Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Art Of Doing Nothing

From Tricycle:

The Art of Doing Nothing

Larry Rosenberg is the founder of the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center (CIMC) and a guiding teacher of Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts. His new book, Breath by Breath, was recently published by Shambhala. Born to Russian-Jewish immigrants in 1932, Rosenberg grew up in Brooklyn; his father, who had Marxist leanings, came from fourteen generations of rabbis, but thought “that only an idiot goes into religion.”

Rosenberg went to Brooklyn College, and received his Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Chicago. A highly coveted job in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School followed. But this turned out to be a “staggering” disappointment and he returned to the University of Chicago, where he began to experiment with hallucinogens. During a trip to Mexico in the 1960s, he met a cowboy turned holy man who told him, “Don’t waste your time with drugs; you should start meditating.”

Thirty-five years later, Rosenberg is sitting in a wing chair in CIMC, talking to Tricycle’s contributing editor Amy Gross about the evolution of his own practice.

Tricycle: Who was your first teacher?

Rosenberg: Krishnamurti. I met him in 1968 while I was teaching at Brandeis University. Brandeis had this program where they’d invite a person to give talks for a week. I didn’t know who Krishnamurti was, but fortunately for me, no one else did either so we started taking walks and talking. I’d never met anyone so awake. I’d never been listened to so totally and I found it quite unnerving at first. Then, as I got to know him, I just felt so at home with him. I told him that I was a professor, but the whole academic thing was dying out from under me. I’d been extremely ambitious—on fire to get a Ph.D. and a good job—but now I thought the old cliché “publish or perish” should really be “publish and perish.”

Before Krishnamurti I’d never verbalized how I felt because I didn’t have the confidence. What he did that was invaluable was, he confirmed my perception. He said, “Just go on teaching and start paying attention to yourself. Start noticing how you actually live.” That’s a phrase he’d say over and over—“how you actually live.”

Tricycle: Where did you go from there?

Rosenberg: I started doing everything. Krishnamurti. Vedanta. I was on my way to India for a Sanskrit-Vedanta training program when a friend of mine introduced me to Seung Sahn, a Zen Master from Korea. I went on a retreat, and after that, there was no reason to go to India. I thought, “Boy, I’ve accomplished more in four days of meditation than in all the years of talking about texts.”

Tricycle: How did you know what you were trying to accomplish?

Rosenberg: I’d had a taste on drugs of a pristine clarity and a feeling of tremendous joy and peace and love. And once or twice I had it doing a primitive kind of meditation, the best I could do based on books and what Krishnamurti had said.

And that was the beginning of the end of my academic career. What I’d learned at Harvard was that I was looking for happiness in the wrong place, because if I couldn’t be happy at Harvard, where could I? And finally, the last two years or so at Brandeis I knew that I had to drop out of the university and go into this full-time.

Tricycle: How did you live after you dropped out?

Rosenberg: For about a year-and-a-half I just crashed in different places, including Asia. Somehow I always had a place. For a while I lived at Seung Sahn’s center near Providence, Rhode Island, wore the robes, and studied with him. He was grooming me to teach and I traveled with him as his aide.

Tricycle: What was your practice then?

Rosenberg: Mostly koans. And after three or four years he suggested that I spend a year at his monastery in Korea, which I did.

Tricycle: What led you from Korean Zen to vipassana?

Rosenberg: After Korea, I went back to the Zen Center, where there was a huge amount of ritual—chanting twice a day, bowing, robes, a stylized way of eating, so many ceremonies it seemed we were celebrating something every other week.

Then my close friend Jon Kabat-Zinn—we’ve gone through all these things together for thirty-five years—went on a vipassana retreat, and he pretty much grabbed me and said, “Larry, I found what you’ve been looking for.” Because I’d always say, “If we could only get rid of all this ceremony, all this stuff.” But I said, “Look, Jon, Zen is fine for me; I just want to stay here.” He said, “If I have to tie you up and throw you into my pickup truck, I’m going to take you on the next retreat.” So for my birthday he gave me a present of a retreat—it was led by Jack Kornfield.

Tricycle: And was it just what you were looking for?

Rosenberg: It was love at first sight. The retreat was basically sit-and-walk until you’re blue in the face. Breathing was the main method, and making mental notes. There was no chanting. There was no special way to eat except mindfully. Oh my God, what a relief! I didn’t realize how much I didn’t want to carry around all that Asian form and custom and just be an American guy who wanted to do this stuff.

The heart of the whole thing is understanding. Not intellectual understanding, although that’s a way to begin. It’s deeply seeing into yourself. And that to me is different from concentration, which can of course facilitate such clear seeing. Many things help you with concentration, like chanting or bowing, so they can be useful parts of practice. But finally, there is no substitute for insightful seeing or for understanding how you create suffering for yourself; and in the process—in seeing into and through it - how to let go of it. It’s a life of awareness. That’s my passion. Now, there’s a school of Zen that emphasizes just-awareness of what is, and I could easily have gone in that direction. That’s Soto Zen, and a practice called shikan-taza—just sitting—and when that ripens, that to me is mature practice. It’s nothing. You sit and you’re just totally attentive to what’s there. What I teach, anapanasati, leads to that, to more and more simplicity until finally we don’t need techniques and methods, even the breath. [Anapanasati is where breathing is used as an exclusive object of attention to develop concentrated focus; then awareness grounded in the breathing is used to see clearly into the impermenant and empty nature of all formations. Letting go into freedom emerges into insight. - LR] I don’t impose it on people. I let them come to it naturally. But for me, I’ve always been much more drawn to just awareness of the way things are. Krishnamurti - whose teaching is a brilliant modern commentary on the fundamental teaching of mindfulness—started me that way, and I’ve always come back to it.

Tricycle: It’s a hard way to start, don’t you think?

Rosenberg: I won’t say it’s impossible, but yes, I agree, it’s a hard way to start

The Art of Doing Nothing

Larry Rosenberg is the founder of the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center (CIMC) and a guiding teacher of Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts. His new book, Breath by Breath, was recently published by Shambhala. Born to Russian-Jewish immigrants in 1932, Rosenberg grew up in Brooklyn; his father, who had Marxist leanings, came from fourteen generations of rabbis, but thought “that only an idiot goes into religion.”

Rosenberg went to Brooklyn College, and received his Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Chicago. A highly coveted job in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School followed. But this turned out to be a “staggering” disappointment and he returned to the University of Chicago, where he began to experiment with hallucinogens. During a trip to Mexico in the 1960s, he met a cowboy turned holy man who told him, “Don’t waste your time with drugs; you should start meditating.”

Thirty-five years later, Rosenberg is sitting in a wing chair in CIMC, talking to Tricycle’s contributing editor Amy Gross about the evolution of his own practice.

Tricycle: Why did you open the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center?

Rosenberg: I’d been teaching at a bookstore two nights a week. And a lot of people started coming. And then they started saying we needed a center. I wasn’t thrilled with that. I had avoided certain kinds of responsibilities my whole life. But after a few years it became obvious that it would really be great if there was some place - IMS plus this urban place - because people were coming back from their long retreats at IMS and there was no place to practice. Also I was evolving a way of teaching that took daily life very seriously.

Tricycle: You mean in contrast to retreat time?

Rosenberg: Yes. The idea was that people could go off and do retreats and we’d keep the sitting practice alive and also encourage them to go back to their families, school, job, and then tell us about it. And we would respond not like therapists but from a dharma point of view. Could the practice be helpful to the work and the marriage and school, etc.? It's quite a challenge, one I welcome: What do these teachings have to offer in terms of how people can live in the world?

Tricycle: How did that differ from your own studies?

Rosenberg: Most of our teachers had been celibate monks from Asia. They had very little direct experience with women, some of them had never had a job or touched money, etc. - and they were giving us advice. To me, some of their advice seemed limited. Their advice to men about women - I’m making a bit of a joke about it, but it was sort of like: “Take care of the wife and kids so they’re adequately fed and housed and get some schooling, so they’re not a problem.” Basically it’s so that you can get on with the real thing, which is to sit. It isn’t seeing marriage itself or children or work as dynamic situations that have a lot of energy in them, that are quite challenging, and that if looked at in a certain way are not inferior to sitting as a way of growing spiritually.

Tricycle: That view westernizes the dharma, doesn’t it?

Rosenberg: Yes, I think Westerners lack respect for their own spiritual maturity. It’s as though Asia owns spirituality, and we’re these barbarians, beseeching, “Oh, Bhante, please come over and tell us how to live.” But I’ve been to Asia, and they’re just as screwed up as we are. And there’s some real wisdom in our culture; the West has a tradition, too, of compassion and wisdom. And some people who aren’t even religious have it. When I was in Asia I totally did whatever an Asian lay person would do - I have the deepest respect for this tradition - but Asia does not have a monopoly on kindness. In Asia, being a lay person is - from the point of view of meditational practice - considered second-class. I personally think that the monastic life does optimize your possibilities for breaking through to awakening. But it’s by no means a guarantee. Most monasteries are hardly crammed full of enlightened people.

But we need a teaching that addresses the lives we actually live. We do need to handle money. We are in relationships. We do need to eat more than once a day. The problem isn’t eating or sex or money; it’s that we don’t know how to use these energies. The monastic strategy is: Don’t touch it; it’s dangerous. So the monks don’t handle money, etc. To me that’s not in-and-of-itself particularly holy. It’s a strategy - a monastic strategy to get free. I’m all for it - if you’re going to be a monastic.

Tricycle: And for lay practitioners?

