Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Beatitude 4

"Happy are those who are hungry and thirsty for goodness, for they shall be satisfied!"
----- J.B. Phillips translation

"Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right; they shall be satisfied."
----- Jerusalem Bible translation

My thoughts:

This is a difficult beatitude for me to understand. I realize most Christians believe in the Last Judgment, The Second Coming in which the scales of justice will be balanced: the wicked will suffer and perish, perhaps, into everlasting fire; the faithful will be exalted and see their hunger for justice and righteousness will be satisfied.

As for me, those who seek goodness, liberation, enlightenment, salvation will have a very good chance of being satisfied; certainly, more so than those who don't. In Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, the sect in which I seem to be---at least primarily----those who seek to attain the Pure Land, but realizing their inability because of past karma and general moral weakness---answer the call of Amida Buddha, the Buddha of Compassion, by saying in a sincere manner: Namo Amida Butsu (I take refuge in Amida) will be delivered by Buddha's merit and action. We step aside and allow Amida to take over -- so to speak.

From another viewpoint: there is a satisfaction from hunger for goodness and justice and do what they can in social activism, in their church, among their neighbors --- will know that they tried their best to make things right. This is all we can really do --- anyway. This, in itself, is satisfying.

Monday, September 25, 2006


Last Tuesday Eloise and I heard a very worthwhile talk from the author of the best seller, "When Bad Things Happen to Good People".

Rabbi Kushner dealt with the perennial question: if God is just and compassionate --- why is there evil in the world? And -- why do bad things happen to good people?

He framed the answer based as three parts:

>>> God is all powerful.
>>> God is all compassionate
>>> A good person to whom misfortune occurs

He said that when his young son died many years ago he was devastated. During that time he thought about this question of a good God and a world in which evil is a reality.

He concluded that one of the three elements above must be eliminated or erased.

His conclusion was (and is) that God is not All Powerful.

God has limited his power in establishing the laws of Nature and in allowing humans to have free will.

Disasters like Katrina that take the lives of innocent persons and make many more miserable is an act of Nature. God does not and cannot interfere because this is the way he established the world.

When an innocent person is killed by one who hates him --- the murderer is excising his free will.

In both the above cases God cannot interfere since he has chosen to limit his power.

As an example, Kushner said "it's the doctor's job to heal people. God's job is to make sick people, brave."

I would say that in the case of Katrina --- it is job of the community: national, state and local to keep the levees strong and repaired, and when preventative measures do not work to be ready to come quickly and effectively into the disaster areas with all the help needed.

In the case of 9/11 it is our country's duty too protect us, but also to engage in a foreign policy that works towards a world in which there is sufficient shelter, food, and clothing -- and adequate employment for all. Mankind must deal with the root causes of misery that breeds violence.

In both cases --- God is not going to intervene. However, God is constantly present and available with grace that people can tap into to deal with bad situations that God is not responsible for.

"If I must choose between an all-powerful God who is not very loving and compassionate, or a loving and compassionate God -- who isn't in control of everything, I'd rather worship God for being compassionate and just. I'd rather be a part of society that revered God more for his compassion than his power ...God doesn't do 'bad' things to people."

Friday, September 22, 2006


"How happy are those who know what sorrow means, for they will be given courage and comfort!"
J. B. Phillips translation

"Happy are those who mourn: they shall be comforted."
Jerusalem Bible

My Thoughts--
We are told at times of sorrow or loss by some people that we should "get on with our lives," "move ahead," "put the past behind you". Yet, not to feel deeply a significant loss, e.g. of a loved one, is a loss in itself, -- a deficiency in our humanity. Vulnerability is part of being human.

Recently I finished a book about aging and death in which the author said that it is possible (and desirable) that although we move ahead with the rest of our lives---yet we continue we have a tender and poignant spot in our heart for the loss of loved ones. These two realities don't preclude each other.
This approach to personal loss is both both realistic and healing.

The Buddha told a woman who had lost a loved one and could not longer could face ordinary life that she should visit a number of people in her town and ask for a mustard seed from every household in which there had been no loss of a loved one. She returned empty handed and realized that change and loss are part and parcel of existence.

For many persons -- no matter what their religious or spiritual beliefs are -- there is comfort to be found whether in Jesus, God, Torah, Krishna, Bhagavad Gita, Amida Buddha,etc. This is one advantage of having some spiritual belief.

As for a strictly Christian interpretation---it is difficult to express a strictly Christian view because I believe there are a variety of understandings.
One that occurs to me which may come from my Roman Catholic upbringing: Jesus mourned the lack of faith and weak understanding of his mission even among his closest disciples. He mourned the coming destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. Yet, he could find comfort in his heavenly father and that in the long run -- God's will --- shall be done.

Monday, September 18, 2006


Is Hinduism polytheist, theistic, deist, monotheist, monist, pantheist, panentheist? Answer: A case might be made for saying, "'Yes. All of them."

However, I would like to focus mainly on two -- the extremes: polytheism and monism?

Many Hindus conduct puja (worship) before the images of several gods. However, most Hindus have a central divine image on their altar. For example, they might have Krishna as the central deity, but also have images or statues of Ganesh, Hanuman, Lakshmi, etc. present. There are many traditional deities; however, these are not innumerable.

Most Hindus have a ishta devata, or a chosen deity, one that is their main, personal deity and holds a special place for them in the pantheon of deities.

Regardless, the vast majority of Hindus consider all of these deities as aspects of Brahman. The Absolute or Brahman is beyond form and conception. This is the reason for having a personal deity, an interface with Ultimate Reality. Moving from the polytheistic to the monist aspects of Hinduism -- from the monist view, there is only one Reality, usually called Brahman. Nothing else. People, animals, mountains, rivers are forms of Brahman. They are "relatively real" not "absolutely real."

