Archive for May, 2013

Poverty Karma

Kanhaiya KumariKanhaiya Kumari’s mother, Vijaya Kumari, was granted bail in 1994. But thanks in part to India’s slow-churning court system; she spent 20 years in jail. Thus, nineteen years after his mother’s imprisonment, Kanhaiya Kumari paid the bail to secure his mother’s release. The price for bond? Five-thousand (5,000) rupees, equaling about $89.00 USD.

We cannot attest to Ms. Kumari’s guilt or innocence. Still, simply put, “… nineteen years for an $89 bail bond is fricking insane.

In 2012, the CNN Freedom Project reported on working conditions for India’s poorest. While Asia was the focus, exploitation across the globe gets promoted by virtue of apathy, corruption, and greed. As a result, societal systems become an enemy of the poor.

To highlight just one area, a small snippet of the United States justice system, white-collar criminals stealing millions are routinely released after short prison terms, while the poor are put away for years at a time for nonviolent drug offenses and property crimes. Just a few facts:

  •  The average prison term for savings and loan offenders 1988-1992 was 36 months; the average sentence for burglary is 56 months, and 38 months for motor vehicle theft
  • In 2000, the total cost of white-collar crime was $404 billion. The total amount stolen in all property crimes reported in 2000? $16 billion. Yet, corporate executives rarely end up in jail.

In California, the budget for public defense was about $300 million less than that of prosecutors. The average time a court appointed lawyer spends per case ranges from seven to fifty-nine minutes. If there was an equal justice system across the globe, the price both Kanhaiya Kumari and his mother endured would be prohibited. Going 19 years for justice and an $89.00 bond is criminal.

Being a Buddhist, I am sometimes criticized for my idealism: for encouraging a non-materialistic way of life that goes against the grain of our main desires and motivations. Poverty, as ordinarily understood in early Buddhism exists because many lack the basic material requirements for leading a decent life free from hunger, exposure and disease. As I walk, I recognize the importance of such minimum material needs even in the case of those who aspire to its spiritual goal. But I believe there has to be a basic standard of need, a benchmark for measuring the minimum level society should not allow citizens to plunge below.

There is no poverty karma. Poverty begins often begins early and often remains unaddressed — that is, when society neglects its responsibility to maintain distributive justice. The solution, while simplified, is fairly simple, provide for people’s basic needs. And while none of us can do everything, we all can do something.

All that one can ask is to do something.

Where is He Now?

Tebow Hospital“… if things don’t work out, the amount of time it’ll take you to go from being a hired gun to a cocktail party joke can be clocked with an egg timer.”

~Leo Solomon – The American President~


Reading the newspaper I stumbled onto the sports page and read a quick blurb about Tim Tebow. My first thoughts, Whatever happened to Tebow? Where is he now?”

Eighteen months ago, Tebow was ‘the man‘ and ‘the hype.’ During his main playing days at Denver, one could either look to the heavens and pronounce God was real or this man was graced with an extraordinary amount of pure luck and should buy a lottery ticket. Theoretically, if you make an NFL team’s roster, the average career lasts approximately six years. Mr. Tebow’s career ended in three, barely throwing a pass during the last season.

Jerry Glanville coined the now-famous phrase “NFL means ‘not for long.” In truth, I personally cannot perform anything memorable on a football field, but I might be a great leader off the field. In the end, Tebow was exactly like you and I. And that means, ‘not for long.’ In the NFL, you have to win. You can be a total idiot, bring an entire fan club, even bring a chorus of angels. But on game day, you have to win.

Off the field, I commend Tebow, for whatever you think of his football skills, you cannot deny his leadership. He is a famously outspoken Christian. and according to various print material, has nearly raised the $3.1 million required for a world-class orthopedic facility in the Philippines that is scheduled for a 2014 opening.

The lesson? It’s important to remember all things are temporary; impermanence is an undeniable and inescapable fact of human existence. Almost everything is subject to change.  We are here today and gone tomorrow.

We should be like Tebow, for while Tebow’s NFL career may be over, he proves leadership and grace can be fulcrum for those in need. Recognize where personal effort can make lasting impacts. These are the fights worth fighting.

Memorial Day 2013

Memorial DayMemorial Day is more than a day off, more than steak on the grill, more than the Indianapolis 500.  This Memorial Day, the President will place a reef at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Parades will do the landscape of many towns across America.  TNT or Spike will rerun a Band of Brothers and many who gave their lives will be remembered by loved, young and old.

