Category Archives: spirituality

blog action day: water poem #2

Walter B Moranda Park

for blog action day on october 15, 2010, i am posting 15 water poems in 15 hours.

poem #2

jesus walk through the swamp
moss on his head
cross far behind
eyes on the ground
on the swamp
jesus your eyes on the swamp
in the swamp with the swamp
jesus and moss and the swamp
one water one foot and
jesus the swamp and the cross and the walk
the walk through the swamp
jesus i walk with you
on the swamp through the swamp
with your eyes by your eyes
through the swamp through the cross
jesus the moss
through the moss with your feet
with your feet
lead
with your eyes
through your eyes
through the swamp
with the cross
jesus i walk with you
through the cross
on the swamp
with your eyes with your feet
wet
through the swamp full with tears
jesus
i walk
with you

by isabella mori

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deepak chopra’s “muhammad”

Rare leaf of the Quran

deepak chopra’s new book about the prophet muhammad is unusual. there is a certain rawness and roughness to it that i have not seen in chopra’s books before. as i was reading it, i felt a strange insistence on the part of chopra – not an insistence that the content of the book or islam or the story of the prophet were “true” or “right”, but an insistence on the importance of muhammad’s story. “you gotta know about this!” chopra seemed to be urging, “you can’t really understand the world or your history if you don’t know muhammad’s story.”

perhaps this feeling of insistence comes from the book’s structure. while all events unfold chronologically, each one of muhammad’s 19 chapters is told from a different perspective, by a different player in the prophet’s life. only some of the voices are pious, like bashira the hermit, who is visited by a young muhammad and who foresees his importance, mulling over a mysterious sentence he had found scribbled on a few old bible pages: “when the sun’s face is hidden, god will bring his last prophet.”

chopra brings out the chaos of religions and cultures in muhammad’s arabia of 1,400 years ago. christians and jews and a multitude of deities surround muhammad everywhere he goes and like his forefathers, he tries to carve some sort of sense into this jungle of ideas and beliefs by adhering to the idea of one god. against the very pragmatic religious stance that the constantly bickering tribes around him take, this proves quite absurd and unrealistic but muhammad quietly persists in his belief. the people in his world grudgingly allow this persistence because early on, he demonstrates a wisdom and calm beyond his years – and he is wealthy. in his twenties, he marries khadijah, a rich widow much older than he. this union is a linchpin in his worldly and spiritual success.

the different voices surround muhammad like a spiral. many of them are from people on the margins – a beggar, a slave, a nameless jewish scribe, a prostitute. khadijah does not have a turn at her version of the events until chapter 8 – in the beginning, the spiral feels loose; the more the book moves on, the closer the spiral draws; more and more weighty voices show up, the story becomes heavier, sadder, louder. before his enlightenment by an angel who demands he “recite” (literally: “koran”), the narrative drifts a bit. following this, part three of the book is entitled “the warrior of god” where muhammad brooks no more nonsense. muhammad introduces the idea of the jihad – the holy war – and becomes an influential warlord. muhammad clearly prefers peace over war, but he also prefers his people’s and his god’s survival over peace. towards the end, chopra portrays muhammad’s terrible and wonderful greatness. after muhammad decides to kill his prisoners of war, a friend of his, after a difficult conversation about this decision, concludes:

i listened. i understood. i accepted … the prophet has become his revelations. he sees beyond life and death, and his mind cares only to be part of god’s mind.

muhammad is a novel, explains chopra. not all of what he relates is historically accurate. and

i didn’t write this book to make muhammad holy. i wrote it to show that holiness was just as confusing, terrifying, and exalting in the seventh century as it would be today. …

among all the founders of the great world religions, muhammad is the most like us. …

the most remarkable fact about muhammad is that he was so much like us, until destiny provided one of the greatest shocks in history …

the message he brought wasn’t pure; it never is. as long as our yearning for god exceeds our ability to live in holiness, the tangled mysteries of the prophet will be our own mystery too.

peace

tomorrow is the international day of peace. to that aim, here’s a video of an interview between ram dass and thich nhat hanh – i’ve actually showed it before but i just have to present it again, it’s so important.

want some more peace talk? on this blog, there are 128 posts with the word “peace” in it. a few of them:

nagasaki: taking refuge in peace
international day of peace
thanksgiving, peace, metta
twitter peace, shalom, salaam and the salvation army
peaceful communication: problems and solutions
sunday inspiration: peace for afghanistan
organizational leadership, empowerment and sustainable peace
peace, conflict and chaos

god is community

i like to think about god when i wake up in the middle of the night. i had just finished deepak chopra’s new book on mohammed (review coming up soon). the many stories about the tribes, the complicated family relationships, the exchange with jews and christians, the interdependency with slaves – maybe that’s what made me come up with this idea: god is about community and cooperation. or maybe: god IS community and cooperation.