Monists, strict monists known as followers of Advaita Vedanta consider what we might call "creation" as "maya" almost an illusion because all of it is Brahman. What happens in the world is referred to as "lila" or the "play" of Brahman. Christians speak of the God's plan for the world.
Many Hindus speak of "God's" play. The role of each person and, for that matter, everything in "creation" is to play their parts in God's game or "play".

I studied for a short time with a teacher of Vedanta. She gave me a poem written by one of her other students. The poem presents our lives as playing our parts in the drama or theatrical production of God (Brahman). We cannot understand this play, its purpose or meaning because we cannot comprehend the mind of God. So, in a sense, this is the theater of the absurd. Our task in life is simply to play our role as well as we can. Our life's task is referred to as our dharma. Here dharma, which has a number of different means, can be translated as fulfilling our duty in life, playing the role which has fallen to us---not the one chosen by us.

In the Bhagavad Gita, the most widely read and quoted Hindu scripture, it is stated that it is better for a person to fulfill his/her dharma imperfectly --- than to perform another person's dharma -- perfectly.

This Absolute/Brahman within Vedanta, the monist category of Hinduism, is the recipient indirectly of all the puja performed before the image of any deity ---
is the most perfect formulation of the Divine. In most religions "God" is viewed through the eyes of man resulting in a somewhat anthropomorphic Absolute, i.e. God is father, son, lover, friend, etc. The Hindus also regard the intermediary images of The Absolute this way: father, son, etc., but they in their depths know that behind all this -- is Brahman. Creation, then, is the manifestation of Brahman in various forms which are relatively real, but in their absolute nature --- Brahman.

Sometimes Brahman is depicted as a circle. Within this circle there is a smaller one. The smaller one is the phenomenal universe. Brahman is greater than the "world" but also within the world. Transcendent and yet immanent.

Some quotes on Brahman: "The Vedas compare creation to a spider's web, that the spider creates and then lies within. God is both the container of the universe and what is contained in it." --- Ramakrishna

"The moon is one, but on agitated water it produces many reflections. Similarly ultimate reality is one yet it appears to be many in a mind agitated by thoughts."
--- Maharamayana

"My mind fell like a hailstone into the vast expanse of Brahman's ocean. Touching one drop of it --- I melted away and became one with Brahman. This is wonderful indeed! Here is the ocean of Brahman, full of endless joy. How can I accept or reject anything? Is there anything apart or distinct from Brahman?" --- Sankara

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Beatitude 3 from Matthew's Gospel

Jerusalem Bible: "Happy the gentle: they will have the earth for their heritage."

J.B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English: "Happy are those who claim nothing, for the whole earth will belong to them."

(Just by chance as I was looking through a book I have had for many years, Vedanta for Modern Man, I came across the passage below from a teacher within the Hindu tradition,his words, I believe, touch the heart of this Beatitude.)

"God is the searcher of our hearts. He knows all our inner motives. We can draw His sympathy only through self-surrender and humility of spirit. We cannot move Him by eloquence or fine words. To the proud and the arrogant He is an all-exacting master. But to the meek and gentle He is the ever-forgiving Father, kind and generous beyond human understanding. One who approaches Him on bended knee and perfect resignation will surely be uplifted and brought within the orbit of His grace."

-----Swami Aseshananda (1899=1996, member of the Ramakrishna Monastic Order, head of the Portland, OR Vedanta Society from 1955 until his death)

(What about "the whole earth will belong to them"? It can be argued that if one is accepted by God -- in having God, one has everything.)

(I don't have a copy of the Tao Te Ching here in Ohio, but this work praises the person who is one of "non-action," i.e. acts without acting, does without doing----in harmony always with the Tao. This small book supposedly written by Lao Tzu, an ancient Chinese sage, speaks highly of the soft, the flexible, and the hidden.)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

HINDUISM: It's Origins and Nature

I like to think of Hinduism's origins as primeval -- arising from the mists of the past. Some scholars believe Hinduism, more properly called The Sanatana Dharma (Eternal Religion or Truth) as beginning around 5000 BCE.

Unlike many religions, Hinduism has no founder, no person that can be pointed to as the one who started the faith. God did not speak from a mountaintop surrounded by flashes of lightning and the reverberations of thunder. Ancient seers, rishis through ritual and especially deep meditative contemplation came in contact with the Absolute. Entered in to its very substance and came to know and relate what they had found.

Hinduism came out of India and its people. So, it is also a culture, a way of life, as well as an insight into the ultimate and the ways we can find union with it.

There are no heresies in Hinduism. No Creed that all who claim its name must know, recite and believe. This religious path evolved in an almost organic manner: some roots went in one direction and some in another.

Hindus accept The Vedas, of which there are four and are the most ancient. These are descriptions of ritual, passages of poetry, hymns, maxims, etc.

The Upanishads followed The Veda and were created around 800-400 BCE. Upanishad means to sit close to and refers to the students sitting next to their teacher. The re are 200 of these religious/philosophical works; thirteen are considered the most important.

From one of these Upanishads comes the three lines recited as an introductory purification before puja (worship) ----

Lead me from the Unreal to the Real,
Lead me from the Dark to the Light,
Lead me from Death to Immortality.

Monday, September 11, 2006

THE BEATITUDES, #1 from the Gospel of St Matthew 5:+

Some translations:

The Jerusalem Bible: "How happy are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

King James, Authorized Version: "Blessed are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

The New Testament, J.B. Phillips: "How happy are the humble-minded, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs!"