In a blog past titled, “No One Dies Alone,” I Last wrote of a homeless veteran who passed. In year following my original blog, little has changed for Veterans.  Allison Hickey, Undersecretary for Benefits, recently stated, “Too many veterans still have to wait too long to get the compensation benefits they earn, and that is unacceptable to us.”

First time Veterans filing claims will wait nearly a year for benefits, with some stretching years.  However, over a million claims were filed in 2012. Let me repeat that, one million claims were filed for benefits.  Having filed a claim myself, I found filing a claim to be as challenging as filing a complex income tax return.

Most Veterans serve well and often suffer well. Healing the wounds of war is extremely difficult, as the psychological scars last for decades. We must help Veterans diffuse the weapons inside them. They are the karmic seeds of pain and anger.  We must never turn away from the pain and suffering of Veterans. We must face the pain, we must diminish pain, overcome the hatred within. All of are responsible for the suffering Veteran. Each of us, in some way, asks the Veteran to perform, to stand for our country and make the ultimate sacrifice.

All of us must help Veterans return to the present moment, to proudly serve the community at larger and we must simply refuse allowing these men of honor to suffer, to wait and to continue to sacrifice well past that requested.

We need them, as they need us.

Many have fought for this nation. Many have lost sons and daughters. They have given the “last full measure,” no different from any other. Do not forget those who have given so much for us. Take time during Memorial to remember those who have served.

That night, I thanked God for seeing me through that day of days and prayed I would make it through D plus 1. I also promised that if some way I could get home again, I would find a nice peaceful town and spend the rest of my life in peace.

~~ Dick Winters~~

Let’s all live in peace … to do so gives honor to all who fell.

Dwayne Johnson, The Hero

dwayne-johnson-heroUnbeknown to many, Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock, bursts onto the mid summer scene with a new reality television series, “The Hero.”  Conceptually, the series is similar to others. Gather several contestants, room each in a single home and force them to compete against each other to determine the most self-sacrificing. The show is a tribute to Jersey Shore, Bad Girls, Survivor and a host of others.

Personally, I never gave much thought to Mr. Johnson’s reality show. At the 50,000-foot level, it just seems silly. And while I’ve never met Mr. Johnson or many other reality contestants, in the wake of the Oklahoma tornadoes this past week, one has to ask, what actually makes one a hero?  What are those indelible traits that transform an average “Joe” to hero?

As a military veteran of aerospace rescue and recovery operations and having received medals facing risks not normally experienced by others, I do not consider myself a hero. From a military perspective, I personally reserve hero status for those who lay in Arlington National Cemetery, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and others like it.

But if Mr. Johnson wants to truly define heroism, all he needs to do is simply visit Moore, Oklahoma, where teachers, policemen, firefighters, doctors and nurses stood at the crossroads of destruction and beat back the face of death. None started this past week with the intention of being a hero. Then again, most heroes never do.  Most heroes are benign. They start their day with a cup of coffee, breakfast, perhaps kissing a loved one’s face and wave as they bolt out the door. Then in a single instance, they’re transformed.

Rhonda Crosswhite, a sixth-grade teacher at Plaza Towers Elementary School, used her body as a shield to protect students. Becky Joe Evans used her body to shield children from falling debris. Shaunta Strong worked two days straight making sandwiches for victims and first responders. Doctors at Moore Medical Center quickly moved all hospital patients to a clinic in the center of the hospital, using mattresses and blankets to prevent head injuries.

Seeing the potential of everyone else, each of the above heroes brought forth a self-sacrificing goal uncommonly found in every day life. I honor all Moore, Oklahoma heroes, mentioned and unmentioned.

For the rest of us who live in faith and love, when this kind of courage becomes a driving force, we abandon fear and become the kind of person our society needs today. On a daily basis, through our thoughts, words, and actions, we test ourselves. And by testing ourselves, each of us becomes a hero.

I respect Mr. Johnson tremendously. But for the life of me, I cannot fathom how his reality show will ever replicate true inspiring moments courage. But I wish him all the best.

return ticketDuring a CBS television interview, Barbara Garcia found a reason to celebrate – she pulled her dog from under the rubble. “I thought God just answered one prayer to let me be OK, but He answered both of them.

This whole scene reminded me of a dinner party hosted by a Presbyterian couple. During dinner, the couple’s wife described a month long ordeal of having to travel back to her native homeland for the unexpected death of her brother. She frustratingly pondered why her brother had to pass so quickly.  Thereafter, her husband detailed God’s love. While backing out of his driveway, his vehicle ran over the neighbor’s dog. After about ten minutes, God brought this dog back to life, seemingly unhurt.

