Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Bright As The Sun, Ever It Glows

a few days ago, as i was reading jack kornfield's book, "a path with heart," i came across these words that were purportedly spoken by the buddha:
hatred never ceases by hatred,
but by love alone is cured.
this is an ancient and eternal law.

they made me think about our current social climate in this country and my own personal approach to life.  how do we go about loving those whose hearts seem to be filled with hate?  can i really cure the hatred that is running rampant here by loving those who spew hate?  how does one even go about loving those who are hateful to others?  in one of my subsequent meditations, i tried to imagine what life is like for donald trump and for those around him.  could i put myself in their place?  could i see into his heart and touch the suffering in that heart that causes him to lash out at others and to call other human beings vermin, rapists, or criminals because they have come here to seek better lives for themselves and the ones they love?

i meditated, too, on how my practice has changed me over the 600+ days i have spent meditating.  i know that i am more thoughtful.  i am less stressed.  i am able to set aside my preconceived notions of how each day should go and accept the inevitable changes that life forces me to make.  i believe i am more loving to my wife and others in my circle of family and friends.  i don't become impatient easily.  i'm less concerned about doing something because it pleases someone else and less concerned about what others think of me and more conscious of how to resist being manipulated by others.  i'm less impulsive and more willing to take time to think things through before i act or speak.  i'm less likely to lash out when someone says something hurtful to me.  in short, i am much happier and more content with myself and my life.

i am so delighted that i came to my study of buddhism and the way it has influenced me at this stage in my life.  now that the end of my life is in sight, i can accept that my time here is finite, and i can approach death with a heart that is peaceful and filled with love.  i can see that the changes in my own heart and mind have influenced changes in others around me, and that makes me believe that the quote at the beginning of this post is probably the most profound truth that one can adopt into one's life.  hatred can be cured by love and only by love.  this is true in our individual lives and in society.

 may we love our enemies and "pray for them who despitefully use [us]" (luke 6:28).  may we meet hatred with love.  may we seek to see the humanity in everyone, even those who refuse to see the humanity in others.  shalom.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Here At Our Sea-washed, Sunset Gates Shall Stand

i remember as a child going with my family on vacation in a neighboring state.  as we crossed the border, all vehicles with out-of-state license plates were instructed to pull off the highway where the driver would be questioned by state police about what the purpose of the visit to the state was, how long they would be staying, and whether there were any agricultural products in the vehicle, all these being asked as the officer or officers looked inside the vehicle at the contents and the other occupants.  it was a frightening introduction to the state, especially for a young child.

i am reminded of these interrogations each time i pass through a customs checkpoint when returning to this country, where the agents are often rude and demeaning.  i often wonder if they are as discourteous to non-citizens coming into the country on business or vacation.  i hope not.  my experience with border crossings into most other countries has always been pleasant, and i have felt welcomed.  the only exception was on our recent trip to russia, where we spent a couple of days.  the passport control officers there were brusque and, while they were stiffly polite, we didn't feel that they wanted us in their country.

as i read of people's encounters with border control agents in this country at the checkpoints they have set up in states like new hampshire, i can imagine the reaction of those who are stopped on the highway and asked about their citizenship status.  though the courts have ruled that these agents have the right to stop people and ask such questions, it seems an invasion of privacy to have one's progress on the highway miles away from any international border interrupted solely for the purpose of determining whether the traveler is a citizen of the usa.  at these checkpoints, there is no pretense at having cause to stop every vehicle as it travels down the road.  the checkpoints are there for only one reason:  to try and apprehend undocumented aliens.  one person i heard interviewed recently was a native-born new hampshire citizen who refused to answer the question about his citizenship status.  he was held by border control for several hours, though it was obvious that he was a legal resident with a new hampshire car tag and driver's license, and his residency could easily be verified by accessing his driving record and car registration.

in our government's zeal for finding, arresting, and deporting those who are here illegally, our country is being turned into a police state.  by recalling the checkpoint that my family went though as we travelled to another state, i can get a small sense of the fear that the undocumented who have lived here for years, contributed to our economy, built lives for themselves and their families must feel, knowing that at any moment their lives may be destroyed by one simple question:  "are you a citizen or legal resident of this country?"  the racial discrimination that those who skins are a little too brown or who speak english with a slight "foreign" accent must endure because someone suspects that these traits signal the likelihood that these "different" people are illegals is abhorrent.

we read of many instances where people of color are attacked or challenged by other citizens because they are in places where their attackers don't believe they should be.  for instance, a black resident of a neighborhood was confronted by a white resident at the community swimming pool, which required a keycard that signified residence in the neighborhood for entrance, despite the woman's possession of such a keycard.  the police were called, and they confirmed that the woman had every right as a resident of the neighborhood to be there.  her attacker was forced to resign his position with the community home owner's association, but in the meantime, this woman had been humiliated simply because she was a member of a racial minority who resided in a predominately white neighborhood.  such incidents are becoming all too frequent in our society, and the current climate of suspecting those who are somehow different from the majority and the permission to act in a openly racist manner that our president and his administration have given to our citizenry are erasing years of progress toward becoming an open and free society.  racism is alive and well in the usa, and our fervor for expelling those who have come here to escape violence, poverty, and oppression because they don't have the right papers in their possession contributes to repression of those who aren't "white" enough or who don't speak with a "real" american accent.