Holy Bible from the Ancient Eastern Text*: "Blessed are the humble for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

*This is the Holy Bible translated directly from the Aramaic (Syriac) text --the language of Jesus -- by renowned scholar, George M. Lamsa.

The Sermon in the Mount and Jesus' teachings known as the Beatitudes are more complete in Matthew than they are in Luke. Some scholars believe Jesus chose a high spot from which to the deliver this core message to make a connection with the Temple in Jerusalem which was also situated on a "mount". Jesus' new community, the kingdom of God, was to be the replacement for the Temple in this new dispensation or covenant. Jesus' teachings although not replacing The Torah would have the more preeminent position.

These ruminations on the Beatitudes are just my own and at this point of time. I certainly don't claim for myself any real scholarly background in this area.


What is so fortunate, so lucky, so blessed to be poor in spirit? Why does this condition make it easier for people to find God, the Truth, the Absolute?

A person could have a high position in the land or even possess wealth and land and still be poor in spirit -- although I think this would be much more difficult.

To be poor in spirit, IMO, is to be humble, to have the virtue of humility. Both these words derive from the Latin for earth or earthy. Perhaps in the sense of being "down to earth"; not being full of oneself; not being self-promoting; not feeling that one is "special" or the center of the universe.

Such people could be said to be, in a sense, "empty," open. Empty vessels in which the wine of wisdom or grace can find a home.

The old Chinese Zen story of the self-important magistrate who visits a respected Zen master in search of profound wisdom: the Zen teacher pours tea into the magistrate's cup, but when the brim of the cup is reached, he continues pouring, the tea flooding over the table. When the important official asks what the master is doing --- he is told "Wisdom can only be imparted to one who is empty of pre-conceived ideas and self. Come back when you are a suitable vessel."

Jesus spoke of the last becoming the first when the disciples were vying for positions in the coming kingdom. Their minds were on themselves; they were self assertive.

Jesus used children as an ideal example of those who are open. People who have this childlike attitude of being receptive, not having made up their minds about everything ---- are much easier for God's grace to penetrate.

The important thing to hear clearly to listen with awareness to be present with reality, with grace, with the presence of God. To enter the kingdom of heaven is to be transformed in an essential way, and is easier when one has simplicity, openness and a receptive heart.

A person filled with self, striving to assert himself continuously in his pursuit of wealth or power has little chance of becoming a member of Jesus' kingdom, of his community. Such a person may be amassing much in the eyes of the world, but at the cost of his soul.

How would Hinduism and Buddhism possibly respond to the first beatitude? What would they think of Jesus' saying the the humble-minded/ poor in spirit/those who possessed humility are truly blessed?

In Hinduism's Bhagavad Gita Arjuna objects to fighting a war to defend righteousness, Arjuna, the warrior, objects to fighting a battle in which so many will be killed on both sides, with relatives and friends in both camps. Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu, the second person of the Hindu trinity convinces him that he, Krishna is God in human form and that Arjuna should have the humility to listen to Krishna's answers to Arjuna's questions and surrender to his duty as a warrior.
*Avatar---a being who is a manifestation of God or the Absolute

In the Jodo Shinshu school of Buddhism, it is believed that Amida, the Buddha of Compassion sincerely seeks to save all beings, especially the worst, who need salvation the most. All that is needed is to have the humility to accept one's inability to achieve salvation, to step aside and allow Amida to take over.

In both cases, faith and trust iareneeded, but without humilty and humble-minded the divine message does not have a chance to penetrate the proud ego.

Sunday, September 10, 2006


For most of my life, I have an interest in religion including the broader term --spirituality.

This morning I've decided to start, which may, or may not, develop into a series of occasional blogs on Hinduism.

Hinduism, in general, is a very tolerant religion. This is what Mahatma Gandhi said:

"Religions are different roads converging on the same point. What does it matter that we take different roads as long as we reach the same goal? I believe all religions of the world are more or less true. I say 'more or less' because I believe that everything the human hand touches, by reason of the very fact that human beings are imperfect, become imperfect."

(Of course there are religions that feel otherwise. For example, to my knowledge Islam, generally, considers itself the culmination of the only really correct path to God -- the Abrahamic tradition which includes Judaism, followed by Christianity and then God's last word on the subject of the "true" religion --- Islam.)

(Some writers instead of Gandhi's metaphor use the peak of the mountain as the goal, and the many trails up to the summit the various religions.)

(Somewhere in the New Testament, I believe in John's Gospel, it is said that Christ is the only gate or path through one reaches the Father/God. Some Christians may assume because of this passage that all other religions are false. However, this is not the attitude of either Hinduism or Buddhism.)

(Finally, I am always a little wary of using the words perfect or imperfect. I don't know whether they can be defined except by having some supposed standard that the mind has worked out as "the Perfect". Can the human mind deduce "The Perfect?" I doubt it although I suspect it might be experienced. )
In the Rig Veda one of four Vedas or ancient scriptures upon which the Sanatana Dharma, commonly known as Hinduism is grounded, composed, perhaps, 3000 B.C. (B.C.E.)---- is found that most common expression of Hinduism's tolerance:

"Faith is One and the wise call it by many names."

----- ----- ----- -----

Another feature of Hinduism (and Buddhism) is the belief in the primary place of experiencing the Absolute (God, Brahman, Yahweh, Allah.....). The only way to really "know" God is experientially. Analyzing the nature of God with the intellect will simply be inadequate.

