Monday, August 30, 2010

Parshat Ki Tavo: Deuteronomy 26:1--29:8

From Patheos:

Parshat Ki Tavo: Deuteronomy 26:1 - 29:8

August 25, 2010
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By Talia Davis

The parsha (weekly Torah portion) for this week is Ki Tavo. Ki Tavo means "when you enter" and they are the second and third words (but first distinctive words) in the portion. Be sure to check out the video at the end of this article.

In this parsha, Moses is giving us more instructions as to what we should do when we enter the land of Israel. The first concept is that of the first fruits. The Israelites are to collect the first fruit of their soil, of the trees and plants they are harvesting, and bring it to the Tabernacle. From there, the priest will acknowledge them and that they have entered the land that G-d promised to their ancestors. Once the priest put the basket at the altar, they were to say:

A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage. And we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression. And the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders. And He has brought us into this place, and has given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the land, that You, O Lord, have given me (Dt. 26:5-10).

And then they go party with everyone. The stranger, the orphan, the widow, the Levites . . . everyone. They had a big BBQ party.

The people were to do this every year. The idea of tithes wasn't to get the priests rich; it was to provide for the needy. The Levites who gave up their portion to serve G-d, as well as the orphan, widow, and stranger, all benefited from this system. The Israelites were to give a tenth of their yield every year. In the third year, they were to say:

I have put away the hallowed things out of my house, and also have given them to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, according to Your commandment that You have commanded me; I have not transgressed any of Your commandments, neither have I forgotten them. I have not eaten thereof in my mourning, neither have I put away thereof, being unclean, nor given thereof for the dead; I have hearkened to the voice of the Lord my God, I have done according to all that You have commanded me. Look from Your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel, and the land that You have given us, as You swore to our fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey (Dt. 26:12-15).

Moses reminds us, once again, to follow the laws laid out for us by G-d, noting that we had committed ourselves to G-d and G-d's laws by affirming that Hashem is our G-d and obeying G-d's laws. In return, G-d affirms that we are G-d's treasured people, a holy people to G-d. Since Moses and other elders would not travel into the land with the young Israelites (remember, the punishment for striking the rock and the whining?), they instruct the Israelites to set up stones, large stones, as soon as they crossed the Jordan River, coat them with plaster, and inscribe on them the words of Torah. Then Moses and the priests remind everyone, once again, that the Israelites had become a people of G-d by their own choice and acceptance of G-d's laws, therefore they must observe G-d's commandments.

Moses also had an interesting task for the Israelites when they arrive in this promised land. The tribes of Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin were to stand on Mt. Gerizim (where blessings were to be spoken) and the tribes of Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali were to stand on Mt. Ebal (where curses were to be spoken). The Levites were to stand in the middle. Then the Levites were to curse anyone who:

•made a sculptured image.

•insulted their father or mother.

•moved a fellow countryman's landmark.

•misdirected a blind person.

•subverted the rights of a stranger, the orphan, or the widow.

•slept with his father's wife, an animal, his sister, his mother-in-law.

•hit or killed his countryman in secret.

•accepted a bribe in the case of a murder of an innocent person.

•or violated any other commandment.

•And everyone says Amen.
If the Israelites observed the commandments then G-d will take care of them and their land, their children, their produce, their animals, their comings and goings, defeat their enemies, bless all their undertakings, give them prosperity, and provide rain. Wow. Pretty good deal!

However, if the Israelites did not obey G-d's commandments then . . . remember all the things I just mentioned? Yeah . . . they would be cursed. Their children, animals, ventures, land . . . bring heat, drought, pestilence. Here the portion is going into some interesting detail about killing animals but not being able to eat them, etc. It sounds pretty crummy to me. Crummy enough that I think we should all hang out on the blessings side. One interesting part, Deuteronomy 28:67, says they would never find a place to rest. In fact, every day they would say, "If only it was evening," and every evening they would say, "If only it was morning." That sounds like many of us when we forget what is important. If we focus on money and stuff, we forget to appreciate G-d or the beauty in life and we only strive for the next milestone.

The last bit of this parsha deals with Moses reminding us to remember the past and stay in awe. We survived Pharaoh and Egypt. We wandered the desert for forty years but our clothing and shoes stayed intact. We had no bread or wine or water and yet we lived for so long because G-d took care of us. We fought wars and won. The Israelites had a hard time with this lesson but Moses urged them to observe the commandments because that is what brought us through to this point.

