Journal of the Unitarian Universalist Buddhist Fellowship
To allow us to be in closer communication with each other, I've launched a discussion list for us on the UUA's server, uua.org. I was amazed that 100 people signed up for it right away and the conversation took off! So far the exchanges have been tremendous. To subscribe visit the UUBF-L home page
Events at General Assembly
I have organized a silent retreat for UU ministers to be held at the Rochester Zen Center Tuesday, June 23. The cost will be nominal and run from about 8:00am till 3:00pm. Please contact me if you are interested in attending.
Wayne Arnason has agreed to give a talk for our UUBF program at the 1998 General Assembly in Rochester, New York. His title is "What Did the Buddhist Say to the Humanist?" Wayne's description of the talk is:
"We know what the Buddhist said to the hot dog vendor ('Make me one with everything!"). but is there anything that UU Buddhists have to say to UU Humanists? With so much in common why are these two non-theistic, this-worldly, human-centered traditions type-cast into 'spiritual' and 'non-spiritual' camps?"
Look for it on Friday, June 26, at 1:30pm
Becoming a Tax Exempt
I have been looking into registering the UUBF as a 501c(3) non-profit corporation. This would give subscribers/members the benefit of making their contributions tax deductible. If anyone out there is a lawyer and can help with this, please let me know!
Subscription Situation: An Update
My gratitude goes out to those who have sent in money to make UUBF solvent. I'm happy to say, I should have enough money now to do one or two more issues. I really appreciate having enough to use a printer this time so the quality should be better. Your contributions to the effort, though, are still welcome!
Faithfully yours, Sam
Detachment and Non-attachment
by Robert Tokushu Senghas
One part of the Dharma is greatly misunderstoodby non-Buddhists especially, but also by some who practice Buddhism. The other day Seishu asked me something (I report this with her permission). She said that she was having trouble understanding one aspect of the Dharma what seemed to her an encouragement in the Dharma to be detached from grief and other emotions. "If someone close to me suffers or dies, Buddhism seems to be saying I should be above or beyond that, but I don't want to be beyond thatI want to go through the grief and closeness to what has happened."
That is related to the second Noble Truth, tanha, often translated "desire," more literally meaning thirst, craving, attachment to pleasure, money, power, ideas, opinions, beliefs, patriotism, anything. Attachmenttanha is the cause of basic human suffering (dukkha), the First Noble Truth. The Third Noble Truth is that there can be a liberation from that sufferingby eliminating tanha, thirst, attachment. The common and misguided understanding of Buddhism is that to get rid of thirst, attachments, we must detach ourselves from feelings, whether of grief or pleasure, and from deep relationships or commitments to social causes or anything else.
Nonon-attachment is not detachment. Buddhism is radically realistic. We humans are emotional beings we have pleasure and pain, joys and sorrows. Those feelings are real, and Buddhism teaches us to acknowledge what is real in us. To detach ourselves is to turn away or to cut ourselves off from what is realto space out, or "accent the positive only," or trust in some astral world we cannot see directly, or whatever.
One of my favorite examples of that point is the account of the 20th century Japanese Zen master who returned to his rural home town for a brief visit. As he and his jisha were walking up the main dirt street of the small town they heard wailing from one the houses. That meant that someone had died and that the traditional process of mourning was being observed. The master knew everyone in the town, and so he and his jisha followed the mourning cries to their source: they entered one of the houses and saw the body of the elder laid out in the front room, surrounded by wailing family and friends. The master sat with the family, whom he knew, and his jisha observed that tears were flowing down his master's face. After a short time the master rose, and with his jisha they resumed their walk up the street. The jisha turned to the master and said, "Roshi: you have a very advanced practice. I thought you were beyond such expressions of grief." The master replied, "It is because of my practice that I am able to grieve and also to go beyond it."
I remember, too, a conversation I had with Maezumi Roshi in Japan when a group of us were there six years ago. I remarked to Maezumi Roshi what a great liberation Zen was. He looked at me for a moment and then said quietly, "Now liberate yourself from liberation."