Rosenberg: Our challenge is to learn how to use money and food and relationship correctly and not to look at these realms as tainted. And I didn’t see fully adequate help coming from Asians. What I’ve learned, I’ve learned from the Buddha’s teaching of the Four Noble Truths and my own pain, from not knowing how to do these things.

Tricycle: Could you describe how your own practice has changed over the years?

Rosenberg: Throughout all sorts of different schools and practices, two things have survived. One is an abiding interest in the breath. And the other is just ordinary mind power, just awareness itself. That’s what I got from Krishnamurti, and it’s in all the Buddha’s teachings. It’s just to be attentive to the way things are. In Pali, the word for mindfulness is sati and one of the definitions of it is “that which sets things right.” I don’t know if you’ve seen this in the practice, but when mindfulness touches things, they’re less problematic or not a problem at all. It’s magical. What I learned from anapanasati was that the breath is not simply to calm yourself or steady yourself or develop concentration; it can nourish awareness throughout. You use the breath the way everyone else does—to calm down—but it stays with you as you investigate the body, feelings, and all the different mind states, and begin to see that they’re impermenant and lack an enduring core; they’re not self.

Tricycle: So the breath is like background music or—

Rosenberg: It helps keep you on target. It can sustain and strengthen the awareness. It can cut down unnecessary thinking and even eliminate thinking, for periods of time anyway. It’s particularly helpful with difficult emotions that are hard to observe. It’s like a soothing friend holding your hand as you walk into fear or loneliness or anger, encouraging you to stay with it. And if you feel like running away, observe that. And the breath is always there, in-out, in-out. In the communities I’m used to teaching in—highly educated, intellectual people who live complex lives, whose work involves coordinating many activities, the use of computers, social relations... their minds have become very, very complicated. Too complicated. For those people, the breath is a relief. It’s like, “Phew!”

Tricycle: What happens to you now when you sit?

Rosenberg: The breath is still there. But my practice now for the most part is doing nothing. I just sit there. I know it sounds dopey [laughs]. Typically I’ll start off with the breathing, but sometimes not. I get calm and clear pretty quickly. Sometimes I’ll just spend a whole sitting really deeply in samadhi, which is very useful, especially if I'm tired—tremendous energy comes from it. So I’m not investigating it; it’s not vipassana at all. I give exclusive attention to the in-and-out breathing. And it strengthens the mind. It’s like a sanctuary that you can drop into to get away from everything for a while. Even five minutes of conscious breathing, and I’m ready to do what has to be done in terms of people and work. So typically, I start off with the breath. And sometimes that’s all I’ll do. But ninety-nine per cent of the time, I just open the field of attention. If I had to put it into words, it’s learning the art of doing absolutely nothing. So you’re sitting there, attentive; and enjoying the show.

The Art of Doing Nothing

Larry Rosenberg is the founder of the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center (CIMC) and a guiding teacher of Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts. His new book, Breath by Breath, was recently published by Shambhala. Born to Russian-Jewish immigrants in 1932, Rosenberg grew up in Brooklyn; his father, who had Marxist leanings, came from fourteen generations of rabbis, but thought “that only an idiot goes into religion.”

Rosenberg went to Brooklyn College, and received his Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Chicago. A highly coveted job in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School followed. But this turned out to be a “staggering” disappointment and he returned to the University of Chicago, where he began to experiment with hallucinogens. During a trip to Mexico in the 1960s, he met a cowboy turned holy man who told him, “Don’t waste your time with drugs; you should start meditating.”

Thirty-five years later, Rosenberg is sitting in a wing chair in CIMC, talking to Tricycle’s contributing editor Amy Gross about the evolution of his own practice.

Tricycle: What’s “the show?”

Rosenberg: Whatever comes up. A thought. A sound. A sensation. You don’t reach out for anything. You just let life bring stuff to you. Or there’s silence. Many people have some ambivalence about silence; they fear it, or don’t value it. Because we only know ourselves through thinking and speaking and acting. But once the mind gets silent, the range of what’s possible is immeasurable. So first you taste the silence. Then you realize that it’s not a vacuum or dead space. It’s not an absence of the real stuff; it’s not that the real stuff is the doing, the talking, and all that. You get comfortable in it and you learn that it’s highly charged with life. It’s a very refined and subtle kind of energy. And when you come out of it, somehow you’re kinder, more intelligent. It’s not something that you manufacture—it’s an integral part of being alive. And it’s vast. We’ve enclosed ourselves in a relatively small space by thinking. It binds us in, and we’re not aware that we’re living in a tiny, cluttered room. With practice, it’s as if the walls of this room were torn down, and you realize there’s a sky out there.

Tricycle: Have your reasons for practicing changed over the years?

Rosenberg: I’d say that what got me into this doesn’t bear a lot of resemblance to why I do it now. The original motives were immature and romantic, having to do, at first, with wanting to get a natural organic high without the side effects of drugs. But after a while, getting high from meditation is beside the point. The point is getting free. That’s not only of benefit to you—I say this to people who think the practice is very self-centered: The greatest gift you can give to others is to become less of a problem through understanding yourself. We don’t know how to live together as human beings. To me, practice is not an act of ideology; it’s an act of intelligence or wisdom.

Tricycle: Is getting free the same as getting enlightened?

Rosenberg: If you say, “Am I practicing in order to get enlightened?” the answer is yes. But that sounds stupid to me. The process of liberation is right now. Anyone who has practiced for a while knows there are dramatic openings - that “Wow!” where you see things very clearly. It helps a lot when you have that. But throughout any ordinary day there are so many small ways where, if you pay attention, you can see how you’re suffering unnecessarily. Awareness sees it and in the seeing of it, there’s letting go and you’ve liberated yourself. So liberation isn’t just a goal. It’s actually a practice. You are liberating yourself in this moment—and that’s all we’ll ever have, these moments. If you have even a little glimpse of clear mind, or that in us which is untouched by any kind of cultural conditioning, it’s hard to settle for anything less. And terms like "enlightenment" or "awakening"—which I prefer—are important because sometimes people forget what this practice is really about. It's finally about enlightenment, about awakening, about liberation. It's not about making yourself happier. It's not liberation of the self, it's liberation from the self.

Tricycle: As we evolve an American Buddhism, do we need an alternative to the phrase “not-self?” We’re raised to develop an independent, strong self. I don’t know if Asians have an easier time with the idea of the end of ego.

Rosenberg: Ego is a universal thing. Egomania is wherever you look. It’s hard for everybody to understand this “not-self” stuff. I say, Are you willing to look at your mind and learn? See what happens when you’re an egomaniac. If you find that it’s not a skillful way to live, that you’re getting hurt over and over, this is why. But you have to see that yourself. It’s not a new ideology to adopt: “I believe in not-self.” So what? Beliefs are so easy to come by. That isn’t what the Buddha is saying. The Buddha is saying, “Investigate what you call your own personal identity, and find out what that really is.”

Tricycle: Are you different from when you started?

Rosenberg: I think there’s been improvement in behavioral qualities, personality. But what practice is about is something that is beyond measure, and if you practice, you will taste that. And it doesn’t mean that you will have a perfect personality if you taste awakening. People think that’s true. But you have to express yourself through the vehicle that you have. Maybe my packaging has improved, and I don’t think that’s trivial - I’m probably easier on the people in my life. But in another sense, I don’t want to overestimate it. There’s a story that I like very much. The Zen master Sawaki Roshi was walking with a disciple who described himself as a shy, awkward person. Sawaki Roshi was a very confident, charismatic person. So they were walking and the disciple said, “If I keep practicing with you for the next thirty years, will a weak person like me become stronger?” And his teacher said, “No. Meditation is useless. I was just born this way.” He was trying to make it not a means-end kind of thing. When people would ask Sawaki Roshi about the value of meditation, he sometimes says, “Oh, this sitting? It’s absolutely useless. But if you don’t do this useless thing wholeheartedly, your life will be useless.” Figure that one out. In a certain way you just practice. Don’t worry about “Am I getting better?” and the rest of it. Just practice dharma for its own sake and let things take care of themselves.

Tricycle: You’re suggesting that the changes wrought by practice are very subtle, but in your case, practice redirected your life.

Rosenberg: I think one of the things practice does is bring you to your own unique way of flowering. Some people are afraid, “If I meditate, will I have to quit my university life or end my marriage?” I don’t know. I think it shows you what’s true for you, and then it’s up to you to live that or betray it. You don’t have to leave the world. It’s not about being in or out of the world. You can be a monk and be ruled by ego.

Tricycle: Can you be a CEO and not ruled by ego?

Rosenberg: Why not? I think Buddha was a great CEO. Jesus was an amazing CEO. They were incredible in the way they mobilized people and orchestrated things, got a lot done in just one short life. I’m not saying that it’s easy but in principle, why not? The suffering isn’t in functioning as a CEO; it’s that you think you are a CEO. Dharma ultimately is about finding out that you’re absolutely no one. What a relief. When you’re no one, finally you’re real. I mean, you’re living from full presence rather than from all these representations of the self that you identify with: I’m a CEO! I’m a great editor! You’re more alive than you’ve ever been. And when you practice, you don’t have to wait a long time. We all have our moments of clarity, even now.

The Art of Doing Nothing

Larry Rosenberg is the founder of the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center (CIMC) and a guiding teacher of Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts. His new book, Breath by Breath, was recently published by Shambhala. Born to Russian-Jewish immigrants in 1932, Rosenberg grew up in Brooklyn; his father, who had Marxist leanings, came from fourteen generations of rabbis, but thought “that only an idiot goes into religion.”