Reconciling Wicca's Gods And Goddesses

From Patheos, Pantheon:

Reconciling Wicca’s Gods

August 30, 2010 by Star Foster




Share(I should state that I am not yet an initiate of the tradition I am studying, so nothing beyond the quote is representative of my tradition.)

I’ve noticed an interesting thing. There are people who identify as Wiccan who shun the term Pagan and people who embrace the label of Pagan that shy away from anything that suggests Wiccan. I used to be one of the latter but I now embrace both labels. Often once I’ve reconciled something within my own heart I tend to assume everyone else has reached the same conclusion and perceived this polarized view of labels with irritation. Then I ran across something that made me pause.

My tradition has this statement on their website:

Wiccans believe in God ~ To a Wiccan, God (The Creative Life Force) is the all-encompassing, all-powerful force of life – the Creator. Wiccans view The Creative Life Force manifested in a duality of male (God) and female (Goddess), each of equal importance. Though the different religions of the world worship gods and goddesses of many names, Wiccans consider all gods to be one God and all goddesses to be one Goddess. The Wiccan God and Goddess are the same deities as those worshiped by everyone else. There are many pathways, but they are all traveling up the same mountain along the way to spiritual fulfillment and a personal relationship with the Divine.

Now this doesn’t seem to correspond with my beliefs. This is a very popular Wiccan view but as a hard polytheist it’s not representative of my views, is it? The answer to that lies in what I believe about the God and Goddess of Witchcraft.

As a hard polytheist I believe each and every God and Goddess is a separate, sentient being in their own right. While some Gods bear many names, they are not merely masks worn by some overarching, omnipotent God. Thus I believe the God and Goddess of Witchcraft are separate, individual Gods in their own right.

The Goddess of Witchcraft is the Goddess of the moon, that reflective, ever-changing orb. The God of Witchcraft is the Horned One, an antlered man. Both are shape-shifters. While we worship them in their own forms, they are capable of assuming the guise of anything and anyone. In some way it’s allegorical of Witchcraft itself, changing the changeable while remaining true to your core being. We alter our appearance, our habits and our circumstances all while remaining grounded and connected to sacred center, our True Will.

The God and Goddess of Witchcraft use what tools are necessary to get the job done. Fire, water, earth, air and spirit, age and youth, mirth and reverence, fullness and emptiness are all used by them to achieve their goals. They are the God and Goddess of Witchcraft because they work as Witches do, using combinations of primary materials in diverse methods. They are not bound by a single direction, color, scent or element but they use them all as needed.

As Gods and Goddesses go, they are quite different. They do not belong to a large pantheon but to their Witches alone. They are dark, mysterious and veiled. While most Gods have their stories laid plain to all, the God and Goddess of Witchcraft invite you to worship them first and then only later do they reveal their stories to you.

So yes, I do not believe identically to the tradition I study, but my experience of and love for the God and Goddess of Witchcraft is the same. The Horned One is not all Gods to me, but he can take on the appearance and attributes of any God as he has need. The Lady of the Moon is not every Goddess, but she can shift into the likeness and powers of any Goddess at will.

This is how I reconcile the Wiccan Gods with my firm belief in polytheism. We are all of us right in our perception of the Gods, as we each perceive according to our need. All paths lead to the Divine if we just keep our eyes and hearts open, and keep moving!

The Problem With Meditation Instructions

from Tricycle:

The Problem with Meditation Instructions

On how we can add flexibility and choice to a meditation practice that has become rigid and restrictive

By Jason Siff

BEFORE WE MEDITATE for the first time, we have ideas about what meditation is, what it does, and where it should lead. Then when we get our introductory instructions—either out of a book or magazine, or from a teacher leading a class or a retreat—we’re hopeful that the instructions will fulfill our purpose for meditating and that meditation will do for us what it has reportedly done for others. We look forward to becoming calmer, to our physical pain diminishing, and to our emotional stress and turmoil being eased; we anticipate meditation granting us the peace of mind we so earnestly seek.