  • love your neighbour as you love yourself, says jesus.
  • give alms to the poor, says mohammed.
  • respect your parents, says the god of the old testament.
  • we are all one, says the buddha.
  • do not kill one living being, say they jain.
  • ren, a key concept in confucianism, is represented in chinese characters by the image of “human being” and “two”.

religions are, to a large degree, rules for living together. (i know, that’s not a new thought).

“if there were no god, it would be necessary to invent him,” voltaire said. who knows what a god is, whether god exists, and what it means for a god to exist. in my mind, these questions are often not that interesting – clearly, there are important levels at which god/gods exist.

however, i can see how it is through community and cooperation that gods could have been invented. evolutionarily, humans were desperately dependent on community and cooperation. we didn’t have the size of woolly mammoths, the adaptability of the cockroach or the fierceness of the sabre toothed tiger. huddling together, dividing labour, learning from each other as we developed tools were our only chances to survive. (banding together for raids and warfare apparently seemed like a good idea, too). building powerful rituals and stories around these communal means to survive made us stronger.

no wonder there is a god.

august 2010 buddhist carnival: right action

every month i delve into the buddhasphere to come up with interesting tidbits in buddhist writing. this time around i was interested in the concept of right action.

the poem we start out with today is the famous shin jin mei poem

the perfect way knows no difficulties
except that it refuses to make preferences;
only when freed from hate and love,
it reveals itself fully and without disguise;
a tenth of an inch’s difference,
and heaven and earth are set apart;
if you wish to see it before your own eyes,
have no fixed thoughts either for or against it.
to set up what you like against what you dislike -
this is the disease of the mind:
when the deep meaning of the way is not understood
peace of mind is disturbed to no purpose.

thanks, tricycle!

right action and the death penalty

i’m including this one because the writer draws a (perhaps tentative) conclusion that is different from my own; it’s important to me look at a diversity of points of view. also, it’s fitting to start with this one because “do not kill” is almost always cited as the first exhortation in the teachings about right action. i like the simplicity of it, similar to hippocrates’ basic idea, “first do no harm”. here is an excerpt of the post dying for killing:

one of the most important things the buddha taught was “do not kill.” it’s commonly accepted as the first precept. so, buddhists clearly do not believe that it’s right to kill, to take life. as the buddha did not teach, “do not kill except in the following cases…”, it’s commonly accepted that all killing is wrong. this is why many buddhists are vegetarians, peace activists and conscientious objectors.

isn’t it amazing how something so straightforward can be treated with such confusion? because here’s where i start wavering.

right action and the body

here, in fact, is a translation offered by a buddhist from malaysia about the buddha’s teaching. it is interesting how in the west, the idea of right action is usually linked closely to ethics whereas this section clearly is concerned with what one does with one’s body:

and which, friends, are the 3 kinds of bodily moral behaviour in harmony with the dhamma? here someone, stop all killing of living beings, abstains from injuring living beings; with rod & weapon laid aside, gentle and kind, such one dwells sympathetic towards all living beings.

avoiding the taking of what is not given, one refrains from stealing,what is not freely give. one does not take by way of theft the wealth and property of others, neither in the village nor in the forest. abandoning abuse of sensual pleasures, such one gives up misuse in sensual pleasures. one does not have intercourse with partners, who are protected by their mother, or father, or mother and father, or brother, or sister, or relatives, who is married, betrothed to another, who are protected by law, in prison, or who are engaged to other side.

that is how there are three kinds of bodily moral behaviour in harmony with the dhamma… such is right action!

right action, teaching and fun
this excerpt here from back to buddhism illustrates why it can sometimes be difficult to find interesting posts about buddhism – many buddhists just don’t bother to stick the label “buddhism” onto all they write.

i really don’t think it’s necessary to categorize something as buddhism or not-buddhism; after all, there is really not much difference between the two. when i write about racism, i am writing about right mind. when i write about teaching, i am writing about right action.

so let’s see what he says about teaching.

in all my classes, whether they are english or computer science or meditation, i make a concerted effort to make sure it is fun. in fact, i try to make class silly. the class has to be fun for me and it has to be fun for my students. if we are not having fun, we are not learning.

