Archive for April, 2012


Can We Love an Athiest

Today I listened to ‘From Minister to Atheist’ on NPR All Things Considered.

According to Teresa MacBain, she had big questions after being an ordained minister. “Her secret is taking a toll, eating at her conscience as she goes about her pastoral duties week after week — two sermons every Sunday, singing hymns, praying for the sick when she doesn’t believe in the God she’s praying to. She has had no one to talk to, at least not in her Christian community, so her iPhone has become her confessor, where she records her private fears and frustrations.”

She progressed through stages where she simply could no longer believe.

After listening to the episode, I went online and Googled, “…can we love an atheist.” I ran across an atheist blog where a questioner asked, “Do Atheists Love?”

Two of the several responses were baffling:

G.R.:Yes. “Why do you ask? What a moronic question.”

D.H.: “No. We’re all miserable misanthropes who hate everyone and everything. We hate our spouses, children and pets. We hate music and art and theater. None of us has ever read a book or seen a move that we love. We despise every idea and concept we’ve ever encountered.

When you see an atheist who appears to be a loving family man, who tries to make his wife and kids happy, it’s all an act. He really hates them, and only pretends to like them for some inexplicable reason. When he goes to a concert and seems to be enjoying the music, maybe even singing along or dancing, he’s really quite miserable, despising every moment. His large music collection is just there to fool friends who might visit. Which is a waste, because he has no friends so no one ever visits. Except, occasionally, other atheists. And he hates them too. “

Rather than connect to the questioner in a loving way, the responses appeared to push away. and certainly did not seem to match the love they wished to represent.

There are many Biblical verses worth reading, especially on love.  In one particular, the Apostle Paul quoted, “ Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not envious, arrogant, or rude.”  This teaching is very close to that of the Buddha. For a Buddhist, “Love all things, believe in all things and endure all things.” Love has no limits. Love never ends. Love is reborn, again and again. The love of Christ and the love of Buddha are reborn in us all.

To be patient, listen, understand, to love. If we love someone we must continually reach into the power of love. And it is love that transforms all us: Buddhist, Christian, Muslim and Atheist alike. Regardless of religion, love is the greatest power.

Maybe we can learn from the Reverend Maclean (A River Runs Through It):

Each one of here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.

Remember, we can completely love even if we do not completely understand.

Teresa MacBain, “You are honored in my heart.” To all others, “Do No Harm. Live in love.”

The Problem of Pain and Suffering

There are some strange stories seen over the past several months. They include the strong, sudden winds that blew over a tent Saturday afternoon outside St. Louis, Missouri leaving one (1) dead and one-hundred (100) injured, at least four critically; over one-hundred (100) tornados that struck Kansas in April; the gay man beaten by gang members in Atlanta while another was beaten and set on fire in Texas.

So this begs the millennium old question, “Why do good things happen to bad people?”

Pain and suffering incorporates a diverse new thinking into faith. Some claim God chooses pain and suffering as a form of faith enrichment while may state it’s a form of punishment.

Christian scholars claim God uses suffering as a method to reveal Himself to us. Through each trial He gives us a little more than the time before and can embrace our pain and draw close to the One who loves our soul. According to St. Paul, Christians should rejoice in suffering because it produces endurance, hope and character.

For a Buddhist, all of life is suffering and suffering is caused by attachments to worldly things. This attachment, takes the form of greed, hatred, and ignorance and can return as more suffering (karma). Many Muslims believe suffering and adversity strengthen one’s faith and often leads to repentance, prayer and good deeds. In Judaism, it is believed that suffering is caused by a weakness in one’s devotion to God and by allowing deep suffering of the innocent; it must be good even if mysterious.

Upon remembering a friend’s passing some time ago, I overheard the comment, “His passing was part of God’s plan.”

To this I respond with Rabbi Brad Hirschfield’s comments from “Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero:”

You want plan? Then tell me about plan. But if you’re going to tell me about how the plan saved you, you better also be able to explain how the plan killed them. And the test of that has nothing to do with saying it in your synagogue or your church. The test of that has to do with going and saying it to the person who just buried someone and look in their eyes and tell them God’s plan was to blow your loved one apart. Look at them and tell them that God’s plan was that their children should go to bed every night for the rest of their lives without a parent. And if you can say that, well, at least you’re honest. I don’t worship the same God, but that at least has integrity.

It’s just it’s too easy. That’s my problem with the answer. Not that I think they’re being inauthentic when people say it or being dishonest, it’s just too damn easy. It’s easy because it gets God off the hook. And it’s easy because it gets their religious beliefs off the hook. And right now, everything is on the hook.