We often do not even consider that we could have problems following the meditation instructions, or that the meditation instructions may not be the “right” ones for us. We assume that meditation practices are proven to work for most anyone, so when we experience frustration with the task of meditating, we often lay the blame on ourselves. We don’t see that the meditation practice itself has something to do with it.

Contemporary Buddhist teachers often instruct that the real obstacles, or hindrances, in meditation are negative emotional states or unskillful types of thinking. Unfortunately, this view only deflects our attention from what actually keeps us stuck in our practice: the way we do our meditation practice. In fact, it is not what we experience in meditation that creates the hindrance, it is how we apply the instructions. Having negative emotions and discursive thoughts are common meditation experiences, but they do not control our practice in the same way the meditation instructions do.

Over the last two decades in which I have been teaching meditation, I have observed that much of our frustration, struggle, feelings of failure and low self-esteem as meditators is linked to the way we have been applying meditation instructions. This is in part due to the way that we hold on to the correctness of the instructions and how we adopt rules that prohibit certain experiences, both of which can create impasses in our meditation practice. These are two of the most common causes for the experience of being stuck.

Many of us encounter an impasse when we are trying to figure out how to do the instructions correctly. The notion that there is a definitive right way of doing a particular meditation practice keeps the impasse alive. We assume that if we can figure out the right way to sit, and just do it, our sittings will be harmonious.

For example, instructions for watching the breath in the Vipassana tradition often raise questions about following the instructions correctly. Is it correct to observe the breath at the nostrils or the abdomen? If it is correct to observe it at the nostrils, how are you supposed to observe it—as a sensation of air passing over your upper lip on the way out and as a sensation in your nostrils on the way in? Is it okay to follow the breath into the lungs? And what about the abdomen? Are we noticing the breath going in or out of our bodies, or are we supposed to notice the rising and falling of the abdomen only? And why the abdomen? Don’t we naturally experience our chest heave and fall as we breathe? What about being aware of the sound of the breath? That, too, is a part of our experience of breathing. But Vipassana teachers often tell us that there is one correct way of observing the breath and that other ways are not right.

The Vipassana tradition and most other Buddhist traditions generally discourage doubting the meditation instructions we are given. We are often told that doubting our teachers and their traditions is a hindrance to practice, but this puts us in a bind: If we discover a way to do a meditation practice that seems more conducive to concentration and wisdom than the established way, we have to either disregard our discovery or disobey the instructions. If you take the approach of not doubting the instructions, you are likely to try to follow the instructions with more effort in order to make them work as well as, or better than, the way you discovered on your own.

On how we can add flexibility and choice to a meditation practice that has become rigid and restrictive

By Jason Siff

But this direction often strengthens obstacles instead of weakening them. Pushing yourself to follow the instructions more correctly, and then finding yourself stuck in similar ways, and then trying harder to follow the directions often just puts you in cycles of meditative success and failure. As long as you are primarily focused on doing a practice correctly, you will only examine the practice through the lens of figuring what you are doing wrong so that you can stop doing that and just do the practice in the right way. But what you don’t see is what the practice is doing to you.

Although we are not often taught this, the most skillful way through an impasse in meditation is to become aware of it and of what holds it together and keeps it running. To do this, you need to keep doing the meditation instructions that have gotten you to this point, but instead of following them “harder,” try approaching them in a softer, gentler manner. Do them loosely, and don’t do them all of the time. Instead, try doing them when it is easy to do them, or, when you feel you need to. But also be willing not to do them every single time you feel the need.

By adding flexibility and choice to a meditation practice that has become rigid and restrictive, we move our attention away from a narrow focus on doing the instructions correctly to a broader awareness of how we are doing the instructions. We discover that sometimes we are using the instructions to get to some desired or anticipated meditative state and other times we are using them to avoid certain feelings, memories, or thoughts. Then there are those times when we would otherwise feel lost and confused in our meditation sittings and need the instructions as an anchor. There are many ways we have held onto the instructions we have received, so by giving more space around them and giving ourselves permission not to follow them, we can begin to see what they are actually doing for us.

