightening moment, those times when our connection/interconnection is realized.
We do “feed” on the words of others ancient and contemporary to better understand the teachings we strive to follow. For Engaged Buddhists, with our pragmatic tendencies, we also understand the importance of putting the teachings of ancients and elders into cultural context. What worked then and for them may not work the same for us, but the intent is the same. Like them we walk the “Middle Path” to refine our practice, to be good Buddhists so that with each moment we promote and encourage human flourishing.
The final image of flying upward (refining our dispositions) is, for us focused only on this present life. Here is where we can make a difference, both for ourselves and others. The Christian ideal of eternal life, a journey that leads many Christians of all schools to do great altruistic works is respected and admired.
At the Gate of the Lord (Guru Nanak dev Ji – Sikhism)
They who please God are good; what more can be said?
They in whose heart God is contained possess wisdom, honor, and wealth.
What need is there of praising them? What further decoration can they obtain?
Nanak, they who are beyond God’s favoring glance love not charity or His Name.
It is not always easy to apply pluralistic thinking when what you are presented with is far outside your own worldview or tradition. Yet, it is where pluralism and your own commitments come into strong play. This writing of Gur Nanak dev Ji is a great example.
By applying the concept of creative re-description, some wordplay that doesn’t so much alter the core message as bring it into a sharper focus for a particular worldview. This can allow a better understanding across lines of tradition.
As Buddhists we look to the Universal casual process (Ucp) rather than an omnipotent ruling being.
So, they who please the Ucp are good . . .
They in whose heart the Ucp is . . .
Praise isn’t necessary or expected, it is the results that speak . .
They who are beyond selfishness are not attached to recognition or focusing on the Ucp (it just is).
The message has a similar intent. Do good for good’s sake, not to get praise, not to be identified, but to just do good so more good can result.
I went to the Sikh-History.com for information about Guru Nanak dev Ji (1469 – 1539):
By all accounts, 1496 was the year of his enlightenment when he started on his mission. His first statement after his prophetic communion with God was “There is no Hindu, nor any Mussalman.” This is an announcement of supreme significance it declared not only the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God, but also his clear and primary interest not in any metaphysical doctrine but only in man and his fate. It means love your neighbour as yourself.
Guru Nanak’s gospel was for all men. He proclaimed their equality in all respects. In his system, the householder’s life became the primary forum of religious activity. Human life was not a burden but a privilege. His was not a concession to the laity. In fact, the normal life became the medium of spiritual training and expression.
Sounds kind of Siddhartha-like doesn’t it? Set aside metaphysical doctrine and focus on human beings, all human beings equally. As a result the layman, the householder, and the pursuit of life becomes both teacher and expression of the lessons.
Walk the path, be the example.
Daily Sustenance (Rabbinical Ana from the Talmud– Judaism)
The scholars of Rabbi Simon ben Jochai once asked him: “Why did not the Lord give to Israel enough manna to last them for a year at one time, instead of meting it out daily?”
The Rabbi relied: “I will answer you with a parable. There was once a king who had a son to whom he gave a certain yearly allowance, paying the entire sum for his year’s support on one appointed day. It soon happened that this day, on which the allowance was due, was the only day in the year when the father saw his son. So the king changed his plan, and each day gave his son his maintenance for that day only, and then the son visited his father with the return of each day’s sun.
“So it was with Israel; each father of a family, dependent for his support and the support of his family upon the manna provided each day by God’s bounty, naturally had his mind devoted to the Great Giver and Sustainer of life.”
Whenever passages from traditions so different than the one I choose to follow come up I remind myself of two aspects of pluralism: 1) hold to our own commitments (beliefs and traditions) while respecting the commitments of others 2) pluralism does not mean agreement or understanding, just acceptance.
To more fully grasp the significance of this rabbinical ana I read through verses from different versions of the Bible and chose Matthew from the New Living Translation (2007):
Matthew 6:31-33 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear? These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”
Here is God reminding the Israelites that they should strive for the Kingdom of God and have faith that God will provide the material sustenance they need.
Find the lesson:
The parable related by Rabbi Jochai seems intended to remind of the importance of a daily focus on tradition and faith. By “visiting”, a euphemism for “worshipping” each day then material needs will be provided by the “King”.
In Buddhism it is our practice we should look to each day. The difference here is that our practice is a moment-to-moment experience that changes us with each experience. Practice goes hand-in-hand with the gathering of material needs.
Strangely enough, the modern translation of the Bible and the theories of contemporary Bible and cultural scholars the “manna” is likely a real product of the tamarisk tree; one that the Bedouin people of Arabia still consume. It falls upon the grasses during the night and is gathered during the first rays of the sun. This is much like the actions described in the Bible.
The writings of other faiths and traditions may not always have direct parallels to Buddhist practice. Still, in order to be able to make connections with people of other traditions (this is an interspiritual connection) it is to everyone’s benefit to learn about the worldviews of others.
The Touching of Hands (Mencius – Confucianism)
Shun-yu K’wan said, “Is it the rule that males and females shall not allow their hands to touch in giving or receiving anything?” Mencius replied, “It is the rule.” K’wan asked, “If a man’s sister-in-law is drowning, shall he rescue her with his hand?” Mencius said, “He who would not so rescue a drowning woman is a wolf. For males and females not to allow their hands to touch in giving and receiving is the general rule; when a sister-in-law is drowning, to rescue her with the hand is a peculiar exigency.”
K’wan said, “The whole empire is drowning. How strange it is that you will not rescue it!”
Mencius answered, “A drowning empire must be rescued with right principles, as a drowning sister-in-law has to be rescued with the hand. Do you wish me to rescue the empire with my hand?”
In his blog posting, “Pragmatic Buddhist View Of Situational Ethics”, Ven. David writes directly about the nature of this teaching of Mencius, as it relates to Buddhist philosophy. Ch’an Buddhism has deep roots in both Daoism and Confucianism where the Buddha’s own pragmatic approach to “rules and dogma” gained strength from that similar Chinese worldview.
This is why, as Buddhists we practice to mindful and aware of each unique situation. Our responses must be appropriate to each situation while also being mindful of our core commitment to human flourishing. The parable of the Monks at the River makes clear that Buddhists should understand the “rules” but be aware that they should follow the spirit of those “rules”, not just the words.
Love of Neighbor (Soren Kierkegaard, Works of Love – Christianity)
The man who truly loves his neighbor therefore loves also his enemy. This distinction, “friend or enemy”, is a difference in the object of love, but love for one’s neighbor truly has an object which is without discrimination the neighbor is the absolutely indistinguishable difference between man and man, or it is the eternal resemblance before God – and the enemy also has this resemblance. We think that it is impossible for a man to love his enemy, alas! For enemies can hardly bear to look at each other. Oh, well, then close your eyes – then the enemy absolutely resembles your neighbor; close your eyes and remember the commandment that thou shalt love, then you love – your enemy? No, then you love your neighbor, for you do not see that he is your enemy. That is, if you close your eyes, then you do not see the earthly difference; but enmity is also one of the earthly differences. And when you close your eyes, then your mind is not distracted and diverted at the very moment when you should listen to the word of the commandment. Then when your mind is not distracted and diverted by looking at the object of your love and at the difference in the object, then you become merely and ear for hearing the word of the commandment which said to you, and to you alone that “thou” shalt love they neighbor. Lo, then are you on the way of perfection toward loving your neighbor, when your eye is closed and you are become only an ear for hearing the commandment.
This a lot of verbage that seems to say, Look beyond the differences, there are more similarities. Look beyond the emotions of hatred and distrust, or love and trust, find compassion. Be mindful that your “enemy” can become your “friend”, everyone is capable of change, even you.
Phenomena like strong emotions, the labeling of things and people, and our own dispositions are not permanent. In Buddhist philosophy even the “commandments” are subject to impermanence, to being acted upon situationally.
“. . . when your mind is distracted and diverted . . .” can lead us to making irrational choices, sapping our mindfulness of what is going on around us moment-to-moment. Meditation practice and the awareness it helps us develop is then taken out into our day-to-day living so that we recognize when we are becoming distracted and diverted, then with that realization we can take a positive course. We metaphorically “close our eye” to the phenomena, view it through a clearer lens, and make better choices.
Perceived enemy or friend, we treat them all with equanimity.
Soren Kierkegaard, (May 1813 – November 1855) was a Danish philosopher whose work persaged modern existentialism. His philosophy centered on the ideal that each person should make decisions and take leaps of faith in order to discover religious truth.
The Works of Love delves into the myriad kinds and conditions of religious and secular love. It was meant to read aloud so that its poetic form and rich imagery could be enjoyed and realized.
The Soul of Goodness in Things Evil (Jalalu’l-din Rumi – Islam)
Fools take false coins because they are like the true.
If in the world no genuine minted coin
Were current, how would forgers pass the false?
Falsehood were nothing unless truth were there,
To make it specious. “Tis the love of right
Lures men to wrong. Let poison be mixed
With sugar, they will cram it into their mouths.
Oh, cry not that all creeds are vain! Some scent
Of truth they have, else they would not beguile.
Say not, “How utterly fantastical!”
No fancy in the world is all untrue.
Amidst the crowd of dervishes hides one,
One true fakir. Search well and thou wilt find!
There are subtle layers of lessons in this 13th century Islamic text. First reading, that untruth and falsehood exist because of the existence of truth. Early Buddhist philosophy would agree: “What is “IS” because something else is.” or “Nothing comes from nothing.”
Second reading, falsehoods and fakes are sometimes disguised by a veneer of truth and reality.
Third reading, “. . . cry not that all creeds are vain!”. What might seem false to one holds truth to another. This, and the preceeding verse is a roundabout way to promoting pluralism. A path that through our lens looks fantastical and unbelieveable might hide a level of truth that is unnoticed.
Fourth reading, the teacher you seek is there. The teacher will be there when the student is ready.
Check out Day #18, in the Daily Insights section of the blog for some information about Rumi.
Reflections on Life (Mahabharata – Hinduism)
No sacred lore can save the hypocrite,
Though he employ it craftily, from hell;
When his end comes, his pious texts take wing,
Like fledglings eager to forsake their nest.
Some who are wealthy perish in their youth,
While others who are fortuneless and needy,
Attain a hundred years; the prosperous man
Who lives, oft lacks the power to enjoy his wealth.
Siddhartha Guatama, the historical Buddha grew up and was schooled as a Hindu. His studies before becoming the Awakened One centered on the Hindi faith. In this passage from the Mahabharata may be what lead him to a major decision concerning teaching what he had come to realize.
Ven. David was speaking today about the Buddha’s words in the Mahaparinibbana Sutra. In that sutra the Buddha basically says, “There are no secrets in what I teach.” It seems that in the Mahabharata that teachers or gurus who held “sacred lore”, though they used it for spiritual or other gains would end up losing in the end. Their “pious texts” would become useless once they weren’t around to promote them. Like in yesterdays D I I & I from Rumi (Day #25), falsehood would be revealed.
Then, money and power and prestige do not automatically give one long life and contentment. Look instead to compassion and generosity.
Two lessons that the Buddha thought important enough to add it to his own teachings. The language might be different but the intent, the message remains the same.
Learn a little about the Mahabharata in Day #5 Daily Insights posting.
The Value of Understanding (Dhammapada – Buddhism)
Although a man can repeat a thousand stanzas, but understand not the meaning of the lines he repeats, this is not equal to the repetition of one sentence well understood, which is able when heard to control thought. To repeat a thousand words without understanding, what profit is there in this? But to understand one truth, and hearing it to act accordingly, this is to find deliverance. A man may be able to repeat many books, but if he cannot explain them what profit is there in this? But to explain one sentence of the Law and to walk accordingly, this is the way to find supreme wisdom.
A random page in “Living Wisdom from the World’s Religions” yielded a passage that gives reasons why we should “dedicate ourselves to life-long learning”.
The Buddha didn’t want us to take any teachings or experiences at face value. He said that, even his own teachings should undergo experiential verification; they should be put into action and tested under the circumstances, cultural and personal in which the student lived. The only way we can do this with any certainty is to study and understand the sutras and the mantras that are the foundation of whatever Buddhist tradition we practice.
We cannot develop wisdom by relying only on the words of others. While we should certainly pay deep attention to our teachers, and to the wise people that came before us in the end it will be our own experiences that will prove the efficacy of what we learn.
How Sound of Music Reflects What is Within (Book of Ceremonial Rites – Confucianism)
When the mind is moved to sorrow, the sound is sharp and fading away; when it is moved to pleasure, the sound is slow and gentle; when it is moved to joy, the sound is exclamatory and soon disappears; when it is moved to anger, the sound is coarse and fierce; when it is moved to reverence, the sound is straightforward, with an indication of humility; when it is moved to love, the sound is harmonious and soft. These six peculiarities of sound are not the nature of the voice; they indicate the impressions produced by external things. On this account the ancient kings were watchful to the things by which the mind was affected.
Relate this Confucian writing to experiences during meditation. When we sit our mind can “be moved” in many ways and or perception of emotions could very well be one of sound. The physical manifestations of our emotions may be sharp, gentle, soft or coarse. We may experience a sense of fierceness or humility. These are not the “nature” of us, they are transitory and impermanent expressions of that moment.
Emotions make marks on our mind, marks that can be quick to pass. Our practice develops awareness and mindfulness of the things that cause emotions, how our mind may react, and how we can let them pass.
The website Cultural China says about the Book of Rites: “The Book of Rites (礼记) is the anthology of articles written by Confucian scholars from the Warring States Period to the Qin and Han Dynasties about their interpretation of the scripts Etiquette and Ceremonials. As an important material collection for the Confucian thoughts, it is one of “the five classics of Confucianism”, the other four being the Book of Songs, the Book of History, the Book of Changes, and the Spring and Autumn Annals.
It is said that the Book of Rites was compiled by the etiquettes scholars Dai De and his nephew Dai Sheng in the West Han Dynasty. The version of 85 articles selected and complied by Dai De is known as the Senior Dai’s Book of Rites, which was unfortunately lost in the later generations. The version of 49 articles selected and complied by Dai Sheng is called Junior Dai’s Book of Rites, which is the origin of the current Book of Rites.”
Planting for Posterity (Taanith – Judaism)
In his travels, Choni the Maagol once saw an old man planting a carob tree, and he asked him when he thought the tree would bear fruit. “After seventy years”, was the reply. “What?” said Choni. “Do you expect to live seventy years and eat the fruit of your labor?” “I did not find the world desolate when I entered it,” said the old man, “and as my fathers planted for me before I was born, so I plant for those that will come after me.”
Here is a metaphor for encompassing action (or any other of the Eightfold Path) whether it is environmental, economic, social, philosophical, educational and/or . . ., and for the karmic effect positive actions done now can, and will have in the future.
Social engagement should be built around the ideal that what we do now is not only for our own positive development. What we do is also meant to carry forward.