may we defend those who have too few defenders in the current climate of bigotry in this country.  may we embrace those who appear or sound different from the majority.  may we have compassion for those whose only hope is to reach this country and establish new lives for themselves here.  may we again become a beacon of freedom for the world, rather than the promoters of the worst sorts of racism.  may we say with emma lazarus, "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."  shalom.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

We Struggle To Be Human

last week was a very busy week, and i never found time to sit down and write a blog post.  this week is a little less hectic.  today i want to write about anxiety, the sort of anxiety that we call "anxiety attacks."  i've never experienced one of these, but i have a close friend who experienced two recently, and i felt helpless in the face of her distress.  i tried to comfort her, speaking to her of the need to confront the situations which brought on her discomfort.  my words were of little help, but she held herself together until the anxiety passed after several hours.

as i thought about her experience, i recalled others i know well who also experience this intense anxiety.  one is another friend who lives far away, the others are relatives.  all of these take medication which seems to diminish the intensity of their anxiety.  the friend who brought this to mind refuses to take anything to ease her fears because she has these attacks so rarely.  she is afraid that ,if she uses medicine for relief, she will become dependent on it and the attacks will become more frequent.  that seems to be the case of those others i mentioned, or perhaps their attacks are so frequent that, without medicine, they would not be able to function in their daily lives.

it is hard for me to understand this deep trauma, never having experienced it.  the feeling of helplessness while another is suffering is difficult.  i wish that i could find words that would ease my friend's pain, but this seems to be something which she must deal with on her own.  i am hopeful that my presence and reassurances make her pain more bearable.  there seems to be little else i can offer.

may we be there for those who are suffering.  when we can do nothing else, may we hold the hands of those who need our help.  may we express our love and compassion by staying with those who are hurting.  may we hold them in our hearts without judging them or seeking to impose our own solutions on them.  may our lovingkindness be undergirded with understanding.  shalom.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

No Angel Visitant, No Opening Skies

i am amazed at how gullible we humans are.  we are conditioned to believe certain things by the cultures in which we grew up, by our families, by our educational backgrounds.  we accept things without questioning, ignoring reason and evidence.  we engage in all sorts of wishful thinking, placing our faith in that which gives us hope, even when logic tells us we shouldn't.  we look for explanations of what we don't understand, often relying on pseudo-science because it tells us what we wish were true.  a case in point is the anti-vaccination movement, which tells us that childhoods vaccines against what used to be common childhood diseases is the cause of autism, despite all the evidence disproving this theory.  the result is outbreaks of illnesses which could easily have been prevented.

we have a relative who has placed her trust in the "applied kinesiology" branch of quackery that is an offshoot of chiropractic.  practitioners of this fake science tell their patients that weakness in certain muscles is connected to ailments in corresponding vital organs, and they diagnose based on this belief.  our relative now is on a non-dairy, gluten-free diet because the "doctor" she trusts has convinced her that both she and her youngest son have numerous health problems because of their allergies to dairy products and breads that only a highly restrictive diet can cure.  she believes that her son's dyslexia results from his intolerance for these foods.  she has not consulted an allergist or any other traditional medical doctor, but is living her life based on what her "kinesiologist" has told her.  a few years ago, she placed her family on a diet in which they the only milk they consumed was unpasteurized because someone had convinced her that this was much healthier, despite many years of evidence that this is an unhealthy practice.

yesterday another relative recounted his experience with a door-to-door salesman who convinced him that changing to the cable tv plan that the salesman was peddling would save him sixty dollars a month.  no written materials were provided to him, and the salesman required that a personal check to begin the service had to be made out to the salesman rather than to the provider of this service.  in the back of my relative's mind, he knew that this was a scam, and it took the threat of calling the police to persuade the salesman to return my relative's check, once my relative came to his senses.  this same relative invested several hundred dollars in a seat cushion containing magnets that was supposed to cure all sorts of health problems.  he knew that this was a doubtful claim, and even when the salesman offering this product tried to convince my relative that an additional investment of a few more hundred dollars for more magnets for his new cushion would result in even better results, my relative didn't balk at buying the cushion, though he did decline the extra magnets.  the cushion is now packed away because the promised benefits didn't occur.

we all fall for such frauds from time to time, because we want easy solutions to difficult problems.  we want to believe that a change in diet will cure whatever ails us, even when we are eating a healthy diet to begin with.  we want to believe that the evils in the world are caused by some supernatural being called the devil.  we want to believe that praying a magical prayer or investing in magnetized seat cushions will cure diseases.  we want to believe that we can get something for next to nothing, all the while knowing that if something is too good to be true, it probably isn't true.

