Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Find the Frame Where We Are Freed

after thinking about the essentials of having confidence and taking refuge in the teachings of jesus in my last post, i've tried to think about the teachings of the buddha that are essential for me.  i'm reluctant to write about buddhist teachings because i have so much less experience with them, but what i've learned about siddhartha gautama and the teachings that grew from his life and practice have had great meaning for me over the past few years.  here is a brief summary of those teachings:

  • change is the only constant in life.
  • suffering is the universal experience of all persons.
  • the root causes of our suffering are our penchant for craving that which we do not have and clinging to that which we do have, believing that having more will bring greater happiness.  this belief is false.
  • compassion and lovingkindness are the source of true happiness.
  • we are all essentially the same.
  • we are not our thoughts.
  • we have the capacity to become more aware and to grow spiritually and intellectually.
  • life happens in the present, not in rationalization of the past or by imagining a perfect future.
  • the daily practice of meditation, of quieting the mind and focusing on the present, is essential for spiritual growth.
  • increasing our mindful attention to the present leads to a peaceful, happy, and purposeful life.

it is difficult to reduce any belief system to a few essentials, but these above and the summary of jesus' teachings that i made last week are the core of what is essential for me as i live my day-to-day life.  they are what i remind myself of at the start of each day and try to remember and practice throughout each day.

may each of us think deeply about what our most basic beliefs.  may our lives demonstrate our beliefs.  may we remember that love and acceptance of the impermanence of life are the keys to happiness.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

All That Is Not True

each day in my morning meditation, i say the phrase, "may i take refuge and place my trust in the teachings of jesus and the buddha."  part of my meditation for the past several days has been on just what the essential teachings of jesus are in which i should put my trust.  so today i will try to summarize those teachings.  i don't believe that jesus is God or even a supernatural being, but i do believe that he and the buddha are the two wisest men who have ever lived.  my thinking about jesus evolves, and the greatest mystery about him for me is his relationship to God.  as a christian, born into a christian family in a culture that is predominantly christian (though becoming less so), identifying as a christian is part of my identity.  i recognize that many christians wouldn't consider me one of their own because of my unorthodox beliefs, but i do consider myself to be a disciple of jesus and know of nothing else to call myself except "christian."

here are the teachings of jesus in which i take refuge and place my trust:

  • God is a god of love, not a god of punishment and vengeance.
  • all people are worthy of love, regardless of their race, religion, gender, and status in society.
  • our calling is to serve others.
  • we are charged with examining our own motives, not with judging the motives of others.
  • we must love without condition.
  • we should forgive easily and not harbor grudges.
  • how we live is more important than having faith in any supernatural being or subscribing to any religion.
  • the living of life in the here and now is what is essential, rather than following a set of rules to insure a happy life in a vague hereafter.
  • the needs of others are more important than a complicated system of beliefs.


this pretty much summarizes my thinking about jesus and the way i aspire to live.  no complex theology is needed, no creed must be subscribed to.  may i take refuge in and trust those teachings.  may each of us find our way to a life of service and lovingkindness.  may we live mindfully, examining our thoughts and the actions that flow from them in the light of their effect on others.  may we use our gift of reason, never accepting any teaching without putting it to the test.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Walking Along the Eightfold Path

on two recent occasions, i've made remarks to my wife that she took exception to, and she's reminded me of them several times since.  i didn't mean the remarks in a hurtful way.  one comment was made in jest, the other out of frustration with myself.  as i've thought about what i said, i've been reminded of how easily words slip out of our mouths with little thought beforehand.  when i spoke, i never considered how what i said might be taken by another person.  i meant no offense or harm, yet i caused both.  it would be easy to shift the fault to my wife, blaming her for taking umbrage needlessly.  yet it is i who is at fault for speaking without mindfulness.

we have a relative who seems to always be mindful when she speaks.  every word is weighed before it is uttered, but it is quite difficult to carry on a conversation with her.  she looks for implied meanings in every sentence she hears, then chooses her words carefully in reply.  this is mindful speech taken to an extreme, and it is painful to her partners in conversation, and, in fact, conversation with her is all but impossible.

how does one speak mindfully without becoming like our relative?  i think the basis for the right speech is to have a right heart.  before one reaches the third step in the eightfold path, there are first right view (or understanding) and next right intention.  from these two qualities, flows right speech, that speech which is never intended to cause harm and which takes into consideration the perception of the object of the speech.  it is the last of these that i failed to consider.  i was not thinking of how my remarks might be perceived by my wife when i spoke.  i know that the harm that i caused will be forgiven and forgotten, because my wife knows that it would be out of character for me to cause harm by my speech, but for the present the hurt is there, though unintended.