Rosenberg went to Brooklyn College, and received his Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Chicago. A highly coveted job in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School followed. But this turned out to be a “staggering” disappointment and he returned to the University of Chicago, where he began to experiment with hallucinogens. During a trip to Mexico in the 1960s, he met a cowboy turned holy man who told him, “Don’t waste your time with drugs; you should start meditating.”

Thirty-five years later, Rosenberg is sitting in a wing chair in CIMC, talking to Tricycle’s contributing editor Amy Gross about the evolution of his own practice.

How Breathing Really Is

It is important to emphasize, in discussing the art of meditation (and the practice as you continue it becomes an art, with many subtle nuances), that you shouldn’t start out with some idea of gaining. This is the deepest paradox in all of meditation: we want to get somewhere - we wouldn’t have taken up the practice if we didn’t—but the way to get there is just to be fully here. The way to get from point A to point B is really to be at A. When we follow the breathing in the hope of becoming something better, we are compromising our connection to the present, which is all we ever have. If your breatihng is shallow, your mind and body restless, let them be that way, for as long as they need to. Just watch them.

The first law of Buddhism is that everything is constantly changing. No one is saying that the breathing should be some particular way all the time. If you find yourself disappointed with your meditation, there’s a good chance that some idea of gaining is present. See that, and let it go. However your practice seems to you, cherish it just the way it is. You may think that you want it to change, but that act of acceptence is in itself a major change.

One place where ideas of gaining typically come in, where people get obsessive about the practice, is in the task of staying with the breathing. We take a simple instruction and create a drama of success and failure around it: we’re succeeding when we’re with the breath, failing when we’re not. Actually, the whole process is meditation: being with the breathing, drifting away, seeing that we’ve drifted away, gently coming back. It is extremely important to come back without blame, without judgment, without a feeling of failure. If you have to come back a thousand times in a five-minute period of sitting, just do it. It’s not a problem unless you make it into one.

Each instance of seeing that you’ve been away is, after all, a moment of mindfulness, as well as a seed that increases the likelihood of such moments in the future. Best of all is to go beyond the whole mentality of success and failure, to understand that our lives are a series of alternations between various states. If you already had some kind of laser-like attention that never wavered, you wouldn’t need to practice meditation at all. The object of these two contemplations isn’t to make your breathing perfect. It’s to see how your breathing really is.

Excerpted with permission from Breath by Breath: The Liberating Practice of Insight Meditation (Shambhala)

Friday, July 30, 2010

To Be Born As A Human: Anagarika Dharmapala

From Tricycle:

Anagarika Dharmapala

Born to a devout Buddhist family in 1864, David Hewivitarne became Anagarika Dharmapala, the leading light of the Buddhist Renaissance Movement in Sri Lanka. As a child, Dharmapala was sent to Christian missionary schools, where his education, if comprehensive by European standards, showed little respect for Buddhism. By the age of nineteen, he had mastered the rudiments of Christian theology and knew more than half the Bible by heart, knowledge he used to highlight the hypocrisy he perceived in his missionary instructors. When a mob of Sri Lankan Catholics attacked a Buddhist procession in 1883, Dharmapala left school and turned his intellectual pursuits to Buddhism instead. Soon afterwards Colonel Henry Steel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky, founders of the Theosophical Society in New York, arrived in Sri Lanka and filed suit on behalf of the Buddhists who were injured in the attack. Dharmapala, who felt that the Society’s aims were identical to those of a Buddhist revival in Sri Lanka, became a member. Madame Blavatsky took the young man under her tutelage, and he remained her loyal supporter for the rest of his life.

Following the Theosophical Society Convention of 1890 in Adyar, South India, Dharmapala traveled to Japan on behalf of the Society, and later returned to India, where he was to find Bodh-gaya, the site of the Buddha’s enlightenment, in a state of ruin. Resolved to restore Bodh-Gaya to its former status as a Buddhist holy site, Dharmapala began an international campaign that was to last until his death in 1933.

In 1893, Dharmapala was invited to Chicago to address the World Parliament of Religions. His address, along with that of Japanese Zen master Soyen Shaku, catalyzed the first wave of interest in Buddhism among European-Americans. The following portion of Dharmapala’s address is excerpted from“The Dawn of Religious Pluralism: Voices from the World’s Parliament of Religions, 1893,”edited by Richard Hughes Seager (Open Court Publishing Company, 1993). Dharmapala’s original spellings and usage have been preserved throughout the text.

The Dawn of a New Era

History is repeating itself. Twenty-five centuries ago India witnessed an intellectual and religious revolution which culminated in the overthrow of monotheism, priestly selfishness, and the establishment of a synthetic religion, a system of life and thought which was appropriately called“Dhamma - Philosophical Religion. All that was good was collected from every source and embodied therein, and all that was bad discarded. The grand personality who promulgated the Synthetic Religion was known as BUDDHA. For forty years he lived a life of absolute purity, and taught a system of life and thought, practical, simple, yet philosophical, which makes man - the active, intelligent, compassionate, and unselfish man - to realize the fruits of holiness in this life on this earth. The dream of the visionary, the hope of the theologian, was brought into objective reality. Speculation in the domain of false philosophy and theology ceased, and active altruism reigned supreme.

Five hundred and forty-three years before the birth of Christ, the great being was born in the Royal Lumbini Gardens in the City of Kapila-vastu. His mother was Maya, the Queen of Raja Sudohodana of the Solar Race of India. The story of his conception and birth, and the details of his life up to the twenty-ninth year of his age, his great renunciation, his ascetic life, and his enlightenment under the great Bo tree at Buddha Jaya, in Middle India, are embodied in that incomparable epic,“The Light of Asia,”by Sir Edwin Arnold. I recommend that beautiful poem to all who appreciate a life of holiness and purity.

Six centuries before Jesus of Nazareth walked over the plains of Galilee preaching a life of holiness and purity, the Tathagata Buddha, the enlightened Messiah of the World, with his retinue of Arhats, or holy men, traversed the whole peninsula of India with the message of peace and holiness to the sin-burdened world. Heart-stirring were the words he spoke to the first five disciples at the Deer Park, the hermitage of Saints at Benares.

“His First Message. - “Open ye your ears, O Bhikshus, deliverance from death is found. I teach you, I preach the Law. If ye walk according to my teaching, ye shall be partakers in a short time of that for which sons of noble families leave their homes, and go to homelessness - the highest end of religious effort: ye shall even in this present life apprehend the truth itself and see it face to face.” And then the exalted Buddha spoke thus: “There are two extremes, O Bhikshus, which the truth-seeker ought not to follow: the one a life of sensualism, which is low, ignoble, vulgar, unworthy, and unprofitable; the other the pessimistic life of extreme asceticism, which is painful, unworthy, and unprofitable. There is a Middle Path, discovered by the Tathagata [Shakyamuni Buddha] - the Messiah - a path which opens the eyes and bestows understanding, which leads to peace of mind, to the higher wisdom, to full enlightenment, to eternal peace. This Middle Path, which the Tathagata has discovered, is the noble Eight-fold Path, viz.: Right Knowledge - the perception of the Law of Cause and Effect, Right Thinking, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Profession, Right Exertion, Right Mindfulness, Right Contemplation. This is the Middle Path which the Tathagata has discovered, and it is the path which opens the eyes, bestows understanding, which leads to peace of mind, to the higher wisdom, to perfect enlightenment, to eternal peace.”

Continuing his discourse, he said: “Birth is attended with pain, old age is painful, disease is painful, death is painful, association with the unpleasant is painful, separation from the pleasant is painful, the non-satisfaction of one’s desires is painful, in short, the coming into existence is painful. This is the Noble Truth of suffering. “Verily it is that clinging to life which causes the renewal of existence, accompanied by several delights, seeking satisfaction now here, now there - that is to say, the craving for the gratification of the passions, or the craving for a continuity of individual existences, or the craving for annihilation. This is the Noble Truth of the origin of suffering. And the Noble Truth of the cessation of suffering consists in the destruction of passions, the destruction of all desires, the laying aside of, the getting rid of, the being free from, the harboring no longer of this thirst. And the Noble Truth which points the way is the Noble Eight-fold Path.” This is the foundation of the Kingdom of Righteousness, and from that center at Benares, this message of peace and love was sent abroad to all humanity: “Go ye, O Bhikshus and wander forth for the gain of the many, in compassion for the world for the good, for the gain, for the welfare of gods and men. Proclaim, O Bhikshus, the doctrine glorious. Preach ye a life of holiness, perfect and pure. Go then through every country, convert those not converted. Go therefore, each one traveling alone filled with compassion. Go, rescue and receive. Proclaim that a blessed Buddha has appeared in the world, and that he is preaching the Law of Holiness.”

The essence of the vast teachings of the Buddha is: The entire obliteration of all that is evil. The perfect consummation of all that is good and pure. The complete purification of the mind. The wisdom of the ages embodied in the Three Pitakas - the Sutta, Vinaya, Abhidhamma, comprising 84,000 discourses, all delivered by Buddha during his ministry of forty-five years. To give an elaborate account of this great system within an hour is not in the power of man.

