Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘buddha’

Changing to Return to Ourselves

Luke 13:1-9

Selections from Self, Gautama Buddha

If a person holds oneself dear, let one watch oneself carefully.
The wise should be watchful during at least one of the three watches.
Self is the master of self; who else could be the master?
With self a well-controlled a person finds a master such as few can find.
Bad actions and actions harmful to ourselves are easy to do;
what is beneficial and good, that is very difficult to do.
By oneself is wrong done; by oneself one suffers;
By oneself is wrong left undone; by oneself is one purified.
Purity and impurity come from oneself; no one can purify another.

Change.jpeg

Daniel Gilbert is the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He has won numerous awards for his research and teaching, including the American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Scientific Award for an Early Career Contribution to Psychology. Dan’s 2007 book, Stumbling on Happiness, spent 6 months on the New York Times bestseller list, has being translated into more than 30 languages, and was awarded the Royal Society’s General Book Prize for best science book of the year. In 2010, Dan hosted and co-wrote the award-winning PBS television series This Emotional Life, whose premiere was watched by more than 10 million viewers.

He gave a recent Ted Talk entitled: The Psychology of Your Future Self.

He claims that all of us are walking around with an illusion:

“an illusion that history, our personal history, has just come to an end, that we have just recently become the people that we were always meant to be and will be for the rest of our lives.”

To prove that claim, Mr. Gilbert provides some data from studies with thousands of people. Gilbert and his researchers asked half of them to predict how much their values would change in the next ten years; the other half they asked how much their values had changed in the last ten years. So in essence, they were comparing the predictions of people who were about 18 years old with the reports of people who were 28. Here’s what they found:

The common view that we often hold is that change slows down as get older. Gilbert’s study found that change does not slow down nearly as much as we think. People from age 18-68 in the study vastly underestimated how much change they would experience over the next 10 years. For example, 18-year-olds anticipated changing only half as much as 50-year-olds actually do. And it’s more than just change in values. It’s personality change and it’s likes and dislikes, too. What music do you like? Who is your best friend? What is your favorite hobby? People in the study thought that these things would not change in 10 years, but they were almost always wrong.

They did change.

This season of Lent [40 days] is about self-reflection and about change.
I’ve been asking you to hold this question closely:

What does it mean for me to be truly myself?

So as we continue to ask that question, let’s look at a story in Luke’s Gospel that challenges us to consider that change is really a part of who we are.

The story begins with a reference to Galileans. These “Galileans” were most likely pilgrims in Jerusalem. Apparently, Pilate, a Roman leader, had mistreated these Galileans, and violence filled Jerusalem. Jesus then asks a question of the crowd gathered there:

“Do you think that these Galileans were bigger sinners than all the Galileans because they had suffered this?”

Meaning: something really bad happened to these Galileans, so did they deserve it?

This of course is the old-school, sad but commonly-held view that if someone does things right, things will go well for her; if bad things happen to her, it’s because she is bad. Obviously, Jesus doesn’t believe this for one second.

So he refers to another old story about the tower of Siloam falling down and killing 18 people. And once again he asks: did these people do something bad to deserve that fate?

Both stories are attempts to change people’s perspectives about sin and debt. The commonly-held belief was that good things happened to good people and bad things happened to bad people. This cause and effect, reward and punishment mentality was and is severely limited. Instead, Jesus calls the people in the crowd to repent, a word that does not mean feeling sorry for a sin or something bad you did. Repent means turn around and move in a new direction.

Change in perspective that leads to change in your life.

Finally, Jesus of Nazareth tells the parable of the fig tree.

fig_tree2

A vineyard owner comes to a fig tree looking for fruit, but finds none. The owner is ticked off about that and lets the gardener have it. For three years I’ve been looking for figs, and nothing! Get rid of it—it’s taking up too much space! But the gardener says leave it alone. Coincidentally, the Greek word there [aphes] means forgive. The gardener is not ready to dig up the fig tree. In spite of its history of not bearing fruit, there is still the possibility that the tree can change and eventually be productive, finding its place in the vineyard.

