Updated On — 14th Jul, 2017
We all need each other
It’s been an eventful past couple of weeks. Two weeks ago we experienced yet another horror with the Charleston killing of 9 people as they were worshipping in what we all would take to be the place of Ultimate Security, their church. Mysterious fires in African-American churches in the south continue this week.
Last week, the Pope hosted a visit to the Vatican of 46 Buddhist teachers, educators and leaders who were unofficially representing so-called “Western” Buddhism in the USA. Romereports.com, a news outlet covering all this Papal, mentioned that “Pope Francis clearly enjoyed the event, as he was beaming on his way out of the meeting.”
In a meeting hosted by the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops this week, the Pope spoke to the group and said:
This is a visit of fraternity of dialogue and of friendship. And this is good. This is healthy. In this moment in our world which is wounded by wars and hatred these small gestures are seeds of peace and fraternity. I really thank you for this. And may God bless you.
This brought tears to my eyes, having been raised in a very devout Catholic environment.
Yes, we are different from each other
It’s really funny how different people are — men are completely different from women; it’s amazing that we can’t even talk to each other! Older folks are different from younger folks. People interested in spirituality are different from those who aren’t.
We differ in socio-economic conditions, political views, moral notions, and the list goes on — but at the same time there is something very much the same about all of us.
The hugely popular Christian pastor Rick Warren recently made this very important statement:
“Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”
These words from two very different Christian leaders with huge followings, the Pope and Rick Warren, highlight what we who identify to some degree or other with the core Buddhist teachings aspire to practice every day.
We are certainly different from each other in many ways.
But are we really?
Although we are all so different, yes, In many ways we are all exactly the same. We are born, we die, we love somebody or hope to love somebody. Everybody has something that matters to them in just the same way. Even if what matters one person is radically different from what matters to another, the way in which things matter to us is exactly the same.
The Dalai Lama is fond of saying “Everyone just wants happiness and doesn’t want suffering.”
It just so astounding to me how much we are all alike and how little we notice this. When we meet each other our tendencies seem to be wary, to wonder about the differences, to wonder if the other person is acceptable to us or if we are accepted it acceptable to them. I think that’s what we notice most.
What’s just so incredibly important for me has been to actually feel with my own heart that loving and caring for others, the heart of both the Christian and Buddhist paths, can actually be learned and cultivated
It’s not just that you are either have it or you don’t, you’re born with it or not, it is or isn’t in your genes or family upbringing.
We can actually walk a path and perform daily exercises that build our compassion muscles, to actually cultivate altruistic joy and compassion, even if we feel misery and despondency.
This just blows me away when I reflect on it.
Jesus and the Buddha on Love
I reflect on the most important teachings I received in my Mahayana training days – the cultivation of bodhicitta, or the desire spiritual awakening. Now this doesn’t sound like compassion, this spiritual awakening business, unless you look a little deeper into the philosophy.
In this tradition “spiritual awakening” equals awakening to heartfelt concern for others, no matter who they are, period.
On first glance, this doesn’t sound as flashy as liberation from our troubling inner burdens or, sigh, experiencing limitless and unspeakable bliss.
Perhaps a terse Mahayana response would be something like “deal with it.”
Now the point here is not to favor any soteriological position over another, just to bring home this point, again — that is what spiritual awakening actually is, awakening to heartfelt concern for others, no matter who they are.
In the Christian view, Jesus died to save humanity from suffering, “he stretched his arms open wide and died for the salvation of all”, and absolutely no one was excluded from that sacrifice.
We really do need each other just as we are
This is one way I began to see, from my own Catholic background, to see that any selfish wish for my own cool spiritual jollies can never lead to genuine awakening, as it just leads to more and more narrowness and self-absorption, albeit on increasingly subtle levels, often below the horizon of conscious awareness.
Spiritual awakening is dropping this separateness, based on the deep insight that none of us is alone and that we all need each other. We can’t any more simply favor ourselves over others, even when these feelings arise.
We get to see really deeply in our own hearts just how painful these feelings of mistrust and wariness really are.
And the Pope’s recent, bold encyclical on climate change brings this home: not only do we need each other spiritually, but indeed, even to survive in the coming years.
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