… after lunch is the most difficult time to teach. to counteract the drowsiness of my students, i knew i would have to really knock the lesson out of the park.

it’s relatively easy to act out the verbs – walk, shout, am. it’s also not so hard to point to nouns and dress them up with adjectives. even adverbs are not so hard to impersonate

however, acting out through and at and with is a bit more of a challenge; toward was nearly impossible.
we made it through prepositions i had planned. salt played a big role in the lesson. the salt is on the table, above the table, under the table, with the glass, behind the glass. there was a combination of horror and laughter when the salt went in the glass.

right action, software and the mundane. oh, and green living

at first glance, this post on buddhism and software selection (first found on another malay buddhist blog, buddhist bugs) seemed a little lightweight. well, it is, just like the book they suggest, what would buddha do? nevertheless, there is something intriguing to seeing buddhist teachings applied to something so seemingly mundane (and yet very important for businesses, just like not stealing and not cheating). after all, if we don’t apply the teachings to the mundane, what’s the point?

and if you’re in the mood for more lightweight reading, go to mother nature news and read about the book what would the buddha recycle? once again, it’s easy to raise our highbrow eyebrows but let’s be honest – isn’t light and fluffy material like this that sometimes provides the entrance to more profound learnings?

right action and inaction
buddha’s pillow has a number of posts on right action, like this one on responsibility:

many of us choose inaction in stressful or frightening situations. this is not practice. inaction in the presence of conscious choices of right vs. wrong actions is irresponsible to oneself and one’s world.

right action and social responsibility
more on responsibility.  here`s an interview at shambala sun about social action:
goodman: kittisaro often quotes ajahn chah as saying, “if it shouldn’t be this way, it wouldn’t be this way.” yet we live in a world of great suffering. how do you reconcile ajahn chah’s teaching with the buddhist precepts of “right speech” and “right action”?

thanissara: at some level it’s obviously true—it can be no way other than it is right now. however our actions in the present condition the future.

buddha didn’t just sit there and say, “oh well, the world is at it is.” he acted. in fact he tried three times to prevent a war between those in his home country of kapilavastu and the king of kosala. yet he wasn’t able to stop the bloodshed. he had to accept that this was a karma he couldn’t alter, but it didn’t mean that he didn’t try. on leaving the area, it is recorded that his beloved attendant ananda asked him why he was so sad, to which the buddha replied that his people would be massacred within the week.

right action, therapy, living in the now and values

the smart buddhist, written by a therapist, has all kinds of choice morsels on offer. here he touches on a sensitive point for me, the idea of being value neutral as a therapist:

the experience of living in the present, paradoxically, can tempt us into experiential avoidance all over again, just in a new form. it’s quite possible to trade escape from the now for escape into the now. the recent enthusiasm for mindfulness and acceptance in the west needs to be channeled properly or we risk creating just another form of western self-indulgence. by themselves, mindfulness methods as they’re often used in western psychotherapy don’t give sufficient attention to the organizing influence of purpose in human life. in the spiritual traditions from which such practices were drawn, “right action” is specified through ethical principles. but western therapists are encouraged to take a value-neutral professional stance, and not direct our clients to any particular belief or “right action” enjoined by a religious or spiritual tradition. nevertheless, we still can help our clients gain access to their deepest aspirations and turn a life lived in the present moment into a life worth living.

right action and rightness

in the last little while, i’ve come across a number of situations where people understandably got a little itchy at the idea of rightness, for example in the comments on my post about trying to come up with a definition of mental health. what’s with this right action, right thought, etc.? part of this comes precisely from the doctrine of value neutrality that many of us been exposed to – in therapy for some of us, but definitely in science. historically, this is also (paradoxically) connected to the very fabric of democracy and human rights, for example when it comes to religious freedom. it is useful, then, to look at this idea of rightness. dogen sangha gives a bit of insight here:

there is none among the many kinds of right that fails to appear at the very moment of doing right. the myriad kinds of right have no set shape, but they converge on the place of doing right faster than iron to a magnet, and with a force stronger than the vairambhaka winds.

(even though each of milliaeds rights do never have any kinds of decisive form beforehand, and so there is no right, which exists before at the present moment, and at the same time there is no right, which continues its existence to the next moment. right is always exists just at the present moment, and such a present moment continue at every moment.)

right is a simple fact, which occurs just when it is done at the present moment, therefore it is perfectly impossible for right to exist at a different moment other than at the present moment at all.

right action and musicianship

we started with the art of poetry, let’s end with the art of trumpetry. here is a beautiful piece at macfune about musicians and right action

what, then, of the moral commitment of the musician? what is it to be a trumpet player? certainly we can differentiate between the hack who puts some plumbing to his lips every once in a while and the truest artist whose spiritual being is not separate from the physical processes inherent in performance. the difference is morality. the difference is how one lives one’s life, not how one thinks idly about right and wrong but how one acts.