Buddhism teaches us to accept the reality of our emotional and moral and living relationshipsto accept them but not by attaching ourselves to them, since they are all impermanent, as everything is impermanentand since attaching ourselves to them will only lead us to a life of suffering. Nor, Buddhism says, should we detach ourselves from life in order to try to escape suffering, because we will not escape it but indeed will suffer more because we are then threatened by every vicissitude of life, including our own certain death.
The Dharma teaches us this: enter fully into the life of your mind and heart and live your life of supreme importance, with your eyes and mind and heart fully open and aware that everything we have and everything we are is impermanent and at the same time of supreme importance. Grieve when you are called to grieve, die when your time comes to die, and love and accept love in this wonderful, terrible, wonderful world.
Robert Tokushu Senghas is minister emeritus
of the Burlington, Vermont, UU Church, and senior Zen student of Daido Loori Roshi.
Pain is Inevitable.
Suffering is Optional.
by Michael Young
Every time we try to grab and hang on
We tear something loose.
So long as we continue to crave,
To grasp and hoard,
Just so long shall suffering continue
And healing elude us.
Every time we try to pull away
And withhold ourselves from one another,
We break our own connectedness to life.
So long as we submit to fear
And volunteer for anger,
Just so long shall violence continue
And peace be absent from our hearth.
Whenever our mind strays from the moment,
Leaking into a past of if-only,
Of resentment and guilt and nostalgia;
Into a future of striving and pretense,
Of anticipation and anxiety;
Into re-run and preview;
We come unplugged from who we are
And cut ourselves off from life.
Every time we start to grab
And each time we withhold,
We will notice, let go, and return
To be centered again in the awakened now.
Every time we start to grab
And each time we withhold, we will let go,
Opening the folded fist of striving,
And return once more to the moment.
Fully present to this moment,
Permitting it to flow through us
And slip away; here,
Possessing nothing at all,
All is ours.
Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.
Now that may be stating it a little pushier than most people would be comfortable with, but it is not a uniquely Buddhist or Zen idea. Other traditions have come at it from different angles, from differing analysis, and using different language. But the basic idea is common to most of the great religious teachers of our species.
Jesus said, "Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven and all these things shall be added unto you." He said, "Take no thought for the morrow. Let the evils of the day be sufficient there to." He also said, "Be ye perfect as your father in heaven is perfect." Then he adds the next line, which the moralists always leave out ". . . for He makes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike.
"St. Paul says, in his letter to the church at Phillippi, "Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these things."
The same idea as in the Zen aphorism is in the Power of Positive Thinking material albeit in a somewhat distorted fashion. It is part of the kernel of truth in the New Age notion that you create your own reality. The problem with most of the formulations of it is that they seem to be saying that your suffering is your own damned fault.
Suffering is NOT our fault. It is not that we choose to suffer. It is that no one has ever taught us how to choose not to. Not that we opt for it, but that we don't opt not.
There is a way not to suffer. Most of us don't know it. Or, knowing it, don't believe it's possible for us.
Or, we reject it because we demand to be shut of both pain and suffering or we're not interested.
Or, we reject it because it is couched in language that seems to demand thatlike the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderlandwe must believe at least six impossible things before breakfast.
Or, because it asks of us some discipline; and we humans are notorious for presuming to prefer the comfort of familiarity, even if it happens to hurt.
Or, because it is a religious idea, and if I can't do it immediately I must lack faith; and besides, I am not a religious person.
Or, we ask, "Why me ?" As if we were somehow singled out for unique and special treatment that no one else has ever experienced. Indeed, for some of us, our special chosenness for suffering may be the only specialness we feel.
There is a story in the Buddhist literature about a lady who comes to the Buddha to ask that her suffering be taken away, for her child has just died. Buddha says to her, "I will take your suffering away; but first I want you to go through the village and ask until you find someone who has never lost a loved one."
She goes through the village asking, "Anyone not have someone die ?" She comes back to the Buddha and says, "Thank you."
But there is a way not to suffer. It may be possible to hear it anew by hearing it from a different point of view. This is one of the values of inter-religious studies. It often gives us alternate language, ideas, ways of looking and saying, that open up things we already know in some new ways.