AS WE LEARN TO WORK skillfully with the instructions instead of resolutely pushing ourselves to follow the instructions as correctly as possible, we will begin to see the other most common cause for impasses: adopting rules that prohibit certain experiences. On a basic level, meditation instructions are rules you should follow during meditation. If they don’t start out as rules, they eventually turn into rules. A simple instruction to bring your attention back to the breath when the mind wanders becomes a rule prohibiting thinking, reminiscing, planning, drifting, contemplating, and so on. Even if a teacher then states that you should practice greater acceptance of the wandering mind and only gently bring your attention back to the breath, the rule prohibiting mind-wandering still remains intact. The way we tend to relate to contradictory meditation instructions (which is what “Bring your attention back to the breath” and “Have greater acceptance of the wandering mind” are) is to resolve the contradiction in favor of the rule that clearly exhibits the fundamental principle of the meditation practice: to train one’s attention to stay with the breath.

The kinds of impasses we get into when we meditate according to a system of rules are those based on controlling and dominating our experiences. We have a rule about not drifting off in meditation, and so we work to stop ourselves from doing so. We have a rule about not rehashing the conversations and events of the day, so we try to get through those segments of our sittings and on to something more “meditative.” We have a rule to sit with our backs straight, and so we correct our posture each time it slumps. We have rules about not fantasizing or planning or ruminating or working on projects, and so we devalue or disregard those experiences.

I suggest you become aware of the rules in your meditation practice, and not just try to stop them, for that would just be creating a rule not to have rules. You will have rules in your meditation practice, but they need to be ones that serve you rather than oppress you. The rules need to be open to questioning, to reassessment, and to further refinement. Global rules, where you have to do the same thing in all instances, are not as helpful as rules that have specific contexts in which they are used. For example, a rule to “always stop one’s mind from wandering” is not as helpful as a rule to “disengage from planning the execution of a harmful action” (such as seeking revenge).

Are there meditation instructions that don’t foster the exclusion of experiences? Even when a meditation practice is presented as accepting of everything, as open to the full range of one’s experience, there are still experiences—such as drifting off or having mundane thoughts—that tend to be excluded. It might be quite a revolution in our thinking about meditation to consider including all types of experiences in our regular sittings. If you are going to include the various experiences of thinking, you may find yourself thinking quite a bit more than your comfort level. If you include drowsiness and dull mind states, you may find yourself falling asleep. “How would this be meditating?” you might ask.

There is a middle way here between the extremes of rigidity and passivity, one that offers a more legitimate form of meditation. The beginning instructions I have given for nearly two decades provide just enough of a grounding in the seated body for the meditator to develop a capacity to be with thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they arise. These suggestions are loose and open, but you can make them tighter if you need to. The instructions are as follows:

Sit in a comfortable position, one that you would not need to change duringthe sitting. If you do need to change your position, do so slowly and consciously. You may also lie down, but try to adopt a position that you would not normally sleep in.

Bring your attention to the touch of your hands resting in your lap or on your thighs. But do not try to hold your attention there. Allow thoughts, feelings, and sensations to arise, and let your attention go with them.

If your attention leaves the touch of the hands for a long period of time (several minutes), you can gently bring your attention back. Otherwise, just sit with what comes up. If you encounter an experience that is hard to tolerate, after a while of being with it you can bring your attention back to the touch of the hands. But only hold it there long enough to feel grounded or relaxed, and then, if your mind goes into that kind of experience again, just let it.

People have made rules out of these instructions, and you might too. That is fine. At some point, hopefully, you will become aware of those rules. But, for now, it is enough to know that there is no way to do this wrong, as it is not about following an instruction as much as about allowing your experiences to unfold. Seeing for yourself, from your own experience, what works and what doesn’t is what meditation is all about.

Bio: Jason Siff is the Head Teacher for the Skillful Meditation Project. He lives in Idyllwild, California, and teaches meditation at various centers in the U.S., Canada, and Australia. His recent novel Seeking Nibbana in Sri Lanka draws upon his experience as a Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka in the 1980s. His forthcoming book, Unlearning Meditation: What to Do When the Instructions Get in the Way, will be published by Shambhala Publications in 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.

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.

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.