may we stop and weigh the evidence before we accept as truth something that is unproven.  if we believe in a God, may we not believe in one that doesn't allow us to question and search for evidence.  may we counter our gullibility with logic, taking time to think before we act.  may we realize that just because someone is "nice" doesn't mean that someone is honest.  shalom.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Pardon, Peace, and Joy Are Found

this past sunday, the minister of the church we attend preached on a passage from luke in which jesus and his disciples are accused of breaking the sabbath.  first, as the disciples and jesus walk through a field of grain, the disciples pick and eat some of the grain, and the pharisees question jesus about his allowing this to happen.  later, jesus heals a man with a deformed hand in the synagogue on the sabbath, deliberately challenging the religious rules about what is allowed on the sabbath.

in his explanation of the strictures regarding sabbath-keeping among the jews of jesus' time, practices maintained by some observant jews to this day, the minister quoted numbers 15: 32-36.  this passage describes an incident as the israelites were making their way to the promised land when a man was found gathering wood on the sabbath, brought before moses, and condemned to death, a sentence carried out by the community taking the man outside the camp and stoning him, " just as the Lord had commanded moses."  no further explanation of this passage was offered, and i was disturbed that the idea that God would require such a punishment for a rather insignificant violation of the religious laws, one that was no more egregious than the actions of jesus' disciples.

the content of the rest of the sermon showed a great understanding of the human spirit, reminding us that the thrust of jesus' teachings and life pointed us to a God of mercy, love, and forgiveness, in contrast to the ritualistic and rule-bound god of the religious establishment of the time.  yet, i can't understand why the stark contrast between jesus' teachings and the god of the ancient israelites was not addressed.  it is this refusal to admit in most christian churches that there are contradictions and inaccuracies in the bible that drives people from the christian faith.  we are dishonest as we insist that the bible must be accepted in toto, glossing over passages like the one in numbers and failing to address these different understandings of God head-on.  we leave our services questioning whether or not we ought to claim to be christians if we can't accept this vision of a god of vengeance, who condones putting people to death for petty infractions of religious laws.

may we be honest in admitting many passages in the bible are contradictory, that in order for one passage to be true another must be false.  may we examine what we read and hear and not be afraid to reject that which is patently wrong.  may we worship a God of love, embracing "that of God" that is love in our hearts.  shalom.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Be It Ever So Humble

we are finally back from our trip.  we saw so many beautiful things--churches, government buildings, palaces, museums filled with art, mountains, rivers, fjords, far too many to list.  we returned exhausted and happy to be in our own home among things that are familiar to us.  as always when we travel, we were amazed at the kindness of strangers: the man who showed us the best butter in the grocery store, the woman who gave us directions, the family that made sure we got off at the right stop on the s-tog, the young lady who insisted that i take her deck chair on the boat.  i hope that we showed others the same kindness that they extended to us and that the danes, norwegians, russians, finns, germans, swedes, and estonians that we encountered saw the basic goodness of americans in our behavior towards them.  that is, i suppose, the main goal of travel, to remind ourselves that we are all basically the same, all human beings with intrinsic dignity and good will for one another.  sure, we found some people that were thoughtless, mainly other travelers who were more interested in being at the head of the line, first off the boat or train, willing to do whatever it took to insure their own convenience, but those were the minority.  their rudeness and selfishness were easily dismissed when compared to the vast majority of kind-hearted, considerate people we met.

now that we are back home we face familiar problems--getting the yard back in shape, washing the clothes, charging the car battery that has run down, restocking the larder, catching up on the news from family and friends.  it's good to deal with the mundane again, just as it was good to escape it for a few weeks.  the national news is pretty much the same--hearing lies from a leader who should embody the best ideals of our country, listening to hateful rhetoric directed at those who don't deserve it, blaming the victims for their own victimization, looking for scapegoats for the ills that confront us.  many of our country's leaders embody and embolden hatreds that were long buried in our national psyche, and americans of good will wonder how to end these old prejudices and bring our government back to serving, rather than harming, the people who live here.

we must discern the best way forward.  the hatreds given legitimacy by the last election are part of our culture that have been suppressed rather than dealt with.  now they are exposed, and we see that what we thought had ceased to exist was only hidden.  how do we teach people to love rather than hate?  is confrontation the best way?  is treating others as we wish to be treated the solution?  perhaps, it is a combination of the two.  we can't let vicious words and actions go unchallenged, but we can't end hate by more hate.  we can't call people "deplorables," but we can condemn deplorable actions and rhetoric.  we have to find the underlying humanity of those who seem to be filled with hate, and we must try to understand the root causes of the hate that seems to have found a home in their hearts.  the great stain of slavery has long been a curse that disfigures our national fabric, and we must recognize it and work to cleanse that fabric so we can enjoy the many beautiful hues that are woven into it.  our country is like a coat of many colors, all lovely when we can see their beauty.  we are a song in many tongues that can only be sung if we embrace its diversity and treasure its great richness.

may we see the intrinsic greatness of our experiment in the rule of law that embodies the principle that all "are created equal."  may we encourage all our people, no matter the color of their skin or the language they speak, to join together in mutual kindness and respect.  may our daily lives exemplify those ideals which have always made our country great, rather than spreading hate in the name of "making it great again."  shalom.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

A Buddhist Blessing

may we be filled with loving-kindness and compassion.
may we be well.
may we be peaceful and at ease.
may we be happy.