"What can be gained by thinking about the scriptures? What fools? They think themselves to death with information about the path, but never take the plunge."

---Ramakrishna - revered religious figure or saint (1836-66 CE)

(This quote makes me think of Christians who believe if they know the scriptures backwards and forwards, and have studied commentaries on them-------they have come very close to God. Their activity may be one tiny step towards God --- or possibly, even a digression.)

(In Zen there is the oft quoted saying: "Words are only fingers pointing to the Moon.")

"Illness is not cured by saying the word 'medicine,' but by taking medicine. Enlightenment (salvation) is not achieved by repeating the word 'God' but by directly experiencing God."

---Sankara - one of Hinduism's greatest religious teachers and philosophers (788-820 CE)

Thursday, July 27, 2006


Contrary to the claims of atheism's loyalists --- atheism takes faith.

Questions such as---how did intelligent life develop? how did life originate? does life have meaning? why something rather than nothing? are good and evil -- realities?

We don't know the answers to any of these questions for certain. Both a Christian's and an atheist's answers stem from FAITH.

It's fine for the Christian or the Atheist to be satisfied with their respective answers--but they should not say faith has no part in reaching them.

Some problems --atheists face:

1. Is there a need for meaning in life? If so, how do we find it?

The existentialists, like Sartre searched for meaning in a world without God and came up --- empty handed. Everything was just so much meaningless stuff.

There is something in humans that makes us seek meaning -- especially when life does not go well. Victor Frankl, a survivor from a Nazi concentration camp, authored the book, "The Unheard Cry for Meaning". In it he says: "The will to meaning is really a specific need not reducible to other needs, and is in a greater or smaller degree present in all human beings."

Tolstoy said "I know everything that science so much wants me to know; but this path will not lead me to an answer to the question of the meaning of my life." And, if he lived in the year 2006, I am convinced this quote would remain unchanged. Science does not provide meaning to personal life.

If you are content with this----then atheism may be right for you.

2. History would have been so much better without religion, without the belief in God.

From the killing fields of Cambodia to the death camps of the Nazis, we can see that godless ideologies do not result automatically in a happy and peaceful world.

Can most people continue to live "good" lives, lives of honesty, fairness, compassion and wisdom without some spiritual path or religion? It would seem that our individual lives and the world would head downhill.

I am reading a book on the Roman Empire, especially, though not entirely, about the rule of Augustus. When Augustus assumed leadership, he felt to keep the empire intact, strong and at peace -- he needed to restore faith in the gods, and to stress the need for virtue if Roman were to be happy and fulfilled.

Separation of church and state, IMO, is desirable. I don't want specific religions taught in the schools, nor the monuments to the 10 Commandments outside/inside public buildings----but I do think schools should stress some basic virtues, the qualities of a human life.

3. Are the problem of suffering and evil solved by the Atheistic faith?

How can a merciful, just and all-powerful God permit suffering and evil?
This has been a key question throughout history. When things turn ugly---some people blame God. They try to make sense out of their personal and their nation's disasters.

Would eliminating God make it easier to explain suffering and evil?

Picture a world without any belief in God whatsoever. how would we go about understanding evil and suffering? Would it be simpler? More satisfying?

Do we merely say---there is no explanation, no meaning, no consolation.

4. What happens to the words -- wrong, right, justice, injustice, good, evil without some belief in an Absolute?

We have no yardstick. Do we rely on anyone and everyone's opinion or tastes? The United Nations' declares a war --- unjust, ruthless, and humane.
So what? Our courts hand down verdicts -- based on what foundation? A married couple goes into counseling to avoid a divorce. How can any mediation take place---if there are not some fundamentals?

5. One of the singular features of humans felt by all to some degree is a spiritual longing, a reaching out to something deep within us, and yet beyond us.

We could just write off this urge, this need to ---wishful thinking. But isn't that stretching the atheists' faith rather thin?

This argument means a great deal to me. The fact that I have a hunger or thirst for a spiritual reality--for me -- indicates that there is a reality to satisfy it.

McLaren in his book mentioned earlier, quotes a short passage from Richard Selzer's book, "Wittenburg Door":

"My entire life has been one long search for faith. I haven't found it. I do not believe in God. Having said that, ...I want you to know that I love the idea of God. I love piety. Without it, you live your life unmoored, in a state of isolation. You are a tiny speck in a vast universe. I'm jealous, frankly. I feel as though I've missed out on the greatest thing that can happen to a person --- faith in God. It must be wonderful."

As Brian McLaren says: "Atheism is a faith option open to you, but there are reasons to at least consider other options."

* Much of this essay is based on Brian McLaren's recent book, "Finding Faith".

Sunday, July 23, 2006


Christians worship and pray. Buddhists meditate, send thoughts of loving kindness, chant.

However, it is doubtful that individual transformation through spiritual practices will result in the transformation of society. I used to think this. I believe that Toynbee may have said something about the real revolution society needs is the individual revolution of each of its members.

This sounds good until one examines the way things work and are.

What prevents personal transformation? laziness, ego, lack of awareness of one's thoughts, feelings, ---AND the world we live in.

Does it make any difference if the society, culture, milieu in which a person lives --- --- is based on greed, lust, immediate satisfaction with success and stature measured in dollars and property owned? If the system in place especially the economic system, and its accompanying political framework, cultivates these things---they are absorbed, reinforced in each of society's members. Most people just live --- and are dyed in the colors of the everyday world. Peer pressure is also applied to all of us ---characterized by the values of society. I think the most important segment in this is the economic system and the values it’s based on and the kind of people it wants and produces.