And selflessness. This short writing is layered with lessons.
Good Deeds Endure (Aogemadaecha – Zorastrianism)
Seek ye for a store of good deeds, O Zarathustra, men and women! For a store of good deeds is full of salvation, O Zarathustra! For the ox turns to dust, the horse turns to dust; silver and gold turn to dust, the valiant strong man turns to dust; the bodies of all men mingle with the dust. What do not mingle with the dust are confessions (Ashem-Vohu) which a man recites in this world and his almsgiving to the holy and righteous.
The Zorastrian religion directed its followers to balance their life, to seek to do good in the eyes of the creator (God) so that they could attain the higher plane. They included among good deeds what might be described as altruistic acts, acts of loving-kindness; but, also included confessions and admissions of wrongdoing to their priests and holy men. For an Engaged Buddhist the first two actions are practiced; the third actions of confession isn’t. Instead we take a rigorously self-honest look at our thoughts, words and actions and practice to do better the next time.
Our “store of good deeds” could be described as merit, though an Engaged Buddhist doesn’t “store” them up because then they are doing no one any good. Instead we immediately “let merit go” so that others can benefit from its example and that we do can use its example for our future positive actions. Holding on to the merits of good deeds is not useful and productive, besides we aren’t looking for acclaim, just more positive actions.
Also, don’t limit your “almsgiving” to the holy and righteous. Altruism knows no bounds except that of giving that may result in negative results. That is where being aware and mindful becomes a valued skill.
The website Farvardyn gave this explanation of the Aogemadaecha, “consists of 29 Avesta quotations, containing 280 words, with a commentary of 1450 words translating and connecting the Avesta; and only five of these quotations have been found in the Avesta texts now extant. This treatise teaches the certainty of death, and the necessity of being fully resigned and prepared for it.”
The Ashem-Vohu is a confessional mantra chanted by Zorastrians.
Go to D I I & I, Day #9 for more info about Zorastianism.
How to Bear with Others (Francois de Fenelon – Christianity)
In order to be satisfied even with the best people, we neet to be content with little, and to bear a great deal. Even the most perfect people have many imperfections, and we ourselves have no fewer. Our faults combined with theirs make mutual toleration a difficult matter, but we can only “fulfill the law of Christ” by “bearing one another’s burdens.” there must be a mutual, loving forbearance. Frequent silence, habitual recollections, prayer, self-detachment, giving up all critical tendencies, watchfulness to put aside all the idle imaginations of jealous, fastidious self-love – all these will go far to maintain peace and unity. How many troubles we might save ourselves thereby! Happy he who neither gives ear to himself nor to the idle talk of others!
Be content to lead a quiet life where God has placed you. Be obedient, bear your little daily crosses – you need them, and it is out of pure mercy that God lays them on you. The great thing is thouroughly to despise yourself, and to be willing that others should despise you, if God so will. Feed wholly on him. St. Augustine says that his mother lived only on prayer. Do you the same, and die to all else. But we can only live to God by continually dying to self.
Here is a great example of being deeply aware of the cultural context of a written work. At first read this might seem a treatise on being a good friend or companion or mate. In the first paragraph the ideals of accepting the faults of others while being aware of own. Maintain relationships by knowing when to be silent, when to remember, being selfless, non-judgemental, and be mindful of your own negative dispositions, and avoid idle chatter and gossip. All seem ways to take a relationship in a positive direction.
The second paragraph reveals that this passage is directed toward women, wives in particular. God placed you where you are and you should remain obedient to that will. Further, that one should despise themselves and welcome others to do the same. St. Augustine’s mother lived only on prayer and so should you be able to.
This passage is from Fenelon’s most famous work, Treatise on the Education of Girls. Again, culture and context are extremely important. The author, François Fénelon (1651 – 1715), was a French theologian and writer born on August 6, 1651, at Fénelon Castle in Périgord. Fénelon studied at the Catholic seminary Saint-Sulpice in Paris and was ordained as a priest there. He published Traité de l’éducation des filles (Treatise on the Education of Girls) in 1681, which brought him worldwide attention. Fenelon was inducted into the Académie Française in 1693 and named Archbishop of Cambrai in 1695.
These Daily I I & I postings give us an opportunity to practice pluralistic thought and action. Keep firmly in mind that pluralism does not equal agreement, and in some instances not acceptance. Pluralism is being able to dialogue with other faiths and worldviews with their unique commitments while being able to hold on to our commitments and worldviews.
Bear with Patience (Mahabharata – Hinduism)
Bear railing words with patience, never meet
An angry man with anger, nor return
Reviling for reviling, smite not him
Who smites thee, let thy speech and acts be gentle.
There are many benefits, physical and psychological to gained through a committed meditation practice. Mindfulness, insight, lowered blood pressure, better focus and serenity or a calm response to adversity are some. Words that are hurtful and insulting, emotions that are the same should always be met with patience and the understanding that they are transitory, able to do us no harm unless we let them. As Buddhists we certainly should not react with violence and harm to such actions.
Someone who “smites” another person or ourselves may need a deeper situational look. This is where skillful action and means come into play. Of course, first we should calmly ask that the physical violence stop, but then in order to preserve human flourishing it may be necessary to take whatever action we are capable of, again according to the situation. The situation may call for us to summon help from authorities or others, or it may call for us to step in, always striving to do the least harm and create the most harmonious outcome.
A teacher in my lineage, Ryugen Sensei had a “three times” rule. You ask calmly and serenely the first time, you firmly take a stand the second time, the third time calls for action. Buddhists are not necessarily pacifists just look to Buddhist monks in Myanmar for example.
Trammels of Mortality (Chuang-Tzu – Daoism)
When Lao Tzu died, Ch’in Shih went to mourn. He uttered three yells and departed.
A disciple asked him, “Were you not our Master’s friend?”
“I was,” replied Ch’in Shih.
“And if so, do you consider that a sufficient expression of grief at his loss?” added the disciple.
“I do,” said Ch’in Shih. “I had believed him to be the man of all men, but now I know that he was not. When I went in to mourn, I found old persons weeping as if for their children, young ones wailing as if for their mothers. And for him to have gained the attachment of those people in this way, he too must have uttered words which should not have been spoken and dropped tears which should not have been shed, thus violating eternal principles, increasing the sum of human emotion, and forgetting the source from which his own life was received. The ancients called such emotions the trammels of mortality. The Master came, because it was his time to be born; he went, because it was his time to die. For those who accept the phenomenon of birth and death in this sense, lamentation and sorrow have no place. The ancients spoke of death as of God cutting down a man suspended on the air. The fuel is consumed, but the fire may be transmitted, and we know not that it comes to an end.”
Ch’in Shih clearly does not believe that Lao Tzu set the right example when it came to emotional responses to death.
Such responses to the death of loved and respected person is not a negative one. To mourn the loss is a natural consequence of being human and of having lived a human life. This emotional turmoil becomes a negative when it is held on to, when the person grieving becomes more attached to the process, the emotion of grieving than of the loss.
It is Ch-in Shih that a Buddhist would regard as being too attached to his personal view. He is shown here as acting emotionally to the death of Lao Tzu but not in lamentation but in anger and judgement.
Replace the word God with Universal causal process. The “fuel” of Lao Tzu’s body was gone but we know to this day that his “fire” was transmitted on. Will it continue . . . let’s not fondle the future.
The Accumulation of Good and Evil (Dhammapada – Buddhism)
If a man commits a sin, let him not do it again; let him not delight in sin: The accumulation of evil is painful. If a man does what is good, let him do it again; let him delight in it: the accumulation of good is delightful. Even an evildoer sees happiness as long as his evil deed does not ripen but when his evil deed ripens, then he sees the evil. Even a good man sees evil days, so long as his good deed does not ripen; but hen his good deed ripens, then does the good man see good things. Let no man think lightly of evil, saying in his heart, “It will not come nigh unto me.” Even by the falling of drops of water a pot is filled; the fool becomes full of evil, even if he gathers it little by little . . . . He who has no wound on his hand may touch poison with his hand; poison does not affect one who has no wound; nor is there evil for one who does not commit evil . . .
This particular translation of a passage from the Dhammapada is from a 50-volume set of English translations of Asian religious writings. These were done by the Oxford University press between 1879 and 1910. This broad ranging work not only had Buddhist writings but Hindi, Dao, Confucian, Zorastrian, Islam and more. Here is another example of seeing the cultural context in translations and the need for contemporary scholars to recognize what effect those contexts had.
Earliest Buddist philosophy, from the Pali Nikayas did not focus on the concepts of good and evil as much as good choices and not-so-good choices. This is one of the great strengths of Buddhist philosophy and how it can empower us as human beings. Just by changing the word “sin” in the first line the passage can be brought more in-line with early Buddhist teachings while keeping wholly intact the intent.
“If a man commits a wrong-doing, let him not do it again; let him not be attached to it.” The intent, and this speaks directly to the pragmatic ideal of karma, is if we do something wrong we learn from it by applying the Eigthfold Path as a guide. We apply rigorous self-honesty and mindfulness to determine how we can do better; and then next time we DO BETTER. Becoming attached to the “I did wrong” does us no good . . . action is what does us good. Good actions lead to good encompassing karmic results. The realization that bad actions lead to encompassing bad karmic results is one of the major building blocks of Buddhist ethics.
The story of the Buddha and Angulimala (from the Majjhima Nikayas) presents the ideal that impermanence and the causal process of Universe gives human beings the opportunities and responsibilities to change their negative behavior to good once they are aware of the consequences of their actions. Angulimala lived years thinking that all he could be was a murderer and highwayman. The Buddha made him aware that he was empowered to change and so he did.
The “pot of water” analogy is a good one but let’s reverse it. Instead of filling the pot with negative intentions, fill it with positive intention. The water is muddy with negative intention but drop-by-drop of positive intention in our actions we can make that water clearer and clearer.
Of Anxiety (St. Francis de Sales – Christianity)
Anxiety is the greatest evil that can befall the soul, sin only excepted. The seditious and intestine troubles of a commonwealth ruin it completely and prevent it from being able to resist a foreign invasion. So also, when our heart is troubled and disturbed within iself, it loses the strength necessary to maintain the virtues it had acquired. At the same time it loses the means to resist the temptations of the enemy, who then uses his utmost efforts to fish, as they say, in troubled waters.
Anxiety proceeds from an inordinate desire of being delivered from the evil that we feel or of acquiring the good that we hoe for. Yet there is nothing that tends more to increase evil and to prevent the enjoyment of good than inquietude and anxiety. Birds remain caught in nets and traps because when they find themselves ensnared, they eagerly flutter about and struggle to extricate themselves and in that way entangle themselves all the more. Whenever you are pressed with a desire to be freed from some evil or to obtain some good, before all else be careful both to settle your mind in repose and tranquility and to compose you judgment and will. Then gently and meekly procure the accomplishment of your desire, taking in regular order the means that may be most convenient. When I say gently, I do no mean carelessly, but without hurry, trouble, or anxiety. Otherwise, instead of obtaining the effect you desire, you will mar all and embarrass yourself the more.
St. Francis writes of the dispositions of human beings with the same insight that Thomas Merton brought to the subjects. Strangely, while Merton is known to have respect for the teachings of the Buddha it seems that St. Francis too had his parallels to the Awakened One.
Anxiety is one of the negative dispositions that when coupled with an unnatural desire for something leads directly to unsatisfactoriness and suffering. Rather than thinking and acting anxiety can lead us to thoughtless inaction as our bodymind freezes up with the “what ifs”, “maybes” and “I don’t knows”.
Meditation practice will help us develop a calmness of bodymind. Then when situations start to become anxious we tap into that calmness, we reassess, we realize and are able to make better decisions, decisions that will more likely lead to harmony, health and happiness (human flourishing).
Read more about St. Francis de Sales in the Day #20 D I I & I.
The Law Given in the Wilderness (Numbers Rabbah, Hukkat, XIX, 26 – Judaism)
Why was the Law given in the wilderness? Because if it had been given in the Promised Land, the tribe on whose territory it had been given might have said of the other tribes, “I am better than you.” It was given in the wilderness because there all were equal. Or, again, as in the wilderness there is no sowing or tilling, so from him who receives the yoke of the Law they remove the yoke of worldly occupations . . . . Or, again, he who fulfills the Law makes himself like unto an empty wilderness, and diregards all other influences.
“I am better than you.” This simple statement backed up by whatever agenda is prevalent has been the cause of much discord, dissention and disaster.
The “yoke of Law” has had its effect by creating a dogma that some find impossible to change because of their agenda.
Being an “empty wilderness” or what could be termed “potential”, how I creatively re-describe the concept of Buddhist emptiness can be a positive view when applied to the learning of, and application of teachings. Though there is the danger of negativity creeping in when certain influences . . . culture and time for example are not brought into play.
In the West all traditions of Buddhism are practiced and promoted. The freedom to choose, to commit to one, and to benefit from their paths is available. The problem can begin when one presents their chosen tradition as “the One”. It is “the One” for that person or group but may not be for others. While I chose the Ch’an tradition viewed through a contemporary lens that may not work for others. Does that make their choice wrong? No. As long as we are all on paths toward positive personal development and positive socially engaged development then it is ALL GOOD.
The philosophy of Buddhism is not a dogmatic yoke that must be pulled against. It is meant to enhance our way in the world by offering guidelines that we can choose to, or not to follow. We can make those choices based on our own experiences as they relate to the teachings of Buddhist philosophy.
Variations in the Teaching of the Dhamma (Samyutta Nikaya – Buddhism)
A village headman spoke thus to the Lord:
“Is a Tathagata compassionate towards all living breathing creatures?”
“Yes, headman,” answered the Lord.
“But does the Lord teach Dhamma in full to some, but not likewise to others?”
“Now, what do you think, headman? Suppose a farmer had three fields, one excellent, one mediocre, and one poor with bad soil. When he wanted to sow the seed, which field would he sow first?”
“He would sow the excellent one, then the mediocre one. When he had done that, he might or might not sow the poor tone with the bad soil. And why? Because it might do, if only for cattle fodder.”
“In the same way, headman, my monks and nuns are like the excellent field. It is to these that I teach Dhamma that is lovely at the beginning, lovely in the middle and lovely at the ending, with the spirit and the letter, and to whom I make known the Brahma-faring completely fulfilled, utterly pure. And why? It is these that dwell with me for light, me for shelter, me for stronghold, me for refuge.
“Then my men and women lay followers are like the mediocre field. To these too I teach Dhamma . . . and make known the Brahma-faring, completely fulfilled, utterly pure. For they dwell with me for light, me for shelter, me for stronghold, me for refuge.
“Then recluses, Brahmins and wanderers of other sects than mine are like the poor field with the bad soil. To these too I teach Dhamma . . . and make known the Brahma-faring completely fulfilled, utterly pure. And why? Because if they were to understand even a single sentence, that would be a happiness and a blessing for them for a long time.”