this is the wonderful thing about love, especially a love that has matured over more than fifty years.  we know the hearts of one another and have learned to tolerate, even appreciate, the irritating quirks of each other.  we have each ceased trying to control the other and learned to accept each other just as we are.  my wife knows that i would never intentionally harm her, and i know that i would never wish to cause her pain.  words once spoken can never be taken back, one can only apologize and feel remorse for the suffering they cause another.

may we speak mindfully, remembering that there are consequences that arise from our words.  may we know that the old saying, "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me," is patently false.  may we be aware that words can wound us deeply, and the hurt they cause can take longer to heal than a physical wound.  may our words arise from a heart filled with lovingkindness.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Till selfish gain no longer stain the banner of the free!

over the past week, we've witnessed the unraveling of donald trump's presidency.  the revelations by michael cohen in court and the conviction of paul manafort on multiple counts would have been enough to bring about the forced resignation of former presidents, and yet trump continues in office, insisting that he is blameless.  amazingly, most elected officials in his party have either defended him or taken a wait-and-see position.  the mueller investigation continues, and trump continues to wage war against it and his own attorney general.

the rest of us wait for the next shoe to drop.  will donald trump, jr., be indicted?  will weisselberg, the trump organization's chief financial officer, reveal involvement in russian business dealings that undercut trump's assertion that he is not beholden to any russians?  will trump pardon manafort?  will the republican red wall that supports trump hold?  when trump became the party's nominee, a republican friend of mine asked in disbelief, "surely, he won't be elected?"  i told him that i feared that he might but would be amazed if he remained in office for all of his term.  like many, i hope that my prediction is correct, though i don't think vice-president pence will be any better as far as policy issues are concerned.  in a pence presidency we will see the continuation of the inhumane treatment of undocumented immigrants, including those who have spent most of their lives here, the isolationist trade and diplomatic policy, the racism, and the inflicting of draconian measures directed at the poorest members of our society.

one can only hope that the mid-term elections will send a clear signal that the majority of americans reject the direction that the country has headed under trump and displeasure with him as president.  if the election results are mixed or supportive of trump, i fear we are doomed for many years to come and will go our own way in defiance of the rest of the world and at the expense of the most vulnerable within our borders.

may we repudiate trump and his policies.  may we elect new representative and senators who put the well being of the country ahead of partisan politics and their own desire to continue in office.  may those who serve have the courage to denounce wrong, even if the denunciation is at the expense of their own chances of re-election.  may every american vote for candidates who will serve all the people, not just the wealthy.  may this country be a "sweet land of liberty" once more.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

When You and I Were Young

in a few days, my wife and i will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary.  on that day in 1968, we were both twenty-one years old and had just graduated from college.  i had begun my first teaching job.  my wife had just completed a summer of working as a "temp" in houston while living with one of her sisters there.  we were excited to begin our lives as adults, establishing our first home in a tiny three-room apartment, where you had to go through the bathroom to get from the living room to the kitchen.  the apartment was in the basement of a house built into the side of a hill overlooking a ravine, and our windows were just above ground level.  both of our jobs were miserable, but we were happy together there, learning how to cook and how to put up with each other's little irritating mannerisms.

over the years we've lived in six different towns, as we've followed jobs and college degrees from place to place.  our last move took us to a place where we lived for thirty years, the longest time we stayed in the same house.  when we made our move to our home here at the age of seventy, that was our most difficult move.  it was hard to leave the house that had nurtured our lives together for so long and to haul the accumulated belongings that we had collected over so many years together for the 250 miles or so from our old home to the new one, but we survived it.

we've learned, i think, how to care for one another, to help each other heal old wounds from our childhoods.  we've learned to work together, each giving up our desires to control how the other lives and thinks.  we've learned to make decisions together, neither insisting on having it one way or the other.  all-in-all we've had a wonderful life together, a far happier life that either would have had alone.  neither of us can imagine a life without the other, though some day we may have to experience that reality.  we hope that day is far in the future.

we've raised two wonderful children, children who can't believe that their parents are growing old and won't be the same as they've always been.  as i look back, i see that i thought my dad would always be there, and i thought the same of my mother until her illness ended her life when she was just a couple of years older than i am now.  i never thought about my dad's aging or the difficulties he faced trying to keep his home and yard going on his own after my mother died.  now i understand how hard it was for him, as my wife and i try to figure out how to reduce the demands of yard work and house work, how to make do with less.

it would be wonderful to have another fifty years together, but that's unlikely.  at best, we might have another twenty or so.  we can hope that the years remaining will be healthy ones, that neither of us has to leave the other to live in a nursing home.  we can hope to live independently, caring for our home and each other, but we never know what life may bring, as my dad discovered when my mother became ill and soon was gone.