In order to transform the individual we must not only work on our individual selves, but we must work to change the total environment in which we live ---especially the societal environment, and within it, especially the economic and political systems.

Individuals working on themselves and those they come in contact with ---- will have some beneficial effects on the world----slowly by osmosis. It is doubtful that can bring about a just and compassionate society. The salutary effects of each person spreading wisdom, goodness, compassion among those around him is constantly being undercut
by the messages, lessons and examples of the culture.

To ignore one's spiritual life and work only on changing the economic/political structure of society will have some beneficial effects also---but by itself it will not cause the radical change needed in individuals' values and feelings.

However, if the two are done together -- then both the core (individuals) and the framework (society) can be changed. This is the best hope for mankind.

So, we need personal spiritual and humane growth and a society that promotes similar values. These two changes must be concurrent.

One of Jesus’ main teachings found throughout the New Testament is his goal for mankind --- of establishing the kingdom of God --- NOW, and IN THIS WORLD.
Caesar’s kingdom is to be replaced by God’s kingdom. This is extremely radical, but it seems as though this was Jesus’ plan for the world.

I think it's possible. However, we have to Wake Up and we have to Act.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


For me--- there is the Pre-Easter Jesus, and there is the Post-Easter Christ.

The Pre-Easter Jesus is a historical and human being. He is infused with the Divine. He is largely found in the Synoptic Gospels: Mark, Matthew and Luke. I also believe much of the Gospel of Thomas gives us an insight into this individual.

The Pre-Easter Jesus was a human being, who existed historically. I like the sketch of the Pre-Easter Jesus made by Marcus Borg, Jesus scholar: “spirit person, healer, wisdom teacher, social prophet and movement initiator”.

The Post-Easter Christ was the creation of the Christian community, especially by certain followers: Paul and John, the Evangelist and then the fathers of the early church and theologians down through the ages.

What actually was Easter? What happened on that day?

Did Jesus actually rise from the dead on Easter?

Some believe he arose with the same body he had while living.

Some believe after he left the tomb he possessed a spiritual body.

Some believe he did not return from death but his presence was strongly
felt by some of his followers.

Some believe he died on the cross and never was given a proper burial.

However, even a very meticulous student of the historical Jesus as John Dominic Crossan -- a person who tries in his research not to impose his faith on the interpretation of the historical record --- does admit that something happened --- that there was a different spirit among Jesus’ followers -- after Easter than before it.

For example: they seemed to have more courage, confidence, and solid faith.

“What could not have been predicted and might not have been expected was that the end (Calvary)was not the end. Those who had originally experienced divine power through his vision and his example continued to do so after his death. In fact, even more so, because now this power was no longer confined by time or place.” Crossan

Something happened to the followers of Jesus at and/or after Easter. There may be different ways of explaining the phenomenon---but it needs to be accounted for.

Now, I have to ask myself---why am I making all this fuss and using all these words?

After reading books that examine the historical Jesus, the actual human being that lived in Holy Land------I found a person whom I respected, admired, loved and whose priorities and vision appealed to me.

For me --- at this point in time --- there seems to be the “real” Jesus (Pre-Easter Jesus) and then there is the Christ (Post-Easter Jesus).

Christ is what the early church and the later versions of the early church made out of Jesus. Christ is Divine, Mighty, Powerful, part of the Holy Trinity, etc. He is described in the Apostles’ Creed, The Nicene Creed and the Athanatian Creed.

In other words he has been “deified,” larger than life. And for me -- more difficult to relate to him --- because in the transition from Jesus to Christ in the Christian church down through the ages ---- Jesus has lost his humanity. I think that this was a problem I had with my Roman Catholic education. Jesus was God walking and talking. I wanted a real person like myself to relate to.

Another problem I have with the concept of Christ: It has given the opportunity to many persons, churches, theologians, preachers to create their own Jesus. Since the Christ idea or model gives the opportunity for conjecture, intellectualization, and personal whims and wishes. Christ is what Jesus seems to various believers.

The term Christ seems to have acted as a conceptual step which has broken the link between itself and Jesus of Nazareth.

One result is that we find churches that seem to ignore completely the Jesus that patently visible in the Gospels (including or not including Thomas)

When I read the New Testament I see Jesus as--

• a person who has a special concern and love for the poor, for children,
and for the outcasts

• a person who emphasized the dangers of wealth and the deceit of hypocrisy

• a person who opposed the established powers: church and state

• a person who spoke of the relationship between God and his creation ---
as that of a loving, non-judgmental father -- one that we can trust and rely
on as do the birds of the air and the lilies of the field

• a person just like us but one who had an almost "magical" connection with
the Absolute, and who seemed to be always in communion with the Divine in an intimate manner

• one who has been rightfully described by the rather academic term a --
“radical egalitarian”

• one had no intention of founding a new church, but of describing and living
a more vital and personal spiritual way, a manner of life that did not require
a new institution -- but rather a refinement of Judaism.

• a teacher that as far we know wrote nothing, certainly not a weighty tome of
theology. Instead he offered two commandments -- and one of the most
beautifully transformative “recipes” for living close to God: The Beatitudes
• a person who must have known his life’s example and teachings would
lead to an early death, but refused to be dissuaded.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Jesus, as I See Him

I have a certain image of Jesus that undergoes changes as would be expected. I am much more interested and attracted to Jesus of the dusty roads of Galilee than I am to the Christ fashioned by early leaders like Paul and John of the Fourth Gospel.