In this teaching from the Samyutta Nikaya, Desanaa Sutta, the Awakened One is making two important points: the Dhamma is not withheld from anyone . . . skillful means should be applied when teaching the Dhamma.
Note: Brahma-faring is living the noble life as taught in the Dhamma.
The Buddha recognizes his responsibility to teach the Dhamma to all, but pragmatically he realizes the importance of being aware of the disposition of his audience as well as the level of teaching most likely to be effective.
The role of monastics requires not only the letter of the teachings of the Dhamma but also the spirit or intent of the lessons. They learn the Dhamma from the lotus root deep in the mud to the flower that blooms on the surface of the clear water. That enables those that go on to teach the ability and flexibility to present the lessons in manners different than their teacher but with the same message and intent. While the words may be different, the parables told differently, the place and time they are presented different, the INTENT of the Dhamma remains.
Laity are also taught the lessons of the Dhamma so that they can be examples of the noble life.
All others are offered the lessons of the Dhamma, given the chance to realize even a small part. Should they make that realization they then can make the choice to follow the Middle Path . . . or not.
This translation is by Edward Conze, a much-respected translator and scholar of Buddhism.
The Relativity of Experience (Ramakrishna – Hinduism)
A sage was lying in a deep trance by a roadside. A thief passing by, saw him, and thought to himself, “This fellow, lying here, is a thief. He has been breaking into some house by night, and now sleeps exhausted. The police will very soon be here to catch him. So let me escape in time? Thus thinking, he ran away.
Soon a drunkard came upon the sage, and said, “Hallo! You’ve fallen into the ditch by taking a drop too much. I am steadier than you, and am not going to tumble.”
Last of all came a sage, and understanding that a great sage was in a trance, he sat down, and touched him, and began gently to rub his holy feet.
Our perception comes through the lens of our experience. The thief sees a thief because that is the sum of his experience. The drunkard sees another drunkard because that is the sum of his experience. The sage sees a sage because . . .
Does the sage see a sage because that is sum of his experience? As a sage, a wise and learned man it says he understood that it was a sage in a trance. What is unsaid but seems inferred is that the sage would have recognized if it had in fact been a thief or a drunkard. That is the importance of a life-long dedication to learning so that we can recognize and react more positively to what we encounter as we go through our lives.
“Ramakrishna was one of the most remarkable Indian saints of recent history (1836 – 1886). He is chiefly known for his high attainments in approaching God along many different paths. Most saints have one path, one line of attainment in reaching the goal. He explored each in its turn. He was a lively and likable human and made a deep impression on all that came into his sphere. He left behind innumerable devotees and helped many to follow the ultimate goal in his footsteps. Ramakrishna was a highly unorthodox and controversial figure in his time. He did everything straight from the heart and with great enthusiasm. He wasted no time or energy on earthly pursuits but showered all his love and energy on the Divine in the various roles that were cast in his life.” From the website cosmicharmony.com
From the Tree of Wisdom (She-Rab Dong-Bu – Tibetan Buddhism, Lamaism)
Let all hear this moral maxim,
And having heard it keep it well;
Whatever is not pleasing to yourself,
Do not that unto others.
Biblical writing holds this maxim up to a mirror and reads, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Similar concept different wording and different intent. The intent here is bit selfish as the doer is doing expecting that there will be a like return on his/her action. One isn’t just doing (and notice there is no mention of good, not good, neutral . . .) for the sake of what needs to be, or should be done.
The Buddhist versions intent is you find out through experiential verification if something is, or is not pleasing. What you DO NOT find pleasing DON’T do to anyone else. The underlying intent is that if you find it pleasing then that is what you want to DO to others.
The word pleasing is a placeholder for actions that have a positive impact on the causual Universe.
The She-Rab Dong-Bu (The Tree of Wisdom) is a translation in Tibetan of a Sanskrit text entitled Prajnya Danda that was written by Nagarjuna. The Tibetan text was most likely translated sometime during 11CE though an exact date is not known.
Nagarjuna was a renowned Buddhist philospher whose teachings are the foundation of the Madhyamika school. The collection of Mahayana sutras known as the the Prajnaparamita (Refinement of Wisdom) have roots in the Madhyamika philosophy.
The Backbiter (The Koran – Islam)
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate
Woe unto every backbiter, slanderer,
who has gathered riches and counted them over
thinking his riches have made him immortal!
No indeed; he shall be thrust into the Crusher;
and what shall teach thee what is the Crusher?
The fire of God kindled
roaring over the hearts
covered down upon them,
in columns outstretched.
In the Digha Nikaya, the Analysis of Virtue, the Buddha says, “Having abandoned slander, the recluse Gotama abstains from slander. He does not repeat elsewhere what he has heard here in order to divide others from the people here, nor does he repeat here what he has heard elsewhere in order to divide these from the people there.” Translation Bhikku Bodhi
This doesn’t just apply to the wealthy but to everyone. Slander is a divisive action that causing suffering and so should not be engaged in. Should a Buddhist practitioner engage in slander it is the karmic effects they have to be concerned about, and they must be mindful in the future situations and NOT slander.
In the Koranic passage translated by A. J. Arberry, whose translation of the Koran is highly respected and used the world over, those rich people who slander are likely to meet the Crusher. The Crusher is the Fire of God, and not just any fire. This is a fire the drives straight for the heart.
The Fear of God (Akkadian Counsels of Wisdom – Babylonian)
In thy learning look at the tablet:
Fear of God brings forth grace;
Sacrifice gives increase of life;
And prayer cancels sin.
He who fears the gods will not call in vain.
The Akkadian Counsels of Wisdom written in Babylon around 700 BCE were comprised of exhortations for all to worship god each day. A worshipper kept their ethical and moral life in order through offerings, supplications and prayer. It was their version of promoting human flourishing.
This was a religion where fear of retribution and consequence gave worshippers impetus to practice and follow the “tablet”. It was that fear, in the form of humility and awe that guaranteed a certain level of grace in one’s life.
Sacrifice of the self to worship would give increase of life, more opportunities and a easier way to grace. In Buddhist terms we act with selflessness not so lifespan is increased but the overall harmony of life is, allowing more freedom in this life. Buddhist “prayer” doesn’t cancel sin. What the chanting of mantras, daharanis, and sutras, as well as practicing mindfulness does is ensure that we look deeply at our intent before engaging in actions and thoughts. This allows a better opportunity for good to be done.
Grace in Buddhist philosophy comes through living an intentional noble life.
Condemnation of Offensive War (Motse – Anti-Confucianism/Mohist)
Now, about a country going to war. If it is in winter it will be too cold; if it is summer it will be too hot. So it should be neither in winter nor in summer. If it is in spring it will take people away from sowing and planting; if it is in autumn it will take people away from reaping and harvesting. Should they be taken away in either of these seasons, innumerable people would die of hunter and cold. And, when the army sets out, the bamboo arrows, the feather flags, the house tents, the armour, the shields, the sword hilts – innumerable quantities of these will break and rot and never come back. The spears, the lances, the swords, the poniards, the chariots, the carts – innumerable quantities of these will break and rot and never come back. Then innumerable horses and oxen will start out fat and come back lean or will not return at all. And innumerable people will die because their food will be cut off and cannot be supplied on account of the great distances of the roads. And innumerable people will be sick and die of the constant danger and the irregularity of eating and drinking and the extremes of hunger and overeating. Then, the army will be lost in large numbers or entirely; in either case the number will be innumerable. And this means the spirits will lose their worshippers . . .
Why then does the government deprive the people of their opportunities and benefits to such a great extent? It has been answered: “I covet the fame of the victor and the possessions obtainable through the conquest. So I do it.”
. . . But when we consider the victory as such, there is nothing useful about it. When we consider the possessions obtained through it, it does not even make up for the loss . . . Such an undertaking is not in accordance with the interest of the country.
This is a clearly thought-out and written denunciation of entering into an offensive war, and that there are no other reasons for offensive war than glory and loot. Recent history here in the U.S. presents us with great examples of this. No matter how you try to justify an “offensive war” the real reasons seem to percolate right back to the surface for some to realize and others to ignore.
Nothing that is gained from an offensive war can equal what is lost during its execution.
Interesting to note that Mo Tzu (Motse) specifically states “offensive” war. While war is a negative and unfortunate endeavor in itself there are times when a people must defend themselves. The situation must be looked at and analyzed completely before such a step is taken.
Never having heard of Mo Tzu (470 – 391 BC ?) and Anti-Confucianism research was needed. In the book “Sources of Chinese Tradition, Volume 1”, compiled by De Bary, Chan, Watson, Columbia University Press, 1960 there is a excellent chapter on this figure in Chinese history and a part of the ‘hundred philosophers of ancient China.
It is thought that Mo Tzu, in the beginning was a Confucian but after a time a schism developed between what he thought was best for the Chinese people and Confucianism. His writings described Confucians as aristocratic and arrogant whose own diginity and ritual held more importance than the people. Mo Tzu urged that men follow the path of Universal Love. It was a utilitarian path where love was first and foremost shown by making sure that all men had their immediate needs (shelter, food, clothing) met before all else. He taught that humans should focus on actions and thoughts directed toward achieving social goals . . . and offensive war certainly wasn’t one of those goals.
The Attainment of Sincerity (The Doctrine of the Mean – Confucianism)
To be fond of learning is to be near to knowledge. To practice with vigor is to be near to magnanimity. To possess the feeling of shame is to be near to energy.
He who knows these three things knows how to cultivate his own character. Knowing how to cultivate his own character, he knows how to govern other men. Knowing how to govern other men, he knows how to govern the Empire with all its States and families . . . .
Sincerity is the way of Heaven. The attainment of sincerity is the way of men. He who possesses sincerity is he who arrives at what is right without an effort, and apprehends without the exercise of thought – he is the sage who naturally and easily embodies the right way. He who attains to sincerity is he who chooses what is good, and firmly holds it fast.
Requisites to this attainment are the extensive study of what is good, accurate inquiry about it, careful reflection on it, its clear discriminations, and its earnest practice.
This passage from the Book of Means is viewed under a different lens after reading and studying Day #42 posting from Mo Tzu. It was difficult NOT to look for the arrogance and insincerity that Mo Tzu saw in Confucianism.
In Buddhist practice it is texts like the Sutra of Six Refinements that guide one to the cultivation of character. These refinements include, but are not limited to: knowledge (wisdom) and vigor in practice and the pursuit of obligations. The final paragraph of the “Attainment of Sincerity” speaks most clearly to that. Study what is useful and productive, be honest about what is learned, meditate on it, and commit to rigorous practice.
Confucianism was also a practice directed toward positive personal cultivation; to become a sage and example to others through action and thought. However, it did have a leaning toward the upper class and how they should “appear” to the common man.
Teaching that sincerity is the way to Heaven may seem to put Confucian practitioners on par with the deities. But in paragraph three there is the ideal that through diligent practice of sincerity one begins to act spontaneously in ways that bring about the best possible results.
Confucius and Mo Tzu are both parallel and perpendicular in their teachings. We can read both of their teachings and pragmatically see the value and usefulness in them.
The Doctrine of the Mean comes from the Confucian writings and was composed between 450-500 BCE. Students and scholars penned this work after the death of Confucius. The text is packed with symbolism that is meant to guide students toward perfecting their character. They were directed to find and maintain harmony in their minds and actions. Interestingly, certainly for Mo Tzu was that the work was also meant to guide “superior persons” to become sincere teachers who were examples of moderation, objectivity, honesty and above all, propriety.
Apparel (William Penn, Some Fruits of Solitude – Christianity)
Excess in apparel is another costly folly. The very trimming of the vain world would clothe all the naked one.
Choose thy clothes by thine own eyes, not another’s. The more plain and simple they are, the better. Neither unshapely, nor fantastical; and for use and decency, and not for pride.
If thou art clean and warm, it is sufficient; for more doth but rob the poor, and please the wanton.
It is said of the true church, the King’s daughter is all glorious within. Let our care therefore be of our minds more than of our bodies, if we would be of her communion.
We are told with truth, that meekness and modesty are the rich and charming attire of the soul: And the plainer the dress, the more distinctly, and with greater luster, their beauty shines.
It is great pity such beauties are so rare, and those of Jezebel’s forehead are so common: Whose dresses are incentives to lust; but bars instead of motives to love or virtue.
In a recent series of Dharma lessons on The Sutra of Eight Realizations, the seventh realization speaks directly to what William Penn wrote about here. “The three robes” are in reference to the three layers of robes worn by Buddhist monastics the world over. The number of layers worn is often dependent on the weather encountered. Owning only three pieces of clothing, not including shoes, isn’t reasonable for most of us, but owning much more than we’ll ever need may reveal a craving.
Penn’s recognition that the amount of clothes bought by the “vain” would clothe the “naked one” is just as true today as it was in his day. He goes on to say that as long as we are warm and decent that is what we need. The next time a non-profit like the American Kidney Fund calls and says they’ll be picking up clothes and household goods in your area take a long, honest look into your closet. Chances are you could fill a bag full of items that those in need could use. This is practicing generosity of spirit.
William Penn (1644 – 1718), being an English Quaker would naturally promote the wearing of plain clothes, seeing some dress and “incentives to lust”. These days there is nothing wrong with color and style; it is overindulgence that we need to mindful of.
The Fruits of Solitude is Penn’s commentaries on Quaker doctrine.
The Deed Bears Fruit (Samyutta Nikaya – Buddhism)
A man may spoil another, just so far
As it may serve his ends, but when he’s spoiled
By others he, despoiled, spoils yet again.
So long as evil’s fruit is not matured,
The fool doth fancy “Now’s the hour, the chance!”
But when the deed bears fruit, he fareth ill.
The slayer gets a slayer in his turn;
The conqueror gets one who conquers him;
Th’ abuser wins abuse, th’ annoyer fret.
Thus by evolution of the deed
A man who spoils is spoiled in his turn.
Karma. Not your traditional view of karma. Karma . . . human physics in action.
In contemporary Buddhist philosophy we set aside the concept of rebirth and focus on how karma affects us during this life, the life we are certain to go through. We only have to be mindful of what goes on around us on a daily basis to know that good is more likely to lead good, bad more likely to lead to bad. What we do matters in the causal Universe. The Universe is just waiting for us to act so our actions can become part of the causal process.
Use the ideal of karma to guide your ethics in a direction that promotes harmony, that promotes good and positive things to happen around us. What we do matters.
The Three Pure Precepts
Cease to do harm.
Do only good.
Do good for others.
Karma . . . human physics in action!