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)

Only Evil Continually

From The Christian Reader:

“Only Evil Continually”

Saint Augustine writes, that free-will, without God’s grace and the Holy Ghost, can do nothing but sin; which sentence sorely troubles the school-divines. They say, Augustine spoke hyperbolice, and too much; for they understand that part of the Scripture to be spoken only of those people who lived before the deluge, which says: “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” etc.; whereas he speaks in a general way, which these poor school-divines do not see any more than what the Holy Ghost says, soon after the deluge, in almost the same words: “And the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”

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Hence, we conclude in general, that man, without the Holy Ghost and God’s grace, can do nothing but sin; he proceeds therein without intermission, and from one sin falls into another. Now, if man will not suffer wholesome doctrine, but condemns the all-saving Word, and resists the Holy Ghost, then through the effects and strength of his free-will he becomes God’s enemy; he blasphemes the Holy Ghost, and follows the lusts and desires of his own heart, as examples in all times clearly show.

But we must diligently weigh the words which the Holy Ghost speaks through Moses: “Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is evil continually:” so that when a man is able to conceive with his thoughts, with his understanding and free-will, by highest diligence, is evil, and not once or twice, but evil continually; without the Holy Ghost, man’s reason, will, and understanding, are without the knowledge of God; and to be without the knowledge of God, is nothing else than to be ungodly, to walk in darkness, and to hold that for best which is direct worst.

I speak only of that which is good in divine things, and according to the holy Scripture; for we must make a difference between that which is temporal, and that which is spiritual, between politics and divinity; for God also allows of the government of the ungodly, and rewards their virtues, yet only so far as belongs to this temporal life; for man’s will and understanding conceive that to be good which is external and temporal – nay, take it to be, not only good, but the chief good.

But when we divines speak of free-will, we ask what man’s free-will is able to accomplish in divine and spiritual matters, not in outward and temporal affairs; and we conclude that man, without the Holy Ghost, is altogether wicked before God, although he were decked up and trimmed with all the virtues of the heathen, and had all their works.

For, indeed, there are fair and glorious examples in heathendom, of many virtues, where men were temperate, chaste, bountiful; loved their country, parents, wives, and children; were men of courage, and behaved themselves magnanimously and generously.

But the ideas of mankind concerning God, the true worship of God, and God’s will, are altogether stark blindness and darkness. For the light of human wisdom, reason, and understanding, which alone is given to man, comprehends only what is good and profitable outwardly. And although we see that the heathen philosophers now and then discoursed touching God and his wisdom very pertinently, so that some have made prophets of Socrates, of Xenophon, of Plato, etc., yet, because they knew not that God sent his Son Christ to save sinners, such fair, glorious, and wise-seeming speeches and disputations are nothing but mere blindness and ignorance.

by Martin Luther, from his Tabletalk

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Finding Patience

From Tricycle:

Finding Patience

How to survive a traffic jam—on the road, or in the heart

By Michele McDonald

When I was a child, I was told many times, “Be patient” or “Patience is a virtue.” I would relate to these words in much the same way I would to the order “Eat your spinach.” To me, “Be patient” meant “Grin and bear it,” or that I should repress my feelings about the disagreeable aspects of life. This is not what is meant by patience from the Buddhist perspective, however.

Patience, or khanti, is the sixth of the ten perfections, or paramis (the virtues that one has to perfect in order to fully awaken; there are ten paramis in the Theravada tradition, six paramitas in the Mahayana). The clarity of wisdom and the softness of compassion are the companions of each of the perfections. Patience is motivated by our desire for inward and outward peace and by faith in our ability to accept things as they are. In Buddhism patience has three essential aspects: gentle forbearance, calm endurance of hardship, and acceptance of the truth.

Gentle Forbearance

The first aspect of patience is gentle forbearance. We may be the exhausted parent of a child who is having a fit over some baffling homework; perhaps patience in this case means taking a few deep breaths instead of yelling in frustration. Or we may be on the verge of making a brilliant retort to a coworker, but we hold our tongue rather than say something hurtful. Even though our impatience is triggered, we can tap into the deeper reservoir of our motivation not to do harm. Gentle forbearance may feel difficult—even contrived—because it doesn’t constitute true acceptance of how things are. But it is nonetheless a critical aspect of patience because it helps us restrain ourselves long enough to determine the most skillful action for the moment.

Gentle forbearance helps to anchor our attention in the movement of the breath. Can we truly receive just one breath? Can we sustain the attention from the birth of the breath, through its life, and through its passing away? We notice that in these moments of attention we are temporarily freed from mental torment. There is no need to focus on our expectations or attachment to results. Impatient thoughts come and go by themselves, just as the breath comes and goes by itself.