A systematic study of Buddha’s doctrine has not yet been made by the Western scholars, hence the conflicting opinions expressed by them at various times. The notion once held by the scholars that it is a system of materialism has been exploded, The Positivists of France found it a positivism; Buchner and his school of materialists thought it was a materialistic system; agnostics found in Buddha an agnostic, and Dr. Rhys Davids, the eminent Pali scholar, used to call him the “agnostic philosopher of India”; some scholars have found an expressed monotheism therein; Arthur Lillie, another student of Buddhism, thinks it a theistic system; pessimists identify it with Schopenhauer’s pessimism, the late Mr. Buckle identified it with [the] pantheism of Fichte; some have found in it a monism; and the latest dictum of Prof. Huxley is that it is an idealism supplying “the wanting half of Bishop Berkeley’s well-known idealist argument.”

In the religion of Buddha is found a comprehensive system of ethics, and a transcendental metaphysic embracing a sublime psychology. To the simple-minded it offers a code of morality, to the earnest student a system of pure thought. But the basic doctrine is the self-purification of man. Spiritual progress is impossible for him who does not lead a life of purity and compassion. The rays of the sunlight of truth enter the mind of him who is fearless to examine truth, who is free from prejudice, who is not tied by the sensual passions and who has reasoning faculties to think. One has to be an atheist in the sense employed by Max Muller: “There is an atheism which is unto death, there is another which is the very life-blood of all truth and faith. It is the power of giving up what, in our best, our most honest moments, we know to be no longer true; it is the readiness to replace the less perfect, however dear, however sacred it may have been to us, by the more perfect, however much it may be detested, as yet, by the world. It is the true self-surrender, the true self-sacrifice, the truest trust in truth, the truest faith. Without that atheism, no new religion, no reform, no reformation, no resuscitation would ever have been possible; without that atheism, no new life is possible for any of us.”

The strongest emphasis has been put by Buddha on the supreme importance of having an unprejudiced mind before we start on the road of investigation of truth. Prejudice, passion, fear of expression of one’s convictions, and ignorance are the four biases that have to be sacrificed at the threshold.

To be born as a human being is a glorious privilege. Man’s dignity consists in his capability to reason and think and to live up to the highest ideal of pure life, of calm thought, of wisdom without extraneous intervention. In the“Saimanna phala Sutta”Buddha says that man can enjoy in this life a glorious existence, a life of individual freedom, of fearlessness and compassionateness. This dignified ideal of manhood may be attained by the humblest, and this consummation raises him above wealth and royalty. “He that is compassionate and observes the law is my disciple,” says Buddha.

Nuns, Invisibility, And The Question Of Buddhist Activism

From Tikkun:
Nuns, Invisibility, and the Question of Buddhist Activismby: Natalie Wendt on July 23rd, 2010

Though they live as monastics, these Buddhist women in Burma cannot ordain

There is a huge movement going on in Buddhism today, one that could make Buddhism the only major world religion with gender equal access to ordination in nearly all denominations. All over the Buddhist world, women are battling for full ordination of nuns, something that is now only consistently available in one tradition and is hotly debated in the others. It’s also shockingly overlooked outside of these debates.

Consider an audience member’s question during a wonderful presentation by David Loy and Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi at the recent NSP conference. A long-time activist who’d been involved in Buddhism for a decade and a half wondered why most Buddhists aren’t also activists. The man noted that there were some exceptions, such as Thich Nhat Hanh, and “monks in Burma who were slaughtered, Tibetan monks who were slaughtered,” but that was about it. The way he phrased his question – and the way it was answered – is problem that must be addressed before we can consider other aspects of Buddhist activism.

Did you notice who was missing in those examples? David Loy didn’t catch it, and he’d just been talking about how a fear of death and nature relates to denigration of women. Neither did Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi, who is a fantastic supporter of women’s rights. Oh, but maybe the term “monk” was meant include “nun” too, so Tibetan nuns passionately engaged in nonviolent resistance weren’t being ignored. (We’ll get to the question of nuns in Burma in a minute). The term “monks” implies the subset of “nuns,” just like “man” includes the subset of women, right?

Except we know it doesn’t. A child of the ’80s, I find use of the word “man” to mean “human” distractingly unfamiliar. Growing up with a feminist mom, it just seems outdated and bizarre to use gender-specific terms to refer to the whole of humanity. I also benefited from feminist activism within my Western Buddhist community, which had corrected a lot of sexist language before I ever heard it. In the thirteen years I’ve been saying translations of Tibetan prayers, I’ve been saying phrases like “monastics” or “monks and nuns” instead of just “monks.” In my early twenties I trained at a Western Buddhist Abbey that uses the term “monastics” instead of words that emphasize gender. This abbey was founded and is run by a Western bhikshuni (fully ordained Buddhist nun) who has been confronting sexism within the Buddhist community for decades.

General questions about Buddhism activism, or lack thereof, is beyond the scope of this post, though I intend to discuss them on Tikkun Daily in the future. But the cliché that Buddhists in the West are all stuck on our cushions thinking “me and my enlightenment!” actively ignores movements for equality within the Buddhist community, movements with wide-reaching potential. Full ordination of Buddhist nuns has implications for Buddhists societies in general, something I will explore in a future post. First, though, I’ll provide a brief overview of current state of bhikshuni ordination.

Bhikshuni ordination is practiced frequently in Taiwan and some other parts of East Asia, but is unavailable in the Tibetan tradition and to most Theravada women. Though the Tibetan tradition has novice nuns, bhikshuni ordination never reached Tibet, and a movement to introduce bhikshuni ordination it has met with strong resistance from some Tibetan teachers. His Holiness the Dalai Lama and some other prominent teachers support bhikshuni ordination, but they are a minority. Nuns who want to fully ordain are forced to go outside of the tradition, sometimes without support of their teachers.

Ordination for nuns was completely lost in the Theravada tradition, which predominates in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, and Thailand. Women who are sometimes called “nuns” in these countries shave their heads and remain celibate, but are in fact lay women, not samaneris (ordained novice Theravada nuns). However, in recent decades Theravada Buddhists have worked to revive the lineage by turning to Taiwanese bhikshunis and supportive Theravada male teachers like Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi. The Theravada nuns’ ordination is being revived in Sri Lanka, and women are attempting to join the ranks of Theravada monastics in other countries as well.

One of those countries is Burma, where the repressive government touts itself as “Buddhist.” It is incorrect to suggest that resistance to this dictatorship is the domain of monks alone. Lay Buddhist women and men engage in this activism at least as much as monks. Celibate lay women who live as nuns, called thilashin, also took part in the Saffron Revolution that monks are famous for. The only reason nuns aren’t involved is because there aren’t nuns – women are not allowed religious ordination in Burma. A few years ago the government actually arrested a Burmese woman as she returned from her ordination as a Buddhist nun elsewhere in Asia. Her crime was simply that she became a Buddhist nun. Her case is extreme, but her struggle as a nun is not unique.

Buddha Shakyamuni (the historical Buddha) set up full ordination for both monks and nuns, and he did so for a reason. Without full ordination, nuns are constantly in a lower position than the majority of monks, and do not hold the same decision-making power in the larger sangha (Buddhist community, here referring to the ordained community). Novice nuns, even those ordained for decades, are rarely in charge of monastic communities. Novices keep fewer vows, and rarely get the kind of Dharma education available to bhikshus and bhikshunis. For example, in His Holiness’ Gelu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, only the fully ordained can earn a geshe degree, similar to a doctorate of religious studies. It includes study of the vinaya, the vows of fully ordained monastics, which Tibetans only allow the fully ordained to study in-depth. With a few notable exceptions, earning a geshe degree is essential for becoming a respected, influential monastic teacher in this tradition.

In the West we often minimize the importance of monasticism, saying that it has no real place in Western Buddhism. But monastic traditions directly affect all of us in the Buddhist world. As long as many traditions exclude bhikshunis, most teachers with monastic education will be men, whether or not those teachers are currently ordained. Currently most convert Buddhists are women, yet most prominent Buddhist teachers and writers, both Western and Asian, are male. The lack of bhikshunis means there are fewer well-educated nuns to give teachings, lead retreats, write books, run monastic communities and Dharma centers, educate the next generation of teachers, and develop Buddhist activism. It means that at a Network of Spiritual Progressive conference in 2010, brilliant, well-intentioned, well-educated, committed, wise Buddhist teachers and practitioners don’t notice when women are being ignored. They don’t see the battle for gender equality that is being fought in our community. They don’t answer questions about engaged Buddhism by acknowledging the activism of marginalized members and offering suggestions about how we can support this and build on it be become genuine spiritual progressives. If the spokespeople for engaged Buddhism fall short here, what can we expect of the convert Buddhists who are just clinging to their cushions?

Spiritual Wisdom Of The Week

From Tikkun:

«Do Spiritual Progressives Need to Think About Character?Making Room for Being Different »

Spiritual Wisdom of the Weekby: Rabbi Michael Lerner on July 28th, 2010
1 Comment »This week’s spiritual comes from Vietnamese Buddhist monk and leader in engaged Buddhism Thich Nhat Hanh. Both poems come from “Call Me By My True Names: The Collected Poetry of Thich Nhat Hanh.”


Take my hand.

We will walk.

We will only walk.

We will enjoy our walk

without thinking of arriving anywhere.

Walk peacefully.

Walk happily.

Our walk is a peace walk.

Our walk is a happiness walk.

Then we learn

that there is no peace walk;

that peace is the walk;

that there is no happiness walk;

that happiness is the walk.

We walk for ourselves.

We walk for everyone

always hand in hand.

Walk and touch peace every moment.

Walk and touch happiness every moment.

Each step brings a fresh breeze.

Each step makes a flower bloom under our feet.

Kiss the Earth with your feet.

Print on Earth your love and happiness.