It seems to me that Jesus never intended to found a new church. He was a Jew--a man filled with divine power, grace and wisdom. He was a radical egalitarian as pointed out by Crossan. He was a healer, whose healing gifts, even more than his spiritual message drew many to him. Probably only a few were capable then and now of absorbing his teaching and his spirit. It may be a "way" better imparted on a one to one. I think he had special followers that he was able to reach. The core message and most profound -- as well as most difficult to accept -- is found in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus's declaration of the two commandments: love God and love your neighbor as yourself were already part of Jewish tradition in Leviticus and Deuteronomy.

Although I consider myself no longer a Catholic, and basically, no longer a Christian in the sense that it is my spiritual path---I am still interested in Jesus, who I do not consider the Son of God. If there is a God, then the Muslims state it well: There is no God --but God.

The reason I like the writings of the Franciscan priest, Fr. Rohr, so much is that he cuts through the hypocrisy of the majority of Christians by pointing out what Jesus really asks of his followers.

Jesus said something like: Not the one who calls out "Father, Father" but he who does the will of my Father.

It is not sufficient, IMO, to have faith in Jesus as a unique and powerful manifestation of the Divine, but do as he says; live as he did. Take the Beatitudes as a rule of life. Swallow them whole.

If we come to believe, to have faith---then our lives begin to be shaped by the example of Jesus. This transformation is propelled by gratitude.

I dislike the bumper sticker: Christians aren't Perfect. We are just Saved.

There are SO MANY Christians who feel good inside, who feel that they are justified because they assent to the Divinely Inspired book , The Bible, and because they have declared their faith in Jesus, as God Himself! However, I have real doubts whether Jesus or God considers many of these people "saved" by what is called "being born again".

Faith is more than assent. Real living, transformational Faith must be radical trust. Faith is a way of seeing what is. Faith is affirmation --- total and heart felt. Faith is surrender. (I give credit for these ideas to Marcus Borg, Jesus scholar.)

Being born again is a big deal. It turns one inside out.

Jesus's way is truly as the Catholic Church teaches: The Way of the Cross. Being a Christian is not easy. It means sacrifice, not being accepted by many. Having to pass up financial opportunities. Being willing to accept everyone in the sense of asking them over to your house for dinner.

Well, I am carried away. But these are my feelings. I know I cannot accept Christianity. I think, essentially, it is a distortion of Jesus's life and message.

However, I have a genuine respect and love for Jesus. I asked respected Tibetan Lama once: “Is it possible for me to start attending a Christian church, and, become a practicing Christian?”

He told me, through a translator, that there would be no problem with that. That there was no need to cease being a Buddhist if I became a Christian. He added: “As for me, Jesus is always in my heart.”

As for me --I am not strong enough, self-less enough to follow Jesus as he requires.

Jesus said that a person had to lose his life to gain eternal life. I believe he meant that this person must become Self-Less. He must not attach himself to his EGO which is only a relative "self". Meister Eckhardt said that the end of the Christian path is to reach the point in which you have emptied your heart and mind of everything. Then, one more step: Empty your heart and mind of God!

Because “our” God is not the true God. If we empty ourselves of our notions/ ideas of God ---we give the Divine an opportunity to flow into ourselves; heart, mind, spirit soul and body.

This reminds me of an often related old story of the important Chinese government official he came to a Ch'an (Zen) master and asked for enlightenment, liberation, the meaning of life, the secret of Zen.

The master said, "Let's have tea."

However, when the master poured tea into the cup of this important civil servant --- he continued pouring and pouring until the tea flowed over the table.

"Master, what are you doing? What is the meaning of this?"

"I can no more pour tea into a cup that is full than I can pour wisdom into a mind --that is NOT empty." the master replied.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Random Rambling (and occasional rants) 04-26-06

RANDOM RAMBLINGS (and occasional rants)
April, 25, 2006

I remember seeing an article in the newspaper several months ago concerning the Katrina disaster and especially about different suggestions as to what our government should have done or should still do. The author commented that when making these recommendations---those making them should remember that the American people -- in general -- don’t like morality to be used as a basis for these government actions.

This “morality” aversion, if correct, seemed strange.

85% of Americans claim to be Christian according to one survey, and 97% say they believe in God.

Jesus certainly stressed compassion: feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, give drink to the thirst. He never said: God helps them who help themselves. That was Benjamin Franklin, hardly a shining example of a Christian.

Being a Christian, if, by that you mean one who strives to follow the example and teaching of Jesus---is terribly hard work. I don’t see how we can have so many Christians in the USA. If we did we would have a much more caring, just, less materialistic/commercial/consumptive society. Our government would reflect in its actions Jesus’ teachings too. Would we have attacked Iraq if Bush had actually spoken with Jesus?

IMO ---most of the people who claim to be Christians are really not devotees of the “Lord”. They want to have their cake and eat it.

And here, I may step on some toes, but at 74, “frankly, Mam, I don’t give a damn!” as Clark Gable once said.

Going to church; singing rousing hymns; listening to a powerful sermon; feeling good: Jesus loves me! These are wonderfully moving experiences----however, that’s NOT really, IMO, opinion what Jesus was about. It’s OK. But, it’s nothing if that’s all being a Christian means. And even, if one hates faggots, marches against abortions, even shoots a few abortionists, makes sure the Ten Commandments are in every public building; insists on public prayer during school... Well, you haven’t taken much of a step--in the long spiritual journey led by Jesus.

I have seen bumper stickers: "Christians are not Perfect. They are just Saved."
There are conversions experiences. Some genuine. Many, probably not. They can be dangerous---if one feels able to live any way one wants to---because I have been washed in the blood of the Lamb.

