May 03, 2003

Quaker, Buddhist . . . interbeing

One core principle for Quakers is seeing "that of God" in everyone.

In this I can see the roots of all of the Quaker social testimony.

But I am not sure we all accept and understand this concept in the same way. I, for example, find myself saying that there is that of "Good" in everyone else - which indicates the way I interpret it.

I also find myself thinking that God is some thing - a spirit, or energy - that informs everyone and every thing. (As opposed to God as a separate super being.) And this latter moves me very close to the Buddhist concept of interconnectedness.

What I like about the Buddhist concept is it is verified by contemporary science. We can see from a scientific standpoint that everything is inter-connected - that matter is neither created nor destroyed, but merely transformed. The Buddhist word for this is "manifested." That is, what I think of as my self is merely the current manifestation of a certain portion of matter and energy. That same matter and energy has been part of many other manifestations in the past and will be part of more in the future.

But that manifestation is constantly changing, constantly interacting with, everything else. We get it in our head that in terms of space we end where our skin ends and in terms of time we end when our life ends - and we began when our life began. We see our skin as a`physical barrier that separates us from the rest of the world. And we see our lifespan as a barrier that separates us from what preceded and what will come after.

But neither is a true barrier. Our skin, like the rest of us, is nourished by the air we breath and the water and food that we need constantly to maintain this particular manifestation. And with science we know that the matter and energy which currently is manifested as us existed in other people and objects before and will continue to exist after our death. In the end the Buddhist see this concept of self as false - we are totally interdependent with everything else in the universe, past, present and future.

For me this gives rise to a vision of small eddies in a rushing stream of energy and matter - eddies that form for a while, and then untwist themselves back into the main stream. What I think of as my individual self is one of these small eddies. Most of the time I fail to see its relationship to the whole - I don't detect the stream. But this morning, before, during, and after meditation I could.

In meditation - in every moment of our lives - we need to see this . To not do so is to sin. I don't usually use the word "sin" because it is usually misunderstood. For me sin is simply being separated from God - God being everything .

The problem for me with the "that of God" in everyone else is it tends to be a limiting image. That is, we tend to see a seed within others - a God seed that can be nourished if we respond to it correctly. In Jesus that seed has matured into the whole being and so we see Jesus as God.

But we are all God because we are all everything. The "seed" we see is merely our perception of God and to be like Jesus it needs to be nourished with constant meditation. Thus we arrive at the Christian/Buddhist position where we see ourselves as interbeing - inter-related to everything and everyone. We see no separation.

From this, quite naturally, compassion springs,

Here for me is a world view that integrates my knowledge of science, Christianity, and Buddhism and defines a compassionate lifestyle as the most obvious, undeniable choice.

Like other such things I stumbled upon this, this morning, quite unprepared. I did get up with the intention of resuming meditation in the morning. I have hardly meditated at all the past few weeks and for the past couple of months many of the benefits of meditation I had found earlier were dissipating. I think the main cause of this was my war fever - a super focus on war and peace. Now that fever has broken and I feel whole again.

In fact, my meditation this morning had a different quality than before. It was, in a strange way, more relaxed - and yet, at the same time, I was more aware. I think in the past I retreated more into a separate physical state during meditation - a state that was enhanced by keeping my eyes shut.

This morning I had my eyes closed some of the time, but I didn't feel opening them broke the meditation. The key stimulus for this change came from reading - almost at random - some passages about interbeing in Thich Nhat Hanhs' "The Miracle of Mindfulness."

Note: I wrote this four days ago. I am publishing it now after I have had time to digest it, These insights do not stay with me whole. The words and concepts last. The feeling and intuitive integration into my life gets driven out by various distractions of day-to-day living. It's much like knowing that the Andromeda Galaxy is 2 million light years away and experiencing those two million light years as you observe this little blur of light in the autumn sky. For me the experience is extremely rare and I don't know how to generate it. The knowing - having command of the facts is simple. But the facts are an empty skeleton - just the faintest of shadows of the reality.

This too, I believe, is at the heart of Buddhism, though I had experienced it far before I knew anything of Buddhism. The issue is how to grasp things whole - how to go from knowing to being - how to look at the osprey and not simply feel like you imagine the osprey feels, but for a moment be the osprey.

And how to sustain any of these insights for more than an hour or two?

Posted by Greg Stone at 12:03 AM | Comments (2)

April 25, 2003

Mankind, people, and seeking reconciliation

A long time ago Linus, the Peanuts cartoon character, said “I love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand.” I not only knew what he said, I knew I was Linus and I knew that while said in partial jest, this was really a reflection on a tragic flaw.

I find it easy to accept others in the abstract. I can love them, I can care about their plight, and I can take concrete steps to help them through private donation and support of public measures that level the playing field. But when I encounter these people first hand – any people – the love disappears.

I don’t want to be with them. I don’t relate to the things that excite them. I don’t share their wants. I perceive the world much differently than they do. I frequently – well, almost always – start thinking in terms of adversarial relationships.

This doesn’t mean I have no friends. I have some. But not many.

Some who know me may be surprised to read this. Perhaps I come across differently to some. But maybe that simply means I mask my true feelings – from others and from myself.

Lately I’ve been thinking that adversarial relationship business is at the heart of the problem. Again, it can be subtle. But it has to do with some really concrete things that I know I do and I suspect many others do – such as not listen. Or more likely, half listen. We listen with the ear of an advocate of another point of view. We listen just enough so that we can develop a response to the speaker that asserts our own position.

This should not be the case. We should be seeking reconciliation. Or I should say, I should be seeking reconciliation. I don’t know what the rest of you are doing. I have a hard enough time simply figuring out, in a n honest fashion, what I am doing.

