Tuesday, September 25, 2018

One Great Fellowship of Love

this week i am away from home because my brother had a serious health setback at the end of last week and needed my sister and me to come help him.  i am staying at the home of another relative who is out of town this week, while my sister stays with my brother in his apartment.  both my sister and brother have had life-threatening, debilitating health issues over the past few years, but my sister has largely recovered, while the problems seem to keep piling on for my brother.

as i sit this morning, i think about the suffering my brother is experiencing.  at the time in his life when he should be able to relax in his retirement and enjoy life, he is fighting to keep going.  financial and health issues cause him constant suffering.  each time he seems to be emerging from one crisis, another occurs.  he finds obstacle after obstacle in his path, and there seems to be no way forward.  he is a good person, a kind person, a lover of animals, a rescuer of abandoned dogs.   what life has handed him is undeserved, but he perseveres, though he is sometimes overwhelmed as he was when struck by this latest series of difficulties.

perhaps the presence of my sister and i will help him in his struggle.  i know that my sister is a calming, stabilizing influence, and i know that his son, who has been working with all his might to maintain his work schedule, care for his own family, and help his father as much as possible is glad that he has some help for a couple of weeks.  having some assistance in negotiating the complications of the medical system, in doing some planning for his care, and in finding some solutions to the financial problems that major medical issues can bring may give my brother some hope that life will not always be this way for him.

it is hard to think rationally when there is so much irrationality in life.  to detach oneself from the emotional responses to situations like what my brother is facing so that one can establish priorities, tackle the pieces of the puzzle one at a time, and figure out what will work requires an approach that isn't easy to come by, but such detachment is necessary.  so as my sister deals with the emotions involved in these difficulties that my brother faces, perhaps his son and i can work to find a way forward that addresses the physical and financial parts of the situation with logic so that the end result is a better life for him.

after we've railed at the injustices of life, may we also see its beauty.  may we remember that suffering is our universal experience, but so is joy.  may we bond together to help each other, because we can't go it alone.  may we know that life was meant to be a communal experience, each of us helping those around us along the path.  shalom.

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.