Thursday, June 1, 2017

Beacon on the Hill?


The shades that color our vision

Just prior to the last U.S. presidential election I wrote this post, which I think may be germane again. I wrote, “In a few days the American citizenry will go to the polls and vote to elect the next President of the United States. Most people have already decided how they will vote and little between now and then is likely going to alter their perspectives. Thus this message will undoubtedly have little if any effect on their future choices. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to say something concerning vision that could make a small difference.” Sometimes (rarely) a tiny message can have a huge impact. Little things are not always insignificant. For example, the Botulinum toxin is possibly the most acutely toxic substance known. Four kg of the toxin, if evenly distributed, would be more than enough to kill the entire human population of the world.

Some years ago my teacher said, “A single drop of rain, waters 10,000 pines.” His point was that something as tiny as one drop of rain has the potential to bring about significant growth. The words I offer here are like that drop of rain: tiny but intended to stimulate expanded spiritual insight that will bring about fragrance as pleasant as a pine. I am not so delusional to imagine that this message will come close to that potency but I offer it anyway with the hope that goodness will result.

How any of us sees the world affects the choices we make. Few people are even aware of the nature of their own biases and distortions that shape their vision, but we all have our own versions. We just assume that our views are correct without realizing that we are looking through lenses colored by these erroneous perspectives. The great Zen Master Bassui Tokushō instructed his students to first awaken the mind that reads and then they would understand what they were reading. Of course, that advice took root in few then and even fewer today. We all assume that our visions are clear and we see things as they truly are.

I make no claim to perfect vision. I know I have much of value to learn so in a certain sense my vision is no better or worse than anyone else. But I have lived a long time and been exposed to parts of the world I never imagined as a boy. I have lived with many people, both rich and poor, from all walks of life and read the wisdom of great poets, prophets, and sages. All of that has entered my mind as a chef might throw together ingredients into a pot to create a tasty meal.

If I had to reduce the teachings of great sages down to a short sentence it would be that we are all one, none better or worse than anyone else and how we understand ourselves determines everything. In the words of Jesus, what does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and suffers the loss of his own self? Or what exchange shall a man give for his soul?

Our self-understanding runs in one of two directions: either towards selfishness or selflessness. One way leads to increasing fear, alienation, hostility and greed. The other towards courage, equanimity, unity and goodness toward all. I don’t have much use for dogmatic religion even though I am an ordained Christian Minister, have studied and put into practice the words of great men. I don’t regard myself as a socialist or a communist either, but I do agree with Karl Marx who said that “Religion is the opium of the people.” And I agree because to most religious people I have ever known, their dogma has turned them into self-serving, self-righteous, unthinking robots more interested in cherry-picking their holy texts to serve their own predetermined agendas than shaping their lives around the teachings of their own pioneers. The new Pope offers some hope in restoring his followers to the proper place of paying heed to the teachings of Christ to love without discrimination. And the life of Nelson Mandela likewise serves as another beacon.

I fear, however, for our country at this point in history because we have become polarized robots who have run contrary to the advice of Jesus: we have traded away our souls for dwindling wealth. Instead of becoming more and more the United States of America we have become increasingly disunited, caring more for preserving and protecting selective hides than for becoming magnanimous. Our nobility of spirit, that made us into a shining beacon, is growing dim and we routinely waste our dwindling resources in such endeavors of fighting more and seeking peace less.

Maybe this small message, so late in the game, will crack the thin façade of greed and open the hearts and minds of many to what we are losing by our lust for ever increasing exclusivity. I hope so but my hope, like that shining beacon, is growing dim.
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