The Example of Christ (St. Gregory the Great – Christianity)
He set forth in Himself patterns of both lives, that is, the active and the contemplative, united together,. For the contemplative life differs very much from the active. But our Redeemer by coming incarnate, while He gave a pattern of both, united both in Himself. For when He wrought miracles in the city, and yet continued all night in prayer on the mountain, He gave His faithful ones an example, not to neglect, through love of contemplation, the care of their neighbors, nor again to abandon contemplative pursuits, from being too immoderately engaged in the care of their neighbors; but so to keep together their mind, in applying it to the two cases, that the love of their neighbor might not interfere with the love of God, nor again the love God cast out, because it transcends, the love of their neighbor.
Thich Naht Hanh often presents the parallels between the lives of Jesus and the Buddha, and the parallels of their teachings. Whether or not there is any physical connection between the the two men can remain an unanswerable. What is real is that both of them were men who realized ways to help their fellow human beings and set out to do so. That fact alone would naturally lead to parallels in their thinking, acting and teaching.
The Buddha did lead “patterns of both lives”, of action and of contemplation. Though their pursuit does differ greatly, their goal can be the same with one a natural consequence of the other. This shows clearly the causal process of the Universe. Causality, the ideal that what is, IS, because something else IS empowers us to be examples just like Jesus and Buddha strived to be. People will listen to someone talking the talk, but they emulate someone who walks the walk.
Action is required to go forth and teach the lessons, contemplation is required, in meditation especially, to realize what lessons were important and deliver them skilfully. Finding the balance, the harmony between the two takes practice and practice is what Buddhist philosopy is all about.
The writer of The Example of Christ was not just St. Gregory the Great . . . he was Pope St. Gregory I the Great. Born in Rome in the year 540CE he died in 604, with the whole of his life dedicated to the Catholic Church. His work was the germination of the church from medieval Christianity to later Catholicism.
The Way of Heaven (Dao de Jing – Daoism)
True words are not fine-sounding;
Fine sounding words are not true.
A good man does not argue;
He who argues is not a good man.
The wise one does not know many things;
He who knows many things is not wise.
The Sage does not accumulate (for himself):
He lives for other people,
And grows richer himself;
He gives to other people,
And has greater abundance.
The Dao of Heavan
Blesses, but does not harm.
The Way of the Sage
Accomplishes, but does not contend.
The Sage in Daoism ruled through example and showed wisdom through example. Their wealth was meant to be the wealth of the people. This applied not only to material wealth but to spiritual wealth as well.
A Sage does not take words and the sounds of them at face value but looks deeper, to intent and agenda. His wisdom does not come from how much he knows for wisdom might have a connection to knowledge, but wisdom is not a product of knowledge.
In many ways the Sage of Daoism is like the Bodhisattva ideal of Mahayana Buddhism. They realize their interconnection with the causal process and act accordingly. The Sage gathers so that he can distribute to others, again material and spiritual goods; this is the way of the Bodhisattva. The “riches” of both the Sage and the Bodhisattva are realized through their altruistic actions.
Bodhisattva and Sage focus on the positive dispositions of themselves and others. The Way of the Sage, like the path of the Bodhisattva are directed toward human flourishing through the use of skillful means.
Buddhist Serenity by Way of Prayer (Niebuhr and Hughes — Christianity and Buddhism)
This Daily Interspiritual posting does not come from the “Living Wisdom of the World’s Religions” book that previous ones have. This came about as I was preparing this Friday’s Dharma talk for the Buddha Center, Second Life. The title is: Life Toolbox: Creating and Maintaining Buddhist Tools.
Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr, theologian, wrote the famous Serenity Prayer that most people can recite at least the first sentence. The remainder while less well known is just as crucial to Niebuhr intent with this inspirational writing. In fact this was inspirational enough to become a key part of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Step Program. It has helped many thousands of people stay ont their chosen path. Here is the original:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world As it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that You will make all things right If I surrender to Your Will; So that I may be reasonably happy in this life And supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen
With deep respect to Mr. Niebuhr’s original I did some creative re-description so that same intent could speak in a contemporary Buddhist voice. As a Buddhist dharani:
I practice the serenity to accept things that happen, the courage to make positive changes when possible, and the wisdom to view experiences through a more positive lens. Living moment-to-moment; seeing the possiblilities; accepting that hardship can better be seen as an opportunity to learn; taking, as the Buddha did, this impermanent world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting in my ability to make the best possible intentional choices in each situation; so that I can promote the alleviation of suffering and unsatisfactoriness for all sentient beings. Sva ha! Ven. Wayne Hughes
No Absolute (Chuang Tzu – Daoism)
If a man sleeps in a damp place, he gets lumbago and dies. But how about an eel? And living up in a tree is precarious and trying to the nerves – but how about monkeys? Of the man, the eel, and the monkey, whose habitat is absolutely the right one? Human beings feed on flesh, deer on grass, centipedes on snakes, owls and crows on mice. Of these four, whose is absolutely the right taste? Monkey mates with monkey, the buck with the doe; eels consort with fishes, while men admire Mao Ch’iang and Li Chi, at the sight of whom fishes plunge deep down in the water, birds soar high in the air, and deer hurry away. Yet who shall say which is the correct standard of beauty? In my opinion, the standard of human virtue, and of positive and negative, is so obscured that it is impossible actually to know it as such.
“No Absolute” could be the motto of Buddhism. Due to the causal process of the Universe and the reality of impermanence there can be no absolute. “What about suffering? The Buddha said suffering was a truth.” And he did. Suffering is a small “t” truth, not a capital “T” Truth, an absolute truth. If suffering was an absolute Truth, something that could never change then what would be the point of Buddhist philosophy? Buddhists the world over, in all traditions practice so that one day all sentient beings will not suffer.
This Daoist passage speaks so clearly about the diversity of life on our planet, and the power that comes from accepting it all for what it is, not what we might want it to be. The axiom, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” leaves the decision to the individual whether they are man or animal; personal preference wins out.
The last sentence, “In my opinion, the standard of human virtue . . .” seems meant to remind the Daoist that the determination of human virtue is situational. The Engaged Buddhist ideal of situational ethics can be difficult for some with more dogmatic views to accept. What might be a decision that results in negative consequences in one instance may result in the opposite, a positive one in another similar situation. The combination of intent, wisdom, mindfulness and flexibility of thought is more important than a dogmatic set of rules.
Four Similes (Proverbs 25:11-14 – Judaism-Christianity)
A word fitly spoken
Is like apples of gold in network of silver.
As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold,
So is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear.
As the cold of snow in the time of harvest,
So is a faithful messenger to them that send him:
For he refresheth the soul of his masters.
As clouds and wind without rain,
So is he that boasteth himself of his fights falsely.
Words like precious metal chased fruit. Beautiful jewlery like wisdom imparted. Change of weather to ripe crops like the arrival of a message . . . don’t get that one . . . Cloud and wind like the useless boasts of a warrior.
Precepts that a Buddhist takes for monastic or lay vows include: I undertake the training of verbal empowerment; I will abstain from meaningless speech . . . from harsh speech . . . from frivolous speech . . . from slanderous speech, which could be viewed as us only words fitly spoken. Words that are appropriate or situational have value in promoting and maintaining harmony and happiness.
That is what each of the similes here are referring to; how we use our words is important. What we say and how we say it matters in the connections we have with those around us no matter their station in life or ours.
The first precept taken is: I undertake the training of loving-kindness in all possible circumstances, I will abstain from hurting sentient beings. In this vow loving-kindness is exhibited in all of our actions and thoughts.
The Nine Incapabilities (Pasadika Sutta – Buddhism)
The brother . . . in whom the intoxicants are destroyed, who has lived the life, who has done the task, who has laid low his burden, who has attaned salvation, who has utterly destroyed the fetter of rebirth, who is emancipated by the true gnosis, he is incapable of perpetrating nine things:
He is incapable of deliberately depriving a living creature of life.
He is incapable of sexual impurity.
He is incapable of deliberately telling lies.
He is incapable of laying up treasure for indulgence in worldly pleasure as he used to do in the life of the house.
He is incapable of taking a wrong course through partiality.
He is incapable of taking a wrong course through hate.
He is incapable of taking a wrong course through stupidity.
He is incapable of taking a wrong course through fear.
These nine things the arahat in whom the mental intoxicants are destroyed, who has lived the life, whose task is done, whose burden is laid low, who has attaned salvation, who has utterly destroyed the fetter of becoming, who is emancipated by the true gnosis, is incapable of perpetrating.
In the Pasadika Sutra the Buddha was speaking to Cunda, novice disciple. Cunda had brought word to the Buddha of a clan whose religious leader had died and there was a conflict concerning who would take his place. In the course of the sutra the Buddha teaches first how to discern a worthy teacher from a an unworthy one; then, he goes on to speak of the four asavas, mental intoxicants that block true realization of the Dharma.
Asava (aasava) are mental pollutants, four mental dispositions or activities – sensuality, views, becomings, and ignorance that are destructive and consuming (vighata parilaba). These are dispositions and habits that lead directly to suffering and discontentment (dukkha).
The last paragraph tells that the arahat is the one who can achieve this level. The arahat is more common in the Thervadan tradition but the Tibetan definition of arahat, “one who has destroyed the foes of afflictions” is an excellent description. While the arhat has reached a level of realization akin to the bodhisattva in Mahayana tradition, a practitioner should not see these goals as unattainable. In any Buddhist practice these Incapabilities are in reach.
The bodhisattva and the arhat have reached a high level of refinement in their ability to subdue the mental intoxicants. Buddhist practitioners, monastics and lay people, by realizing these Incapabilities during their moment-to-moment practice contribute greatly to the alleviation of suffering and the promotion of human flourishing, in themselves and in others.
We can each, even if just ocassionally, be one, “ . . . in whom the intoxicants are destroyed, who has lived the life, who has done the task, who has laid low his burden, who has attaned salvation, who has utterly destroyed the fetter of rebirth, who is emancipated by the true gnosis, he is incapable of perpetrating nine things”.
Excerpt from Looking Inward: Observations on the Art of Meditation (Kor Kaho-suan-luang – Thai, Theravadan Buddhism)
The Buddha taught that we are to know with our own hearts and minds. Even though there are many, many words and phrases coined to explain the Dhamma, we need focus only on the things we can know and see, extinguish and let go right at each moment of the immediate present – better than taking on a lot of other things. Once we can read and comprehend our inner awareness, we’ll be struck deep within us that the Buddha awakened to the truth right here in the heart. His truth is truly the language of the heart.
When they translate the Dhamma in all sorts of ways, it becomes something ordinary. But if you keep close and careful watch right at the heart and mind, you’ll be able to see clearly, to let go, to put down your burdens. If you don’t know right here, your knowledge will send out all sorts of branches, turning into thought-formations with all sorts of meanings in line with conventional labels – all of them short of the mark.
If you know right at your inner awareness and make it your constant stance, there’s nothing at all: no need to take hold of anything, no need to label anything, no need to give anything names. Right where craving arises right there it disbands: That’s where you’ll know what nibbana is like . . . “Nibbana is simply this disbanding of craving” That’s what the Buddha stressed over and over again.
For this “Insight and Inspiration” I went interfaith (within Buddhist traditions) rather than interspiritual (within many religious and spiritual traditions) because this passage had an important message.
In Engaged Dharma we present a contemporary view of the Dharma based on our combined Chinese Ch’an and Japanese Zen lineage and Mahayana tradition. At the same time we recognize that all Buddhist traditions come ultimately from the same source, the Buddha; and that we should realize that while the words and rituals may differ we are all working toward the same goal.
Kor Kaho-suan-luang (Upasika Kee Nanayon), a female Thai monk is one of the foremost teachers of meditation in Thailand and when she speaks we should all listen. In the above passage her words are clear, it is practicing meditation with rigorous self-honesty so we recognize our dispositions and when we connect with what is in our heart that we’ll realize the lessons of the Dharma. Looking to the moment we are in and focusing on what we know and see will allow us the clarity needed to tackle our immediate issues.
While I agree that learning what and how we are is a fundamental step toward realization of the Dharma, I also believe that through studying the Dharma and the history of Buddhism is important. In order for Buddhist philosophy to become a platform that Westerners can relate to their own lives we must creatively re-describe its philosophy, while always presenting the Buddha’s core message of the alleviation of unsatisfactoriness and suffering, and the development of positive personal ethics and character.
“Nibbana is simply this disbanding of craving.” Kaho-suan-luang offers a Nirvana that is not a place but a state of being-with. We can, each of us enter the state of Nirvana through the act to setting aside craving.
The book, “Looking Inward: Observations on the Art of Meditation” can be downloaded for free from many websites. I got my copy from Buddhanet.
Doers of the Word (James 1:22 – 27, Christianity)
But be ye doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholds himself, and goes his way, and straightway forgets what manner of man he was. But whoso looks into the perfect law of liberty, and continues therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridles not his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
Interesting how many parallels to Engaged Buddhist teaching is in this passage from James. In any religion, faith, worldview or philosophy it is never enough to know the words and be able to say the words. To be an example one must DO. Words don’t make good examples, actions make GREAT examples.
“beholding his natural face in a glass” is similar to the concept of “holding up a mirror”. We hold up a mirror to our Buddhist practice and take a long honest look at our “face”. If we aren’t self-honest we can go on “talking the talk” without ever “walking the walk” but still convince ourselves we are doing well. At the same time we realize we are free to make whichever choice we want to, but in the end it is the good intent, followed by good actions that must be our focus.
No matter what belief system or faith we choose it up to us to commit and to do. Only through doing will we make a positive difference.
The Intoxication of Pride (Hitopadesa – Hinduism)
Once there was a lion named Durdanta (Hard-to-tame) who was always killing the other animals on Mount Mandara. Finally all the animals gathered together and petitioned the lion: “Your Majesty, why are you slaughtering us? We will daily furnish you with a signle beast for your dinner as a gift.”
“If that is agreeable to you,” said the lion, “then so be it.” From then on every day he habitually fed upon the single beast that was provided.
Now one day an old rabbit’s turn came, and the rabbit thought to himself, “Out of fear, one pretends humility in the hope of being spared. But if I have to die, why should I cringe before the lion? I will take my time about going to him.”
When he arrived, the lion was enraged with hunger. “What took you so long?” he howled.
“It was not my fault,” answered the rabbit. “on the road I was stopped by another lion. I promised him that I would return, and he allowed me to come and tell you.”
Durdanta angrily exclaimed, “Take me along and show me where the scoundrel is!” They set forth and came to a deep well. Pointing to the water in it, the rabbit said, “Come here, my lord, and see.” Glimpsing his own image reflected there, he pounced on it and was drowned.
Thus was the lion, intoxicated with pride, defeated by a clever rabbit. He who has sense has strength, but where is a fool’s strength?
Everybody likes a good rabbit outsmarts the lion story Remember Bugs Bunny in Hold the Lion, Please? That lion wasn’t very smart either.