Siddhartha Gautama Shakyamuni Buddha began with the recognition that all life entails pain. From the pain of birth to the pain of death; accident, injury, disease, aging, dying. But also hurt feelings, disappointment, not getting what you want . . . and getting it. Fear of what will or won't happen. And also loss; all of the ways in which those ragged holes get torn in the fabric of our lives and the poignant pain of the missing, missing other. The death, abandonment, leaving and changing of loved ones. And, of course our empathy and compassion for all of the above when they happen to those with whom we identify.
Buddha recognized that suffering is the result of our habits of mind in responding to that pain. It is not the pain that causes the suffering. It is our habits of mind in responding to pain that causes the suffering. The point of Buddhist transcending of suffering is not anaesthesia. Unfortunately, much that passes for a description of Buddhist thought in our culture for years has seen Buddhism as a way being totally indifferent, of not emotionally responding. Buddhism is portrayed as a kind of emotional anaesthesia that avoids all problems by simply not letting yourself become involved in them at all.
It is not a question of getting yourself not to feel pain anymore. Indeed, our usual response to pain, the indulging, wallowing in it, grasping . . . or pushing away, all produce suffering. But these responses also tend to numb us. And, in some ways, this is what we are after in the wallowing, obsessing, the grasping and pushing away. We are seeking the numbing that leaves us not feeling the pain so acutely. In Buddhism, transcending suffering may well result in our feeling the pain that is inevitable even MORE acutely. Hence, the centrality in Buddhism of compassion, not indifference. But, if it means feeling pain more acutely, it also means feeling JOY more acutely. For, the anesthesia we have the habit of doing to ourselves to shut off our pain results also in shutting off muchif not allof the playfulness and joyousness of life.
So, how do you do it ? How do you not opt for suffering ? If pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional, how do you exercise your option NOT to suffer ? The discipline involvedand there IS discipline involvedis not some alien, exotic or esoteric act. You are not required to believe ANYTHING. You have only to DO it.
However, it can sound like there is a lot of stuff you have to believe when the discipline is couched in the terms of Eastern Religion. Many a religious entrepreneur couches it so on purpose in their own particular esoteric language on the interesting assumption that you wouldn't buy it without that glitzy wrapping. Just so, many people have bought the sizzle and never tasted the steak.
There are two parts to this discipline. If you do only the first part, the result is mere happiness. If you do both, the result is joy.
Each of you have already experienced part of it. You have all, at some time or other, had a pain. Something hurt ! And, for reasons beyond your control, you were distracted from it. Later you realized that while you were distracted from it, the pain went away. That's the key: Learning to make that shift of attention voluntary and conscious.
The habit of mind to which most of us, most of the time, are prone is to cast our attention upon the wind. It flits here. It flies there. It flees into the past to savor old wounds.
My father had a gold tooth. I was fascinated with it. I said, "How do I get a gold tooth?" He said, "It's easy to get a gold tooth. All you have to do is, when one of your teeth falls out, don't put your tongue in the space. . . and you'll get a gold tooth." Isn't this what we so often do with our cherished old hurts ? We just keep sticking the tongue into the space.
Our attention flees into the future to fret about possible new hurts; wrapping our lives in layer after layer of cottony anxiety, might-be's and might-have-beens, re-runs and pre-views. One of the things our attention does with marvelous efficiency is that it locks on pain and sticks like glue. Most of us have never considered disciplining it because we have mistaken that flighty, obsessive "drunken monkey" for WHO WE ARE. But it's not who we are. It is simply one function of your brain, and you CAN control it ! You're just not in the habit of doing so.
That's the first step. When pain happens, NOTICE it. It's a signal. A piece of information. Hear it. Do what is appropriately do-able, if anything. If you are sitting on a tack, get off the tack ! And don't sit down again until you have removed it.
Having done the do-able, RELEASE the pain. You heard and responded to the message. You do not have to run it again and again like an old tape. You heard it. You responded. Now, let go of it.
And finally, SHIFT your attention somewhere else. Put it on what you need to do next and do that with full awareness.
That's it. Notice, Release, Shift. It works. And it works immediately. Oh, not forever. Some pains return and you'll have to Notice, Release and Shift your attention again. And like any habit or skill, you'll get better at it the more you practice it; and, if you don't practice it, you won't get better at it. But you don't have to wait until all the habits of suffering have been overcome, until you've finally reached enlightenment and Nirvana.