In the time of great persecution and suffering, when life ends, to demonize others, to dehumanize others, to assert they have “no soul,” is to recreate the same mentality that caused the attack. We can are justifiably angered, but for humanity’s sake, we must rise above petty revenge. Let us use this as an opportunity to raise our community to greater compassion.

From a Buddhist, Christian, Muslim or Atheist perspective, all I can say is that’s very difficult to see God help when we face such great trials. Yet God provides each, and we reach for each other in those definitive moments, as human being to human being, to be there, to help, to help us. But this reaching is very Buddhist and very Christian.

Pain and suffering will ever be completely explained.  All of us walk an unknown path, struggling through the thorns, but through that suffering we grow stronger and more connected to the source of all creation.

While visiting the library, a little known film crossed my curiosity, “Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids.” This 2004 Oscar documentary follows the children of children of prostitutes in Sonagchi, Calcutta.

It’s definitely not a protest film or an “exploitation” film. There is no violence or outward sexual exploitation.  Rather, these children were given cameras (via the Kids with Cameras project) and told to document their lives via photographs. To me the filmmaker did not take a ‘save the children at all costs.’ Rather, I believe she allowed them to help themselves. In the end, some children were able to extract themselves from the bonds of the ‘Calcutta’s Red Light District’ and some did not.

The latest update I could find of these children are as follows:

  • Avijit, 20, is studying film at NYU and thriving in the program and the city;
  • Kochi, 17, is studying at a private high school in Utah and getting top marks in all of her classes;
  • Manik, 17, and Shanti, 18, are both still studying at FutureHope, where they are doing very well;
  • Tapasi, 19, left Sabera on her own accord three years ago and has since married;
  • Suchitra, 22, has married and moved out of Calcutta; and
  • Puja and Gour are believed to still be living in the red-light district but have lost contact with Kids with Cameras.

The film, and many other like, scream social justice. From a Buddhist perspective this is all about social justice and following the fifth (5th) principle of the Eight Fold Path, Right Livelihood, meaning  one should earn one’s living in a righteous way and that wealth should be gained legally and peacefully and not dealing in living beings (including slave trade and prostitution).

Like the Buddhist Monk and author, Thich Nhat Hanh, other religious organizations have joined the social justice movement. For instance, The Racine Dominican Justice and Rights Commission, established in 1989, provides a forum to address key issues of human rights and to care for Earth.

But in contrast, promoting social justice isn’t always easy. The Vatican recently rebuked the nuns for spending too much time “promoting issues of social justice” while failing to speak out often enough about “issues of crucial importance to the life of the church and society,” such as abortion and gay marriage.  I am not saying abortion and other issues are not important. But I believe all people are equal in the eyes of Christ and Buddha, not just the anti-‘this’ or ‘anti-that’ movement.

There are far much more social issues out there that demand justice.  And each of us, living each day, can be social justice proponents for the good of everyone. For instance, NY Times Staff Writer, Charles Duhigg hinted at the potential of choice in social justice when talking with Ira Glass of This American Life and the Chinese factory Foxconn:

Charles Duhigg: “So it’s not my job to tell you whether you should feel bad or not, right? I’m a reporter for The New York Times. My job is to find facts and essentially let you make a decision on your own. Let me pose the argument that people have posed to me about why you should feel bad, and you can make of it what you will.

And that argument is– there were times in this nation when we had harsh working conditions as part of our economic development. We decided as a nation that was unacceptable. We passed laws in order to prevent those harsh working conditions from ever being inflicted on American workers again.

And what has happened today is that, rather than exporting that standard of life, which is within our capacity to do, we have exported harsh working conditions to another nation. So should you feel bad that someone is working 12 to 24 hours a day in order to produce the iPhone that you’re carrying in your pocket—

Ira Glass: Well, when you say it like that, suddenly I feel bad again. But OK, yeah.

Charles Duhigg: I don’t know whether you should feel bad, right?

Ira Glass: But finish your thought.

Charles Duhigg: Should you feel bad about that? I don’t know. That’s for you to judge. But I think the way to pose that question is, do you feel comfortable knowing that iPhones, and iPads, and other products could be manufactured in less harsh conditions, but that these harsh conditions exist because of an economy that you are supporting with your dollars.

Ira Glass: Right. I am the direct beneficiary of those harsh conditions.