My first thought at the dinner party was very similar to that of Ms. Garcia. “God destroyed all those homes, businesses and allowed twenty-one to die; but damn, God saved the dog? What the hell? “ To the spouse who lost her brother, my first thought was, “Either God wanted to really take your brother home or he was unsalvageable, for God saved the dog?

I am glad Ms. Garcia was able to pull her dog from the rubble. I am still amazed at many, many miracles that probably did occur in Oklahoma. However, many have witnessed personal praise of God for helping find a parking space, for not forgetting sunscreen, for a sunny day versus rain, for a personal day off, for detouring them away from heavy traffic. This seems like a God of the meager versus all knowing and powerful.

Deep down, all of us, at one time or another, had to have a private conversation with God, asking, “What the hell?” In the aftermath of the Oklahoma tornado, Twitter accounts filled the airwaves with tweet prayers of 140 characters or less. I’m positive the Catholics held rosaries, Muslims prayed, Buddhists meditated and people of many nations and faiths hugged loved ones closer. However, at the end of the day, there’s no simple reason to explain the “What the hell” question.

I’m positive many ignorant religiously attuned faith professors will quote the mystery of God’s hidden plan, in both good times and sorrow. And should some religious prodigy came forth with God’s profound reason for all this destruction and death, would it make any of us feel better? Do you find reporters professing the blessing of God seem repugnantly inadequate? No response could profess such confidence in neither God nor atheism.

Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “… I say beforehand that the entire truth is not worth such a price. We cannot afford to pay so much for admission. It is not God that I do not accept. I merely, most respectfully, return Him the ticket.”

We don’t want a God who stands silently by the wayside as death and destruction rip through countless lives. In truth, we want a God who feels our burden, our pain and the emptiness. We need a Lord who weeps, a Lord who can simply find a way to comfort the gaping hole seared straight through the heart.

In the end, there are no neat compendiums of perfect faith. Each disaster is but a new road down a dark and lonely path. However, the most profound proof of faith is our compassion and love. We are God’s representatives when we create miracles in the lives of all who hurt. It is our commandment and profession of faith.

tom-coburn-is-nothing-if-not-consistentDuring a motivational speech, the late Zig Ziglar once referenced leadership of a company by stating, “Look over yonder, but don’t look here (meaning at me).”  With that being said, there must be a strange sense of irony for Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn and fellow Sen. James Inhofe, who earlier this year with voted against a federal relief bill for Superstorm Sandy victims.

Still, Coburn continued to emphasize that any Federal relief should be offset by cuts to other parts of the Federal budget, but added now was not the time do be discussing such matters as “It’s insensitive to even talk about …”

The Oklahoma tornados put a serious hurt on the ignorant. But regardless of the hypocrisy, it is more importantly, to not focus upon such statements. People who suffer from disasters are extremely are in desperate need of comfort and assistance. And being stupid and ignorant offers neither assistance nor comfort.

All of us, Buddhism, Christian, Atheist alike should do everything possible to ease pain and suffering where possible. We must be open to volunteer opportunities, whether they be in Oklahoma or in our own neighborhood. If we are unable to offer our personal services we can be generous.

As stated before, there are a number of organizations to which all of us can donate. The Red Cross is just one of these organizations that also provides solid information on what is happening on-the-ground.

The important thing is not to be ignorant of one another’s suffering. Keep others safe in your heart. Enjoy the beauty outside on any given day. Do not waste the opportunities for beauty and joy in each present moment.

130520__OK_tornado_2aWhen nature strikes, a time of need and pain is created. None seem spared.  When homes are destroyed, the rich and poor, black or white, heterosexual, homosexual, the famous and poor are quickly normalized.

Do why do bad things happen to good people? Why do events like those in Oklahoma City occur? Why did the God so many loved, kill children who have yet to reach the pinnacle of life? Why? Why?

“Hell if I know?”

There is burning sentiment deep within me that screams all of this is wrong.  To my own miserable self, I’m embarrassed for my lack of words. I do not concur with those who seemingly look at Oklahoma City’s events and claim that an unchangeable God will embrace this. I certainly did not find such comfort when a truck filled with explosives downed the Murrah Federal Building.

Maybe question is how are we to react? How can I respond and help those in need?” Our hope is the anchor that lies within.

Mother nature is complex. And in that complexity, our human nature, our anchor is the foundation of life and love. Overcoming Mother Nature’s and life complexities by assisting each other; by loving one another; by being the Good Samaritan on the road of life is what both Buddha and Christ want.