Have you ever considered that change is part of your natural makeup–that you are not meant to stay the same? That goes for your perspectives and your life practices.

As Dan Gilbert’s studies found, we over-invest time and energy in our current preferences and perspectives because we think we won’t change and so we overestimate their stability. Why does this happen? Gilbert and co. are not sure. But one hypothesis is that it has to do with the ease of remembering versus the difficulty of imagining.

The owner of the vineyard couldn’t imagine the fig tree having any use, because the owner only saw a tree without fruit. But the gardener had an imagination.

Friends, I’m sure that most of you can remember who you were 10 years ago, right? But how hard is it sometimes for you to imagine who you are going to be?

Don’t assume that due to your lack of imagination, who you are going to be, i.e. a change, is not likely to happen. When we say: “I can’t imagine that,” we are simply expressing our lack of imaginative perspective, but not the unlikelihood change.

Yes, changing your perspective right now will help. The present moment can be, as Gilbert points out, a magical time.

It’s the moment at which we finally become ourselves.

So no matter what age you are, or where you are on life’s journey, remember this:
We are all works in progress. We are not finished.

The one constant in our life is change.

And when we change, we are truly ourselves.

 

Gravity

John 17:12-19    

What is gravity?

Gravity is a force of nature that you experience every day. It’s produced by all matter in the universe and attracts all pieces of matter, regardless of type. The Earth produces gravity and so do the sun, other planets, your car, your house, and your body.

Gravity pulls things and beings towards the center of the earth.

In 1687, the story goes that Isaac Newton wasn’t paying attention while sitting under a tree [I guess kind of like Buddha?], and then an apple fell on his head.

Eventually, Newton—busted up head and all—came up with the law of universal gravitation.

gravityappleEvery object in the universe attracts every other object in the universe. The amount (force) of the attraction depends on the mass of the object.

So, for example, you’re sitting in front of your laptop. That laptop is actually attracting you, but you don’t feel it, because the mass of your laptop is so small compared to the mass of the Earth, there is no physical pull.

Newton’s law also says that the greater the distance between two objects, the less the objects will attract each other. So the farther away an object is from the Earth (or any large body), the less it will weigh. If you stand at the top of a tall building or a massive mountain, you will weigh less than you do when your feet are on the ground at sea level.[1]

Gravity has inspired that well-known phrase:

What goes up must come down.

In fact, some of you may remember a song that begins that way; a little Blood, Sweat, and Tears, and Spinning Wheel

Now you may be wondering why the heck I am talking about gravity. Well, this part of John’s Gospel is all about a really, really, REALLY long prayer of Jesus of Nazareth, and it’s a prayer for and about the cosmos.

And it’s a prayer worthy of a bigger space [like outer space]; but most importantly, it’s also a symbolic affirmation of gravity itself.

What goes up must come down.

You see, when most people think or talk about this thing called prayer, they assume that prayers are said to some god far off in the heavens. So prayers are lifted up to the heavens, right? That’s why incense is often used during prayers. In my opinion, this is why many people in the West actually don’t pray or meditate all that often, because prayer is reduced to some sort of religious ceremony in a temple, sanctuary, or building. Many people even claim that they cannot pray without the presence of a religious leader who can tell them what to pray.

And yet, any devout Muslim, Christian, Jew, Baha’i, Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist, or Pagan will tell you that prayers can be said anywhere.

There are no “more important” prayers that one can lift up than the humble prayer of a small child hoping that her mom’s illness will get better; or the dad praying that he will find a job; or the teenager praying that the bullying will stop; or the old woman praying that she will feel no pain when she passes from the earth.

But of course, we’re only human, and so we still have the tendency to place greater importance on certain prayers, and in this case a prayer attributed to Jesus in John’s Gospel. It’s a continuation of the vine and branches metaphor, as Jesus is hoping that his friends the disciples and all his followers, and all the world, may be one as he is one with his Abba.

If you think this prayer seems long, you’re right. Its text takes up nearly 1/5 of John’s Gospel. For sure, this prayer has been analyzed to death as people try to make sense of its apocalyptic nature, theology, John’s community and context, etc.

