Compassion as Mediator: Engaging Islam
It is my thesis that we are greater than the sum of our biological parts. Not only that, but we have it in us to be still better than we are now, and the choice lies to a significant degree in our own hands, and in the choices we make. Nothing remains the same for long, as we live in a casual world where change is ever present. No matter how similar our parts to those of other animals, there are to be found within us some characteristics that make us uniquely human. Whether as overtly evident as the power of the brain, or as taken for granted as certain adaptations within our skeletal system, we are possessed of elements that make us different from any other living thing that has ever existed, at least that we have been able to discover.
If this is true of our bodies, how much more must it be true of the qualities of emotion and thought, that we alone of all the animal kingdom possess that we are aware of? Like everything else about human function, the many fragments that coalesce to form human feeling arise from the workings of the physical structure that we possess. The uniquely human brain/mind is a property of the organic characteristics of this uniquely human body. There is no duality of mind and body — all is one. In that oneness, which is the summation of our humanness, I include the quality that I find most remarkable, the quality which above all else makes us distinctively what we are. This I, and Dr. Sherwin Nuland, a Clinical Professor of Surgery at Yale, call the human spirit.
Notwithstanding the tragedies that we humans have visited on ourselves both individually and collectively, and the havoc we have wreaked on our planet, we are yet endowed with a transcendent quality that expands generation upon generation, overcoming even our tendency toward self-destruction. That quality which we may call spirit, has permeated our culture and created the moral and ethical standards that is found in civilized behavior. And one that drives us to engage the Dharma to produce productive outcomes.
As I choose to define it, the human spirit is a quality of human life, the result of living, nature-driven forces of discovery and creativeness; the human spirit is a quality that we humans by trial and error gradually found within itself over the course of millennia and bequeathed to each succeeding generation, strengthened ever in new ways, from the organic structure into which our species evolved so many thousands of years ago. What ever else of man may remain to join the “universal mix” after death, this magnificence that I call the human spirit does not exist a moment beyond death. It should not be consider as a soul or self, which would not be inline with the Buddha’s teaching, but it is what may drive the best of our efforts during the short time we have on this planet.
Considerations such as these form the basis of my conviction that the human spirit arises from the physiology of the human body, just as does the mind of which it is a product. I have come to realize that responsiveness to our internal and external environments and adaptation of our preexisting biological equipment are what makes us what we are. We use our senses, intelligence, our ability to reason and perceive the world around us in uniquely human ways to inform us, if we can still the mind, and sit in awareness.
It is this unique characteristic that we as engaged Buddhist are ask to tap. We can find this human spirit in others when we least expect it. No matter how unsatisfactory one’s life can be, the human sprit can shine through, especially in children. We need no other reason to engage with others than to have our own spirit energized by genuine acts of altruism and compassion. This experience is like no other.
(Xi Ken) 曦 肯
Is Burning the Koran a Productive Act?
I don’t know about you, but I find myself stuck between being angry on the one hand, and frustrated on the other by displays of what I see as (I am trying to be good here and not use disrespectful words that come to mind) acting out without thought of the effect of those actions. I am speaking about the issue of wanting to burn the Koran in order to commemorate what happened on 9/11 and sending a message like the one being considered by the church in Florida. A message of what? Let me say right away that I do not believe this is an issue of free speech, although you can make it one. No, this is much, much more. And my Buddhist practice is trying to make sense out of it. And I am finding that hard to do because there is so much that is wrong about this situation. I even made a list of what is good and what is bad about this proposed action, and it wasn’t even close. Bad wins out, hands down. This is one of the best examples I have had to consider in a long time that points to the importance of situational ethics. And when we live in a global-21st Century-village, that makes the impact on our tribe much bigger. The laws of causality do not allow for picking our results, and taking the position that if it is good for us, I don’t care about the other effects. This shows a total lack of understanding that we are all connected and interdependent in so many ways that are not always apparent. I also don’t see this as being about unintended consequences. We KNOW what those are because we are being told by the players in this world drama what they may/will be. So, what are the considerations?
The Buddha encourages us to engage life without pause. But appearances can be deceiving even in the realm of good and bad, right and wrong. But this does not mean that we should act without thinking. The gift of knowledge comes with the obligation of responsibility. Right action is one of the elements of the Eight Fold Path. We must preserve right action even when situations are grey or confusing. This is not easy to do. At times of uncertainty we need to use both our immediate moral sense and our reasoned and careful intelligence to keep us going in the right direction. This is not always easy either. And this issue is a good example of that. We must be careful that we are not letting our personal preferences cloud our judgment.
There are times that we all need to speak out. Sometimes we even do it wisely and well, but often we do it in the grip of anger, ignorance or frustration. Even as a monk I fall into this trap at times. The Buddha warns us of destructive speech. This is a good precept to follow and avoid. Now think – have you ever changed something or someone for the better through insults or disrespect? I am sure that this minister in Florida sees an injustice and wants to make a statement. He wants to be engaged and make a difference, and this is a good thing. It is what Engaged Dharma is all about. But it seems to me that choosing to burn the Koran is just a hurtful act creating negative feelings in those that had nothing to do with 9/11, but giving destructive tools to those few that did. This is indiscriminate behavior. I am concerned that now that this has become a “media event” and has given him his moment in the spotlight, his heels our dug in and he does not realize he is standing on quicksand. Or maybe he does and he doesn’t care. I hope an alternative solution can be found. We know from the Buddha’s teachings that he was on the side of the oppressed and suffering. He did not like displays of ignorance and hateful actions towards others. But he accepted people regardless of their social, ethnic or religious affiliations. Disrespecting another person’s worldview by championing our own has no good outcome in this situation. Even if it makes a few people feel good in the moment.
I say use the Koran and find lessons in it that teaches the value of reaching out in an altruistic embrace that displays the importance of social equanimity and searching how to realize the best world for all sentient beings. It is there, we need to just look. I can just imagine the minister standing on the front steps of his church with the congregation all around and reading from the Koran the lessons of tolerance and justice and moral conduct. Engage through understanding, not hate. If you want to destroy something, use the Koran to destroy ignorance and distrust. It is difficult to find a negative in that.
(Xi Ken) 曦 肯