This is one of the excuses we give ourselves for avoiding the discipline involved in this kind of change. We say, "Well, yeah. I could become a monk somewhere and invest my whole life and I'd finally get to the place where people talking cross to me wouldn't hurt my feelings anymore; but that's a lot of investment." So we don't do it.
I said earlier that there are two pieces. That's the first piece:
Notice, Release, Shift attention.
The second is like unto it. That is:
Move your attention off yourself.
There is a rare disease wherein the victim literally doesn't feel pain. The sensors that we take for granted in fingers, skin and innards don't send their usual message. It is not a blessing; it is life threatening. Lepers and hemophiliacs have similar problems. These people have to be taught and learn a regular discipline of checking themselves to be sure that they have not inadvertently injured themselves. In a momentif unnoticedthey could bleed to death. So they must repeat the discipline as a ritual many times during a day.
But most of us don't have to do that ! You can trust the pain. Put it on automatic. It will BEEP! you. Constantly monitoring our own mere happiness we only notice when we're not. Watching always for lack, all we see is lack. Especially when you're in one of those moods when every single deficit you can possibly imagine seems to flow effortlessly right into your mind.
Move your attention off yourself and onto other people, onto other activities, onto almost anything other than self-monitoring. Lose yourself in something. Sound familiar ? There are two pieces. Move your attention off your pain. Move your attention off your self. The first tends to take away the suffering. The second tends to keep it away. The first yields mere happiness, which doesn't last. The second yields JOY, which does.
Pain is inevitable. We will not escape pain. All of that list we began with . . . will still happen. The Jobs of this world will still sit on the ash heap trying to figure out why it is that pain has come to them. Instead, neither grasping our pain, nor pushing it away both ways of obsessing and wallowingwe can OPT for less suffering.
Not no pain. But very likely less pain.
We will still die. As Edna St. Vincent Millay says, "I know that I must die, and this I will do for death: I will die. But no more. I am not in his employ."
We will still get sick. But very likely less often and less severely. It is pretty clear these days that our own habits of mindthose downer, negative, obsessed with lack and deficit mental attitudeshave the ability to cripple our own body's natural healing mechanism. The discipline I have described is one of the techniques used in pain management clinics. In different language, it is one of the ways taught various places for boosting your body's immune response.
We will still age. But we need not stop being alive. There has, indeed, been observed a very high correlation between those who in old age are still alert, attentive and embracing life, and staying engaged, active, involved with other people.
With our attention off ourselves, we will even be far less easily offended or have our feelings hurt. And when we do, we will know whose problem it is.
Pain is inevitable. Suffering is a set of habits of mind that we have unconsciously and passively learned for how we will respond to those inevitable pains that life throws our way. Because they are learned, we can learn a different set. We are incredibly efficient learning machines. If I didn't know it before, doing the parenting thing all over again with my grandson, Jot, is reminding me.
In the past, we learned those habits along with the air we inhaled; from parents, each other, the culture out there, from what seemed to work once upon a time. It is possible to take control of your own attention and fairly quickly learn to free your own attention from that flighty wind that flits it here and there. You can free it from that tendency to focus on hurt and pain and lack.In that moving of your own attention off the pain, and finally off oneself, is the opportunity to become aware of who we really are and how we are really connected; and then to learn to live out of that awareness.
In meditation as in life,
we are forever being drawn
into a past of if-only,
of guilt, of nostalgia;
Into a future of anxiety,
Into re-run and pre-view
And we are forever having to let go
And return to be centered in the moment. Mike Young
Michael Young is minister of the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu, Hawaii.
IS THE SPIRITUAL RATIONAL?
By Donald L. Keefauver
One of the things that attracted me to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Hendersonville, (NC), was its appeal to my rational orientation. I guess I have always been more rational than spiritual. When I would attend the Sunday morning services here, I liked the rational, reasonable, informational and logical kinds of talks that I would hear. While some talks did not focus on a topic of my interest, I liked the modus operandi. It appealed to my sense of universal, basic goodness. I felt I was being nourished and I was growing... spiritually.