Charles Duhigg: You’re not only the direct beneficiary. You are actually one of the reasons why it exists. If you made different choices, if you demanded different conditions, if you demanded that other people enjoy the same work protections that you yourself enjoy, then those conditions would be different overseas.

If we are the reason most things exist, then we can be the reason for change. As best you can, live the Eight Fold Path.

———- Postscript ———-

According to Zana Briski’s website, Kids with Cameras announced they entered a formal merger agreement with a Kolkata based charity named KIDS WITH DESTINY. Effective January 1, 2011, Kids with Cameras, a Salt Lake City, Utah and New York based charity will merge with KIDS WITH DESTINY, a Salt Lake City and Kolkata based charity.  According to Ms. Briski, Kids with Destiny is dedicated to serving underprivileged children in India, and the operations of Hope House will be one of its flagship programs.

A Little About the Mala

For the past several weeks I have been using a twenty-seven (27) Dark Bodhi Seed Hand Mala with Counters made by Shakya Design. In Pure Land Buddhism, twenty-seven (27) beads rosaries are pretty common while many Chinese rosaries have only eighteen (18) beads; one for each of the eighteen (18) Lohans.

The Lohans referenced are not related in any way to Lindsay. Rather, these Lohans are otherwise known as Arahats. Supposedly, they are those really cool dudes who have followed the Noble Eightfold Path and have reached Nirvana. Speculation has it that these Lohans bring great or serene energy into the home. Do I buy into all of that? Nah! It’s a great story and I enjoy the history, but the serenity my home receives is from the peace I bring.  The meditation and peace I receive is directly from my meditation and prayer.

Malas are basically a prayer bead. Their basic function is to allow one to think about the meaning of the mantra as it is chanted. Each time the mantra is repeated, the fingers move to the next bead. This type of prayer bead is very similar to the Catholic Rosary.  During my Catholic days, few in the pew really understood the importance of a string of Catholic rosary beads. Similar to the Buddhist Mala, a Catholic parishioner’s rosary beads are an aid to prayer and penance. From my understanding, all Catholic rosaries have the same number of beads worldwide. Just like the mala, the beads are ticked off as the prayers are said. I have heard one could achieve the same thing holding a bag of marbles, M&M’s or any other item that could be counted.

Some rosary beads are considered heirlooms. These heirlooms are handed down from generation to generation. As far as I know, my grandmother left no such heirloom. Some people make rosary collection a hobby. As for me, my Mala holds no such significance and is nothing more than a counter, a place holder to keep me on track during my meditative prayers.

Before purchasing the mala, my research indicated some Buddhist malas have one-hundred eight (108) beads, representing the one-hundred eight (108) human passions. This number also ensures the worshipper repeats the sacred mantra at least one-hundred (100) times, with extra beads allowing for any omissions made during prayer. Personally, I believe this is insane.

Meditation, like prayer, is a time for meditation or prayer, not for counting the ticks of beads. And I am seriously not trying to offend any single religion or person when I say that if one has to go through all one-hundred eight (108) human passions, then I am not sure meditation is going to help all of that. I cannot imagine how many hours of prayer one-hundred eight (108) human passions would take, but it seems like a lot. But that’s my opinion.

Lastly, I do not get caught up in whether my right or left hand holds the mala. I tend to believe one can over think this. You can think about left and think about right, until nothing is left and nothing is right. So use the mala as place holder, something to keep you on track. Enjoy the beauty and joy feel of the mala. I love the way my mala feels, its beauty is wonderful.

Peace!

Discover Your World

“Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it.”

~ Buddha ~

I watched and incredibly Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. In essence, the film’s main character learns about facing his fears, such as those of public overcoming public transport, bridges and of himself.

When I think of the movie, I think of the search. During my travel last week, I found an old diary entry on my computer written in 2005. Seems like a century ago.

“Like a chameleon, I reside in and out of the space I sit. Compelled by others who ask me to negotiate where the background leaves off and the life begins, I am continually in motion, both in surface and in symbol. I disappear around the background, shifting myself into the hue, gracefully moving from one person’s realm to another. My real self is hidden. And since I not allowed calling myself into being, I play bit parts of a larger movie, being all things to all people, but never being able to be myself.”

There has always been a part of myself that continually searches. I suppose like many of you out there, I still find it extremely difficult to be ‘me.’ The real me is not what people want. Others often look for an want the ‘me’ who carries the burden, the friend who is always there. The one for support, but the one not wanted for otherwise. Simply put, maybe it’s just me … could be just my own inner thoughts.