The “pride goeth before a fall” angle is pretty obvious in this tale, but there’s more, at least from a Buddhist perspective. The lion was of course selfish in his appetites. Selflessness was shown by the other animals. It seems that through social consensus, the group of animals deciding together what would work best for them all, one animal would give up their life to feed the lion. Then comes the rabbit.
There is a certain amount of pride in the rabbit too, but it is channeled differently. He sets aside fear and creatively re-describes his situation. Since he is going to have to die for the other animals to be safe he is going to do it on his own terms and without fear.
In the end the rabbit chooses “animal flourishing” over the life of the lion. Tricking the lion into seeing the prideful and arrogant mirror image of himself results in its death and the freeing from fear of the other animals. This is an example of situational ethics. Sometimes in order to get the most harmony, health and happiness for the most beings hard choices must be made.
Hitopadesa Tales is a compilation of short stories offer advice for the benefit of everyone. They use clever animals and amusing situations to impart knowledge and standards of ethical behavior. Composed by Narayana Pandit it is still a very popular children’s story book. It originated approximately a thousand years ago and was first written in Sanskrit.
Types of Men (Pirke Aboth – Judaism)
There are four types of man:
The ordinary one says: “What is mine is mine, and what is your is yours.”
The strange one says: “What is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine.”
The saintly one says: “What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours.”
The wicked one says: “What is mine is mine, and what is yours is also mine.”
From a Buddhist perspective the first man (ordinary) has never realized an enlightening moment, one where his interconnection with the whole Universe is recognized. He may hoard his own, but at least he isn’t a thief or craves the property of others. His diposition tends toward social detachment.
The strange man is . . . well, he is strangely unaware of his place in the Universal mileu. His dispostion tends toward confused.
Third is the Bodhisattva, the saintly one is ready to give of himself and all he has. He doesn’t want what is anothers. His dispostion tends toward selfless.
The wicked hoards what they have, often more than they need; and covets and craves what everyone else has, too. His dispostion tends toward the greedy and malicious.
In Buddhist practice we understand that we can decide which person we want to be and then work toward that goal. What we are now is not what we have to be forever.
The Pirke Aboth are named for Pereq Rabbi Meir, and are sometimes called the Chapters of the Fathers. It takes that name from being a collection of maxims of the Jewish Fathers whose names are written in its pages. Its value lies in its practical ethical teachings. It is a popular text, simple to read and understand.
The Treatment of Others (Menog-I-Khrad – Zorastrianism)
Him who is less than you, consider as an equal, and an equal as a superior, and a greater than him as a chieftain, and a chieftain as a ruler.
This kind of thinking will give one a sense of humility by recgonizing no one as beneath them, and others their betters.
In Buddhist philosophy there is a great word – Equanimity. A word that presents a more logical and socially useful way to view the treatment of others. Equanimity if even-temperedness or composure. In terms of people it means setting aside pity or awe, or any emotional construct when dealing with them. Whatever their station in life we approach them in much the same way, with compassion and respect.
And, what about “all men are created equal”. In a sense that is true; we all are conceived and born of mothers the same way. So while we are “created equal” we are not equal in physical and mental abilities, something we must accept. What this means to our Buddhist practice is that we promote human flourishing, the equal opportunity for all to have the best possible existence given their circumstances.
The Bracelets (Tso-Cj’an San-Mei Ching – Buddhism)
There was a king of Benares. One summer when the weather was very hot he lay down in an upper room on a couch adorned with gold, silver, and many precious stones and made a servant massage him with ointment of sandalwood from the Bull’s Head Mountain. The servant was wearing a great many bracelets on her arms, and they jangled together while she massaged the king. The sound irritated him and he asked her to take one of the bracelets off. She did so, and there was a little less noise. She took off another, and there was less noise still. He made her go on taking them off till there was only one left, and then there was no jangling at all. When the noise stopped the king had a sudden awakening. “That is just what I ought to do with my kingdom, my ministers, subjects, concubines and attendants,” he said to himself. “In fact, with all business and bother.” From that moment onward he had no further worldly desires, but spent his time meditating in comple seclusion, and became a Solitary Buddha.
King or commoner, monastic or laity, our lives are full of things that can distract us. It is becoming aware of them and setting aside what are distractions and keeping those experiences we learn from. But this passage has a more important lesson to impart.
In Buddhism there is the “sudden enlightenment” believers. They believe that it is an experience or event that brings on enlightening moments, the AH HA! moments. Then there are the “gradual enlightenment” folks that see enlightening moments as something that comes in stages as we learn and practice. So, “sudden awakening” or “gradual awakening”; let’s use the King of Benares as a test.
Only one bracelet left and no noise. The king has a sudden awakening!
What did it take to reach that point though? “He asked her to take one bracelet off.” Then “She took off another and there was less noices still.” And, she kept going . . . so I think you can get where I am going with this. It was the gradual lessening of the noise, leading to the cessation of noise and then AH HA!
No matter what the AH HA! moment is if you look closely the causal chain leading up to that moment can be discerned. This is why the word practice is so common in Buddhism. You practice, practice, practice so you’ll recognize those enlightening moments. They happen to everyone; it’s just that everyone isn’t trained or practiced to realize them.
A Gulf of Empty Words (Leon Bloy – Christianity)
I have just undergone a terrible sermon against Materialism or Naturalism as opposed to supernatural Revelation. All the philosophic platitudes of the seminary paraded before the Blessed Sacrament, motionless in the tabernacle. I, alas had come to the church like “a beggar full of prayers”. That gulf of empty words swallowed them up, and my soul slipped into the uneasy slumber that dull prattle induces. In the very face of the Enemy, such, then, is the concern of preachers, for how many long years brought up and carefully tended in scorn of the warnings of La Salette – on the eve of a frightful day of reckoning!
What systematic deformation of the faith, or what lack of it, must we assume to account for such ministers, and so great a number of them, having come to the point – where they no longer know that man’s stock in trade is Faith and Obedience, and that consequently he needs Apostles and not lecturers, witnesses and not demonstrators. The day has gone for proving that God exists. The hour strikes when one must give one’s life for Jesus Christ.
This essay like writing of Leon Bloy could easily apply to any teacher, teaching any subject. Of course, here I’ll write about specifically Buddhist teaching but I’m sure you’ll get the point.
The Buddha taught the ideal of skillful action and he was an expert practitioner of skillful action. When he spoke to groups or individuals he balanced the need of the audience, his own intent, and the complexity of the message to fit the situation. That is a skill that one isn’t born with; it is a practiced skill.
I am fortunate that my root teacher, Shi Yong Xiang brought the inherent pragmatism of the Buddha’s teachings, and the American Pragmatic philosophical tradition to my training. Combine pragmatism and skillful action and you’ve got a powerful rhetorical tool. This leads to an intention to deliver a message clearly and one that will be useful and productive for the audience. An effective teacher isn’t in front of the class to prove how much they know or how good they are at circular logic; a fact that some don’t always realize. Then there is what the Buddha termed “eel wriggling”, putting in language and concepts that aren’t relevant or are just meant to sound wise.
Here is a challenge for students everywhere, in every subject. Raise your hand and ask, “How does that apply to this subject?” or “How can that help me succeed?” These are legitimate and critical questions that a teacher should be happy to respond to.
After reading a little about Leon Bloy (1846 – 1917) his intent behind the above essay is a reminder to Catholic clergy. Bloy was French, a essayist, novelist and poet. During his youth he considered himself an agnostic and had no love for the Roman Catholic Church and its ways of teaching. In Paris in 1868 he met the Catholic author Barbey d’Aurevilly and experience a conversion back to Catholicism.
Then on his work showed his renewed devotion to the Catholic faith and church. The phrase in the passage, “a beggar full of prayers” refers to his nickname “the ungrateful beggar”. Bloy, upon his return to the Catholic faith depended totally on charity to survive, charity he expected from anyone and everyone.
The Three Treasures (Dao de Jing – Daoism)
All the world says to me: “Great as Dao is, it resembles no description (form).” Because it is great, therefore it resembles no description. If it resembled any description it would have long since become small.
I have three treasures, which I hold and keep safe:
The first is called love;
The second is called moderation;
The third is called not venturing to go ahead of the world.
Being loving, one can be brave;
Being moderate, one can be ample;
Not venturing to go ahead of the world, one can be the chief of all officials.
Instead of love, one has only bravery;
Instead of moderation, one has only amplitude:
Instead of keeping behind, one goes ahead:
These lead to nothing but death.
For he who fights with love will win the battle;
He who defends with love will be secure.
Heaven will save him, and protect him with love.
Fresh off of a Dharma talk about the Three Refuges, also known as the Three Treasures of Buddhism (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha) this caught my attention. In the language of the Dao the Three Treasures are kept safe, while in Buddhism the Three Treasures are places of safety and refuge. The Dao de Jing having such an effect on the transition of Buddhism into China there would likely be a parallel.
Dispositions, or habit energy (as Thich Naht Hanh terms them) are the emotions, actions, and thoughts we hold as part of the way we react to the world around us. In the Dao the Three Treasures are: love, moderation, and “being with” the world. These have their direct parallels with Buddhist philosophy.
Love is part of feelings of compassion. Compassion can be a powerful emotional directive, but guides us well when tempered with altruism, a less emotional view. Moderation is . . . well . . . moderation, the “Middle Path”. “Not venturing ahead of the world” is not fondling the future. Deal with today in a positive way and likely, because this is a causal process, there will be a more positive future.
One with compassion can be brave in the midst of suffering and unsatisfactoriness. Moderation in need is a path to having what is necessary. Not venturing allows one to deal with NOW, being an example to others.
Equality (T. J. Sanhedrin – Judaism)
A single man was created for the sake of peace among mankind, that none should say to his fellow, “My father was greater than your father.”
“A single man was created . . .” in the Christian faith this is obviously Jesus who was a man whose effect on the world around him was astonishing. In the Buddhist tradition the man was Siddhartha Guatama, a man whose awakening and subsequent teachings had a profound effect on the world around him. Both men entered the Universal causal process and promoted the most positive aspects of human behavior. Their effect is still felt today. Cool!
The key for any of us not “born of a virgin” or “from a white elephant entering our mother” is that Siddhartha and Jesus were men whose commitment and practice show us that we too can make positive changes in ourselves and others.
Mutual Interdependence (Marcus Aurelius – Stoicism)
Begin the morning by saying to thyself, I shall meet with the busybody, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in the same intelligence and the same portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him. For we are made for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away.
Seems, at first that Marcus Aurelius is writing about accepting that one will come in contact with all sorts of people during the day, and that we must also accept that their worldview and actions come from an unawareness of “good and evil” or the positive and negative dispositions they hold. That has its parallel in Buddhism. We accept others as they are.
Then, accepting our own awareness of “good and evil”, positive and negative processes of the Universe we aren’t unduly harmed by those causal processes. “We are made for cooperation . . .” sounds like the Buddhist ideal of interdependence. To act against each other is counterproductive. Doesn’t seem like a negative way to view life . . . until you look more deeply into the stoic philosophy.
Stoicism is sometimes termed the “tough guy philosophy”. A Stoic doesn’t ask, “What is reality?”; they ask instead, “How do I cope with reality?” The Stoic responds with, “What ever happens, good or bad, I don’t really care because I can’t do anything about it one way or the other.” Basically whatever path you choose is fine because neither matters anyway. Wow! Interesting way to approach life.
A stoic believes that they have no control, that fate determines everything. And, here is where it gets confusing . . . but, if you CAN take control of a situation you should . . . BUT you are not trying to alter the path of fate but are actually doing what fate wanted you to do in the first place. This approach relies on Universal Determinism. No one can change it, just accept whatever happens, and if you do try to change something it is only because that is what was already a determined action.
Buddhist philosophy rejects the concept of any determinism, or fate in the Universal causal process. While some actions seem to naturally lead to certain reactions, we know through observation that there are exceptions to those reactions dependent on cause and effect.
More importantly a Buddhist knows that whatever actions they take MATTER. We determine the course of our lives, we are the “poets of our lives”.
The Price of Knowledge (Mahabhrata – Hinduism)
How can a man love knowledge yet repose?
If you wish to be learned, then abandon ease,
Either give up your knowledge or your rest.
One of the ten lay and monastic precepts we vow is “dedication to life-long learning”. In an ever changing world where the physical and social sciences are constantly discovering and offering new insights into ourselves and the Universe around us it is our responsibility to keep learning.
I’ve heard folks say, “There is so much and I don’t have the time or energy to keep up.” Granted, we can’t learn everything, but viewed differently we can make the effort to learn more about subjects we already have interest in. Then, through our friends, family and experts we can learn some about what interests them just by the simple act of listening.
Technology offers us an amazing array of ways to learn: books, television, radio, podcasts, ebooks, recorded books, YouTube, and more. Take time to look around and find new avenues to new information.
The price of knowledge is commitment and effort. The price of ignorance is much, much higher.
The Nature of Love (Nipata Sutta – Buddhism)
May creatures all abound
in weal and peace; may all
be blessed with peace always;
all creatures weak or strong,
all creatures great and small;
Creatures unseen or seen,
dwelling afar or near,
born or awaiting birth,
– may all be blessed with peace!
Let none cajole of flout
his fellow anywhere;
let none wish others harm
in dudgeon or in hate.
Just as with her own life
a mother shields from hurt
her own, her only, child –
let all-embracing thoughts
for all that lives be thine,
An all-embracing love
for all the universe
in all its heights an depths
and breadth, unstinted love,
unmarred by hate within,
not rousing enmity.
So, as you stand or walk,
or sit, or lie, reflect
with all you might on this;
– ’tis deemed “a state divine.”
Our love, and our compassion must be given freely to all beings this is living the Bodhisattva ideal. The recogntion that we are connected with all peoples and interconnected with the Universe; that we are a social self is one of the great realizations of Buddhist practice.
The True God (Xenophanes – Greek)
Homer and Hesiod have ascribed to the gods all things that are a shame and disgrace among mortals, stealing and adulteries and deceivings of one another. But mortals deem that the gods are begotten as they are, and have clothes like theirs, and voice and form. Yes, and if oxen and horses or lions had hands, and could paint with their hands, and produce works of art as men do, horses would paint the forms of gods like horses, and oxen like oxen, and make their bodies in the image of their several kinds.
The Ethiopians make their gods black and snub-nosed; the Thracians say theirs have blue eyes and red hair. The gods have not revealed all things to men from the beginning, but by seeking they find in time what is better.
One god, the greatest among gods and men, is like mortals neither in form nor in thought . . . He sees all over, thinks all over, and hears all over.
But without toil he sways all things by the thought of his mind.
And he abides always in the selfsame place, not moving at all; nor does it befit him to go about, now hither, now hither.
Two authors, Homer and Hesiod may have spawned the “Soap Opera” with their depictions of the divergent personalities and lifestyles of their deities. The gods not only had the varied, though greatly magnified personalities the same as the humans they watched over; they too wore clothes and craved what they thought they needed. It was god in man’s image, as well as man’s image of god.