I think it was fortunate that St. James' epistle made it into the NT. However, one epistle of James' does not offset the many Pauline epistles (some of which were actually written by Paul.)

I believe that Christianity could be more properly called Paulism. A man who met Christ or Jesus in a vision, and then introduced much that is not found in the Synoptic or more historical gospels.

Morality stems from compassion and justice. Compassion, more than justice.
If you want to follow some holy person or spiritual leader, especially one like Jesus---it may be difficult to choose one of his genuine teachings and ignore others.

It’s not like a buffet.

And, remember, you can’t have your cake and eat it.

If you think that having an emotional conversion experience and that now you are saved, and that’s that--well, don't fool yourself or The Lord.

Go on with life: nice home, a couple of cars, lots of things, go to church, tithe, make sure you are against those moral taboos that you are supposed to be--according to your preacher or according to your Pope..--that still doesn't make it.

Well, personally, I don’t think Jesus would be much impressed. He never taught or lived an easy way.

I am re-reading the New Testament. I don’t believe that it is totally inspired by God. I certainly don’t think it is the actual words of God, as Muslims, apparently, believe of their Koran.

Each person must strive to find Jesus in the NT, and, btw in the Gospel of Thomas, and some other of the alternative gospels. I don’t accept the Canon of Scripture decided by rather dogmatic church leaders under pressure from the political powers to be.

Sorry, folks, but I don’t believe we have in The Bible a collection of books that we can have as the sole support of our faith. Nice, but it just isn’t so--IMHO.

The exploration of the Absolute or, if you prefer, the revelation of God---was not reserved for certain peoples in certain parts of the world. I can't imagine God being that unfair

Some secular humanists, frankly, as I see things, have more morality than the great multitude of "true" believers.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Religious Values of the Christian Right

I was tremendously interested in Kevin Phillips’ essay in The Nation, “Theocons and Theocrats,” because it sums up most of values of their “Christ”. Their Christ is a radically different person than the prophet, teacher, martyr, and God connected man --- I call Jesus.

Let take a look at some of Kevin’s conclusions:

•“...tendency to oppose regulation and justify wealth and relative laissez-faire, tipping it hat to the upper-income and corporate portions of the Republican coalition.”

>>>Jesus seemed to take a very dim view of wealth, and even less of greed. He spoke of a person needing to choose between God and Mammon. The Christian right lauds choosing Both God and Mammon.
Jesus spoke to the young man recommending that he give away all his possessions and follow Him.

• “...abandoning most economic regulation in order to prepare the moral framework for God’s return.”

>>> I don’t see the connection between the two --- unless the Right believes that by doing so---they will hasten the Day of Judgement.
I imagine God’s frowns upon mortals devising ways to force his hand.

“...issues involving birth, life, death, sex, health, medicine, marriage and the role of the family...”

>>>Abortion: I’m not in favor of abortion as a form of birth control, but it seems to me that the woman has rights in this matter. Again, I cannot remember anything in the four gospels of Jesus speaking on the subject. If abortion is always murder, then wars are murder also. Capital punishment is murder.
>>>Gay Marriage: Did Jesus ban gays and lesbians from his frequent suppers. I know he did not ban prostitutes and money lenders. It’s hard for me to see Jesus hating “faggots”. There is a lot of hate, IMHO, among the Religious Right that desperately needs objects and persons to hate.
Jesus was about love, not the Christ of hate.
>>>Right to Die: Did Jesus say anything about a person who is terminally ill and in great suffering deciding to end his/her life either on his own or with the help of a doctor or loved one?

• “...reduce the current separation between church and state.”

>>> Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. Of course, all things and all beings are God’s--including the government, but this does not mean that the State should be enforcing the religious views of this church or that one on its citizens.

“...in 2004, the Lone Star GOP was not content to call for abolishing the EPA and the Energy Department; it also demanded the abolition of the IRS and elimination of the income tax, the inheritance tax, the gift tax, the capital-gains levy, the corporate income tax, the payroll tax and state and local property taxes.”
>>> Phillips says that the political platform of the Texas GOP in 2004 gives us idea of “the religious right’s larger view of economic matters and dismantling of government.”

>>>Can you imagine the real Jesus returning to earth and pushing this agenda. What has this got to do with Jesus’ main goal of establishing the Kingdom of God on this earth ---NOW?

• Science vs God: In an attempt to read the myth of Genesis as a “play by play” history of God’s actions in the beginning --- the Right forces itself into situation after situation, e.g. some believe, according to Phillips that “...the Almighty, not carbon dioxide, brings about climate change.” (In stark contrast, I might say, to the religious philosophy of Deism held by most of the prominent founders of this republic, i.e. that God set up the world, and just walked away from it.)

>>>On evolution: ”In Texas, where the cotton industry is plagued by a moth in which an immunity to pesticides has evolved, a frustrated entomologist commented, ‘It’s amazing that cotton growers are having to deal with these pests in the very states whose legislatures are so hostile to the theory of evolution. Because it is evolution they are struggling against in their fields every season.’“

• ”Organizations such as the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty have enlisted a fair amount of conservative religious and corporate support for preparing what amounts to a pro-business, pro-development explanation of Christian stewardship. The institute's director, Roman Catholic Father Robert Sirico, contends that left-tilting environmentalism is idolatrous in its substitution of nature for God, giving the Christian environmental movement a "perhaps-unconscious pagan nature."

>>> This is incredible to me. Jesus spoke of the lilies of the field, sparrows; he used nature parables a good deal of the time. Does caring for the mountains, the rivers, the forest, wildlife mean that a person believes these things are God? Is being pro-development a sign of Christian stewardship of God’s world ---or it more likely greed and the lust for mammon? The answers are clear to me.