And there are traditions like “ascension day” in certain Christian circles that may include this prayer as Jesus’ farewell before he disappears into the heavens.

Or, until he ascends, that is.

And while I’m no “high church” expert, and nor am I one who observes ascension day, I will say that this concept is gaining some ground with me.

After all, what goes up must come down.

Think about this for a moment.

All of this prayer is about unity. It is about relationship; and interconnectedness; it is about protection, comfort, and assurance. And God’s reign of love and mercy and peace on this earth, as it apparently is in heaven.

What goes up must come down.

So if we take gravity as not just a physical force, but also a holistic force that is included in our spiritual and mental practice, prayers lifted up must come down.

What ascends to the heavens eventually descends.

So rather than thinking of Jesus and his life and teachings as something that POOF! went away in the blink of an eye, because, well, he went up to heaven, we say….

What if this unifying, beautiful prayer was lifted up so that it would come back down?

What if Jesus, as John’s Gospel clearly says a million times, was “lifted up” for more than just disappearing, but for the purpose of reappearing?

What goes up must come down.

Imagine if we stopped obsessing over what Jesus or God do in heaven or what we need to do to get to this heaven.

Imagine if we thought that everything we prayed for was lifted up, only so it could come back down to us?

Maybe our prayers would be different?

What if prayers always come back to the earth to stay, in the form of everyday life?

What if there is no such thing as the divine presence staying up there in heaven?

What if the divine is here, feet on the ground, in you and in me?

Now that’s pulling us to the center of something, isn’t it?

Prayer, meditation, or any sort of conversation within yourself that seeks a deeper connection with the divine, or a deeper connection with yourself—pulls you towards your center. You are grounded, on this earth, and this is your identity.

We are all children of the earth, and not of heaven.

We are meant [and made] to be one together—not just with Christians or with those who look and act like us—with all children of this earth. We are meant to be one in our humanity, because we all utter prayers or look up sometimes or cry out or wonder or worry or cry or shout joyfully or calmly sit or clasp hands or lift hands or simply wish for things to be better, or more connected, or more peaceful, or more compassionate.

And this binds us together, because what goes up must come down.

If we express our desires for a better world and for loving and compassionate relationships, and for justice, and for love—what goes up must come down.

This day, take a moment for meditation, or prayer, or whatever best suits you. Take a moment. Lift up all that you wish for your life and the lives of others, and for the world. And then, be aware, that what you lift up will eventually come down.

And then you’ll have the opportunity to make those desires a reality on this earth.

[1] For Dummies, Boning Up on Gravity.

Self Knowledge, a Dharma Talk

On Tuesday, May 12th, 2015, I was honored to be the guest speaker at Won Buddhist Temple.

You can learn more about their community and Won Buddhism by clicking here and here.

WonFullMeditationCircleHow does one know him/herself?

A good and complicated question, am I right?

How do we know ourselves?

A simple answer would be:

Simply introduce yourself.

nametagBut it’s not easy to do that, is it?

Take me, for example. I was raised in the Midwest—Indiana and Iowa. I have many memories from those places. Religiously, my parents raised me as a Christian. Vocationally, while in college in Iowa, I decided to pursue theater. After that, I ended up on the East Coast for the first time—Princeton, NJ, in order to study theology, philosophy, and religion. Eventually, I became an ordained minister, started working in churches and other organizations, and found myself in a variety of places like Mexico City, Detroit, Honolulu, Honduras, Cuba, and Philadelphia. I got married to Maria Elena. I started working in interfaith organizations like the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia.

All these places, people, and experiences are part of my story. Seemingly, they define me. If someone doesn’t know me, and then asks me the question: who are you?

How do I answer?

Do I say that I’m a minister, a husband or partner, a son, a brother, a consultant, a Midwesterner, a Christian, an actor, a crazy person—how do I answer?

You see, in my experience, we most often define ourselves by all those external things: places, situations, jobs, nationalities, religions, etc.

Introduce1

But is that who we really are? Do we really know ourselves?