may we each have the strength to face the challenges that life throws at us.  may we relish each day filled with joy and good health, each day we get to spend with the person or persons we love most.  may we live with gratitude and with good will for all those around us.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

That's What Life Is All Ablout

we are friends with a couple that we've known for many years.  we enjoy going on trips with them, frequently go out to eat together, play cards with each other, and generally love spending time together.  both the husband and wife are considerate, kind people, but in their interactions with one another they are not so kind and considerate.  the wife complains about her husband frequently, and he persists in actions that he knows annoy his wife and cause extra work for her.  she does not have a college degree, and he does, and he often speaks to her dismissively, suggesting in both the content of his speech and the tone of his voice that her opinion is unworthy of consideration.  their son, who lives with them, speaks to his mother in the same manner, no doubt taking his cue from his father without realizing what he is doing.

it pains us to see how they treat each other.  my wife is constantly telling her female friend that she doesn't understand why the couple can't just talk with each other about the things that pit them against one another and resolve these ongoing conflicts.  they've been married for over fifty years, and i suppose the dynamic of their relationship has taken that long to develop and can't be changed without great effort on both their parts, something that neither husband nor wife has the inclination to do.  watching them together has made my wife and i more conscious of how we treat one another, and i think we are more considerate of each other because we see how inconsiderate our friends are in their dealings with their partner.

i catch myself being curt with my wife from time to time, and i am reminded of my own imperfections and the ease with which each of us can slip into treating the person we love most with an unkindness that we would never visit on anyone else.  the object of much of my meditation time lately has been becoming more mindful of how i speak to my spouse and stopping myself before i speak to her in an inconsiderate manner.  we both find that, the more we treat each other with kindness and respect, the more that treatment is returned to us.  i've heard it said that one can tell the true measure of a person by observing how that person behaves towards those who are dearest, and i think there's a great deal of truth in that.  why is it easier to be kind to strangers and friends than it is to those we love the most?  i suppose we assume that our loved ones will find forgive us more readily and tolerate our foibles more than those who know us less well.

may we work to make lovingkindness and respect the hallmarks of our interactions with every person, including those we love most.  may we treat one another as we wish to be treated.  may we never stop developing care for those around us, realizing that each of us can become more kind and considerate no matter how long we live.  may our actions demonstrate that we love one another.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

When I Come to Die

in some ways those who have been diagnosed with an incurable disease and know with some precision when to expect death are fortunate.  they can make preparations: get their affairs in order, say goodbye to family and friends, make amends where needed, and make peace with themselves.  for most of us, death comes unexpectedly, bringing an abrupt end to our existence.  i suppose the lesson in this is that we should always be prepared for death.

as i've aged, i know that the end is much closer.  i jokingly tell myself and others that i plan to live to be at least 125, but the likelihood of that happening becomes more and more remote with each passing day.  so death is on my mind much more that it was in my younger days.  my wife and i have told our children what we want to happen upon our death--no funeral service, to be cremated and our ashes scattered in a beautiful location, a marker placed on the grave plot of my parents who were also cremated.  we've told them a little about our finances, but we haven't made written notes for them, something that we need to do in the near future.

i think of what may happen after this life is over.  i'm okay with becoming a part of the earth, of living on in the life that my remains nourish and in the memories of those who knew me.  i'm hoping that reincarnation is more than a superstition, that i'll have more chances to grow toward enlightenment.  i have serious doubts about the christian idea that when we die, if we believe the right things, we'll go to spend eternity in some paradise.  that seems the most unlikely scenario of what happens upon death, though it would be great if true.  i won't spend any time worrying about whether i'm "right with God" in order to be whisked away to eternal bliss in a golden city to play my harp in perpetuity.

change is our only constant.  nothing is as it was a millisecond before.  i'm learning to accept the changes in my body and in the world around me.  i know that everything comes to an end and is replaced by something different.  this body that has served me so well, the house where i live, the town in which i live, this country--nothing is forever.  one day, those in whose memories i live on will be gone along with those memories.  but even then, i'll live on in the good or ill i've inspired in others.  i'm fortunate to be able to say that my children are good people, kind, thoughtful, caring, spreading good will around them among their coworkers and friends.  they are full of love for others and for life, and, while i can't take all the credit for that, i know that i've played a role in what they have become and are becoming.  i am gratified that through them my influence for good, if not the memory of my life, is being carried on through countless lives.

may we be grateful for the chance to make the world a better place in large or small ways.  may we remember that there is great joy in life and great relief in death and prepare ourselves for both.  may we live lives filled with gratitude for all the opportunities life affords us.  may we meet our end knowing that we did what we could to make the most of the days we had.  shalom.