(side note: nothing is still, nothing is constant, nothing exists from one instant to the next: all we are is action. there are no nouns in this universe, only verbs. all nouns are categorical statements that limit and defy the constantly changing nature of phenomenal existence. “i” should be understood as a verb, not a noun.)

right. so the musician is, like all artists, exploring the fundamental question of human existence: the moral question. when we listen to miles, coltrane, glenn gould, to the cleveland orchestra playing beethoven (!), or to any other great musician, if we pay attention we can hear a profound moral question posed.

i remember reading somewhere or other that the key to understanding jazz is to hear the hidden social message: in the softest, most intimate ballad are the seeds of a profound sadness, and in the most joyous, swinging celebratory bop number is wild rebellion, lurking just beneath the surface.

if you’ve made it this far, thank you! come again next month, on september 15, or read some of the other buddhist carnivals.

alcoholism and everyday addictions

the 12 steps of alcoholics anonymous are sometimes summarized in these seven words:

i can’t
god can
i better let god

these pithy words come from the first three steps:

1. we admitted we were powerless over alcohol, and that our lives had become unmanageable
2. we came to believe that a power greater than ourselves would restore us to sanity.
3. we made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of god as we understood him.

depending on one’s interpretation, that can sound quite defeatist (“i can’t / i’m powerless”) and cultish (“i better let god / turn over our will”).

in my occasional musings on how the 12 steps can be used outside of traditional addiction recovery (for example, here are some thoughts on step 3) i’d like to propose that these seven pithy words and these three steps can be useful for anyone as a guide in their lives.

we admitted we were powerless over alcohol, and that our lives had become unmanageable.

it may not be alcohol, it may not be drugs, food, work, cigarettes or caffeine – but the truth is that there are a lot of things inside and outside of ourselves that we are powerless over, and that feel totally overwhelming. i have no power over the traffic, you have no power over your boss, joe has no power over politics. but it goes deeper than that – it is our reactions to these things that truly trouble us – the feelings of helplessness, the endless worry, the anger. we hate these feelings, so we run to do something about them – TV, romance novels, potato chips, blackjack chips. at the root of that are fear and pain and avoidance of fear and pain through escape into instant gratification. so how about:

step 1: we are run by fear and pain and avoidance of them, and that the endless cycling between those two is exhausting and overwhelming – it is insanity.

we came to believe that a power greater than ourselves would restore us to sanity.

is there something greater than fear and avoidance of fear? god? maybe for some. how about for those uncomfortable with or plainly disinterested in the idea of god? the 12 steps are informed by underlying principles such as honesty, hope, courage, integrity, love, justice and service – all positive, life-affirming, values that are greater than our little egos and ids, our inner factories that constantly crank out more fear and fear avoidance. here is my proposition, then:

step 2: we remind ourselves that by holding on to our values, we can rise above fear and instant gratification and leave insanity behind.

we made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of god as we understood him.

the awareness that there is an alternative to fear, pain and instant gratification is a good start but it is not enough. a lot of us are aware that there are problems. we need to make a decision to do something with that awareness. this decision, by the way, needs to happen on a daily, hourly, sometimes minute-by-minute basis. fear and pain and our desire to escape them are incredibly strong; if we want to let go of them as prime motivators for our lives, we need to counter them with our values, virtues and beliefs on an almost constant basis. one of my favourite quotes is freud’s about us having but a “thin veneer of civilization”. i firmly believe if we are to keep this world going, maybe even make it a better place, we need to do everything we can to make this veneer stronger and thicker. we literally need to become more civil. isn’t that one of the main goals of democracry (a concept deeply informed by civility): to create and nurture an environment where citizens need not be governed by fear? just as we need to keep working on and fighting for democracy, we need to keep building our own personal virtues and values. here is my suggestion for step 3:

step 3: we decided to lead our lives by our virtues and values.

i would be very interested in hearing your thoughts about this.

july buddhist carnival: the humble edition

in the last few weeks, i have had many an occasion to think about humility. here, then, is a buddhist carnival dedicated entirely to humility.

this time, i will start with a poem of my own:

ha’aha’a: humility.
beyond this and that,
above servitude,
below arrogance,
not higher not lower -
just that:
here i am.
naked.
let the winds blow …
ha’aha’a.