A few years ago, I started working on a grant project. I was funded to work with high school and college students from Greater Philadelphia and other places, including other U.S. states and other countries in South Asia and the Middle East. The concept of the project was: know your neighbor, know yourself. In essence, what I did was to help organize different experiences for these students in which they would meet and get to know students from other religious backgrounds. The point was to break down the walls of misunderstanding and prejudice and to promote peacemaking and cooperation. Sounds great, right?

But something else actually happened in the process.

Though our funders and the religious institutions that supported the project loved the idea of peacemaking and breaking down barriers, that is not really the most significant thing that happened in the end.

A Muslim student from Saudi Arabia met a Christian student from Wisconsin. They talked, they got to know each other; they participated in the silly but fun theater games I asked them to do, they did service projects together, and they shared about their own religious practices. But they also became friends. Before they knew it, they weren’t talking to each other as before. She was no longer a Muslim and he was no longer a Christian. They started to see each other so very differently than before and they were challenged to see themselves in a different way. No longer could they hide behind their religions or nationalities; they were challenged to know themselves as they were and to know others as they were.

Having done many of these projects, I can tell you that each time I am transformed by these students and the friendships they develop. And each time I am more and more convinced that we must know ourselves in a deeper way; this self-knowledge will enable us to know others as they truly are.

And yes, there is peacemaking and cooperation and justice that can result from this knowing.

But we as humans struggle with this kind of knowing.
We are so very conditioned to see ourselves through the eyes of others and through the eyes of our external experiences.

I am a case in point.

My entire life, I have searched for knowledge. I’ve read books, scriptures of many religions; I have studied philosophy, theology, and psychology. All of the knowledge I gained from such study has been beneficial, but to a point. It is accumulated knowledge and clearly reflects particular worldviews and biases of society. It is limited knowledge, to be sure.

But there is a book that I should definitely read without hesitation.

It is the book of knowledge of the self.

Perhaps I can even say that we are all books ourselves. For some who believe in one Creator-god, we are then books written by this Creator. In Buddhism, we are books containing Buddha.

I have discovered [and still am discovering] that this book of self is the one I must read. I must continually look within myself to notice the creator in me; I must continue to know myself so as to recognize the Buddha in me and in others.

It is true that people will continue to write books about us. These books will tell us who we are and define our identity. But these books, written by others, are second and third-hand knowledge. If we read about ourselves in these books, then we are not real.

We are just someone else’s story.

And these other books written about us can prevent us from looking within, from reading our own book—to know our true selves.

There is a Hindu story from India that goes something like this. A very learned prince received scriptures from Krishna. Every time the prince read a new scripture, he would get confused and frustrated, saying: No, no, this scripture says something else than the other books I’ve read. And so it was again and again. Finally, Krishna laughed and said: When the light has risen within a human being, all your scriptures are like a tank full of water when the flood has come.

At times, when I was in a desert place in my life, certain books [written by others] provided some comfort and knowledge for me—a tank full of water. But the flood came when I started to read my own book, to know myself fully, and I was no longer in a desert place, but in a vast ocean.

This is recognizing that all the external identities I have been given are lesser than the true nature of myself.

It is like the venerable Sot’aesan, Founding Master of Won Buddhism once wrote:

As I do not hold the mind which wanders out,
Nor receive the mind which comes inside,
So now I obtain the One Mind which neither comes nor goes.

Lots of identities wander in during our lifetimes. But the true knowledge of self is in knowing the self that stays—the self that doesn’t come and go.

This is who we are.

When our minds are free of distractions and conditioning, desires, and attachments, we are as clean and as vast as space. This is often called beginner’s mind—who we really are at our core. To this space, we can always return. Within this space, our religious affiliation or lack thereof; our nationality; our cultural background; all the external identities given to us by the world–are of lesser importance. In this beginner’s mind, the sacred space, we are free to see ourselves just as we are and others just as they are.

A motto of Won Buddhism is “Everywhere a Buddha Image and Every Act a Buddha Offering.” My understanding of this is that it means we should recognize each person we meet as a Buddha, and treat others as you would treat a Buddha.
It is related to Grace, which expresses our interdependency and interconnectedness to all living things. Master Sot’aesan awakened to that truth and realized that nothing can exist without being interrelated with others.

