Posts Tagged ‘Buddhism’

Forgiveness?

August 6, 2017

This post may cost me followers, maybe even friends, but nonetheless I feel compelled to speak my mind on the subject of so-called Christian forgiveness.

A number of different situations have cropped up for me recently, to bring my attention to the topic of forgiveness, what it entails, and what preconditions may be necessary for it to occur.  As background, let me say that I was raised in an ethical Jewish tradition, but outside of a Jewish community, such that my classmates and friends were all Christian. This was back in the days when public school classes began not just with a Pledge of Allegiance, but also with prayers, which the teacher usually closed with “In Jesus’ Name” and I silently said “Cross that last line out, God.”

My maternal grandfather was an immigrant from Russia in the early 1900’s who became one of the founders of the Labor Zionist party in the U.S., friends with Golda Meir and Chaim Weizmann and other early supporters and leaders of what became the Israeli state. He sent my mother to school in what was then still called Palestine, and she was also an active voice for the creation of a Jewish homeland. During my elementary school years, she taught Hebrew in an after school program at a Jewish center, leaving me to come home from school to practice my piano lesson, do housework and prepare supper. My present skill with, and enjoyment of, cooking surely dates back to those meals.

My mother was highly and expressively critical of all religious extremism, Orthodox Jewish as much as Christian or Muslim. She saw the Jewish Orthodox community as actively harming the goals and functioning of secular Israel, as readily as she pointed to the hypocrisy of “Bible thumping Christians” who preached forgiveness but still unforgivingly blamed Jews as “Christ killers.”

From that early conditioning, I moved on to exposure to different Eastern religions, became comfortable with Quaker values and silent worship, and also with Zen Buddhism, finding myself finally, in 1993, a student of MasterPath and happily centered in an unfolding, ever expanding understanding of basic spiritual Truth. As my inner education has proceeded, layer after layer of mental conditioning has been peeled away, sometimes quickly and easily, at other times only after considerable turmoil.

My consideration of the meaning of forgiveness falls in the latter category. I have thought that I’d come to terms with where I stand in relation to “letting go and letting God” as the Quakers express it, but after some months or even years, a situation would crop up to show me I am not yet free of anger and resentment over the way some people have behaved toward me. One friend recently forwarded me one of those picture quotes that make their way around the Internet, this one stating “I’m not Jesus, so I don’t easily forgive, and I don’t have Alzheimer’s, so I don’t forget.” It struck a chord in me, and started me once more into an on-going contemplation of the meaning of forgiveness.

I’m far from conversant with the New Testament, although one cannot live in a nominally Christian country without coming to know bits and pieces of the Bible which get quoted in all sorts of context. I also had an English literature teacher in college who insisted one could not understand most American and European literature without having a familiarity with both Old and New Testament, and who therefore required that we all read substantial chunks of the Bible in order to pass his class. What stays in my memory, in the context of forgiveness, is the blessing (or is it an injunction?) to “go forth and sin no more.” I hear this as specifying that to be forgiven one must change.

“I’ve apologized so you must forgive me” doesn’t cut it. An apology, unaccompanied by meaningful change in conduct, is nothing more than empty words from an arrogant and demanding ego. That is probably why Twelve Step programs include making amends as a crucial step – not just apologizing but doing what one can to set things right – i.e. demonstrating changed behavior. If I am sorry for something I’ve done that hurt another I make certain not to repeat the hurtful behavior. I expect the same from others – and I dismiss as inappropriate, even offensive, those “good Christians” who preach that I “should” forgive just because someone apologizes.

There are profoundly good, caring and sensitive people of all faiths. Most of these, in my experience, have no need to promote themselves by their religious affiliation. Their quiet daily actions speak loudly on their behalf. The more forcefully a person insists that they are acting from Christian, or Muslim, or Zoroastrian or Hindu or any other religious teaching, the more certain I am that the speaker is likely to be disrespectful of others, unforgiving and self-righteous while demanding that their own actions be forgiven “in the name of” whichever form of God they worship.

I suspect this topic of forgiveness remains pertinent to me just now, not only because of a personal, family-related situation, but because of the recent exacerbation of offensive, intolerant, “my way or the highway” conduct by self proclaimed good Christians on the national political scene who mistakenly insist that they are merely returning the nation to its origins. Yes the founders of the United States were almost exclusively Christian men, but they were adamantly opposed to having any form of religion imposed by civil authority. The Puritans fled dictates of the Church of England. William Penn established a Quaker colony. Jewish immigrants created a center in earliest New York city. The Constitution clearly established the separation of church and state, giving everyone the right to worship as he (or she) pleases. Too many current politicians seem to have conveniently forgotten our founders’ emphasis on a secular state. They are instead critical, judgmental, demanding that law follow their particular interpretation of Christian values, and in the process totally betraying those values.

I readily admit that I shut down as soon as someone says “the Christian thing to do”, when they mean the caring thing, or the thoughtful thing, or the right thing to do is X, Y or Z. I make a sharp distinction between someone explaining a teaching of their religion and then showing how they implement it, and another person who says this or that is a religious requirement that everyone MUST be made to obey, often without manifesting the appropriate associated behavior.