(ha’aha’a is hawaiian for humility. when the the spirit of aloha is explained, ha’aha’a has a place: a – akahi (tenderness); l – lokahi (unity, harmony, oneness); o – olu’olu (kindenss, being pleasant and agreeable); h – ha’aha’a (humility); a – ahonui (patience and perseverance)


everything is eye level

humility, very simply, is the absence of arrogance. where there is no arrogance, you relate with your world as an eye-level situation, without one-upmanship. because of that, there can be a genuine interchange. nobody is using their message to put anybody else down, and nobody has to come down or up to the other person’s level. everything is eye-level. humility in the shambhala tradition also involves some kind of playfulness, which is a sense of humor….in most religious traditions, you feel humble because of a fear of punishment, pain, and sin. in the shambhala world you feel full of it. you feel healthy and good. in fact, you feel proud. therefore, you feel humility. that’s one of the shambhala contradictions or, we could say, dichotomies. real humility is genuineness.

this is a quote by chögyam trungpa, at art of dharma. the post is about a comparison between buddhist and christian ideas on humility. i love the idea of playfulness in humility, and the paradox of pride and humility. definitely something to investigate a little further.

humility and moral outrage

staying with the theme of christianity and buddhism for a moment longer, paul knitter from how a christian buddhist sees it starts his post on the limits of moral outrage with these words

in these days of widespread – including my own – moral outrage at sacerdotal pedophilia and episcopal cover-up, this sentence from richard rohr’s the naked now stopped me in my moralistic tracks: “moral outrage at the ideas of others hardly ever serves god’s purposes, only our own.” (p. 132)

and later on asks

so, how can we be “outraged” without become “dualistic,” without making it an either/or between good/bad? how can we declare our opposition to something without cutting off our connection with that something?

he suggests

in declaring what we think is wrong or what we believe needs fixing, we have to feel, and we have to enable others to feel, that we recognize our own limitations. we are conscious that in speaking strongly we can never speak definitively. there’s always more to learn. there are always other perspectives. and yes, we may be wrong. we know that. and we must be aware of that as we voice our outrage

and concludes

if we can be outraged but at the very same time humble and compassionate – then, and maybe only then, can our outrage serve god’s purposes.

i wonder whether it’s possible to be outraged and humble at the same time. is it still outrage when we add considerations of humility and compassion? rage implies singlemindedness, even when used outside of human emotion. “the fire raged through the city”, for example, evokes a force that consumes everything in its path, without looking left or right. humility is everything BUT singleminded – it always considers the other.

humility and “i deserve to be treated with respect”

in buddhism … pride is thought of as one of the obstacles to a happy, peaceful existence. pride gets in the way of compassion, and compassion and cherishing others are what buddhists say lead to a happy and content life (more about compassion tomorrow). when you embrace pride, though, you see yourself as higher than others and you value your happiness over the happiness of others. when you embrace humility—the opposite of pride—you see yourself on the same level as others, and you value their happiness just as much as you value your own.

let me tell you, i struggled with this teaching for a long, long time. there was this one part of me that was all like, “i’ve worked hard to get where i am, and i am special, dang it. just look at all of those bestsellers that i’ve penned. i deserve to be treated with respect. i’ve earned it.”

this from alisa at project happily ever after. i still get a little confused over how humility and the idea of deserving/being special etc. related to each other. maybe the idea of equality helps here, too. e.g. if i’m happy to celebrate someone’s small accomplishments, then why not celebrate mine, too. if i’m special, then others are special, too, and vice versa.

shin buddhism, humility and “inner togetherness”

jeff wilson has a guest post at daily buddhism, where he shares some delightful words about shin buddhism. he points to the great importance of relationships when it comes to humility:

for me, shin practice is about humility, gratitude, and service to others. and also good food and dancing, since shin temples are true communities, with many activities for all ages and lots of yummy japanese cooking. … none of us are deluded about our level of attainment-we are ordinary people, prone to foolishness. but everyone, shin buddhist or otherwise, exists within an inconceivable network of support from all things, an ever-changing matrix that provides us with nourishment, shelter, love, and, if we don’t let our egos get in the way, pushes us on toward final liberation. awakening to this inner togetherness which we all share helps us to get a perspective on our karmic limitations, and this engenders humility, patience, and a sense of humor about our shortcomings and those of others.

humility, bullshit and conceit

i am always interested in buddhism from the point of view of martial arts. at dharma-zen blog: martial arts in the modern age we find the lovely zen story of buddha mind and bullshit mind.

the eight winds cannot move me
one fart blows me across the river

maybe you want to go and find out what that’s all about ..

image by alex de carvalho