Someone might ask, "How can the rational help you to grow spiritually?"
It does seem almost like a conflict in terms, doesn't it? We tend to think of these as diametrically opposed camps...like the conservatives and the liberals.
We were talking about this in our Friday morning meditation/study group. One lady spoke up and said, "for me the rational is spiritual."
"Huh!" some of us responded. And the more we talked about it, the more we were in agreement. Yes, the rational can be very spiritual. It is inspiring to me to learn new information that opens new windows of insight on just about anything, but especially if it deals with something that I am interested in.
Some years ago, I began attending a meditation group that focused on healing and meditation. Many in the group were pretty much "New Agers," of which I knew practically nothing. I'm afraid I was pretty much a fly in their ointment, but they kept insisting that they appreciated my logical, rational input. I admired their non-judgmental spirit and willingness to accept me as a part of their fellowship.
After about two years with them, I felt I needed something a bit more rational. This prompted me to start the Friday morning meditation/study group at the UU Church which I had been attending.
When I was asked to lead the UU retreat at "The Mountain" in western North Carolina with the proviso that they would like to have something "more spiritual," I consented. They gave me almost a year to prepare so I began asking around what they thought "more spiritual" meant. Here are some responses:
want to feel like I've been to church.
want sermon, not a lecture.
want something inspiring.
want something that will help me through the week.
don't want anything political or controversial.
want something that will make me feel good.
need more emotion in our service and in our lives.
need something beyond the rational.
never deal with anything intuitive.
never hear anything about love.
Probably no one would want to own all of these, but most of us would probably find some of these applicable to our own sense of what's spiritual.
I remember one man saying that the spiritual gave him a sense of being connected with everything...a sense of his own connectedness and belonging.
That to me is very basic. The opposite would make one feel like something of an alien. To feel alien is to feel like one is in a hostile environment. We would not feel a kinship with each other or the universe in which we live. We would always be struggling to survive. We would be defensive and unfriendly. To say this would dampen our spirits would be an understatement.
Conversely, one who felt a sense of connectedness and belonging is more likely to cherish and nourish his or her social, spiritual, and physical universe. In turn, his or her social, spiritual, and physical universe would nourish him. They would have a symbiotic relationship; each benefiting from the other.
Unitarian Universalist seem to be shy about talking about the spiritual or even admitting that they are spiritual beings.
John Hassler Dietrich, a brilliant UU minister in Spokane, Washington, writes, I realize now how utter reliance upon science and reason and my contempt for any intuitive insights and intangible values which are the very essence of art and religion, was a great mistake,...and very short sighted and arrogant."
Abraham Maslow, in his book, "Religions, Values and Peak Experiences," charged that "we make no basic place in our system for the mysterious, the unknown, the unknowable, the dangerous-to-know, or the ineffable." He goes on to cite our mistrust of the "inexact, the illogical, the metaphorical, the mythic, the symbolic, the contradictory or conflicted, the ambiguous, and the ambivalent. Consequently, he says, the liberal religious and semi religious groups exert...little influence even though their members are the most intelligent and capable sections of the population..."
One criticism that I have heard of liberal churches is that they sometimes become like the fundamentalist churches. They just call their biases by different names. We are criticized for not being more open minded with respect to spiritual values and possibilities. We all hope that liberal and open mindedness are synonymous. But there are those who say that this is not necessarily the case.
After ten years as a research chemist, Bill Houff became a Unitarian Universalist minister. He served four liberal churches over the past quarter century. He is a social activist, meditation teacher, outdoors man, photographer, and carpenter. He believes that spiritual growth is our primary task. he has written the book, "Infinity in Your Hand" with sub-title, "A guide for the spiritually curious."
We studied this book in our Friday morning meditation/study group for six months. Bill Houff helps us to appreciate what spirituality is and makes a good case for its importance in the UU Church.
Someone asked Houff one Sunday morning if he was going to boil down some of his thoughts on spiritual concerns to a few practical rules. Now that sounds like a typical UU request, doesn't it? After going home and thinking it over he came up with these three rules:
1. Pay attention
3. Non attachment
Even Emerson talked about the spiritual rule of paying attention when he wrote:
These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or better ones; they are for what they are...There is no time for them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present.