Earth will be safe

when we feel in us enough safety.


The cosmos is filled with precious gems.

I want to offer a handful of them to you this morning.

Each moment you are alive is a gem,

shining through and containing earth and sky,

water and clouds.

It needs you to breathe gently

for the miracles to be displayed.

Suddenly you hear the birds singing,

the pines chanting,

see the flowers blooming,

the blue sky,

the white clouds,

the smile and the marvelous look

of your beloved.

You, the richest person on Earth,

who have been going around begging for a living,

stop being the destitute child.

Come back and claim your heritage.

We should enjoy our happiness

and offer it to everyone.

Cherish this very moment.

Let go of the stream of distress

and embrace life fully in your arms.

On Burning Korans To Get Attention

From Tikkun Daily:

On Burning Qur’ans To Get Attentionby: Amanda Quraishi on July 29th, 2010
5 Comments » Because that’s really what this is all about, isn’t it? Publicity. Let’s face it, burning books has never been an effective way to quell the public’s thirst for knowledge, nor has it been an effective means to destroy ideas you don’t agree with. But that isn’t stopping the feisty folks at the Dove World Outreach Center from declaring 9/11 Official Koran Burning Day. (They even offer “Islam is of the Devil” T-shirts on their website that you can wear to your local book-burning event!)

The “Christians” who run and support this “church” aren’t really concerned with religious dialogue or spreading the Word of God as much as they are getting publicity. Lest we Muslims feel picked on, we must remember that Dove World Outreach Center has also engaged in this same kind of…uh…outreach with other groups including homosexuals and pro-choice advocates. Apparently, their idea of ministry involves condemnation, destruction and name-calling. (I’m not even going to go in to the [alleged] for-profit ventures and practices regarding unpaid labor by church members.)

Anyone who has had the benefit of knowing Christians who actually practice the tenets of the Bible knows that this group’s actions are about as close to Jesus’ teachings as the rabid Mullahs overseas preaching violent hate are to the peaceful message of Islam. Which is not at all.

Look, as a Muslim I’d love to get all riled up over this flagrant disrespect for our holy book. I’d love to be incensed that the Dove World Outreach Center is calling us and our noble faith tradition evil. But I can’t even manage a little bit of indignation. Because it’s stupid. It’s not even an eloquent argument or informed protest. It’s just some angry people having a spiteful little tantrum.

The Qur’an is a marvelous gift to humanity. But if you choose to burn it rather than read it, it really is your loss. God is a lot bigger than a book and has assured us that He has his own way of dealing with people who choose to disrespect His Message. I have faith that He can handle it.

In the meantime, if you are interested in actually reading a Qur’an, I’m pleased to be able to offer you the following links:

The Message of the Qur’an by Muhammad Asad – Qur’anic text, translation and commentary.

This is my personal favorite translation in print.

The Qur’an Online In Three English Translations (Pickthal, Yusufali, Shakir)

An excellent compilation from the University of Southern California’s Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement.

Listen to Qur’an Online

An online tool that lets you listen to the Qur’an being recited in Arabic. You get to choose between three different reciters and can read along in your language’s translation in subtitles.

Share a Qur’an Everyday

A Facebook page set up in response to the negative “Burn a Koran on 9/11″ page. When you subscribe to this page you’ll get to read inspiring surahs from the Qur’an each day.

And In Love To The Brethren

From The Christian Reader:

And in Love to the Brethren

The following is the twenty-sixth chapter from Andrew Murray’s book, Abide in Christ.

“This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

“Like as the Father loved me, EVEN so I have loved you; LIKE AS I have loved you, EVEN SO love ye one another.” God became man; divine love began to run in the channel of a human heart; it becomes the love of man to man. The love that fills heaven and eternity is ever to be daily seen here in the life of earth and of time.

“This is my commandment,” the Saviour says, “That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” He sometimes spoke of commandments, but the love, which is the fulfilling of the law, is the all-including one, and therefore is called His commandment—the new commandment. It is to be the great evidence of the reality of the New Covenant, of the power of the new life revealed in Jesus Christ. It is to be the one convincing and indisputable token of discipleship: “Hereby shall all men know that ye are my disciples”; “That they may be one in us, that the world may believe”; “That they may be made perfect in one, that the world may know that Thou hast loved them, as Thou hast loved me.” To the believer seeking perfect fellowship with Christ, the keeping of this commandment is at once the blessed proof that he is abiding in Him, and the path to a fuller and more perfect union.

Let us try to understand how this is so. We know that God is love, and that Christ came to reveal this, not as a doctrine but as a life. His life, in its wonderful self-abasement and self-sacrifice, was, above everything, the embodiment of divine love, the showing forth to men, in such human manifestations as they could understand, how God loves. In His love to the unworthy and the ungrateful, in His humbling Himself to walk among men as a servant, in His giving Himself up to death, He simply lived and acted out the life of the divine love which was in the heart of God. He lived and died to show us the love of the Father.

And now, just as Christ was to show forth God’s love, believers are to show forth to the world the love of Christ. They are to prove to men that Christ loves them, and in loving fills them with a love that is not of earth. They, by living and by loving just as He did, are to be perpetual witnesses to the love that gave itself to die. He loved so that even the Jews cried out, as at Bethany, “Behold how He loved!” Christians are to live so that men are compelled to say, “See how these Christians love one another.” In their daily intercourse with each other, Christians are made a spectacle to God, and to angels, and to men; and in the Christlikeness of their love to each other, are to prove what manner of spirit they are of. Amid all diversity of character or of creed, of language or of station, they are to prove that love has made them members of one body, and of each other, and has taught them each to forget and sacrifice self for the sake of the other. Their life of love is the chief evidence of Christianity, the proof to the world that God sent Christ, and that He has shed abroad in them the same love with which He loved Him. Of all the evidences of Christianity, this is the mightiest and most convincing.

This love of Christ’s disciples to each other occupies a central position between their love to God and to all men. Of their love to God, whom they cannot see, it is the test. The love to one unseen may so easily be a mere sentiment, or even an imagination; in the intercourse with God’s children, love to God is really called into exercise, and shows itself in deeds that the Father accepts as done to Himself. So alone can it be proved to be true. The love to the brethren is the flower and fruit of the root, unseen in the heart, of love to God. And this fruit again becomes the seed of love to all men: intercourse with each other is the school in which believers are trained and strengthened to love their fellow-men, who are yet out of Christ, not simply with the liking that rests on points of agreement, but with the holy love that takes hold of the unworthiest, and bears with the most disagreeable for Jesus’ sake. It is love to each other as disciples that is ever put in the foreground as the link between love to God alone and to men in general.

In Christ’s intercourse with His disciples this brotherly love finds the law of its conduct. As it studies His forgiveness and forbearance towards His friends, with the seven times seven as its only measure—as it looks to His unwearied patience and His infinite humility—as it sees the meekness and lowliness with which He seeks to win for Himself a place as their servant, wholly devoted to their interests—it accepts with gladness His command, “Ye should do as I have done” (John 13:15). Following His example, each lives not for Himself but for the other. The law of kindness is on the tongue, for love has vowed that never shall one unkind word cross its lips. It refuses not only to speak, but even to hear or to think evil; of the name and character of the fellow-Christian it is more jealous than of its own. My own good name I may leave to the Father; my brother’s my Father has entrusted to me. In gentleness and loving kindness, in courtesy and generosity, in self-sacrifice and beneficence, in its life of blessing and of beauty, the divine love, which has been shed abroad in the believer’s heart, shines out as it shone in the life of Jesus.

Christian! what say you of this your glorious calling to love like Christ? Does not your heart bound at the thought of the unspeakable privilege of thus showing forth the likeness of the Eternal Love? Or are you rather ready to sigh at the thought of the inaccessible height of perfection to which you are thus called to climb? Brother, sigh not at what is in very deed the highest token of the Father’s love, that He has called us to be like Christ in our love, just as He was like the Father in His love. Understand that He who gave the command in such close connection with His teaching about the Vine and the abiding in Him, gave us in that the assurance that we have only to abide in Him to be able to love like Him. Accept the command as a new motive to a more full abiding in Christ. Regard the abiding in Him more than ever as an abiding in His love; rooted and grounded daily in a love that passeth knowledge, you receive of its fulness, and learn to love. With Christ abiding in you, the Holy Spirit sheds abroad the love of God in your heart, and you love the brethren, the most trying and unloveable, with a love that is not your own, but the love of Christ in you. And the command about your love to the brethren is changed from a burden into a joy, if you but keep it linked, as Jesus linked it, to the command about His love to you: “Abide in my love; love one another, as I have loved you.”

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“This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” Is not this now some of the much fruit that Jesus has promised we shall bear—in very deed a cluster of the grapes of Eshcol, with which we can prove to others that the land of promise is indeed a good land? Let us try in all simplicity and honesty to go out to our home to translate the language of high faith and heavenly enthusiasm into the plain prose of daily conduct, so that all men can understand it. Let our temper be under the rule of the love of Jesus: He can not alone curb it—He can make us gentle and patient. Let the vow, that not an unkind word about others shall ever be heard from our lips, be laid trustingly at His feet. Let the gentleness that refuses to take offence, that is always ready to excuse, to think and hope the best, mark our intercourse with all. Let the love that seeks not its own, but ever is ready to wash others’ feet, or even to give its life for them, be our aim as we abide in Jesus. Let our life be one of self-sacrifice, always studying the welfare of others, finding our highest joy in blessing others. And let us, in studying the divine art of doing good, yield ourselves as obedient learners to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. By His grace, the most commonplace life can be transfigured with the brightness of a heavenly beauty, as the infinite love of the divine nature shines out through our frail humanity. Fellow-Christian, let us praise God! We are called to love as Jesus loves, as God loves.