• The Christian Right seems obsessed with “the rapture, the end times, Armageddon and the thinly disguised U.S. crusade against radical Islam.” “In the months before George W. Bush sent U.S. troops into Iraq, his inspirational reading each morning was a book of sermons by a Scottish preacher accompanying troops about to march on Jerusalem in 1917.”

>>> one of personal “gripes” about the Christian Right is its focus on the “end times” the approaching Judgment of Christ upon the earth; its destruction; the sparing of the righteous; the annihilation of the wicked.
No wonder so many of these true believers care little about the environment and Mother earth. It’s all going to be gone in a few years! Let’s prepare for the reality of what is coming, what’s been foretold.
Much of this is based on the Book of Revelations which almost did not make it into the Canon of Scripture. (Oh, yes. God came through just at the last minute and made those early Christian bishops do the right thing.)

For those awaiting --even eagerly looking forward to the coming of the wrathful, but Just Lord---there is little interest in issues such as social justice, universal health care, the end of war----these don’t count. Well, maybe war counts because wars and bloodshed are one of the signs of the approaching days of retribution.
If these Christians want to believe all of this, which I believe is a misreading of parts of the Gospels, and, as well, the acceptance of a strange and enigmatic final book of the New Testament canon---let them have their fixation. Unfortunately it prevents them from working towards the Kingdom of God coming --on this Earth --Now. Jesus wants us to create a just loving society here ---it’s our work for him. We are not fulfilling what Jesus wants by looking forward to him doing it by destroying creation and setting up a New Jerusalem of some sort.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


I am not going to debate the existence of God. To do that I would have to define God. And---if God exists---He, She, It---cannot be defined by humans. Our concepts would be totally inadequate.

What I am trying to figure out is whether the belief in God has been good or bad for this world and the beings who live here.

Somewhere I have read that wars over religious issues, e.g. my God is true, but yours is not (translate: my concept of -- belief about God is the correct one---and yours is sacrilegious) have killed more human beings than conflicts over politics, economics, etc.

A former student suggested to me in the past year: "Would the world be better without God?"


Let me see. I know I'll use the old pros and cons method:

Pro: World is Better Off with People Believing in God:

>>>People would be immoral and society would crumble unless mortals believed in a God that would punish them either in this world or the next.

(This one is difficult to answer. Buddhists, generally speaking, are considered as not believing in a personal God, i.e. one that judges and punishes. They usually believe in karma --one's actions will determine a favorable or unfavorable rebirth. Then there is the USA, IMO, we seem to be a materialistic, commercialized, consumption driven society. Yet, I have read a number of times that no country in the world has more citizens claiming to believe in God --something like 99%. Belief in God doesn't seem to have had a great deal of effect on us. We should be a lot better than we are. Before the missionaries arrived in Hawaii, the islanders were living happier, more peaceful, more harmonious lives. That all changed with "religion" -- or maybe it was it was a change in gods that did it.)

>>>God fills a deep need in the core of a person--enabling her/her to be more loving, kind, thoughtful, peaceful, wise, content, etc. etc.

(Well, there must be some gone awry then. There doesn't seem to be a very strong correlation between these qualities and a person who says that God exists and that for sure. Maybe the problem is that one must believe in the "right" God. In that case, this innermost need is fulfilled and the person both inside and out realizes it. However, I do believe, personally, that there is an emptiness within us---that needs to be filled; an inner need that wants to be met.)

Belief in God seems to work because in dire situations many people prayer to God for themselves or for others---and prayer seems to be helpful to them. Even doctors today are beginning to admit that people who pray benefit.

(Yes, I would agree. Some of this is psychological, i.e. believing there is a higher power that cares for you and could help you or your loved ones. OTOH, I do believe in the existence of the supernatural (for want of a better word) -- or the sacred.)

Part of the problem with God is the word GOD which carries so much baggage: emotionally, conceptually. Many of us have been carrying the baggage since our younger days. We have not taken a second look at God ---when we became more adult.

There is a story of a wealthy American retired businessman who was interested in Eastern Religion. He hired a respected Indian professor who was extremely knowledgeable about Hinduism. The professor was to be the American's guide showing him various temples, ashrams in India and explaining Hinduism as they went.

At one point the American said, "I understand that Hindus have many Gods. Do you have any idea of how many? The professor: "Yes --749, 273, 921 -- altogether." American: "That's amazing -- not only the huge number but the fact you could give it to me so quickly." Professor: "Not really, you see 749, 273, 921 is the latest report on the Hindu population of India. We believe that each person must have his/her own God."

If one believes in God, it may be in a being who created the universe, but has had nothing to do with it since then; in fact pays no attention to it or us. This view called Deism appears to have been the notion of God held by a number the more important founders of our nation.

Theism usually means, especially in Chrisitianity, that God is a Person who created the universe; is attentive to what does on, and sometimes can intervene.

Pantheism is God and the Universe are One.

Panentheism that God includes the Universe, but is more than the Universe.

The most important thing --- as I see things, is that if you believe in God or Allah or Brahman or Sacred Emptiness ----whatever term you use for the sacred core of things--- you must experience The Sacred. God cannot be described, but this being can be experienced. Knowledge of "God" comes through intuition, through feeling, through sensing this presence---which you know is Reality itself --- but which you cannot encase in a conceptual capsule.

"God must be a personal "God" for each one of us. God in a sense is a relationship

If we could only let everyone come to terms with God in her/his way, the world we be a better more peaceful, more loving place----and so would we, each one of us.