And so I close with this story: Master Sot’aesan once met an old couple on their way to temple. They were going to pray for Buddha to help their troubled daughter-in-law.

But why go to a Buddha statue, Sot’aesan asked them, when you’re surrounded by living Buddhas? Why pray for someone else’s enlightenment when you can achieve it together? Your daughter-in-law is a living Buddha, so make your offerings directly to her, the same as you would to a Buddha statue. See as she sees, not as a piece of stone sees. We forget that the only way to understand another person’s problems is to look through their eyes.

Yes, I think this is true.

We must know our true selves first. And to do that, we must continually re-evaluate our own perspectives, our own opinions, and our own solutions. We must recognize the limitations of the identity that the world has given us.

And in this space we can join together with others in spite of our perceived differences. We can recognize our interconnectedness. We can cooperate across religious and social lines and bring about justice, peacefulness, and even joy.

May it be so.

Loved, Loved, Loved; Sent, Sent, Sent!

John 21:1-19

SIMPSONS CLIP:

Sometimes there are things that bear repeating. Other times, repeating again and again can be quite annoying!

But repetition is what we do. It is how we learn. Everyone here has had to memorize something. Perhaps in school you memorized multiplication tables. Maybe you had to memorize certain dates in history for a test. Or maybe you have memorized lines for a play, or dance steps and routines, or song lyrics, or directions to a certain place, or someone’s name. We commit things to memory every single day. That does not mean that it is easy, though. Memorization—this type of learning—takes time and effort. Sometimes we cannot do it on our own. We need someone to help us remember and learn and then apply.

Maybe that’s why things often come in threes. Phone numbers are broken down, at least in the U.S., into three sets of numbers. For many, this is easier to memorize.

You have heard the phrase: third time’s the charm.

Good things come in threes.

Three strikes and you’re out.

3…2…1…

The past, present, and the future.

Now on the count of three, everybody pull!

1…2…3! Say cheese!

Three cheers: hip, hip, hooray!

Three is company, four is a crowd.

Lights, camera, action!

1 for the money, 2 for the show; 3 to get ready…

Yadda, yadda, yadda…

What other sayings do you know that contain the number three?

 Gautama Siddharta, the Buddha, once said:

Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.

And many of us know this phrase from Paul’s letter to Corinth:

And these three remain: faith, hope, and love.

So what is this all about? This is the rule of 3.

3The rule of three is a writing principle that suggests that things in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things. The reader or audience of this form, according to many, are more likely to consume information if it is written in groups of threes. From slogans like go, fight, win! to film and literary titles, to philosophy and religion. You might remember The Three Stooges, the Three Little Pigs, the Three Billy Goats Gruff, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, or the Three Musketeers. The list goes on.

And I need to mention, as an actor and lover of theatre–plays on stage are usually in 3 acts.

Not to overdo it, but there is something to this. A series of three often creates a progression in which tension is created, built up, and finally released. Similarly, in writing, adjectives are often grouped in threes to emphasize an idea.[1]

Martin Luther, King famously utilized the rule of 3 in his speeches for emphasis; for example, in his speech  Non-violence and Racial Justice, he used the words  “insult, injustice and exploitation,” followed a few lines later by “justice, good will and brotherhood.”[2]

Those of you from a Catholic background probably know [or memorized!] the Latin phrase omne trium perfectum (everything that comes in threes is perfect, or, every set of three is complete).

But I’m more apt to go with the rule of 3 in comedy and jokes.

A rabbi, a priest, and an imam walk into a bar…

 It’s an actual unwritten rule of comedy—something we use all the time in the theater company I perform with. It is often called a comic triple. A joke usually is set up by two phrases that coax the audience into expecting a hilarious punch line in the third phrase. A simple example for a voicemail message:

Hello, you’ve reached Josh. I’m either solving world hunger, climbing Mt. Everest, or picking my nose. Please leave a message and I’ll get back to you when I touch my brain.