Which brings me back to forgiveness, and my inescapable conclusion that it you want me to forgive you, change your conduct before you approach me, and when you approach me, ASK,  don’t demand or otherwise make it my responsibility to bring about a change in our relationship. You caused the rupture, you need to figure out how to repair the wounds. My role is to be open to be approached, and willing to engage in a cooperative effort to heal the relationship.

Not bad advice for the national political scene as well.

Transitions Are a Challenge

December 28, 2014

Transitions are a challenge. Some folks make a career out of providing guidance and support to others going through the bigger life transitions – education choices, marriage planning, establishing a home, preparing for retirement, or using Hospice to gracefully end a life.

No one I’ve encountered makes much of a business of guiding others through the little transitions that can be just as disorienting. After months of 6-7 days a week of work, having 4 days “off” requires an adaptation in thinking, sleeping, rhythm of the day that is as much a transition as taking full retirement. But there are no books to tell one how to apply the brakes, slow the metabolism, shift one’s perspective in order to fully benefit from the change in activity.

I have a friend who teaches at the United World College, who has come to recognize a sort of mini-depression that accompanies the start of each eagerly awaited break in the school year. He is tired from the pace of teaching, very ready for a restful change in activities – yet the actual transition is not easy. He handles the vacations more smoothly when he has a trip of some sort planned; when finances prevent travel he says he finds it hard to switch from constantly busy to a relaxed and yet satisfying pattern of activity.

I’m having somewhat the same challenge, on a smaller scale, with my two back-to-back four day weekends. I was/am so very ready for a break from work, but actually slowing and relaxing and letting the days flow in their own form is not easy. My body wakes at its normal 6:30; I have to tell it to go back to sleep. My mind wants to review what is still waiting to be done on this month’s caseload; I have to firmly yank it away with a scolding “not today”. By my third day off, I do sleep in late (stayed up unusually late the previous night) and enjoy the fact that the only demands in the day pertain to cleaning and preparing fish to be roasted later, as part of supper being served for a small group of friends.

A basically unscheduled day.
What a rarity.
What a joy.

So why is it difficult to make the transition, and relax into this open-ended time? Why do I find myself starting to sort through accumulated magazines as I tidy my living space for tonight’s company? The reading material has accumulated over several months, unattended, while I worked. Surely it can remain so during my little space of rest.

The particular transition I and my UWC friend confront is from doing to relaxing (or being, doobee, doobee, do).

Shifting from vacation back to work mode is no less easy, I know. Maybe that’s why, when the vacation is as short as at present, I’m not inclined to fall into resting mode to the depth I might wish to do.

An extreme of resisting transitions or change can be seen in obsessive-compulsive behavior, where a dish out of place on the table can set off a panicked repetitive response. Fear of some sort of loss underlies most compulsive behavior. Hmm… yes I see that I do, at some minor level, fear that if I fully relax I may not be able to bring myself back to the high level of energy required to do my job well.

An extreme opposite to compulsive sameness is found in the principle of impermanence which is fundamental to Buddhism. Meditation, stilling the mind, is the practice of becoming free from the illusion of time and therefore the illusion of permanence (something enduring over time). The contemplative practices of MasterPath also encourage development of an inner realization that the only things which endure are Soul, the Eternal Divine Master, and the emanation of Its energy, experienced as Shabda, a Sanskrit word loosely translated as Love. Happiness is found in acceptance of the transitory nature of what we normally call reality. Pain and suffering are mental constructs which arise from comparison – what is versus what was, what is versus what may be in the future, what is versus what one wishes were true, etc.

Which brings my reflection to another level – why are we constructed such that our mental limits, need for a sense of permanence, resistance to even small changes is so solidly implanted? Why does it take so much concentration to move into a different form of awareness, where each moment is pure and precious and enjoyed for itself, as it is, without comparison?

I will not even begin to probe in that direction. Theologians have argued the point for millennia. I have nothing to add to their dialogue.

I choose instead to focus my attention on becoming fully aware of the small ways I still cling to the illusion of permanence. I choose to continue my effort to let go of the need to hold that illusion. As my Teacher instructs, I choose to put my attention on that which is not just permanent but eternal, for therein lies my happiness.

I could not have maintained the pace of work this past year, nor found the new love delighting me, nor been enabled to assist those who now say I have done so, had I been focused on finding permanence. Indeed, my life for many years before 2013/14 had seemed stuck in one place and one pattern. I was learning the lesson of seeing small positive changes in what appeared to be sameness. I was learning to be patient while karmic issues exhausted themselves. I was learning to be happy and feel free within what could be perceived and felt as a prison.

Now I must learn to be as patient, as free and as happy within the context of constant change. My Master, in His inner form, brought me through the illusion of being stuck. He will see me through what I am now experiencing as a whirlwind of impermanence.

So be it.