I am sorry to say that as I completed my walking meditation last night, I was not much of a conversationalist to God. The early spring rain is here and each step reinforced the pain of my age. On some days, my body hurts, my mind hurts and my spirit hurts.

Still, I am alive in the Buddha and there is so much to be done to purify myself and to set my house in order. And while I have done many wonderful things, I wasted so much of His plan and wonder how I could possibly account for my actions. I was richly blessed, yet two years ago I stood spiritually destitute. I was given the greatest form of Love ever imagined, had it in my hands. Yet I cast her away, I tossed love’s richness like yesterday’s news … away … away through my own personal thoughtlessness and selfishness. Those were the hard years, where shame’s burden weighed heavily and compounded.

Through it all, my life continues to purpose; even this arthritic pain has purpose. My life is anew. Enlightenment has allowed me to see. Maybe it was the kiln. Maybe it was the trial. Maybe both! Still, I arise every morning, blessed in some strange way that I can assist, if not myself, maybe another. I am live anew, with purpose. The flame hidden deep within me is not a fire, but a torch. It’s still lit and the Prajñāpāramitā Hṛdaya has allowed me to burn anew.

Oh Buddha, I am grateful to have discovered my world! And now? Well now I will give all my heart to it.

Yesterday a friend of mine called with some great news, indicating he had found contract work at a Catholic hospital on the eastern United States Coastline.

Without even thinking, I replied, “Well that’s great news. I am proud of you.” Without reflection, I almost quipped an add-on, “Oh by the way, tell the Priests I said, Cruciatus in crucem. Eas in crucem!” For those unfamiliar with The West Wing, “Cruciatus in crucem. Eas in crucem,” (to hell with your punishments! and to hell with you!) was extracted from the “Two Cathedrals” episode and occurred when fictional President had a deep one-on-one conversation with God.

While it may appear from a prima fascia perspective that I harbor some personally deep seated hatred for the Catholic Church, but I don’t. I was never abused by a Catholic Priest or clergy. I was never outwardly criticized or compelled to participate in some repugnant act. But more so, when I had a personal failure in the eyes of the community and I requested not so much redemption but forgiveness, I was given none. And to this day, I remain forgiven by God, but unforgiven by the community.

Two years since my fall from the Catholic Church, I still wonder how those of whom I requested forgiveness could go to the ‘Cross’ of Good Friday and completely forget a key verse of the Christ’s Beatitudes, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” and “…forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” I believe the famous columnist Anna Quindlen captured my thoughts quite well when she recently quoted on NPR’s Fresh Air, “The Catholic hierarchy has been disinviting people like me that I finally took the hint.”  Thus, like her, I left.

Maybe my ‘West Wing’ quip still echoes a hint of anger, but it passed extremely quickly. But I remember Buddhism’ first precept of do no harm: that one must not deliberately kill any living creatures, either by committing the act oneself, instructing others to kill, or approving of or participating in act of killing. It is a respect to others’ lives.  As I walk through my day, I sometimes find I act with the best of intentions, but I fail miserably, finding some thoughts far from good, but my action helps others nonetheless. As the Apostle Paul exclaimed in Romans 7:15, “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

On the other hand, I often ponder if inaction is just as bad as action? For example, Batman’s infamous quote to Henri Ducard, I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you perfectly exemplifies the circular argument.  Still most criminal statues would classify a similar non-action as manslaughter.

The Buddha quoted, “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.” The Book of Proverbs chapter 23 verse 7 quotes the same. ‘As a Man Thinketh’ is a literary essay by James Allen and is written in terms of responsibility assumption.

Here’s a quote from Allen’s book:

          Mind is the Master power that moulds and makes,

          And Man is Mind, and evermore he takes

         The tool of Thought, and, shaping what he wills,

          Brings forth a thousand joys, a thousand ills: —

          He thinks in secret, and it comes to pass:

          Environment is but his looking-glass.

For me, as the Dhammapada has taught, all that we are is the result of what we have thought. I will continue to think, “Do no harm.” And to the Catholic Church, “I forgive.” Hopefully, some day, they will forgive me.

Ahimsa

I read with interest from CNN that basketball player Ron Artest, who changed his name to Metta World Peace, was ejected Sunday from the Los Angeles Lakers-Oklahoma City Thunder game for hitting James Harden in the head with his elbow. Now I am not pronouncing judgment on Metta World Peace, for I am unaware of the details of the altercation. But the incident has me thinking about a topic that I have spent the last several days thinking about: Ahimsa.