So, using this formula to introduce our story…

Peter:

[1] he was a beloved disciple of Jesus;

[2] he was the rock on which the church was built;

[3] he was a bumbling idiot.

Poor Peter. But his character is portrayed this way in the Gospels for a reason.

Peter is us.

Just like the so-called “doubting” Thomas is us. But unlike Thomas, for Peter the problem wasn’t skepticism, it was his past. We know what he was feeling, don’t we? We are more likely to remember something bad that happened than something good. If someone criticizes us or hurts us with his/her words, then we usually remember. But how many compliments, good wishes, and encouraging words do we remember? We are sure to remember when we failed at something. How much do we remember and celebrate our successes?

Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?

Are we there yet?

ACT I: The charcoal fire was just like the charcoal fire during Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion. As if Peter’s wounds from his denial weren’t fresh enough!

ACT II: Regardless, all the disbelieving, cowardly disciples are invited to eat. Fish. Come and eat. They are fed. Can you say…foreshadowing!? And guess what? This just happened to be the THIRD time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after his death.

ACT III: the climax: the rule of 3 scene:

Jesus: Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?

Peter: Yes, you know that I love you.

Jesus: Feed my lambs. Simon son of John do you love me?

Peter: Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.

Jesus: Tend my sheep. Simon son of John, do you love me?

Peter: Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.

Jesus: Feed my sheep. Follow me.

Here is my take on Peter’s story in threes:

  1. It is about learning from the past. Redeeming the past. Moving forward.
  2. Peter needs to remember something important.
  3. Peter needs to accept the forgiveness and commit to sharing it with others.

In the three questions do you love me, Jesus is reminding and forgiving, at the same time. My take is that Peter had not forgiven himself for being a coward and for denying that he knew Jesus, when Jesus needed him most. He was not facing his past; thus, he was letting his past control his present thoughts and actions, leaving his future vulnerable to be infected by depression, fear, and apathy. So he needed to remember what happened and he needed to face it. Basically, he needed to forgive himself. He is reminded three times about it. But by the third time, there is a movement from Peter’s superficial answer to a real answer of honesty. Lord, you know everything. You know that I denied you and ran away and tried to cover it up. You know it. I know it. And yet…

Jesus still loves Peter, has never blamed him for anything, and forgave him from the get-go. Instead of rebuke, Jesus calls Peter—gives him something useful and good to do. Jesus entrusts Peter with relationships. 1] Feed my lambs. As I fed them with stories of God’s mercy and forgiveness and love, as I filled their minds and hearts with light—feed them.

2] Tend my sheep. Care for them, like I cared for you. Help them out, support and encourage them.

And lastly, the third statement: 3] feed my sheep. Don’t forget this. This is your calling. Don’t neglect it. You’re capable of doing such good in the world. Feed them. The world is hungry for love, for mercy, for community.

Feed them.

And by doing this, you truly follow me.

We are forgiven when we make mistakes or fall short of our goals in life. Perfection is an illusion. Holiness is a façade. We must accept forgiveness because we are never perfect or holy. Jesus forgives and calls us at the same time. We are given useful and good things to do. We are meant to share what we have [our whole selves] with others, feeding them with healthy relationships, acceptance, and love. But we need to be told this, reminded of this at LEAST three times. Because like Peter…we get stuck in the past. We think we are not worthy. We don’t forgive ourselves. But we’re still loved and already forgiven. And we’re still called.

Big disclaimer: having faith in and following this Jesus does not make us perfect or less apt to fail or make mistakes. We’re still completely like Peter and anyone else—we’re completely human. But recognizing that we will fail and are already forgiven and are still loved and called can be a huge encouragement and a movement—to an attitude will help us to stop judging others when they fail.

Instead, we will love and forgive them, feed and care for them. And they will feel loved and called, too.

We are loved. We are cared for. We are called to do good in the world.

We love; we care for others; we invite others to do good, too.

Amen; amen; amen!


[1] Booker, Christopher (2005). “The Rule of Three”. The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories. Continuum International Publishing Group.

[2] “Non-Violence and Racial Justice,” Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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