William Blake, perhaps the best known of our mystical poets writes:
To see a world in a grain of sand
and a Heaven in a wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
and Eternity in an hour.
For the Buddhist, the secret of life is in paying attention. This is why they so strongly emphasize the need for meditation. This way they learn to let go of the past, don't worry about the future, but discipline themselves to see all the beauty and wonder of the present. Pay attention! Keep the mind open. Consider new information without bias, prejudice or preconceived notions. Be willing to let the information change and remold you.
Love tends to be a nonsense word for me. It means so many radically different things. Who know what love means? Romantic love seems so real and wonderful when we are in love. But how soon it withers and dies and becomes the impetus of all kinds of heinous and hateful crimes. Sometimes I think it is a trick that nature plays on us just to get us to procreate. And if we are too old for the latter, love pretends we aren't.
It is true though, if one could just stay in love, the world would be beautiful, we would know no enemies, we would be at our best all the time.
Love, for Bill Houff meant that we were interconnected...part of a larger whole. We recognize our kinship to each other, identify with each other, walk in his or her shoes for a mile or more. Each person is an extension of ourselves.
In fact, the whole universe is an extension of ourselves. We embrace all of life with a sense of belonging and appreciation. It is easy to see how this kind of love would rule out hatred, contempt for others, self-contempt, greed, and a whole multitude of sins.
But, with this kind of love, it might be a bit difficult for us to understand non-attachment. If we embrace our world and are interconnected, how can we be non-attached? This is doubly hard to understand if we tend to think of love as possessive. Some people cannot think of loving something without possessing the object of love.
But if love is not possessing but appreciating, we have no conflict. If love is what we are, rather than dependent upon some object outside of ourselves, we have no problem with love and non-attachment. Objects or persons outside of ourselves can inspire, delight, and stimulate us to great joy. Non-attachment can let them go and be themselves without the need for our attaching ourselves. Attachment breeds greed and makes us defensive and jealous.
I have suspected for years that people in general tend to be more influenced by their emotions than by their sense of reason. I hope this doesn't offend anyone, especially one who likes to think of himself as purely rational. I believe we become attached to reason through our emotions. Then we add to the power of our attachment, when we become fond of our rational process and cling to it like a fair maiden. It isn't easy to see this in the abstract, but if we would think of some rational conclusion that we have embraced, we will see it more clearly.
Reason and emotion get so mixed up that they are inseparable. I think this is why we hear people say, "I never argue with anyone about religion or politics."
I am not suggesting that the rational and spiritual are the same thing. What I am asking is, is it reasonable or rational to believe that the spiritual has a place in our rational approach to understand life. At times, the rational and the spiritual seem clearly separate. But just as often, I find that they are inseparable and the distinction is very fuzzy to say the least. In some real sense, the whole process of thinking and reasoning might be called spiritual. Similarly, feelings such as fear and even love have such close ties to our rationality, they are inseparable.
It seems to me that when people talk about something spiritual in their church, they are thinking more about what helps them to relate to their own highest ideals. For some it might be God or it might be some affirmation of their own hierarchy of values, like family, friends, home, good memories, nostalgia or their own sense of worth. Some good common sense or something rational can be very inspiring to the rationally oriented like myself. They/we will get this not only from a sermon or speech that is perceived to be very spiritual, but from other rubrics in the worship service; the prayers, meditations, hymns, liturgies and from a host of friends and other people that affirm their beliefs in these spiritual components.
Some of these rubrics can be a real obstacle for the rationalists just as the lack of same can leave the spiritually inclined feeling as though the service was a bit anemic.
But just as the New Agers were a bit too far out for me, I must not assume that I, therefore, am not a spiritual person. Or, if some one is giving a boring lecture for the scientist, I must not assume that I am not a rationalist.
Surprisingly, one my colleagues in ministry told me that I was the most spiritual person that he ever met. I was dumbfounded. Perhaps it would be healthy for us to accept the degree to which we are all spiritual and rational people. Labels tend to get in our way, especially if we are judging ourselves or someone else in a less than friendly way.