Any time we want life to be different than it is, we are caught in impatience. We lose our sense of humor; and self-pity, despair, and blame seep into the heart. Gentle forbearance includes the spirit of forgiveness. When we feel conflict with others, understanding their suffering is the first step in being able to communicate, forgive, and begin again. The practice of forgiveness happens when we are able to realize the underlying cause of our anger and impatience, and this allows us to distinguish between someone’s unskillful behavior and essential goodness. Serenity and calm develop as we learn to accept imperfection in others and ourselves.

Endurance of Hardship

The second aspect of patience is the calm endurance of hardship. The Buddha said that the world rests on suffering. But endurance of suffering doesn’t mean doing nothing to alleviate it. Patience isn’t passive; it’s motivated by an acceptance of and compassion for suffering rather a desire to eradicate it. When we feel impatient with our relationships, our work, or our spiritual practice, we need to realize that we are resisting how things are. A sense of humor and curiosity about our lives can also help us confront impatience.

My five-year-old niece complained to me recently, “I hate school.” I replied, “Oh, that’s too bad. Why?” “Because it’s so boring,” she said. She loves the movie Finding Nemo, so I reminded her how Dory and Nemo’s father, Marlin, endured the obstacles on their long journey to liberate Nemo. I asked, “What did Dory say to Marlin when they were lost and ready to give up?” She remembered “When life gets you down, just keep swimming.” She laughed, and she became interested in exploring why she gets bored in school. I challenged her to tell me one interesting thing that is happening every time she thinks she’s bored. Through investigating boredom instead of concluding that we are wasting our time and disconnecting from what is, we can pause, explore, and begin again.

In a frustrating situation, it helps to ask ourselves the question, “What would being patient mean right now?” We can explore what happens to our relationship to our experience when we find ourselves rushing around, always anticipating the next moment, the next event. The more we practice patience, the more time we find we have. Perhaps we’ve become accustomed to eating so fast we don’t even taste our food. Asking ourselves this question slows us down enough to appreciate receiving our food—receiving our life. Gratitude and contentment arise. Many of us try to do so many things at once that there is no space for serenity. We wonder why we are unhappy, why we feel alienated. We just need to remember to practice relaxing into our life, in all its joys and sorrows, and to relinquish the need to know what’s going to happen next.

Acceptance of the Truth

The third aspect of patience, acceptance of the truth, means that we accept our experience as it is—with all its suffering—rather than how we want it to be. We recognize that because our experience is continually changing, we don’t need it to be different than it is. This acceptance of “things as they are” requires profound wisdom and compassion, which take a long time to evolve; we must therefore develop a long-enduring mind that will enable us to understand time from a radically new perspective. As we come to this understanding, we gain the strength to be present for the long haul, and we are less likely to get caught in being overly insistent, frustrated, and demanding.

There is great power in patience because it cuts through arrogance and ingratitude. It is the path that lets us move from resistance to acceptance and spontaneous presence. Holding on to our judgments about others and ourselves is a major cause of impatience. Repeating softly to ourselves, “May I be happy just as I am” and “May I be peaceful with whatever is happening” helps us accept our vulnerabilities, imperfections, and losses: everything from chronic physical and emotional pain, to the death of loved ones, the end of a job or relationship—even nightmare traffic jams.

By accepting the agreeable and disagreeable aspects of life, we are no longer limited by our longing for life to be different than it is. We have all the time in the world, in the spaciousness of every moment.

Michele McDonald has practiced Vipassana and metta meditation since 1975 and has been teaching meditation worldwide since 1982. She is guiding teacher of Vipassana Hawaii. Quotes from Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva, © 2002 by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and New Kadampa Tradition. Reprinted with permission of Tharpa Publications,

Shantideva on Patience

All the virtuous deeds and merit,

Such as giving and making offerings,

That we have accumulated over thousands of aeons

Can be destroyed by just one moment of anger.

There is no evil greater than anger,

And no virtue greater than patience.

Therefore, I should strive in various ways

To become familiar with the practice of patience.

If I harbor painful thoughts of anger,

I shall not experience mental peace,

I shall find no joy or happiness,

And I shall be unsettled and unable to sleep.

—Shantideva (687-763 C.E.)

Those who cause me suffering

Are like Buddhas bestowing their blessings.

Since they lead me to liberating paths,

Why should I get angry with them?