“Abide in my love, and love as I have loved.” Bless God, it is possible. The new holy nature we have, and which grows ever stronger as it abides in Christ the Vine, can love as He did. Every discovery of the evil of the old nature, every longing desire to obey the command of our Lord, every experience of the power and the blessedness of loving with Jesus’ love, will urge us to accept with fresh faith the blessed injunctions: “Abide in me, and I in you”; “Abide in my love.”

Love For The Author

From The Christian Reader:

Love for the Author

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Love is one of the four natural affections, which it is needless to name since everyone knows them. And because love is natural, it is only right to love the Author of nature first of all. Hence comes the first and great commandment, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.” But nature is so frail and weak that necessity compels her to love herself first; and this is carnal love, wherewith man loves himself first and selfishly, as it is written, “That was not first which is spiritual but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual” (I Cor. 15.46). This is not as the precept ordains but as nature directs: “No man ever yet hated his own flesh” (Eph. 5.29). But if, as is likely, this same love should grow excessive and, refusing to be contained within the restraining banks of necessity, should overflow into the fields of voluptuousness, then a command checks the flood, as if by a dike: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” And this is right: for he who shares our nature should share our love, itself the fruit of nature.

Wherefore if a man find it a burden, I will not say only to relieve his brother’s needs, but to minister to his brother’s pleasures, let him mortify those same affections in himself, lest he become a transgressor. He may cherish himself as tenderly as he chooses, if only he remembers to show the same indulgence to his neighbor. This is the curb of temperance imposed on thee, O man, by the law of life and conscience, lest thou shouldest follow thine own lusts to destruction, or become enslaved by those passions which are the enemies of thy true welfare. Far better divide thine enjoyments with thy neighbor than with these enemies. And if, after the counsel of the son of Sirach, thou goest not after thy desires but refrainest thyself from thine appetites (Ecclus. 18.30); if according to the apostolic precept having food and raiment thou art therewith content (I Tim. 6.8), then thou wilt find it easy to abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, and to divide with thy neighbors what thou hast refused to thine own desires. That is a temperate and righteous love which practices self-denial in order to minister to a brother’s necessity. So our selfish love grows truly social, when it includes our neighbors in its circle.

But if thou art reduced to want by such benevolence, what then? What indeed, except to pray with all confidence unto Him who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not (James 1.5), who openeth His hand and filleth all things living with plenteousness (Ps. 145.16). For doubtless He that giveth to most men more than they need will not fail thee as to the necessaries of life, even as He hath promised: “Seek ye the Kingdom of God, and all those things shall be added unto you” (Luke 12.31). God freely promises all things needful to those who deny themselves for love of their neighbors; and to bear the yoke of modesty and sobriety, rather than to let sin reign in our mortal body (Rom. 6.12), that is indeed to seek the Kingdom of God and to implore His aid against the tyranny of sin. It is surely justice to share our natural gifts with those who share our nature.

But if we are to love our neighbors as we ought, we must have regard to God also: for it is only in God that we can pay that debt of love aright. Now a man cannot love his neighbor in God, except he love God Himself; wherefore we must love God first, in order to love our neighbors in Him. This too, like all good things, is the Lord’s doing, that we should love Him, for He hath endowed us with the possibility of love. He who created nature sustains it; nature is so constituted that its Maker is its protector for ever. Without Him nature could not have begun to be; without Him it could not subsist at all. That we might not be ignorant of this, or vainly attribute to ourselves the beneficence of our Creator, God has determined in the depths of His wise counsel that we should be subject to tribulations. So when man’s strength fails and God comes to his aid, it is meet and right that man, rescued by God’s hand, should glorify Him, as it is written, “Call upon Me in the time of trouble; so will I hear thee, and thou shalt praise Me” (Ps. 50.15). In such wise man, animal and carnal by nature, and loving only himself, begins to love God by reason of that very self-love; since he learns that in God he can accomplish all things that are good, and that without God he can do nothing.

by Bernard of Clairvaux, from On Loving God

Fairy Tales And Fables

From The Christian Reader:

Fairy Tales and Fables

by Eric Rauch

One of the most severely lacking areas in Christian publishing today is in books for children. Publishers don’t seem to realize that children are quite capable of thinking and understanding. The books that line the shelves of the children’s section are nearly always trite and condescending and do little more than make well-known stories from the Bible look ridiculous. This “dumbing-down” of the Bible often tends to have a negative effect on young eyes and ears as they grow older and more sophisticated. The “stories” that they heard and read as children remain just that: stories. As they come to understand the world around them better, children begin to realize that trains and cars and animals don’t really talk. It is only natural then that they should also begin to think that David, Noah, Adam, and Abraham are really nothing more than fables and cartoon characters. When we teach the Bible in a silly and unreal way to our children, we shouldn’t be surprised when they begin to think of the Bible as a silly book of fairy tales and myths.

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This isn’t to say that fairy tales and myths are wrong for children though. Quite the opposite actually. As human beings we are constantly interpreting life as a story—a grand narrative that is continually unfolding. Stories are necessary for making sense of this world. If life was really nothing more than random chance happenings, as materialism would have us believe, stories would be impossible. Randomness has no cohesive plot; things just happen. The fact that we are always groping for reasons, looking for answers, and trying to make sense of this world points to the fact that we are created in the image of God. God is the Master Storyteller, the Chief Scriptwriter. All truth is His truth and all events, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, are necessary components of His story. If we teach God’s story to our children as nothing more than a fun fable with a moralistic lesson, we are crippling them for life. As discussed in yesterday’s article, we are taking divine revelation—”true truth” as Francis Schaeffer called it—about how the world really is, and spoon-feeding it to our children as candy. The very thing that they most need to know about the world is presented to them on the same level and in the same way as Curious George and Bob the Builder.

But I am happy to report that not all children’s books are created equal. Dr. R.C. Sproul, veteran author and master teacher of the Bible, has also noticed this lack of quality books for children. Rather than bemoan the problem, Sproul decided to do something about it: he wrote. Two of his books, The Lightlings and The Prince’s Poison Cup, are great examples of how Christians should be communicating the truths of God’s world and the Gospel of Jesus Christ to children. Sproul rightly understands that bringing the high truth of the Bible down to the level of children is most effectively done through allegory. Rather than simplifying the Bible, Sproul tells a simple story to illustrate the biblical truth. Both books tell a similar story—one of creation, fall, and redemption—without ever once naming a Biblical figure. The Bible’s story is assumed to be the “ultimate” truth and Sproul’s tales are merely retelling the reality of God’s truth in an allegorical way. Sproul doesn’t dress up a fairy tale as a Bible story, he dresses up a Bible story as a fairy tale; and the approach makes all the difference when the costumes are removed.

Get "The Lightlings" from the bookstore

Sproul begins both of his books with a family, a functioning one at that, complete with parents and grandparents. Grandpa is the storyteller in both books, perhaps revealing a bit of bias toward Sproul’s own role as Grandpa and Great-Grandpa in real life. Both stories resemble the approach taken by William Goldman in the screenplay for the film, The Princess Bride. Grandpa comes to his grandchild’s home and tells them a story to answer a question that they have. This method not only reinforces the primary role of the family in the development of the child in the story, it also helps to elevate and esteem the grandfather as a needed and integral part of the family. In both stories, the parents defer to Grandpa as a trusted source of wisdom, encouraging the child to “ask Grandpa when he comes.” This clever “story within a story” reinforces the real world to the reader, one that exists both inside and outside of the pages of the book.

A helpful appendix is included in each book as a “For Parents” section. This appendix includes questions that can be used to help parents further discuss the story with their child. Several Bible verses are listed after each question that connect the “world of the story” with the real world of the Bible. The artwork by Justin Gerard that adorns nearly every page of both books is a perfect complement to the beautiful simplicity of Sproul’s storyline. These books are exceptional in every sense of the word. These are not merely children’s books; parents (and grandparents) will enjoy reading them as well. My hope is that these two books are only the beginning of Sproul’s books for children and that his books are only the beginning of a positive trend in quality Christian books—for children and adults.

The Children Of Abraham

From The American Islamic Forum For Democracy:

The local chapter of the Bureau of Jewish Education gave a summer course offering in Phoenix entitled Islam 101. Josh Sayles reports in today's Jewish News of Greater Phoenix about the course, its instructor, and the thoughts of local leadership.

His report is provided below [#1] and can be found online at this link. The Jewish News of Greater Phoenix also asked Dr. Jasser to provide commentary about the issue and it is also provided below [#2] and available online at this link.

1] Jewish News story as background (Dr. Jasser's commentary follows below at #2) :

Islam 101? BJE course on radicalism labeled as basics


Staff Writer

Rabbi B. Charles Herring, spiritual leader of Temple Kol Ami in Scottsdale, has been involved in interfaith dialogue for a decade now. Ten years ago, he founded Children of Abraham, a group of about 10 Muslim couples and 10 Jewish couples who meet monthly at one another's homes to socialize and discuss the differences and similarities between the two cultures.

Herring speaks freely about the parallels of the religions, comparing food restrictions, the lunar calendars and the fact that some popular Jewish hymns - such as "Adon Olam" and "Yigdal" - follow Islamic rules of poetry.

"When you spend 10 years together, you're not talking about (holidays) anymore, you're really talking about stuff that's fascinating," he said.

