Loving Kindness

I practiced meditation with a group over the past several months.  We usually sat for meditation, did some Qigong exercises, had a discussion of some aspect of the Buddha’s teachings, and concluded with a meditation on loving kindness.

I found this expanded version of the loving kindness:

In order that I may be skilled in discerning what is good, in order that I may understand the path to peace,

Let me be able, upright, and straightforward, of good speech, gentle, and free from pride;

Let me be contented, easily satisfied, having few duties, living simply, of controlled senses, prudent, without pride and without attachment to nation, race, or other groups.

Let me not do the slightest thing for which the wise might rebuke me. Instead let me think:

“May all beings be well and safe, may they be at ease.

Whatever living beings there may be, whether moving or standing still, without exception, whether large, great, middling, or small, whether tiny or substantial,

Whether seen or unseen, whether living near or far,

Born or unborn; may all beings be happy.

Let none deceive or despise another anywhere. Let none wish harm to another, in anger or in hate.”

Just as a mother would guard her child, her only child, with her own life, even so let me cultivate a boundless mind for all beings in the world.

Let me cultivate a boundless love for all beings in the world, above, below, and across, unhindered, without ill will or enmity.

Standing, walking, seated, or lying down, free from torpor, let me as far as possible fix my attention on this recollection. This, they say, is the divine life right here.

Translated and adapted by Bodhipaksa from the Pali Metta Sutta.

Just thinking it would be nice for the entire world to get on board…

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Controversy of Conscience

I belong to a Unitarian-Universalist Congregation where I attend during my winter stay in Florida.  Recently the annual meeting of the congregation was held and ratification of the following declaration was on the agenda.  The declaration was sent by the U-U Association, the central organization of the U-U churches throughout the country.

Declaration of Conscience

At this extraordinary time in our nation’s history, we are called to affirm our profound commitment to the fundamental principles of justice, equity and compassion, to truth and core values of American society.

In the face of looming threats to immigrants, Muslims, people of color, and the LGBTQ community and the rise of hate speech, harassment and hate crimes, we affirm our belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

In opposition to any steps to undermine the right of every citizen to vote or to turn back advances in access to health care and reproductive rights, we affirm our commitment to justice and compassion in human relations.

And against actions to weaken or eliminate initiatives to address the threat of climate change – actions that would threaten not only our country but the entire planet – we affirm our unyielding commitment to protect the interdependent web of all existence.

We will oppose any and all unjust government actions to deport, register, discriminate, or despoil.

As people of conscience, we declare our commitment to translate our values into action as we stand on the side of love with the most vulnerable among us.

We welcome and invite all to join in this commitment for justice.
The time is now.

Not many among us were opposed to the words, although one person was distressed that the document took a negative stance — opposing rather than affirming.  I understand that, but it does not seem important enough an issue to send it back to committee for deliberation and rewriting.

Some objected to the political/partisan nature of the document. I suppose that is fair as well.  However, I would have to say I would favor actions to affirm the worth and dignity of all, to maintain equity in human rights, to protect the environment under any political climate.  Those are things I believe in.  My efforts may be different in religious community versus political activities, but believing in those principles are part of my being in this world.

There were a number of people who felt they could sign as individuals, but who were opposed to ratifying the declaration as a congregation.  Some felt very strongly that congregational ratification (by majority vote) was forcing them as individuals to sign something they were not comfortable signing.  I have to respect those strong feelings although I really don’t understand the reasoning behind them.

Democracy is messy.

The Declaration of Conscience was ratified.

Salvation

I was reading about salvation.  Somehow it is a concept I am having a great deal of difficulty in grasping.

The simple definition is a protection from some kind of danger or harm.  In Christian theology, however, the danger or harm has to do with deliverance from sin by following the teachings of Jesus — so we will be united with God in heaven.

Islam teaches that salvation is achieved through good deeds (but at the same time don’t mess with Allah, who may not be impressed by death bed repentance.

Jews believe that salvation comes through following the rules and living a righteous life.