Alan Watts is quoted as saying,
"The most spiritual people are the most human people. They are natural and easy in manner; they give themselves no airs; they interest themselves in ordinary everyday matters, and are not forever talking and thinking about religion. For them there is no difference between spirituality and usual life, and to their awakened insight the live of the most humdrum and earth-bound people are as much in harmony with the infinite as their own."
I think the Dalai Lama said it right. If you were to boil it down to one word, in would be "kindness." Just be kind.
Donald L. Keefauver is a retired United Methodist minister, member of the Yellowstone Conference, presently a member of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Hendersonville, NC. He conducts a weekly meditation/study group and also has organized a group of people interested in the Institute of Noetic Sciences.
Notes from UUBF-L
We have a new electronic discussion list called UUBF-L! (see Editorial Insights for how to subscribe) In the future, I'll be printing here some of the conversation worthy of a wider audience. I was particularly taken by this message by Bruce Burrill <email@example.com> responding to a message by Joel Baehr <firstname.lastname@example.org>. His description of a moment of awakening is very interesting.
> "My own experience of Dzogchen harmonizes very much with my early Christian mystical experience and training, and is consistent with
Ekhardt's saying that 'God is found by substraction, not addition.' Subtracting - letting go - uncovers dharmakaya - why not call it God? and many details flow - experiences, grace, freedom, and so forth." <
What is in a word? Why call it god, why color it with a word so laden with so much that really has little to do with it? It is by no accident that dharmakaya is defined by shunyata, emptiness.
> "i usually don't talk about God, having been turned off to exoteric Christian thinking. But my Buddhist practice, far from reinforcing the atheistic strain in me, connects me deeply with an early childhood sense of self and no-self which in my case wedded deep, essential pre-thought experiences with basic Christian concepts of God as love, as mercy, etc. I don't experience it as emotional, as Bruce suggests, but a flow of deeper, subtle sensations in the process of 'dissolving'." <
What I am referring to as "emotional" are the emotional actions of worship, reverence, etc. What you are suggesting kicks the whole discussion into a different level, the level of deep experience and how it is understood, colored by our framework.
As a child I grew up in a Catholic environment, taught by Benedictines, who, despite their unwitting efforts to do otherwise, provided me with a rich spiritually charged environment of Latin, Gregorian chants and ritual. I had a number of mystical, transporting experiences which were couched very much in the Catholicism with which I was steeped. Oneness with god, a sense of its infinity and its complete immanence. I tried once as a small child to talk about this and quickly learned to keep my face shut.
When I discovered Buddhism, it was a feeling of deeply intimate familiarity, like coming home after a long arduous trip. God was still very much part of my framework. As I began my exploration, I really did not know that god was not part of the Buddhist framework. Over the years, as I worked with Buddhism, confronting myself with its insights and teachings, much to my surprise I found that god no longer had much to say to me, that it no longer had any relevance. Over the years I took time to see what Buddhism had to say about god, and what I found certainly does not suggest that we are dealing with a theistic system of thought or experience. And I see no point in interpreting Buddhist doctrinal terms in terms of god. It is far too problematic. Going back to the question of experience colored by framework, let me elaborate at length in terms of experience.
On an October evening about 15 years ago, standing with my girl friend on an east facing cliff, I turned to the east and I saw the full moon just breaching the horizon a thin slit of light with a soft aura, and I said to her "look." She does. The night air, the sounds of the night, the silhouetted barn and silos, the sense of love and erotic feeling between the two of us, and this great orange-yellow light hit us with a velvet touch, exploding us into the universe, and we were one one each other, with the light, the sounds of the crickets, the wind and the leaves it is blowing, the blue blackness of the sky, the distance of the stars which was no distance at all, the smell of earth beneath our feet, the beating of our hearts, the swirl of energy that were our bodies, the swirl of the energies of it all one. It was all one, no time, an eternity that lasted an instant. It ended almost as abruptly as it began. Estimating from the position of the moon in the sky, the "actual" time elapsed was about 45 minutes, and I turned to her saying, " Hmmm, that was nice."