But when Herring launched the group, it wasn't without reservation.

"The first time that we got together, I was basically frightened," he said. "Muslims were being demonized, and I was warned that I was getting myself into deep problems by doing this because I was endangering my life as a Jew. In truth, there's no love lost between international Muslim groups and Jewish groups."

Over time, however, Herring has developed a deep friendship with the members of his Children of Abraham community.

"When you multiply the years we've been doing this, and the amount of time we've spent together - we know each other's kids, and we're in each other's lives. How can you hate the other? They're like your relatives.

"It's so much easier to hate somebody or to be afraid of them."

That is why Herring expressed concern when he learned the Scottsdale branch of the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE) had run a six-part course June 7-July 12 titled "Islam 101."

The course focused on radical Islam even though the subject matter was not specified in the name. The instructor, Dr. Carl Goldberg, is not without controversy - Azra Hussain, co-founder and director of the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Arizona, as well as a member of Children of Abraham, said that Goldberg has appeared several times around the state at places where Muslim speakers were scheduled to lecture, handing out what she said are anti-Muslim materials outside of the venues.

Goldberg rebutted Hussain. He said that he has never "followed her or anyone else around the state" and that the only materials he distributes are those at his lectures and BJE class. One such handout is titled "Troubling Passages in the Koran," and includes 34 passages that Goldberg finds disturbing. Such passages include: "The unbelievers among the people of the book and the pagans shall burn forever in the fire of hell; they are the vilest of all creatures," and, "Women are your fields; go then, into your fields whence you please."

"When I talk about the Muslim world, I'm talking about the 57 Muslim countries, plus the communities in the West, and I don't think there's any doubt in anybody's mind that these communities all around the world are pervaded by anti-Semitism," said Goldberg.

He said that for a year or two after 9/11, the media was "not afraid to link the terrorists with Islam, with the religion and doctrines of Islam, but that ended ... when President Bush came out and assured the whole country that Islam is a religion of peace and all we're doing is fighting al-Qaida."

Herring said that his Muslim friends get upset when people cite negative passages from the Quran in an attempt to denounce Islam. "My response to them is, 'Do you want me to give you all the page numbers in the Torah of horrible stuff? Because it certainly is there.' And they decline. They say, 'This is not the answer. We will speak intelligently.'"

Hussain agreed. "Anyone that's going around talking about heinous stuff - ugliness and killing and terrorizing - I can understand blaming people for that, saying that human beings are doing that," she said. "But saying a religion is teaching that, saying a religion is that corrupt and that ugly, you know that's not a place of truth.

"If you came to me and told me that Judaism teaches all these ugly things, I'd look at you and wonder what you'd been eating, because to me, saying a whole religion is doing it is very different than saying some followers or some people who claim to be that (religion) are doing it."

Goldberg, who is Jewish, has a doctorate in history and is a former Russian-language instructor at Arizona State University, said he has no formal training in Islam other than that he has been reading up on it extensively for the last four or five years. He said he is qualified to teach Islam 101 because he is simply quoting "the most respected Islamic sources" and letting his students form their own opinions.

"I'm advising people to go to Islamic sources," said Goldberg. "I'm not advising them to take my opinion. That's the difference. If you have a non-Jew lecturing on Judaism who tells you, 'Go read the Jewish scholars,' I think that's legitimate."

Goldberg said his sources include Sayyid Qutb, Abul Maududi, Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Robert Spencer. He said that he is not talking about all Muslims, only those who follow Islamic doctrines.

"It's important to know Islamic doctrines because those doctrines influence the behavior of millions upon millions of Muslims," said Goldberg. "That's what's the important thing. We have to understand what we are dealing with."

Islamic doctrines are the principal foundations of the religion.

Goldberg said that although the threat of Islam is greater in countries that follow Shariah, or Islamic law, there are anti-Semitic Muslim circles throughout the world - including throughout the United States - that pose a danger to Jews.

"What would you do if you had a Ku Klux Klan center, or Nazi party centers all over the United States propagating Nazi ideology?" asked Goldberg. "What would you do about it? It's quite similar, actually, because the ideology is not all that different.

"The (Islamic) organizations in the United States, they are derivatives of the Muslim Brotherhood (around the world), and there's no question where the Muslim Brotherhood stands on this. So they're all part of the same movement. And you may have occasional denunciations, general denunciations of anti-Semitism, but I don't think you have anybody demonstrating coexistence with Israel. So, I think, by extension you have to assume that they're not all that different from Muslim communities elsewhere, after all, that's where they came from. And until we do a survey or a poll that asks these questions ... I'm not sure we can say a whole lot. But the indications are that they support the rest of the Muslim world."

The Muslim Brotherhood is an Islamic political group founded in Egypt in 1928. Its bylaws are published at

Bill Straus, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said that he is familiar with Goldberg's position, that he has a problem with it and that he questions Goldberg's ability to teach objectively about Islam.

"Having heard some of Carl's allegations, and asking people in the Muslim community whom I feel I can trust, 'Is that true?' I always get the same answer: 'That's if you want to interpret it like the people who want to kill us, the most radical of the radicals,'" said Straus.

"Looking at the Muslim faith through the eyes of Carl Goldberg would be like studying the Jewish faith through the eyes of someone who is suspicious of Jews and views them as his enemy."

To that, Goldberg responded, "I would not use Bill Straus as an authority. He knows nothing about Islam. He's never studied it."

"No, I've never studied Islam," confirmed Straus. "But I'm an authority on prejudice, and Carl Goldberg, like everyone who insists that they have the answer and there is no other, allows that to prejudice his view of Islam."

Aaron Scholar, director of the local Bureau of Jewish Education, said he brought in Goldberg to teach the class not because he thought he was a "Muslim scholar," but because Goldberg has a doctorate in history and would therefore know how to research and use materials in the classroom.

"Our purpose at the bureau is just to inform people, not about the negatives of Islam, but about Islam, the positive as well as the negative ... and (to let the students) make the decisions," said Scholar.

Scholar said that of the 13 individuals who signed up for the class, one walked out "in disgust" after the first day, but he has heard mostly positive feedback from the other 12. Some have requested a follow-up course - Islam 102 - to be taught by Goldberg.

He said he has not yet decided whether Goldberg will be brought back to teach Islam 102 and/or another session of Islam 101.

"(In teaching Islam) you have volatile areas of tremendous sensitivity," said Scholar. "The bottom line is, it's the problems and the solutions we're trying to look at, not the (Muslim) people.

"We're all responsible for factual information. All religions have had serious problems over the ages. Islam, or at least parts of Islam ... or the misreading of Islam - however you want to look at it - is the one that seems to be a threat at the present time. It isn't Catholicism that's creating a problem for society today, it isn't Protestantism, it isn't Judaism. Right now, the focus is on Islam, so the point of any instructional unit is to find out what that part of the religion is all about. It's that simple."

Rabbi Reuven Firestone, professor of medieval Jewish and Islamic studies and executive committee member of the Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, said that he runs into Islamophobia and anti-Semitism on a regular basis.

"People are frightened and anxious and they tend to assume the worst," he said. "The irony is that we as Jews sometimes engage in the same kind of scapegoating that anti-Semites have traditionally directed toward us.

"I don't think, frankly, that people who scapegoat other people ... are doing it because they're evil, but because they're frightened, and that can result in hate and violence. I think there are some people who really push (the envelope) and maybe are in the category of evil, but I don't really know any, and I know lots of anti-Semites and Islamophobes. Mostly they're afraid."

2] Dr. Jasser's commentary for the Jewish News.

A course on Islam


On the surface, the Bureau of Jewish Education was perceptive and timely in its offering this summer of a course titled "Islam 101." However, knowing the materials distributed by the course instructor, Carl Goldberg, a Ph.D. in Russian history, a more fitting title would have been "Islam: The totalitarian ideology."

Goldberg conflates various oppressive theocratic interpretations of Islam as "the Islam." A recent missive he sent me stated, "Only by deviating from Islamic doctrine can Islam become compatible with democracy. But, that is logically absurd because then Islam would cease to be Islam."

Goldberg defends his claims by stating that he is simply reporting the "truth" as taught by "leading" Muslim scholars. When presented with alternative modern scholarly interpretations of the Quran and Hadith, he ignores them as contrived, illegitimate or hopeless. His responses to Muslim reformists would certainly make Bin Laden and Imam Al-Awlaki proud.

This is not about Goldberg or the Bureau of Jewish Education. This is about understanding both our enemies and our friends. They are both Muslim, and they both practice a form of Islam. By inexorably linking supremacist ideologies to the entire faith, we are surrendering one-quarter of the world's population to a supremacist mind-set that leaves nothing for the future but a global clash of religions.

We need to recognize the validity of devotional anti-Islamist Muslims and marginalize the ideas of political Islam. We need not one but many courses on Islam, political Islam, salafism and jihadism to name a few. But these courses must teach about the debate going on within the faith. The House of Islam is not monolithic. It has a diversity wherein lies the future of its own political modernization and thus our security.

We need an open and frank discourse about the religion of Islam. Radical Islam is but a symptom of political Islam, which seeks to incorporate Shariah into government. The only way to truly defeat global Islamist terror is to instill in Muslims the ideas of liberty that will give them the strength to reject the supremacy of the Islamic state. This process will not happen in a setting that dismisses the entirety of Islam.