Xenophanes lived in Greece, 570 – 478 BCE and traveled the land as a sage and a poet whose poems and writings were philosophical messages meant to teach. He would equally comment on nature, popular religion, wisdom, social teachings or whatever subject he felt needed a champion. Despite his wide-ranging interests it was his critiques of popular religion is what he most remembered for. He felt that this would lead ultimately to a self-serving dogma. It seems his “god” was an unanswerable.
He also encouraged his fellow man to develop humility and a level of skepticism, to experience before “knowing”.
The True God is a critique of the human tendency to anthropomorphize their gods, to make them as much human as divine. Xenophanes felt this guided man to many false conceptions about god.
So, now for some Buddhism. The rational and epistemological approach of Xenophanes is, along with his critique of dogma . . pragmatic. That works for me. The Buddha was a pragmatist. Pragmatism is doing what is useful and productive to promote human flourishing. That works for me.
Teachers (Ven. W. David Astor – Buddhism)
“History teaches impermanence.”
That could be a definition of the word history. Humans haven’t been around that long in the scheme of things and look at all the change we’ve been the cause of. Equally, look at the changes wrought on our species by the phenomena occurring in the world around us. History has an important lesson to teach. There has always been, and there will always be, change (impermanence). It is impermanence that has gotten us to what we are now.
Learn the history of an individual, our planet, an event, a civilization, or a species and learn that change is a constant. There are changes that led to negative results and those that led to amazing positive results.
There are no exceptions. No where in history will you find a person, place or thing that didn’t change, or isn’t in the process of the change the moment you view it.
Teachers come in many guises. Be aware of moments to learn, be aware of moments to teach, and always practice to set a positive example.
Purification (Yasht – Zoroastrianism)
When the sun rises up, purification comes upon the earth made by Ahura, purification unto the flowing waters, unto the waters of the wells, unto the water of the seas, unto the water that is standing. Purification comes unto the righteous creation, which is of the holy spirits. If indeed the sun were not to rise, then the demons would kill all things that are in the seven regions. He who offers up a sacrifice unto the undyng, shining, swift-horsed Sun – to withstand darkness, to withstand the Daevas born of darkness, to withstand the robbers and the bandits . . . to withstand death that creeps in unseen – offers it up to Ahura Mazda . . . offers it up to his own soul . . . I bless the sacrifice and the invocation and the strength and vigor of the undying, shining, swift-horsed Sun.
The light, or ‘enlightening’ moment that is brought on by the illumination of wisdom and the refinement of our practice could be viewed as Ahura’s sun. It is a sun that purifies the negative dispositions. In Buddhist practice it is the bodymind that purifies as a result of practice and wisdom.
There is a Buddhist metaphor for the bodymind of a tub of muddy water. Kept stirred by negative dispositions, experiences and actions it is cloudy and turbulent. Through practices that increase awareness and develop mindfulness we learn to avoid acting negatively, and our positive actions help to still the muddy water, eventually letting it clear so we can see how we truly are. The sun is the wisdom that allows the water to settle.
In all faiths there are examples of sacrifice. The sacrifice of Buddhist practice is that it is 24/7/365 action. That ‘sacrifice’ empowers us to positively engaged our most negative dispositions and habits, to avoid those experiences that will contribute negatively to our bodymind. We practice with strength and vigor born of the knowledge that what we do matters.
Good Deeds and Great Blessings (Mahabharata – Hinduism)
To injure none by thought or word or deed,
To give to others, and be kind to all –
This is the constant duty of the good.
High-minded men delight in doing good,
Without a thought of their own interest;
When they confer a benefit on others,
They reckon not on favors in return.
Two persons will hereafter be exalted
Above the heavens – the man with boundless power
Who yet forbears to use it indiscretely,
And he who is not rich and yet can give.
Good words, good deeds, and beautiful expressions
A wise man ever culls from every quarter,
E’en as a gleaner gathers ears of corn.
To curb the tongue and moderate the speech,
I sheld to be the hardest of tasks.
The words of him who talks to volubly
Have neither substance nor variety.
Compare and contrast the Mahabharata passage with the Ten Precepts we at the Engaged Dharma Insight Group train in and practice as part of our vows.
I undertake the training of loving-kindness in all possible circumstances, I will abstain from hurting sentient beings by honoring life.
I undertake the training of generosity; I will abstain from taking that which is not needed for my survival.
I undertake the training of simplicity (moderation and contentment); I will abstain from sexual misconduct and the abuse of sensory pleasures.
I undertake the training of verbal empowerment; I will abstain from deceitful speech.
I undertake the training of kind speech; I will abstain from harsh speech.
I undertake the training of meaningful speech; I will abstain from frivolous speech.
I undertake the training of harmonious speech; I will abstain from slanderous speech.
I undertake the training of tranquility (serenity); I will abstain from cultivating greed, envy, and contempt.
I undertake the training of altruism; I will abstain from cultivating hatred, prejudice and fear.
I undertake the training of knowledge of our world; I embrace life-long learning and the cultivation of selflessness in the development of wisdom.
Siddhartha recognized the positive aspects and teachings of the Hindi faith he grew up in. Whenever we compare and contrast the two, Hindi and Buddhism, we find many more similarities than differences. This is a great reminder that just as Siddhartha kept the most useful and productive concepts of his cultural worldview and infused it with new concepts and ideals, we can do the same. We can look to the core teachings of the Buddha, recognizing their value in promoting human flourishing. We can then realize that our contemporary worldview, such as pragmatism and/or agnosticism can be a part of developing a Buddhist practice that is useful and productive in our own time and place in the causal Universe.
Reflections on Effort (Yoruba Proverbs – African Religion)
Everybody who comes to this world, must become something. Only we don’t know what.
We are born as potential. In the beginning it is environment, circumstance, and genetics that leave a light imprint on how we will be. When we realize our freedom of choice is when we truly mold our character . . . how we become.
We are not pre-destined to do anything, no matter our earliest circumstances. The end of path may not be revealed to us but we have total responsibility over being on the path. We are the creators of our world. Not creator as metaphysical or magical, but we can design how we want to be and then practice to refine that goal, the world we imagine.
Breaking Promises (Al Ghazali – Islam)
Take care not to promise something and then fail to perform it. The good you do to people should rather be in deed without any word. If you are forced to make a promise, take care not to break it, except from inability to fulfill it or from compulsion. To do so is one of the signs of hypocrisy and wickedness. Muhammad (God bless and preserve him) said: “There are three things, which, if a man practices secretly, he is a hypocrite, even though he fasts and performs the Worship: if, when he relates something, he lies; if, when he makes a promise, he breaks it; if, when he is given a trust, he betrays it.
In Buddhism there are actions that in Japanese are called intoku. Al Ghazali describes that ideal well with, “The good you do to people should rather be in deed without any word.” Intoku is ‘good done in secret’ or ‘good done without expectation’ and is a focus of practicing selflessness. This doesn’t mean hiding the work we do, or that people aren’t aware of who did the deed. It is the ideal that we DO because it NEEDS to be done, NOT for recognition or praise. Should recognition or praise be received then we accept it with humility and move on the next thing that needs to be done.
The word promise holds a lot of power in human society. It begins when a parent says, “Do this and I promise . . . “ and then that promise is withheld or forgotten. What the promiser and the promised need to be aware of is that promises are subject to situationality and impermanence just like anything else. Our intent should always be to do what we say we will do. Should something come up that adversely affects our intent we need to be honest about it.
There is the saying, “Promises are made to be broken.” Maybe they aren’t so much made to be broken but due to the impermanent nature of the Universe there is always a chance they will be broken.
Subjectivity (The Jataka – Buddhism)
Once upon a time, during the reign of Brahmadatta, king of Benares, the Bodhisattva became a tree sprite on the bank of the Ganges. At the point where the Ganges and Jumna meet, two fish met together, one from the Ganges and one from the Jumna. “I am beautiful!” said one, “and so are you!” and then they fell to quarreling about their beauty. Not far from the Ganges they saw a tortoise lying on the bank. “That fellow shall decide whether or not we are beautiful!” they said, and they went up to him. “Which of us is beautiful, friend tortoise,”they asked, “the Ganges fish or the Jumna fish?” The tortoise answered, “The Ganges fish is beautiful, and the Jumna fish is beautiful, but I am more beautiful than you both.” And to explain it, he uttered the first verse:
“Fine are the fish of Juman stream, the Ganges fish are fine,
But a four-footed creature, with a tapering neck like mine,
Round like a spreading banyan tree, must all of them outshine.”
When the fish heard this the cried, “Ah, you rascally tortoise! You won’t answer our question, but you answer another one!” and they repeated the second verse:
“We ask him this, he answers that: indeed a strange reply!
By his own tongue his praise is sung “like it not, not I!”
The Jataka, or Jataka Tales tell the lives of the Buddha before his Awakening. In them his guise can be man, or any other denizen of the Hindu world at that time. Here he is the Bodhisattva that lives as a tree sprite along the Ganges River. It is important that we understand the cultural context concerning reincarnation in the Hindu faith in Siddhartha’s time. It was believed that no man could achieve the higher states of being without first going through many other existences, that it couldn’t be accomplished in one life time. The Jataka Tales were an effective way to teach how the Buddha gained the great wisdom he exhibited.
Perception is a tricky thing. Most human beings preception begins at their self, and often ends there. It is interesting that both fish and the tortoise saw the beauty in the other but saw their own beauty as dominant. We best perceive the world as it as when we can set aside the shadow of ego.
If you have read any sutras, heard Dharma talks about the Buddha’s teachings, or studied with a Zen Master then you’ve encountered the “question that won’t be answered” and “the question that will be asked”. The Buddha would often take a question from a disciple or follower and instead of answering it, he would pose a new question. Deeper study will show the effectiveness of redirecting the bodymind away from the ego so that an answer can be discovered.
The tortoise was very skillful in that he complimented both fish for their beauty, and then gave them a light ego prod by saying he, the tortoise was still more beautiful. It was a lesson in how ego can cause suffering in others and in ourselves.
Read it one more time and you’ll get it.
Man’s Nature is Good (Mencius – Confucianism)
The disciple Kung-tu said, “The philosopher Kaou says, ‘Man’s nature is neither good nor bad.’ Some say, ‘Man’s nature may be made to practice good, and it may be made to practice evil, and accordingly, under Wan and Wuy, the people loved what was good, while under Yew and Le, they loved what was cruel.’
“Some say, ‘The nature of some is good, and the nature of others is bad . . .
“And now you say, ‘The nature is good.’ then are all those wrong?”
Mencius said, “From the feelings proper to it, it is constituted for the practice of what is good. This is what I mean in saying that the nature is good.
“If men do what is not good the blame cannot be imputed to their natural powers.
“The feeling of commiseration belongs to all men; so does that of shame and dislike, and that of reverence and respect, and that of approving and disapproving. The feeling of commiseration implies the principle of benevolence; that of shame and dislike , the principle of righteousness; that of reverence and respect, the principle of propriety; and that of approving and disapproving, the principle of knowledge. Benevolence, righteousness, propriety, and knowledge are not infused into us from without. We are certainly furnished with them. And a different view is simple from want of reflection. Hence it is said, ‘Seek and you will find them. Neglect and you will lose them.’ Men differ from one another in regard to them – some as much again as others, some five times as much, and some to an incalcuable amount. It is because they cannot carry out fully their natural powers.
Man’s nature is his character. It is the dispositions, thoughts and actions with which he interacts with his social environment. We are not born with a certain character – ‘Man’s nature is neither good nor bad.’ – we develop our character through our experiences and responses to those experiences. There is a limited influence by our parents, peers, friends and society but in the end WE decide HOW WE ARE GOING TO BE.
In Engaged Buddhism we talk a lot about practice. Practice is an encompassing and corrective activity that we engage in moment-to-moment. It encompasses our lifestyle as we strive to think and act in positive ways so those positive ways become a natural response to experiences. Our practice is used correctively by learning to be aware of the negative and the positive, then to focus on improving the positive. Sounds pretty straightforward but it isn’t. This takes commitment to and a realization of the Middle Path.
All emotions and dispositions belong to every human being. It is up to us to choose which direction we take, good, bad or indifferent. There is the Buddhist ideal that we all have Buddha-nature, a natural awakened state that we just need to recognize and practice. Mencius is speaking about the same ideal.
Barring mental disabilities we have control over how we are. We must set-aside blaming parents, environment, society and whatever is convenient and get over it. Create your own positive “human nature” and then commit to making it how you are.
The Nature of the Good (Panchatantra – Hinduism)
Praise not the goodness of the grateful man
Who acts with kindness to his benefactors.
He who does good to those who do him wrong
Alone deserves the epithet of good.
The misery a foolish man endures
In seeking riches, is a hundredfold
More grievous than the sufferings of him
Who strives to gain eternal blessedness.
The little-minded ask: Does this man belong
To our own family? The noble-hearted
Regard the human race as all akin.
‘What school did you go to?’ ‘Are you saved?’ ‘Do you own a . . . ?’ ‘What military branch were you in?’ Consider that the person asking these types of questions is really only asking one question, ‘Are you in my tribe?’
“Little-minded” is kind of harsh so let’s say unaware, with the potential to have at least one enlightening moment. It may take only one aware moment to affect a monumental change.
A Bodhisattva, or a person acting like one isn’t going to ask those questions whose answers create labels and boundaries. They would ask, “How did you do today?” Were you generous, accepting, and situationally ethical in approaching the world. It is more important to be aware of what effect we have on the causal process of the Universe, and that our intent be to promote human flourishing.
We are all composed of the same cosmic stuff. That isn’t meant to be a metaphysical statement. I mean literally we are all composed of the same cosmic stuff. It is just cosmic stuff with infinite diversity in infinite combinations (thanks to Mr. Spock). We are all akin.
The other two stanzas of this passage from the Panchatantra hold lessons to be recognized. Post your comments or commentaries for others to find lessons in.
The Panchatantra is a five volume set of animal fables and tales of magic. Scholars believe that the 87 stories were already ancient when the books were compiled in 3rd to 5th CE. Orally passed through many cultures they inspired the works of medieval writers through Arabic translations available to them.
The Worth of Life (Chinese Buddhist Proverb – Buddhism)
The ancients did not see the moon of the present; the present moon did once shine upon the ancients.
Any questions? . . . comments?
The Folly of Excess (Dao de Jing – Daoism)
A man on tiptoe cannot stand firm;
A man astride cannot walk on;
A man who displays himself cannot shine;
A man who approves himself cannot be noted;
A man who praises himself cannot have merit;
A man who glories in himself cannot excel;
These, when compared with Dao, are called:
“Excess in food and overdoing in action.”
Even in other things, mostly, they are rejected;
Therefore the man of Dao does not stay with them.