Hindus view salvation as an ever changing concept.

(Please not that my understanding of religious traditions and beliefs is far, far from any scholarly understanding.)

But what all that means to me — you treat others the same way you would want to be treated, that you take care of the less fortunate, treat all living things with caring and compassion, be nice and express gratitude that life itself is enough.  Wouldn’t that be a good life?  One might even be inclined to say heaven right here and now?

The whole “deliverance from sin” aspect seems like a totally unnecessary complication to me.

And, okay, my real problem is the word nerd in me. The word is derived from Latin salvus,  meaning “sound” in the sense of “whole” and “healthy.” Salvus sis,  may you be well.  The goddess Salus was the giver of health.  I like the classic meaning.

Dharma

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The Dharma wheel is a Buddhist metaphor for the eight pathways that lead to an enlightened end to suffering.

As the wheel rolls, any of the spokes might land on top.

Now, I don’t know a great deal about Buddhism, but it seems to me that the wheel might be turned to Right Speech as a messages for the United States right now.

Right Speech is communicating in ways that promote harmony and understanding. It is speech that is truthful and free of malice.

However, it doesn’t mean being “nice” when unpleasant things must be said.

Telling lies is not Right Speech.  Planting seeds of disharmony and misleading information is not Right Speech.

Telling the Emperor he is ever so finely dressed when he is in fact naked is not Right Speech.

We all suffer when our nation veers off the path.

Homeless

It started in 1986 when a woman on her way to work passed a homeless woman and decided to buy her a sandwich.  When that woman learned that here was homelessness even in her home community in New Jersey, she went beyond handing out sandwiches.

Her work lead to the formation of an interfaith hospitality network that involved churches and community resources to provide shelter, meals, assistance with finding work and housing.  The program grew and is now a national program known as Family Promise. In 1992, Family Promise (known then as the considerable less catchy National Interfaith Hospitality Network) was awarded one of 21 Points of Light by President and Barbara Bush.

The Family Promise Mission Statement is:

OUR MISSION IS TO HELP HOMELESS AND LOW-INCOME FAMILIES ACHIEVE SUSTAINABLE INDEPENDENCE THROUGH A COMMUNITY-BASED RESPONSE.

It is hard for me to believe that there are over 450 children just in and around Venice, Florida.  Eleven churches have committed to providing facilities, volunteers, and financial support so that Family Promise can help families of young children receive needed services to solve their homelessness in  meaningful ways.  Additional churches provide volunteers and financial support as well.

I am often skeptical about the whole subject of religion, but I have to say that there is something very beautiful about different churches working together on a common cause and in making their communities better places for all to live.volunteers

 

A Sufi Story

It is related that Mahmud of Ghazna was once walking in his garden when he stumbled over a blind dervish sleeping beside a bush.

As soon as he awoke, the dervish cried, “You clumsy oaf! Have you no eyes, that you must trample upon the sons of men?”

Mahmud’s companion, who was one of his courtiers, shouted, “Your blindness is equaled only by your stupidity! Since you cannot see, you should be doubly careful of whom you are accusing of heedlessness.”

“If by that you mean”, said the dervish, “that I should not criticize a sultan, it is you who should realize your shallowness.”

Mahmud was impressed that the blind man knew that he was in the presence of the king, and he said mildly, “Why, O dervish, should a king have to listen to vituperation from you?”

“Precisely”, said the dervish, “because it is the shielding of people of any category from criticism appropriate to them which is responsible for their downfall. It is the burnished metal which shines most brightly, the knife struck with the whetstone which cuts best, and the exercised arm which can lift the weight.”

 

Hmm…the shielding of someone from criticism appropriate to him can lead to his downfall…

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Non-duality

There is a Cherokee legend that is sometimes told as a story about a grandfather who tells a story to a young boy who is angry with one of his friends.  The grand father sympathizes with the boy and admits that he too struggles with anger, but then says anger does not help the injured and does nothing to the one doing the injury.  It is like “taking poison and wishing that the enemy would die.”

