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)