And we went home. Of course she was completely blown away. I said nothing about it, knowing she would when ready. Two days later she was able to talk about it. She wanted know what that was that she experienced, and did we both experience it. Her descriptions matched mine. "What is this experience to you," I asked? She went on about god, oneness with god, for how could anything so beyond the bounds of the ordinary be anything else but god. My only question to her was this sense of god a part of the experience, or was it something that she was adding to the experience? After some reflection, she agreed it was not part of the experience.
What does this experience signify, what does it point to, what does it mean? Nothing. What was it? A very powerful, spontaneous samadhi experience with some kundalini stuff going on which allowed for the mutuality of the experience that makes me no better nor worse than I was before I had it. And if I took that experience as being somehow indicative of the nature of the universe, I would conclude "it is all one" in some sort of Vedantin monistic way; however, it is more reasonable to assume that the experience is indicative of the nature of the samadhi experience which collapses the sense of "I" into a sense of oneness. And certainly in my earlier Catholic days, this would have been colored very much differently.
On the other hand, during a vipassana retreat I was suffering from muscle spasms in my back. Very, very painful, and I struggled with it greatly. Joseph Goldstein said to me that I should use the pain as the object of awareness. Damn, the obvious is stated, but sometimes that's all we need is to be told the obvious. My next chance to sit was during the evening Dharma talk. As usual the pain started as I assumed my sitting posture. I had all I could do to keep from bolting out of the room to get away from the pain of the posture. With no small effort I was able to bring attention to the pain. As the pain became the object of my attention, everything else was blocked out. Intense, deep concentration. I heard nothing, was aware of nothing going on around me. There was just pain. Once I was able to establish awareness on in the pain, I was able to relax into it. The mindfulness became clear and very precise. The pain which had been a solid rock like thing became a play of sensation changing at an incredible rate, and the closer I attended to the change the clearer it became. There was no thinking about this, just attending to what was happening. As the muscles spasmed sending out a paroxysm of pain, there was sense of suffering, of contracting from the pain it was not as I wanted it to be. As the attention become more precise, the pain and suffering were seen as separate but inter-related things, the "I" was an add-on to the pain giving it the sense of suffering and the contracting from that "I" do not want this pain. In the simple act of attending to the pain, this whole dynamic concatenation became clear and obvious, and with that insight the next spasm was not painful. It was, rather, a play of very, very rapidly changing sensations that was empty of a sense of "I." It was even empty of the sense of the concept of pain. The sense of "I" that arose too appeared to be changing in response the changing conditions, and it, in its arising and changing, too appeared to be empty. With that there was no resistance, no more contraction. There came a remarkable relaxation of my body, and my attention became very broad and open, attentive to the rise and fall of whatever came into its purview. The limitations of my body became transparent, there being no inside, no outside. It was all very ordinary: there was the Dharma talk that was happening, the coughing, shuffling of the other students, and the stuff happening "inside" of me. All just stuff happening with incredible rapidity and incredible clarity. It just was, empty, clear rising and falling. Suchness. Openness.
After the sitting, as I got up to leave the meditation hall I had the thought, "that was great, I have to do it again." I had to laugh, but nowhere was there in this a sense of oneness (even a oneness of a whole), either during or after. It would have easy to impart to the rise and fall of experience a sense outside orderliness rather than the interdependent rise and fall referring to nothing beyond itself. An experience such as this is so outside the ordinary sense of self it would not be unusual to attribute the sense of suchness as being other, something outside, but this is why in emptiness there is no form, feeling, perception, etc.
I don't relate these experience in order that you think what a great yogi I am; rather, I relate them because they illustrate my points, and because they are fun. It is always interesting to read about others experiences and I don't mind sharing them within limits.
So after reading all of this, what? Do I disprove your experience? No. What I am trying to point out is that experience can be colored. The whole function of emptiness, of the Buddha's enterprise, is to remove the coloration, to leave us with what is, assuming that that is possible.
Bruce Burrill is a 49 year old rehab RN who has been a Buddhist for 30 years, studying with several different teachers in different traditions as well as doing university study. His interest is in early Buddhism, but he'll readily admit that some of his best practice is done on his Harley. He is not presently a UU member, but is seriously considering it.