The grandfather tells of two wolves that live within.  The first is in harmony with all around it while the other is always angry and flying into fits of temper..  He says it is sometimes hard to live with these two wolves trying to dominate his spirit.

The boy asks, “Which one wins, Grandfather?”

And the grandfather replies, “The one I feed.”

There is something Buddha-like to this story, the principle on non duality. It is not a matter of either/or.  Both sides exist within each of us for a reason.  We can know happiness because we have suffered pain.. The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh uses the image of a flowers such as love, faith, hope and understanding in our thinking.  There are also waste materials like pain and fear in our thinking,  As a farmer uses composted waste materials to nourish healthy plants, we learn to make compost of waste material thoughts to nourish the flowers of love and understanding.

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Brain Food

When I was growing up, Fridays were meatless.  That often meant fish for dinner. I wasn’t crazy about it although I do really love fish now and have it way more than on just the occasional Friday.

My parents always insisted we should eat the fish because it was “brain food.” I don’t know why they said that, but as is so often the case, moms and dads know best.

A couple of years ago the MIND diet was developed at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago when researchers identified certain foods that appear to reduce cognitive decline such as Alzheimer’s disease or senile dementia.

Good foods are:  leafy salad greens, other colorful vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, and a daily glass of wine.

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Unfortunately, researchers also identified foods that had a deleterious effect of brain health.  See if you can guess…red meat, butter/margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, fried foods.

I don’t think this is particularly surprising or brand new information.  The plan does allow for some red meat and sweets — no more than five servings (small servings) per week. If you want cheese, a one ounce serving per week is allowed.

I try to eat healthy most of the time.  Since there has been quite a bit of dementia in my family I think I will be more aware of using olive oil instead of butter.  And nuts with a glass of red wine makes a nice dessert as far as I am concerned.

Loving the Enemy

“Do not return evil to your adversary; Requite with kindness the one who does evil to you, Maintain justice for your enemy, Be friendly to your enemy.”

– Akkadian Councils of Wisdom (from the ancient Babylonian civilization that existed two millennia before Jesus was born)

“Shame on him who strikes, greater shame on him who strikes back. Let us live happily, not hating those who hate us. Let us therefore overcome anger by kindness, evil by good, falsehood by truth. Do not hurt others in ways that would be hurtful to yourself.”

– Buddhist wisdom (written centuries before Jesus was born)

In this world

Hate never yet dispelled hate.
Only love dispels hate.
This is the law,
Ancient and inexhaustible.

– The Dhammapada    (source here)

 

So very, very hard to love those who arouse hatred in my own heart.  So very hard to  wish love, compassion, happiness, and ease for those I perceive as spreading  hatred, harm, anger, and pain.

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But I do know in my heart and through all my experiences, hate only attracts more hate.

I do not have to accept hatred.  I do not have to accept wrongs.

But I do have to take action from a place of peace.  Give me strength. As I work on my anger, I am overwhelmed by a feeling of great sadness and tears.

Sometimes the only way to show love to enemies is to hold them accountable for their actions. I can only do what I can do to let light shine.

Breath in, Breath out, Repeat

I do a mindful meditation. Focus on the breath. When thoughts come, notice and then return to the breath. Notice what is going on in the body and send breath to any place of tension or pain.

I am looking for a place of clarity and total letting go.

Although lately not so much, sometimes I get there. I tell myself I will hang on to that.

Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I think what a beautiful day. I am just going to enjoy it.
I have a cup of coffee while watching the sun rise and listening to a flock of tiny little sparrows chirping as they flit around the bushes in the yard.

But I always end up turning on my computer to check emails and read blogs with my second cup of coffee.

The NYT headline flashes in the upper right hand corner of the screen. My stomach knots and my breath catches in my chest. My inner Dorothy Parker screams out Oh what fresh hell is this?

For my own health and well being I need to resist.

But I also need to resist the lure of watching the crash and burn, to convince myself that this too shall pass. Breathe.

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