The arrogance of the self can do irrepairable harm to our connections with others. Rationalizing that our role in society takes precedence over that of others, that their contributions are of lesser quality has no basis in the reality of our causal Universe. Without subjects there would be no adjectives. Without commoners there would be no kings. Without women there would be no men.
One motive of the passages in the Dao de Jing was to encourage the development of, and the living of a noble life within the community. For a sage or ruler to guide others effectively required humility and a realization that while their station in life might be elevated, their role in life was to set the example of moderation that others could emulate.
A Buddhist might see the excess of ego in this passage. It describes one who must see over the heads of others and who can’t process change as long as they are inert. Their self-aggrandizement feeds their ego in case they don’t get recognition from others. The Dao notes that this action will not have positive results.
Sayings of the Baal Shem (Rabbi Israel Ben Eliezer – Judaism)
What does it mean, when people say that Truth goes over all the world? It means that Truth is driven out of one place after another, and must wander on and on.
Alas! The world is full of enormous lights and mysteries, and man shuts them from himself with one small hand!
When I weld my spirit to God, I let my mouth say what it will, for then all my words are bound to their root in Heaven.
Truth with a capital “T” will constantly be without a “place” because as far as we can know there is no ultimate, unchanging truth in Buddhism. Even the Buddha spoke about the Dharma not holding true in all situations. There is a Universal constant, for now anyway, that the Universe is a constant state of change, that nothing remains the same moment-to-moment (impermanence). Ah Ha! you might say, that is a Truth! Impermanence is unchanging. In true Pragmatic Buddhist form I remind you of the statement for now anyway. We realize that should proof of something permanent is presented and verified by us then we’ll have to change our way of thinking. That makes even impermanence a truth with a small “t”. So, Truth will wander until impermanence is disproved.
There is a danger in seeing a Truth. If we find a Truth will we stop looking beyond it. Will we stop the pursuit of knowledge because we already know the Truth? There is so much light and mystery out there that we might miss and that would be a shame.
The intent of the final sentence is a good one. By practicing what we have proven is useful and productive (pragmatic) in promoting human flourishing then our thoughts, words and actions will be examples of the efficacy of our chosen path.
Learn more about Rabbi Eliezer at http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/baal.html.
Aphorism of Connectedness (Benjamin Whichcote – Christianity)
We are made one for another, and each is a supply to his neighbor.
This describes the realization that what we do matters because of our connectedness with those around us, and our interconnectedness with the causal Universe. We are each unique expressions of that Universe whose every action and thought is a cause that effects others . . . and we become the effect that others cause. Around us is a continual supply of examples, positive, negative and neutral that we can look to when shaping our own lives. This is why, as Buddhists we must strive to set the best possible example in the way we approach our experiences. It is a role of the Bodhisattva.
Of God’s Companionship (Francois De Fenelon – Christianity)
You cannot do better than so arrange your time as to read a short time everyday, with some brief meditation, reviewing your weak points, considering your duties, seeking God, and acquiring the habit of familiar intercourse with him. Happy will you be if you learn what it is to find love an occupation.
It is no use to ask what those who love God do with him. There is no difficulty in spending our time with a friend we love; our heart is always ready to open to him; we do not study what we shall say to him, but it comes forth without premeditation; we can keep nothing back – even if we have nothing special to say, we like to be with him.
Oh, how much easier it is to love than to fear! Fear constrains, fetters, perplexes one; but love persuades, comforts, inspirits, expands the soul, and make one desire what is good for its own sake. It is true that one always needs a fear of the judgment of God as a counterpoise to the passions. “My flesh trembleth for fear of Thee.” May my whole body be filled with thy fear, O Lord. But if we begin with a fear which subdues the flesh, we must reach on to that love which comforts the soul.
How good and faithful a friend you will find in God, if you will but form a sincere, steadfast friendship with him!
For ease of comment this passage was divided into these four sections by me.
The more I practice and study Buddhist philosophy the less appealing faith based worldviews appear. This is not to say that they are wrong. In fact they appear to work quite well for some and I accept that, afterall that is the pluralistic worldview that we promote in Engaged Buddhism. From a Pragmatic Buddhist perspective everyone should choose a worldview that offers a useful and productive guide to living life. It is important to keep in mind though that pluralism does not equal agreement. We each bring our own commitments to the table as we listen and accept the commitments of others.
Setting aside time to read or other form of study, to meditate or contemplate, to develop awareness of negative dispostions and habits (in Buddhist practice we also make it a point to be aware of the good dispostions also), to recall our duties as agents of change, and to acquire positive habits through practice are laudable pursuits. Notice here that “seeking God” is not included. In Buddhist philosophy there is no God to seek; instead we seek to become a better person through our own efforts and mindfulness.
“I have no fear because I can never be separated from anything.” This line from our Daily Affirmation reminds us that even if we make a mistake or fail miserably we are still connected to the causal Universe. Fear seems to take on a whole different dimension in this passage. De Fenelon tells us that love is easier than fear and lists disadvantages of fear and the advantages of love. But then he goes on to say that “one always needs to fear the judgment of God” and “May my whole body be filled with fear.” And I thought the Buddha could sound contradictory
Experience has shown me that a sincere, steadfast friendship cannot be built from a foundation of fear.
The Parable of the Saw (Kakacupana Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya – Buddhism)
In the same way, monks, there are these five aspects of speech by which others may address you: timely or untimely, true or false, affectionate or harsh, beneficial or unbeneficial, with a mind of good-will or with inner hate. Others may address you in a timely way or an untimely way. They may address you with what is true or what is false. They may address you in an affectionate way or a harsh way. They may address you in a beneficial way or an unbeneficial way. They may address you with a mind of good-will or with inner hate. In any event, you should train yourselves: ‘Our minds will be unaffected and we will say no evil words. We will remain sympathetic to that person’s welfare, with a mind of good will, and with no inner hate. We will keep pervading him with an awareness imbued with good will and, beginning with him, we will keep pervading the all-encompassing world with an awareness imbued with good will equal to a catskin bag — abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.’ That’s how you should train yourselves.
“Monks, even if bandits were to carve you up savagely, limb by limb, with a two-handled saw, he among you who let his heart get angered even at that would not be doing my bidding. Even then you should train yourselves: ‘Our minds will be unaffected and we will say no evil words. We will remain sympathetic, with a mind of good will, and with no inner hate. We will keep pervading these people with an awareness imbued with good will and, beginning with them, we will keep pervading the all-encompassing world with an awareness imbued with good will — abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.’ That’s how you should train yourselves.
The core of this simile is “an awareness imbued with good will”. The Buddha is teaching us that no matter the circumstances from harsh speech to actual physical harm offered to us by others we must not react with negative thoughts or words. There are those that use this sutta as a way to prove the Buddha was also teaching passivity, that a Buddhist should not defend themselves from physical harm. A close reading of this sutta and others with similar messages speaks directly to words, feelings and thoughts while never saying don’t defend yourself or others when the situation warrants. Granted there is no reason to resort to physical defense when only words are being used but it is difficult to comprehend that the Buddha, who according to the tales of his early life, was trained as a warrior would not one to defend themselves or others from physical harm.
This simile can be viewed as a extreme example of “keep your cool when all about you are losing theirs”.
The Marks of a Good Man (Sisupala Badha – Hinduism)
Wise men rest not on destiny alone,
Nor yet on manly effort, but on both.
Weak persons gain their object when allied
With strong associates; the rivulet
Reaches the ocean by the river’s aid.
A good man’s intellect is piercing, yet
Inflicts no wound; his actions are deliberate,
Yet bold; his heat is warm, but never burns;
His speech is eloquent, yet ever true.
When Siddhartha was awakened and set forth as the Awakened One, the Buddha, he had come to the realization what changes in the Hindi worldview of his time would need to change in order to achieve the alleviation of suffering and unsatisfactoriness. It is likely he began with the concept of destiny or fate. A belief in those two concepts could lead one to believe they had no control over their present or future thus limiting their actions and goals. A wise man would be better off to set aside the concept of destiny and apply “manly effort” to reach their goals.
A “weak person” may simply be one without the knowledge or experience to reach a goal. That is one of the strengths of the sangha in Buddhism. Each help the other develop a strong practice as they help each other realize that they are part of something bigger than themselves. The reach enlightening moments together through social consensus and the becoming of a social self.
Good human beings, no matter the level of their intellect do not intentionally wound another through their actions or words. They do what needs to be done while respecting the lives of others. Their speech is encompassing and corrective in both word and delivery.
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Knowing Oneself (Dao de Jing – Daoism)
He who knows others is learned;
He who knows himself is wise.
He who conquers others has power of muscles;
He who conquers himself is strong.
He who is contented is rich.
He who is determined has strength of will.
He who does not lose his center endures,
He who dies yet (his power) remains has long life.
When I want to gain a better understanding of passages in the Dao de Jing I refer to “Dao de Jing – Making This Life Significant” by Roger Ames and David Hall. This is Chapter 33 from that ancient book of wisdom.
In the Dao to “know” is a realization of our relationship between yourself and whatever situation you are in. In Buddhist philosophy one begins to develop wisdom by first “knowing” themselves before they can truly learn about others.
In the Dao to “conquer” is having control of yourself no matter what situation you find yourself in. In Buddhist philosophy it is the development we practice to “conquer” negative dispositions and use the discovered strength of our bodymind to be an example to others.
In both the Dao and Buddhism to be “content” is how Ames/Hall describe it: “knowing when enough is enough”.
Determination is the commitment we show to our practice, the practice that keeps us “centered”.
A factor of our continuation after death comes from the example we set for others and that legacy is our “long life”
The True One Blesses (The Japji – Sikhism)
Pilgrimage and penance and free-will giving
Gain for one no single grain of merit,
Unless one harken and his heart be loving,
Cleansed within by a meditative bath.
All good is thine, no single virtue have I,
And without it what avails devotion?
By word of mouth the brahmans utter blessing,
While the True One blesses with sincere desire.
The Japji Sahib, The Morning Prayer holds the core of Sikh philosophy. In it are the basic lessons taught by the Sikh Guru Nanak. There are a variety of scholarly opinions as to when Guru Nanak wrote or spoke the teachings but none argue that it is a treasury of his spiritual and secular wisdom. Reading and reciting the Japji Sahib one is struck by its tone and meter similar to Buddhist mantras and sutras. Each word is an expression in itself and in each stanza a lesson can be realized.
For a Sikh to truly practice and benefit they must exhibit commitment to the whole of the teachings. Just performing a penance, or being generous isn’t enough. Showing compassion to others and deeply listening to one’s teacher isn’t enough. To have just one virtue isn’t enough. Devotion is shown by adhering to all.
In Buddhism it is much the same. We must commit ourselves to an encompassing practice. While, yes we learn gradually and gradually we develop our practice, it is with the ideal and goal that it becomes a practice that encompasses each moment of our experience.
In Sikhism the True One blesses. In Buddhism the practitioner realizes.
Procrastinators (Gerard Smith – Artist philosophy)
I personally think the concept of being in the right mood is highly overrated. Look at it this way, most people do not bound out of bed in the morning because they’re in the mood to go to work. No, they have a shower, quickly down a coffee and show up at their desk. And before they know it they’ve had a productive, even enjoyable day with a few small victories and laughs along the way. What I’m trying to say is that if you just start doing something you’ll get into the swing of it. A few coats of paint on that canvas and I can virtually guarantee you’ll be hooked. Just be businesslike about it and schedule some time to get started on one of these projects. Don’t wait for some mythical mood to strike you. Sometimes the less you think the better you’ll do.
Being aware and mindful we can find Buddhist lessons all around us, in what we read, watch and hear. This posting is no exception. Rather than interspiritual I’ll call this one inter-artistic as it comes from the book, Artful Spaces, DIY Wall Art for the Home by Gerard Smith.
Smith is talking about what writers call their “inner critic” and procrastinators blame for never getting anything done, “I’m just not in the mood.” A Buddhist might call this a factor of “great doubt”. In any event all it does is limit what you could be doing and makes you lazy.
We don’t sit to meditate because we are “in the mood”, we sit to get in the mood, the mood of living an aware life. We strive to DO not to WAIT TO DO.
Forgiving a Thief (Thomas Fuller – Christianity)
One Nicias, a philosopher, had his shoes stolen from him. May they, said he, fit his feet that took them away. A wish at the first view very harmless, but there was that in it which poisoned his charity into a malicious revenge. For he himself had hurled or crooked feet, so that in effect he wished the thief to be lame.
Whosoever hath plundered me of my books and papers, I freely forgive him; and desire he may fully understand and make good use thereof, wishing him more joy of them than he hath right to them. Nor is there any snake under my herbs, nor have I (as Nicias) any reservation, or latent sense to myself, but from my heart do desire, that to all purposes and intents my books may be beneficial unto him. Only requesting him, that one passage in his (lately my) Bible (namely, Eph. IV. 28) may be taken into his serious consideration.
Nicias was indeed wishing harm to befall the thief that stole his shoes. If the thief wasn’t already lame then there was intent that his feet be disfigured in the future. But at least Nicias was open and honest in his intent. We’ll give him some amount of credit for that.
For one on the path of the Bodhisattva the wish would be that the thief benefit positively from the shoes, even to the point of them helping him in his chosen profession. The Bodhisattva would look to the causal process of the Universe to mete out whatever “punishment” the thief might endure. The episode would then be promptly forgotten.
Mr. Fuller forgives but retains his attachment to his books when he reminds us that the thief has no right to the books and that the Bible was “lately my”. He says there are no snakes under his herbs . . . except his hope that the thief finds the benefit in those books that Mr. Fuller requests, the reading of Ephesians 4:28 “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.”
Stealing is a negative act certain to draw negative consquences and the passage from Ephesians is a good lesson. Whether it is that passage or another factor resulting from the thief’s actions the hope, in either worldview, Buddhist or Christian is that the thief change to a more positive pursuit.
Born in England, Thomas Fuller (1608 – 1661) wrote on the subjects of church and history. His most famous writing is “Worthies of England”, a dictionary of English national biographies. He brought into his writings the oddities of English experience and thought gathered from original sources.
Rules of Propriety (Analects – Confucianism)
Hold faithfulness and sincerity as first principles. Have no friends not equal to yourself. When you have faults, do not fear to abandon them.
Confucian philosophy focused on the social dynamics between, and within the stratas of Chinese society. There were rules of conduct when dealing with your “betters”, with those “lower”, and with those within your social level. The above rules would apply differently depending on the social situation.
One, in all levels of society should be faithful and sincere in their duties.
One, in all levels of society should find friends in that level.
All should strive to correct their faults without fear.
From a Buddhist perspective, setting aside all divisions of society we must be faithful and sincere in our practice, applying it equally. Not only must we view our friends as equal to ourselves but all people. Not equal in the sense of skill, wisdom, strength, etc., but in the sense that all deserve an equal opportunity to better themselves through their own efforts. Finally, we must be committed to the life-long pursuit of knowledge and the positive personal development that comes through recognizing our dispositions, habits and “faults” then realizing our inherent ability to change.