But there is something fundamentally important here in the idea expressed by Linus where we can accept people as an abstract mass and deny individuals who are representative of that mass – and in the concepts of the adversarial approach to relationships which I think permeates our culture today, and the reconciliation approach to relationships – the goal of finding, celebrating, and acting on common ground.

Having written this brief note I found some wonderful related resources, including the following:

The Gospel According to Peanuts is revisited on the death of Charles Schults by a perceptive Unitarian minister in this essay.

Near the end of this sermon on caring, a pastor quotes Linus and says: "Linus’ attitude is not rare. It is the same attitude that leads a person to support causes, but not support the poor person down the block. It is the attitude that leads a person to contribute to needy children but refuse to reach out to a child they know with specific needs."

Posted by Greg Stone at 05:33 AM | Comments (0)

April 05, 2003

The flesh is willing, but

The flesh is willing, but the spirit weak

Well, something like that if you understand that by "flesh" I mean my mind ... what bothers me, is that I find it relatively easy to reach the correct decision - the proper frame of mind - mentally. But it takes a mental effort against my spirit - against my first gut reaction - and that seems unnatural. In a word, it seems "wrong."

Why should I have to think to love - to care? Shouldn't that be your natural state? Is this me? Or is this common? Or perhaps this is common, but most of us aren't watching ourselves - watching the way our minds and heart work and thus fail to recognize it? Sometimes I flatter myself and assume that I am not different - I simply know myself better than most.

Take this war, for instance. I am opposed to it. I have put a lot of emotional, mental, and even physical energy into opposing it. (Now that may have been my first mistake. I'll come back to that later.) But what is bothering me this morning is the disappointment I feel instantly as I see that "we" - the United States - is winning.

I should rejoice in what is becoming a quick victory, not because I am a citizen of the United States and this means "we" have beaten "them." Beating someone - winning this war - doesn't give me joy and shouldn't give me joy. No one wins a war. We are all losers. We simply get caught up in the apparent victory. But I should take joy in this quick victory because it will mean the killing will stop - or be greatly reduced. The brutality will stop, or be greatly reduced. The sanctions, that most brutal of weapons with unintended consequences, will stop. People will live better. People will stop killing and being killed.

For all those reasons I should take joy in a quick victory. It will, I firmly believe, mean less pain for the innocent and all are innocent. Well, less immediate pain. I have a theory, of course, that a relatively painless victory will also mean that this administration will be encouraged to do more of the same and at some point this process will become far from painless, not only for the "enemy," but for us. Ah, but having written that I see the fallacy in my thinking, for it is already far from painless for us. We merely think it is painless in the moment.

But to return - the goal should be to stop the brutality. To stop the killing. To begin the healing. The sooner, the better. We have a chance then to control what unfolds next. So there is no justification in my feeling disappointed when I see the US winning quickly and easily.

None. I know that. Mentally I accept that. But spiritually - intuitively - I am disappointed. I can only reason that the disappointment comes from a lack of a sense of justice. I believe we were and are the aggressor and such behavior should not be rewarded. So the victory is unjust.

And what is wrong with this feeling - this reasoning?

What is wrong is that I am judging. What is wrong is I have become a participant in another battle that I now see myself as losing - the battle against the war and more importantly, against those who would wage it.

What is wrong is that I have in my heart and mind established an "us vs. them" situation. What is wrong, is that I have engaged in conflict and once engaged thus,I can only see myself as a winner or a loser. My goal has been to defeat the war and those who would wage it. Victory in the war means those who wage it win - and thus, i lose.

The supreme irony is that I have become what I oppose.

That is a problem. That is why my spirit is out of sync with my flesh - and why immediate goals - defeating those who would wage a war - takes precedence over what should be my true goal, reconciliation with those who would wage war. In reconciliation both I and the others would grow. In reconciliation I plant the seeds for peace, I nurture that of God - that of Good - in everyone, myself included.

Jesus said, "love your enemies," and I use his words to create my own enemies and hate them. My enemies are those who will not hear the words of Jesus. And especially, my enemies are the hypocrites who call themselves Christians, yet ignore his words. The warriors, such as George Bush, who can, in the service of what they feel is just and right, employ violence and ignore the words of Jesus.

Their mistake is mine. My mistake theirs.

I set myself up as judge. I decide who the hypocrite is. And then I condemn him. I use all I can command in terms of my skills and knowledge to fight against this hypocrisy. And in the end, I lose the battle, and am disappointed.

Love your enemies.

That is so hard. I have sensed this problem at many stages of the struggle. I have known that I do not love George Bush. That only in the best of moments can I feel anything approaching love for George Bush - or any who support this war.

I know this is wrong. I know it is wrong on a most practical level because I know that as you fight something, you strengthen it.

So how, against the backdrop of this chaos of war can I find peace? How can I find love? How can I find my heart lifted as the end of the fighting approaches? How can I avoid this sense of injustice and disappointment that wells up inside me?

I know what I feel. I know what I should feel. I need to reconcile this strife within me before I can be peace for anyone else. Jesus, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddha - they are all walking in the same direction. I see their path. It looks like the right path. But I stumble down one of the many other trails into a thicket of hate and disappointment, all in the name of righteousness, and thus make the same mistake as George Bush makes when he thinks he can bring about love through hate, justice through injustice, peace through violence.

Knowing this, doesn't solve my problem. Writing this does help me know it. Perhaps sharing this will help others know it. But I think to find the love I seek to share, I have to apply this - I have to live this. I have to, in the simple words of Thich Nhat Hanh, be peace.

Posted by Greg Stone at 05:44 AM | Comments (0)