According to what I dug out from five minutes of research on the web, ancient Buddhist texts do not use ahimsa as a technical term. The basic meaning is simply to do no harm. Accordingly to what I researched, Jain monks filter water so as to not consume microbes.  Yet, I simply grab a glass from the cabinet, turn on the faucet and guzzle down a glass.  Sometimes I guzzle down a glass with ice.

So if I simply guzzle down a glass of water, am I in theory guilty of actually killing microbes?  If I put ice in my glass of water before consumption, I am guilty of killing the microbs by freezing the same said microbes before guzzling them down my throat?

To step away from the ethical fray of microbe death listed above, I think back for a moment to Mr. World Peace listed above and of my own personal behavior.  “Ahimsa,” I meditate. “Ahimsa!”  While technically speaking, ahimsa could be quite confounding if applied literally. Rather, I now believe that anyone who harms another being intentionally goes against this central ethic.

Admittedly, since I read about the ‘ahimsa’ concept I have delved into my own past. Upon greater scrutiny, I easily relive moments when my actions or lack thereof caused great harm.  To the Catholic Church, to my friends, my family and coworkers. To them, of which some know and have not known, I have lied, cheated and stole. I have lied or mislead to get the business deal done. I have cheated personal responsibility and stole personal deposits of love that will never ever return.

This level of acting and associated plausible deniability has severed the greatest love ever had, lacerated the hope of several women over the years and robbed true greatness and reduced it to mediocrity. Having asked for forgiveness to many of those whom I hurt, I stood naked. I received nary a pardon. Yet by brooding of these moments only continued to imprison my soul. Thus, I have become the judge, jury and executioner. This is a circular argument, to which, as Baggar Vance so eloquently phrased in the Legend of Baggar Vance, “What I’m talkin about is a game… A game that can’t be won only played…”

Whether Mr. Metta World Peace intentionally inflicted harm upon someone else is unknown. But as for me, I now choose to overcome the past by following a path that leads to release, recognizing that when I hurt others, I hurt myself. When I do not forgive, I do not forgive myself.  I now live in ahimsa, trying to do no harm and live in love.

The Unkown Buddhist

Over the past 30 years or so, I have been a fairly neutral person.  And while this aura of neutrality is sound in most business environments, there is a brutal price. The ability to experience emotions has become impaired and I drum up feelings for whatever occasion thrown my way.

The person presented herein, printed upon this page, is a solid actor. If known by all, he would have been chosen as ‘Best Actor’ at any academy award.  He is skillfully deft and he applies his craft well. For me, it is hard to state where the actor was and the real person begins.

I, the Unknown Buddhist, grew-up Catholic. At the tender age of eighteen, I valiantly marched off to serve a four year military tour abroad and after several years of college, at twenty-four, I began a business career. At the age of fifty, the following Ojibway saying was in fact my life,

“Ten years ago …..

I turned my face for a moment

and it became my life.”

Poet and author David Whyte wrote of a similar moment in the “Heart Aroused” where a woman in a corporate workshop says quietly to the room “Ten years ago…I turned my head for a moment and it became my life”

Like all of you, I have had many wonderful times in my life. First of all, after traveling many, many years, can sympathize with the Ryan Bingham character of “Up In The Air.” I have tasted the morning dew upon the Chijia Mountain, slept under the stars in Huacachina, and dove into the warm clear waters of Truk Lagoon.

While I have experienced tremendous beauty, life is a circle and you can never get joy if you do not have the courage to weep. Thus, my personal journey has found me retracing the anti-Apartheid steps in Soweto, suffering tears at ‘Ground Zero,’ holding the hands of Asian tsunami victims passing from this world and writing letters to families of those I supported in Africa and South America.

After the Catholic Church found no room for me, I believe I may have found a home meditating and living life as an ‘Unknown Buddhist.” This blog is about my Buddhist journey. For one year, I will faithfully study Buddhism and live being a Buddhist. My goal is to feel alive, as if there is some reinforcement that acknowledges my own personal worth and revitalizes this fifty-two year old gentleman. While no longer the man of my youth, it is through this journey that I will reach beyond myself, to go against age’s stealth demolition and awake every morning, gathering my resolve and use the love I have to abolish the darkened moon and thrust the sun back into sky.

It doesn’t matter where you been or where you’re at, your religion or faith, your compass, your wisdom and heart bare no reproach. Rather I want your gentle acceptance, guidance, and loving kindness to remind me of what love is really like, to feel safe and lay my heart open, exposing my journey and soul to your inner light.

My words cannot express the deep sense introspection I have missed over the years.

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