Helping those in need is not only the call of humanity; it is the call of that who is greater than I.

Here’s how to assist those in Oklahoma.

Mt PenceSitting solitarily, I am in awe of the mountains before me. Mount Pence, Mount Judge and Squaw Mountain decorate my horizon. I capture their breath, their love and clemency. I am washed anew in radiance and once again can see the embers of my soul.

Rūmī wrote,There are as many paths to god, as there are souls on the earth.”  Dare another to say only one! No, I shudder! Like St Gemma Galgani, love penetrates my body with fury and I reflect upon Thomas Traherne’s opine, “You never enjoy the world aright, till you see how a sand exhibitith the wisdom and power of God and prize in everything.”

Here in these heavens, these mountains, this glorious work, where fire consumes the sky and one can grasp remnant limestone to sift away the course for truer refinement, the inner solace.

All those of my life are before me. I am here as are they. Yet this simple moment, kingdoms of love bombard and penetrate the illusion of being. Here in this chapel, life flows throughout the vein, the heart beats and I bathe in the profound light of grace. Grace and love are the ultimate authority of life.

Meditate on Karuṇā (compassion) and be blessed by that who crushes the pain of others. Heed the call of that which soothes the rock; of that which culls the chaff and listen to soft whispers love born of every thought. You … yes you … are adored. You … yes you … are loved.

Sit momentarily in your favorite spot. Concentrate on the love which courses through you. Allow that love to pour out to all in the universe.

Flower Sermon

DaisiesWalking Leadville’s Mineral Belt Trail, I found a lone Mountain Daisy flower bed, sprouting life against impossible odds.

I briefly thought of Buddha’s alleged flower sermon. In the story, the Buddha raises a single white flower and communicated the ineffable nature of anything at one particular moment. In essence, “…life is simply but a moment in this world” and the reality is to live in the present awareness of each moment.

In truth, that’s really hard to do. Still, I found a doorway into this single moment, where the past was past and the future has yet to unfold. And simply, I found myself, the daisy, the sky and the quiet solitude harmonized for this one moment, this present moment. There wasn’t a chorus of angles, a lone voice or whisper. Rather, the simplicity was each participant was duly aware of the other.

The flower bowed to me in the gentle breeze. The sky highlighted the world via an array of blue hues.  The canvass was I and this unknown painter danced its brushstrokes of love upon my very being. The moment was simple, gentle and powerful.

Every day we are engaged in a miracle. Each of us is a miracle of moments filled with life, love and homily. We can bow in gentle breezes or hurriedly rush past without faint recognition. We can be curious, we can be love or we can simply be.

Take time each day to be in the moment. Recognize that the miracle of life is each of us being and living in every moment. Be in harmony with all that surrounds you and find the miracle of life.

Sojourn in Leadville, CO

SunsetI sip tea overlooking the Colorado Rocky Mountains.  Orange flames of the sunset explode over the peaks as I sip coffee. The quiet solitude of the air and commune with Mother Nature is alluring and dares me to stay.

Some one hundred and three miles west of Denver, Mt. Elbert calls to me, as it feels like home. My recent stay in Leadville, Colorado offered reflective moments of peace. Aimlessly walking through its quaint streets, I stumbled upon a marker noting Leadville is the highest incorporated city in the country.

More than that, the crisp spring air and flowing blue skies haunt my dreams at night. My Living Christ, Living Buddha compass became lost. My last post of February 2013 is testament. Hard to believe I last wrote three months past.

It is sad that the anguish and turmoil of living in cities across the country profoundly etched a deep sense of loss. But working for the poor tends cultivate reflective depths. Burnout extinguished my flame to pitiful amber blue. The long hours, endless travel, lost relatives and friends enhance the internal solace tumbling across your brain like an old record endlessly repeating the same song.

Unless you continue south on Highway 24, most all things either end …. or begin …. in Leadville. Last week, for no apparent reason, I found myself driving west from Denver and for no apparent reason, ended here in Leadville. The Delaware Hotel is a place made for history buffs and Calloway’s has tea service for almost any need.

It is here I remember the writer Elizabeth O’Connor and the need always to balance the journey inward with the journey outward. Too much time alone in prayer and meditation leads to self-centeredness. Too much time in activism and service to others leads to burnout. Inward prayer peels away the façade and allows the soul to see our real gifts. The outward journey is a life of those gifts.

My time here in Leadville reminds me that life and faith are rhythmic, both an inward and outward journey.  You cannot have one without the other.

Thank you Leadville for providing a sojourn.