Sadly, the comfort our Founding Fathers had with a critical discourse on religion has been lost. The negative perceptions nationally about Islam have almost doubled since 9/11, beginning at 23 percent negative. Leading Islamist groups in D.C. - Muslim Brotherhood front groups - have only served to fan the flames and advance the ideologies of transnational political Islam. These Islamist groups have ushered in a prevailing perception among Americans that Muslims are disengaged from American security and in denial over the need for real, deep reform.

Education is a journey whose direction and destination should be open and thoughtful. Instruction that castigates an entire faith for the global theo-political movements within it leaves students with nothing but anger. A teacher's responsibilities go beyond repetition of a few facts; they lie in discussing the solutions our students may go on to implement. Without a reasoned Muslim-based solution, there will be only a dangerous vacuum from which no one can benefit.

M. Zuhdi Jasser is the founder and president of the Phoenix-based American Islamic Forum for Democracy

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Relationships: Don't Go It Alone

From Tricycle:

No Gain

Relationships won't solve our problems, but they can help us grow.

By Barry Magid

MY TEACHER Charlotte Joko Beck pretty much sums up her attitude toward relationships when she says, “Relationships don’t work.” Rather than talk about everything we normally think that we gain from relationships, like love, companionship, security, and family life, she looks at relationships from the perspective of no gain. She focuses on all the ways relationships go awry when people enter into them with particular sorts of gaining ideas and expect relationships to function as an antidote to their problems. Antidotes are all versions of “If only...” If only she were more understanding; if only he were more interested in sex; if only she would stop drinking. For Joko, that kind of thinking about relationships means always externalizing the problem, always assuming that the one thing that’s going to change your life is outside yourself and in the other person. If only the other person would get his or her act together, then my life would go the way I want it to.

Joko tries to bring people back to their own fears and insecurities. These problems are ours to practice with, and we can’t ask anyone else, including a teacher, to do that work for us. To be in a real relationship, a loving relationship, is simply to be willing to respond and be there for the other person without always calculating what we are going to get out of it.

Many people come to me and say, “I’ve been in lots of relationships where I give and give and give.” But for them it wasn’t enlightenment; it was masochism! What they are missing from Joko’s original account is a description of what relationships are actually for—what the good part is. In addition to being aware of the pitfalls that Joko warns us about, we should also look at all the ways in which relationships provide the enabling conditions for our growth and development. That’s particularly obvious with children. We would all agree that children need a certain kind of care and love in order to grow and develop. Nobody would say to a five-year-old, “What do you need Mommy for? Deal with your fear on your own!” The thing is that most of us are still struggling with remnants of that child’s neediness and fear in the midst of a seemingly adult life. Relationships aren’t just crutches that allow us to avoid those fears; they also provide conditions that enable us to develop our capacities so we can handle them in a more mature way.

It’s not just a parent-child relationship or a relationship with a partner that does that. The relationship of a student with a teacher, between members of a sangha, between friends, and among community members—all help us to develop in ways we couldn’t on our own. Some aspects of ourselves don’t develop except under the right circumstances.

Aristotle stressed the importance of community and friendship as necessary ingredients for character development and happiness. He is the real origin of the idea that “it takes a village” to raise a child. However, you don’t find much in Aristotle about the necessity of romantic love in order to develop. His emphasis was on friendship.

Aristotle said that in order for people to become virtuous, we need role models—others who have developed their capacities for courage, self-control, wisdom, and justice. We may emphasize different sets of virtues or ideas about what makes a proper role model, but Buddhism also asserts that, as we are all connected and interdependent, none of us can do it all on our own.

Acknowledging this dependency is the first step of real emotional work within relationships. Our ambivalence about our own needs and dependency gets stirred up in all kinds of relationships. We cannot escape our feelings and needs and desires if we are going to be in relationships with others. To be in relationships is to feel our vulnerability in relation to other people who are unpredictable, and in circumstances that are intrinsically uncontrollable and unreliable.

We bump up against the fact of change and impermanence as soon as we acknowledge our feelings or needs for others. Basically, we all tend to go in one of two directions as a strategy for coping with that vulnerability. We either go in the direction of control or of autonomy. If we go for control, we may be saying: “If only I can get the other person or my friends or family to treat me the way I want, then I’ll be able to feel safe and secure. If only I had a guarantee that they’ll give me what I need, then I wouldn’t have to face uncertainty.” With this strategy, we get invested in the control and manipulation of others and in trying to use people as antidotes to our own anxiety.

With the strategy (or curative fantasy) of autonomy, we go in the opposite direction and try to imagine that we don’t need anyone. But that strategy inevitably entails repression or dissociation, a denial of feeling. We may imagine that through spiritual practice we will get to a place where we won’t feel need, sexuality, anger, or dependency. Then, we imagine, we won’t be so tied into the vicissitudes of relationships. We try to squelch our feelings in order not to be vulnerable anymore, and we rationalize that dissociation under the lofty and spiritual-sounding word “detachment,” which ends up carrying a great deal of unacknowledged emotional baggage alongside its original, simpler meaning as the acceptance of impermanence.

We have to get to know and be honest about our particular strategies for dealing with vulnerability, and learn to use our practice to allow ourselves to experience more of that vulnerability rather than less of it. To open yourself up to need, longing, dependency, and reliance on others means opening yourself to the truth that none of us can do this on our own. We really do need each other, just as we need parents and teachers. We need all those people in our lives who make us feel so uncertain. Our practice is not about finally getting to a place where we are going to escape all that but about creating a container that allows us to be more and more human, to feel more and more.

If we let ourselves feel more and more, paradoxically, we get less controlling and less reactive. As long as we think we shouldn’t feel something, as long as we are afraid of feeling vulnerable, our defenses will kick in to try to get life under control, to manipulate ourselves or other people. But instead of either controlling or sequestering our feelings, we can learn to both contain and feel them fully. That containment allows us to feel vulnerable or hurt without immediately erupting into anger; it allows us to feel neediness without clinging to the other person. We acknowledge our dependency.

We learn to keep our relationships and support systems in good repair because we admit to ourselves how much we need them. We take care of others for our own sake as well as theirs. We begin to see that all our relationships are part of a broad spectrum of interconnectedness, and we respect not only the most intimate or most longed-for of our relationships but also all the relationships we have—from the most personal to the most public—which together are always defining who we are and what we need in order to become fully ourselves.

Relationships work to open us up to ourselves. But first we have to admit how much we don’t want that to happen, because that means opening ourselves to vulnerability. Only then will we begin the true practice of letting ourselves experience all those feelings of vulnerability that we first came to practice to escape.

From Ending the Pursuit of Happiness: A Zen Guide, © Barry Magid 2008. Reprinted with permission of Wisdom Publications,

Love Leads To Action

from The Christian Reader:

Love Leads to Action

God’s love for His saints sets His power in motion. He who has God’s heart does not lack for His arm. Love rallies all other affections and sets the powers of the whole man into action. Thus in God, love sets His other attributes to work; all are ready to bring about what God says He likes. God considers all His creatures, but the believing soul is an object of His choicest love—even the love with which He loves His Son (John 17:26).

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When a soul believes, then God’s eternal purpose and console concerning him—whom He chose in Christ before the foundation of the world—is brought to term. Can you imagine the love God has for a child He has carried so long in the womb of His eternal purpose? If God delighted in His plan before He spoke the world into being, how much greater is His delight to witness the full fruition of His labor: a believing soul. Having performed His own will thus far, God will surely raise all the power He has in that believer’s behalf, rather than be robbed of His glory within a few steps of home.

God showed us how much a soul is worth by the purchase price He paid. It cost Him dearly, and that which is so hard won will not be easily given up. He spent His Son’s blood to purchase you, and He will spend His own power to keep you.

As an earthly parent you rejoice to see your own good qualities reproduced in your children. God, the perfect parent, longs to see His attributes reflected in His saints. It is this image of God reflected in you that so enrages hell; it is this at which the demons hurl their mightiest weapons. When God defends you, He also defends Himself. Now knowing that the quarrel is God’s, surely He will not have you go forth to war at your own expense!

by William Gurnall, from The Christian in Complete Armor

Strength To Be And Act

from The Christian Reader:

Strength to Be and Act

God alone is the source and sustainer of all life; therefore, it is His constant regenerating power that keeps the conscience alive.

Get "The Christian in Complete Armor" from the Reformation Bookstore

Conscience may be defined as the divine influence at work in man to restrain him from sin. One evidence of its orgin is that it always speaks against sin and for righteousness. Therefore, it cannot be the product of our own hearts, which in their fallen state are “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). God uses the conscience to give some knowledge of His righteousness to all, so that no one can stand before Him on the Day of Judgment to plead ignorance (Romans 1). When you become a Christian and consecrate yourself—conscience and all—to Him, the Holy Spirit begins in earnest to perfect you in Christ.

It is sad when God made the world He ended His work of creation—that is, He made no more new species of creatures. Yet to this day He has not ended His work of providence. “My Father worketh hitherto,” Christ said (John 5:17). In other words, He continually preserves and empowers what He has made with strength to be and to act. A work of art, when complete, no longer needs the artist, nor a house the carpenter when the last nail is in place. But God’s works on behalf of both the outer and the inner man are never of His hands.

If the Father’s work is a preserving one, the Son’s is a redemptive one. Both acts are perpetual. Christ did not end His work when He rose from the dead, just as the Father did not end His work when He finished creation. God rested at the end of creation; and Christ when He had wrought eternal redemption and “by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). From there He continues the work of intercession for the saint, and thereby keeps him from certain ruin.

by William Gurnall, from The Christian in Complete Armor