Reality Check (Stephen T. Asma – Buddhism)
We seek to hold on to those feelings of bliss that come with intense pleasures like sex, food, drink, and even aesthetic pleasures. But we must, according to the Buddha, get a reality-check about these transient joys. Accept them for what they are, and even enjoy them. But don’t obsessively chase after them in a state of denial about their fleeting nature.
This passage doesn’t come from the “Living Wisdom . . . “ book, but instead comes from a favorite Buddhist book, “Why I am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey” by Stephen T. Asma.
I was once told by another Buddhist monastic, “You aren’t supposed to enjoy eating. Eating is just an action taken to survive and have strength to teach the Dharma.” At the time I hadn’t read Stephen Asma’s book or this would have been my reply.
Seriously, do folks really think the Buddha was a humorless automaton that went through life not seeing the beauty as well as the suffering in life?
Personally I enjoy, no I LOVE backpacking deep into the Colorado wilderness. There I have sat among thick stands of Ponderosa pines and aspen trees, watched moose wander by, and laughed at the antics of camp robber jays as they sought something shiny to steal. In the last two years I know that a infestation of Pine Bark Beetles has wiped out a high percentage of the pine trees in those special places. When I return to Skeleton Gulch this year there may not be as many trees, as many moose, or as many camp robber jays and that will make me sad. But it will be a transient sadness, and the joy I get from being there again will also be transient . . . and I am good with that. That is impermanence, that is causality, and that is expected.
The Duty of Work (II Thessalonians 3:10-15 – Christianity)
For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing. And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
My root teacher, Shi Yong Shiang would cut this passage down to: “Paying for your rice.”
Beyond the ‘work or don’t eat’ scenario is the concept that working and contributing builds positive character (really important for a Buddhist) and builds stronger connections with the people around us (equally important).
But, there is no need from a Buddhist perspective to make someone feel guilty for not working. Just let the karmic, causal effects of the Universe take care of it. This isn’t meant in a “pre-destined” or “fate” way. It is just logical that without contributing a person is much less likely to get what they need to survive.
The Man Worthy of Respect (Dhammapada – Buddhism)
A man is not learned because he talks much; he who is patient, free from hatred and fear, he is called learned.
You’ve likely heard this same ideal expressed in other quotations including in the Bible:
‘It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt .’ — George Eliot
‘Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.’– Abraham Lincoln (also attr. Confucius)
‘It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.’– Mark Twain (1835-1910)
‘Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.’ — Bible, ‘Proverbs’ 17:28.
The thought behind the quotation, no matter who it is attributed to is not hard to understand. Whether it was an original quote re-quoted or a diverse selection of people who had the same thought this presents another ideal of engaged and pragmatic Buddhism.
First, that a philosopher, a theologian, a humorist, a writer, and a president recognized that a person they respected for their wisdom had made a statement so valuable and profound that they felt the need to repeat it is a powerful example of the positive effects of encompassing and corrective speech.
Second, that a philosopher, a theologian, a humorist, a writer, and a president experienced some causal effect that prompted them to make this realization is a powerful example of the connectedness between people and their shared, though separate experiences.
Responding to Nature (Hsun-Tse – Confucianism)
You glorify Nature and meditate on her:
Why not domesticate her and regulate her?
You obey Nature and sing her praise:
Why not control her course and use it?
You look on the seasons with reverence and await them:
Why not respond to them by seasonal activities?
You depend on things and marvel at them:
Why not unfold your own ability and transform them?
You meditate on what makes a thing a thing:
Why not so order things that you may not waste them?
You vainly seek the cause of things:
Why not appropriate and enjoy what they produce?
Therefore, I say: “To neglect man and speculate about Nature
is to misunderstand the facts of the universe.”
This seems directed at those who ‘worshipped nature’, setting it’s needs above the needs of man. What this thinking fails to take into account is that man is nature/nature is man. While sometimes it may be necessary to domesticate, to control, to respond, to transform, to order, and to appropriate it should be done when the situation makes it necessary, otherwise leave nature to it’s own direction.
Promoting human flourishing can’t be accomplished by defeating or conquering nature, or by letting nature have it’s way at the expense of humans. It is taking skillful actions (preparation, permission and resources) that lead to the most positive solution depending on the understood situation.
Those of us that hike and backpack glorify nature and sometimes have to obey her, but we are also glad for the trails that have in a small way domesticated her. We look on the seasons and await them so we can respond with seasonal activities. While transforming nature through cutting trails we transform and order nature slightly so that we can then enjoy.
We should not “neglect man” when we “speculate about Nature”, but neither should we neglect Nature when we speculate about man.
Counterbalance of Karma (The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack – Spoken by a fictionalized Sir Richard Burton)
At least karma provides a counterbalance – a penalty or reward, if you like – to acts we actually perform and thoughts we actually think, rather than punishing us for the supposed sin of our actual existence or for a transgression against a wholly artificial dictate of so-called morality. It is a function of Nature rather than a judgement of an unproven God.
Being a contemporary American Ch’an monk with a deep Pragmatic Buddhism background I can’t help but recognize pragmatic Buddhist thought in everything I read, watch and experience. After all that is what moment-to-moment practice is all about . . . practicing each moment. There is also the constant search to find meaningful ways to explain some of the concepts of Buddhist philosophy and karma can be a tough one, especially when one’s view of karma has nothing to do with reincarnation or rebirth.
Karma, at it’s simplest, is a response to action or thought by a causally-based Universe. Not only does what we DO (this includes thinking) matter but HOW we do it and our INTENT behind it matters. Bad karma is not a punishment, it is a non-emotional reaction from an un-emotional Universe . . . by the way, good karma is not a reward for the same reason.
A Buddhist must develop their sense of morality and ethics based on the effects and reactions that their actions, good , bad or neutral cause. Along with that they also learn to recognize that the actions of others have their own consequences. In either case one’s action may not have personal consequences but may have effects, positive or negative on the lives of others. For this reason we strive not only to act with good intentions but to be examples for other to do so.
The above quote comes from Mark Hodder’s book, The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack. It was spoken by Hodder’s fictionalized version of Sir Richard Burton, a man who in reality translated books of Asian literature including The Arabian Nights, and was a first European to visit Mecca not only disguised as a Arab but also speaking the language fluently. Hodder’s Burton is all that with a little Steam Punk thrown in.
The Consequences of Behavior (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad – Hinduism)
As a goldsmith, taking a piece of gold, turns it into another, newer, and more beautiful form, so does this self, after having thrown off this body and dispelled all ignorance, make unto himself another, newer, and more beautiful shape . . . like that of Brahman . . .
According as he acts, and according as he behaves, so will he be – a man of good acts will become good, a man of bad acts, bad. He becomes pure by pure deeds, bad by bad deeds . . .
They who know the life of life, the eye of the eye, the ear of the ear, the mind of the mind – they have comprehended the ancient, primeval Brahman.
Each time I realize the strong parallels between Buddhism and Hindusim, and recall that Siddhartha Guatama was raised in that faith and trained with the Master of many facets of that faith I can’t help but gain a healthy respect for the Hindi faith.
Once again this is a passage that shows that Siddhartha not only accepted, but recognized the value of much of the Hindi teachings when the metaphysical was set aside. While metaphysically the words “after having thrown off this body . . .” point to the concept of rebirth, in our tradition it can be viewed as simply the change in personality and direction that one takes as they develop a more positive personal character. They become a “newer, more beautiful form”.
In Buddhist philosophy it is a fact of the causal world that by performing good deeds, by practicing generosity, by acting selflessly, and by being compassionate we BECOME the sum of those acts.
Scientific Spirituality (Richard Feynman — Physics)
Science is a way to teach how something gets to be known, what is not known, to what extent things are known (for nothing is known absolutely), how to handle doubt and uncertainty, what the rules of evidence are, how to think about things so that judgments can be made, how to distinguish truth from fraud, and from show.
Spirituality, when defined as man’s search for answers can be clearly seen in the sciences.
Science and Buddhist practice both want to experientially verify HOW things are. Science and Buddhist practice accept and work within the reality of the causal Universe understanding that with constant and continuous change there are no Absolute Truths.
A scientist handles doubt and uncertainty by applying the scientific method to problems, and applies it situationally with the knowledge of a changing Universe. A Buddhist handles doubt and uncertainty with the knowledge of impermanence and the free will to make intentional changes.
Viewing “judgments” as decisions they both think, or meditate on situations in order to make a decision as to how to reach the most positive, encompassing conclusion, and then to take the most positive, encompassing action.
Science and Buddhism look to the realities of now.
Richard Feynman is (though he died in 1989) one of the most influential and dynamic minds in physics. His work changed our view and understanding of the causal forces in nature. Not only that but he was a funny, endearing man whose inquisitive spirit is still alive in his students, friends and colleagues.
An Overpowering Welcome (Hasidic Story – Judaism)
When Rabbi Phineas Hurwitz came to Frankfurt to take up the post of Rabbi, he received an overpowering welcome. Thousands of people surrounded his carriage. A friend asked how he felt in this hour of triumph. The Rabbi replied: “I imagined that I was a corpse, being borne to the cemetery in the company of multitudes attending the funeral.”
We all have moments of “triumph” when it can be easy for our pride, an inflated sense of ego to dominate our thinking and actions. There is nothing wrong with a temporary sense of a ‘job well done’ but we should not hold on to that feeling. Our role as Buddhists is to DO what needs to be DONE, keeping in mind all the while that in moments there will be another DOING needed.
This story also reminds me of a meditation that Ven. David practices to alleviate a sense of rising ego. With eyes gently closed form a image of ego in your mind. Make it a black blob, your own image wearing a crown, or whatever works for you. As you meditate imagine that figure shrinking and moving to the back of your consciousness, maybe even imagine a box forming around it to contain it. Personally, I imagine a voice, a loud voice telling me how wonderful I am and work to quiet and eventually silence it.
A Prayer for Good Behavior (Jalalu’l-din Rumi)
Let us beseech God to help us to self-control: he who lacks self-control is deprived of the grace of the Lord.
The undisciplined man does not corrupt himself alone: he sets the whole world afire.
Whatever befalls thee of gloom and sorrow is the result of thy irreverence and insolence.
Anyone behaving with irreverence in the path of the Friend is a brigand who robs men: he is no man.
Through discipline Heaven was filled with light, through discipline the Angels became immaculate and holy.
By reason of irreverence the sun is eclipsed, and insolence caused ‘Azrazil to be turned back from the door.
A goal of these interspiritual insights and inspirations is the practice of pluralism. Accepting that there is more than one path to human flourishing, but there is also the aspect of remaining true to one’s own commitments while accepting the commitments of other worldviews. The above passage is a good example.
There are many parallels between Islam and Buddhism, probably many more similarities than one would first believe. And, like any differing worldviews there are points of divergence.
Committing to Buddhist practice means taking the responsibility of self-control and self discipline onto yourself. There is no being that we turn to “help” us, and certainly not one that if they choose not to help will then punish you for not succeeding. This is a clearly contrary way of looking at personal development.
“What befalls thee of gloom and sorrow” is never a result of only your actions. There is the causal process of the Universe, the notion of human physics in action (karma), and your own experiential verification that proves this to be true. Now, you do have control over how you react to gloom and sorrow, again that is your responsibility. And, I would add that whether or not you “bad talk” the Buddha has no effect on it
Behave with irreverence and you are not man seems rather harsh. Might you just be a man who made a bad decision that time, surely there is opportunity to do better.
Through discipline, the discipline to avoid being irreverant and insolent to a higher power you avoid retribution. How about through self discipline you learn to treat others and yourself with more respect and compassion? That leads to more good actions and thoughts thus making the world a better place. Sounds like a much more logical plan.
The Worth of Life (Chinese Buddhist Proverb – Buddhism)
The human mind makes mischiefs, like a monkey; human consciousness gallops like a horse.
This proverb relates to the simile of the Six Animals that the Buddha offers in the Chappana Sutta, Samyutta Nikaya. The sutta uses the images of animals and their craving to pursue whatever impulse is the strongest as depictions of the six senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell and mind). The monkey is seen as liking to play, to cavort and to make trouble – what we call the monkey mind that procrastinates against effort preferring to swing about from thought to thought. Or the consciousness, like a horse, that wants to run free with thoughts of the past and prognostications of the future, rather than deal with the here-and-now.
On Being Particular (Hasidic Story – Judaism)
Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sasov once gave his last coin to a man of evil reputation. His students reproached him for it. Whereupon he replied: “Shall I be more particular than God, who gave the coin to me?”
A man in need, “evil reputation” or not is still a man in need. And besides, if it is just a reputation than without proof or experiential verification then it is gossip and should be set aside by a Buddhist practitioner. Whether it is one’s “last coin” or one of pocketful the practice of generosity of spirit is to give without thought, and without expectation.
Now, situationally if the “evil reputation” is valid through verification, and there is a thought that the coin could be put to use promoting negative acts then generosity of spirit can still be practiced. Instead of coin, give food or other materials items that will help the man alleviate even a small part of his suffering.
The Man with the Heart of a Child (Mencius – Confucianism)
Acts of propriety which are not really proper, and acts of righteousness which are not really righteous, the great man does not do.
The word “act” is the key here. A person can act like they are doing something for the good of others, as a gesture of respect, or in deference to another while in their mind doing these things for personal reasons. One can make contributions or offerings in the guise of generosity while all the while thinking about what they will get in return. These are acts that look altruistic, compassionate or respectful but lack sincerity, and are directed toward the ego of the individual. This is negative intent.
It is intent that gives our actions and thoughts their true and genuine meaning.
Acting on Pluralism (King Asoka – Hinduism/Buddhism)
“I do not call Truth what the foolish confront each other with; they make their own view of Truth; that is why they treat their opponents as fools.”
This is a quote attributed to King Asoka who ruled a huge part of India in the middle of the 3rd century BCE. In the beginning of his reign he was a violent and despotic ruler, then he discovered the teachings of the Buddha and from then on ruled his land with the wisdom, tolerance and compassion of Buddhist principles.
Here he is echoing a lesson from the Buddha about tolerance. The foolish get in confrontations concerning what they hold as Truth, and what others do. Each of their views of Truth are based on their own perception yet they want others to have the identical perception. As an example to his own people, King Asoka accepted the commitments of other faiths and worldviews, while holding to his own commitments to his Hindi faith and Buddhist philosophy.
There is insight and inspiration all around us we just have to develop awareness of opportunities to learn and grow. Dedicate yourself to a lifetime of learning. Please contact me at email@example.com with any questions or comments. I look forward to your wisdom and insight.
I bow with respect,
Ven. Wayne Hughes
(Ren Cheng) 仁 诚