Eyes on the Sparrow

Eyes on the Sparrow

Sounds of Silence

October 1, 2013

First, I should explain that a different type of silence was imposed on me over the weekend, preventing me from putting up this post when I intended to do so, on Sunday afternoon. The internet link at the motel where I was staying was somehow incompatible with my computer, and the IT people weren’t able to reset it properly. I am back home, and once again connected – able to ‘speak’.

Thank you for patience, for reading, for following, for being there.

Niki
**************


Noise pollution is one of the issues not being adequately discussed in relation to my county’s examination of a proposed fracking ordinance. I brought the topic into the discussion, and I have to keep raising it as others focus insistently on water quality and scarcity, and contamination of the air and soil. By comparison I suppose noise can be considered a less significant negative – but not to me.

I live in the countryside – what most people would consider a truly rural area. My small 900 square foot house is set back from the road, on four acres, abutting a several-hundred-acre ranch. I have three neighbors – houses close to the road with entrance driveways off it, in a cluster with my own entryway. Across the road are two more homes. Most of the time, those neighbors are quiet – so much so that I wonder if they are at home. No loud parties, nor growling outdoor machinery.

I do hear traffic on the highway. My house is situated on a hill toward which the road heads before it veers off, resulting in the longish driveway that snakes from the road up over a hill to my front door. Sitting in my living room, looking out its floor to ceiling windows, I can see a section of the road, and all the vehicles that travel up and down it. I cannot see – but can hear clearly – the heavy trucks and the rattle of gravel excavation that is going on a further 2 miles away, on a section of land that “ought” not to be considered to be in my neighborhood. Something about the lay of the valley funnels that noise straight up to my house.

The gravel operation is new this summer. I don’t know yet if I’ll notice it when my windows are closed, but I am very aware now, with windows wide open, of the days it is running and those, like today, when it is not. Perhaps I’m more sensitive than other people to the ambient noise within which I live?

I do not like to have music playing “in the background” of my days. I work better, think better, live better in silence. I enjoy music, go to concerts, play records (there’s an oldie for you) or CDs with intention to listen to them – emphasis on the intention to listen. If my intention is to work, I prefer to do so in silence.

Undoubtedly, that preference has something to do with my enjoyment of Quaker Meeting, and Buddhist zazen sessions, as well as my own daily spiritual contemplative practice. Undoubtedly it also has something to do with my appreciation of the skill of the young musicians from Curtis Institute who performed Britten’s Quartet #3 for Strings at a recent Music From Angel Fire concert near my home. Two of the piece’s five movements, including the last one, end with a prolonged silence defined by the musicians holding their bows immobile above the strings of their instruments until, as one, they relaxed in their seats, signaling the end of the silence that was part of the movement, and the beginning of the silence into which the audience could inject its noises of appreciation.

Once before, many years ago in Boston, I attended a concert which featured a piano performance that included long silences as part of the piece, and then too I was able to ‘hear’ the difference in quality between the silence that was integral to the music, and the silence of the piece’s end. That time, as I recall, I had no visual cue. I was sitting too far back, in the cheap seats, to see the pianist’s hands. I could only rely on my ears, and the pianist’s flawless sense of timing, to distinguish when musical silence transitioned to an appreciative silence from the audience, which in turn transitioned into loud applause.

A few of my acquaintances seem to understand what I mean when I express my awareness of the difference between the silence of Quaker Meeting, and that in a Zendo. Even the famously silent Meetings (the oldest, historical ones in Philadelphia) which I have attended, have a busy-ness to them, a sense of minds occupied with focused reflection, that is distinctly different from the no-thought silence of a practiced group of Buddhists in meditation. And different again from the life in silence of the Benedictines (and their guests) living at Christ in the Desert Monastery. Different yet again from the experience of many hundreds of chelas (students), attending to the silent communication from our Beloved Teacher at a MasterPath gathering. Dare I say that there are many different sounds of silence?

(Yes I know the Simon and Garfunkle song The Sound of Silence. It doesn’t fit into my narrative because the song is about the negative aspect of silence – silence as a barrier to communication and a symptom of loneliness.)

We seem, in the modern urgency of tuned-in lives, to have forgotten the old adage that silence is golden. We settle for the silver, the copper, even the dross of noisy, busy “I’m somebody, doing something important” daily life and think we are fulfilling ourselves. Just yesterday, I had a Facebook ‘chat’ with a young friend who is torn between his desire to study the classical languages necessary to read ancient Buddhist texts in their original, and the supposedly practical necessity of getting a degree in a subject that can lead to a job. How practical is it, to go against one’s nature, to ignore the still, small, inner voice directing one toward a path of spiritual fulfillment, in favor of a loud, outer, boisterous demand to focus on earning a living?

Inside golden silence, there is much to hear and learn. Whole worlds of perception, of wisdom, exist within our inner silent spaces. Would that we all, individually and collectively, were more insistent on spending time in that beautiful silence within! Would that we all, individually and collectively, could share the golden wealth to be acquired from listening to the songs of the Divine played so beautifully within us. Listen…. and you will hear…


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