“Don’t they obstruct your virtuous practice?”

No! There is no virtuous practice greater than patience;

Therefore, I will never get angry

With those who cause me suffering.

If, because of my own shortcomings,

I do not practice patience with my enemy,

It is not he, but I, who prevents me from practicing patience,

The cause of accumulating merit.


Even while I remain in samsara,

Through patience, I shall attain beautiful forms,

Good health, reputation, very long lives,

And even the extensive happiness of a chakravatin king [a universal monarch]!


A Way Of Being

from Tricycle:

A Way of Being

Finding happiness is mostly a matter of perspective.

By Matthieu Ricard

I remember one afternoon as I was sitting on the steps of our monastery in Nepal. The monsoon storms had turned the courtyard into an expanse of muddy water, and we had set out a path of bricks to serve as stepping-stones. A friend of mine came to the edge of the water, surveyed the scene with a look of disgust, and complained about every single brick as she made her way across. When she got to me, she rolled her eyes and said, “Yuck! What if I’d fallen into that filthy muck? Everything’s so dirty in this country!” Since I knew her well, I prudently nodded, hopping to offer her some comfort through my mute sympathy. A few minutes later, Raphaele, another friend of mind, came to the path through the swamp. “Hup, hup, hup!” she sang as she hopped, reaching dry land with the cry “What fun!” Her eyes sparkling with joy, she added: “The great thing about the monsoon is that there’s no dust.” Two people, two ways of looking at things; six billion human beings, six billion worlds.

On a more somber note, Raphaele once told me of a meeting she’d had on her first visit to Tibet, in 1986, with a man who’d had an appalling time during the Chinese invasion. “He invited me to sit down on a bench and served me some tea he kept in a large thermos. It was his first time talking to a Westerner. We laughed a lot; he was really adorable. Children kept coming by to stare at us in astonishment, and he showered me with questions. Then he told me how he’d been jailed for twelve years by the Chinese invaders and condemned to cut stone for a dam being built in the Drak Yerpa valley. The dam was completely useless, since the riverbed was almost always dry! All his friends dropped dead of hunger and exhaustion around him, one by one. Despite the horror of his story, there wasn’t the slightest trace of hatred in his words or the least bit of resentment in his eyes, which beamed with kindness. As I fell asleep that night, I wondered how a man who had suffered so much could seem so happy.”

Anyone who enjoys inner peace is no more broken by failure than he is inflated by success. He is able to fully live his experiences in the context of a vast and profound serenity, since he understands that experiences are ephemeral and that it is useless to cling to them. There will be no “hard fall” when things turn bad and he is confronted with adversity. He does not sink into depression, since his happiness rests on a solid foundation. One year before her death at Auschwitz, the remarkable Etty Hillesum, a young Dutchwoman, affirmed: “When you have an interior life, it certainly doesn’t matter what side of the prison you’re on. . . . I’ve already died a thousand times in a thousand concentration camps. I know everything. There is no new information to trouble me. One way or another, I already know everything, and yet, I find this life beautiful and rich in meaning. At every moment.”

Once at an open meeting in Hong Kong, a young man rose from the audience to ask me: “Can you give me one reason why I should go on living?” This book is a humble response to that question, for happiness is above all a love of life. To have lost all reason for living is to open up an abyss of suffering. As influential as external conditions may be, suffering, like well-being, is essentially an interior state. Understanding that is the key prerequisite to a life worth living. What mental conditions will sap our joie de vivre, and which will nourish it?

Changing the way we see the world does not imply a naive optimism or some artificial euphoria designed to counterbalance adversity. So long as we are slaves to the dissatisfaction and frustration that arise from the confusion that rules our minds, it will be just as futile to tell ourselves “I’m happy!” over and over again as it would be to repaint a wall in ruins. The search for happiness is not about looking at life through rose-colored glasses or blinding oneself to the pain and imperfections of the world. Nor is happiness a state of exaltation to be perpetuated at all costs; it is the purging of mental toxins such as hatred and obsession that literally poison the mind. It is also about learning how to put things in perspective and reduce the gap between appearances and reality. To that end we must acquire a better knowledge of how the mind works and a more accurate insight into the nature of things, for in its deepest sense, suffering is intimately linked to a misapprehension of the nature of reality.

From Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skills, 2003 NiL editions, Paris. Translation, 2006 by Jesse Browner. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Co. Inc., New York.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Prepared By The Lord

from The Christian Reader:

Prepared by the Lord

Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:17)

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There is a question to be considered and that is whether God created a fish to receive Jonah. The expression, that God prepared a fish seems indeed to mean this; for if the fish had already been swimming in the sea, the Prophet might have adopted another mode of speaking and said, that the Lord caused the fish to meet him or that God had sent a fish; for so the Scripture usually speaks: but a fish is said to have been prepared. This doubt may be thus removed, that though God may not have created the fish, he had yet prepared him for this purpose; for we know that it was not according to the course of nature that the fish swallowed Jonah, and also, that he was preserved uninjured in his inside for three days and three nights. I therefore refer what is said here, that a fish was prepared, to the preservation of Jonah: for it is certain that there are some fishes which can swallow men whole and entire.

William Rondelet, who has written a book on the fishes of the sea, concludes that in all probability it must have been the Lamia. He himself saw that fish, and he says that it has a belly so capacious and, mouth so wide, that it can easily swallow up a man; and he says that a man in armor has sometimes been found in the inside of the Lamia. Therefore, as I have said, either a whale, or a Lamia, or a fish unknown to us, may be able to swallow up a man whole and entire; but he who is thus devoured cannot live in the inside of a fish. Hence Jonah, that he might mark it out as a miracle, says that the fish was prepared by the Lord; for he was received into the inside of the fish as though it were into an hospital; and though he had no rest there, yet he was as safe as to his body, as though he were walking on land. Since then the Lord, contrary to the order of nature, preserved there his Prophet, it is no wonder that he says that the fish was prepared by the Lord.

Grant, Almighty God, that as thou settest before us this day thy holy Prophet as an awful example of thy wrath against all who are rebellious and disobedient to thee, — O grant, that we may learn so to subject all our thoughts and affections to thy word, that we may not reject any thing that pleases thee, but so learn both to live and to die to thee, that we may ever regard thy will, and undertake nothing but what thou hast testified is approved by thee, so that we may fight under thy banners, and through life obey thy word, until at length we reach that blessed rest which has been obtained for us by the blood of thy only begotten Son, and is laid up for us in heaven through the hope of his Gospel. Amen.

by John Calvin, from Calvin’s Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Economy Of Gifts

From Tricycle:

The Economy of Gifts

An American monk looks at traditional Buddhist economy.

By Thanissaro Bhikkhu

According to the Buddhist monastic code, monks and nuns are not allowed to accept money or even to engage in barter or trade with laypeople. They live entirely in an economy of gifts. Lay supporters provide gifts of material requisites for the monastics, while the monastics provide their supporters with the gift of the teaching. Ideally - and to a great extent in actual practice - this is an exchange that comes from the heart, something totally voluntary. There are many stories in the texts emphasizing the point that the returns in this economy depend not on the material value of the object given, but on the purity of heart of the donor and recipient. You give what is appropriate to the occasion and to your means, when and wherever your heart feels inspired. For the monastics, this means that you teach, out of compassion, what should be taught, regardless of whether it will sell. For the laity, this means that you give what you have to spare and feel inclined to share. There is no price for the teachings, nor even a “suggested donation.” You give because giving is good for the heart and because the survival of the dharma as a living principle depends on daily acts of generosity.

The primary symbol of this economy is the alms bowl. If you are a monastic, it represents your dependence on others, your need to accept generosity no matter what form it takes. You may not get what you want in the bowl, but you realize that you always get enough. Once a student of mine went to practice in the mountains in northern Thailand. His hillside shack was an ideal place to meditate, but he had to depend on a nearby hilltribe village for alms, and the diet was mostly plain rice, occasionally accompanied by some boiled vegetables. After two months on this diet, he was in conflict over whether or not to stay. One rainy morning, as he was on his alms round, a woman called out from a shack asking him to wait while she got some rice from the pot. As he waited, he couldn’t help grumbling inwardly about the fact that there would be nothing to go with the rice. It so happened that the woman’s infant son was sitting near the kitchen fire, crying from hunger. So as she scooped some rice out of the pot, she stuck a small lump in his mouth. Immediately, the boy stopped crying and began to grin. “Here you are, complaining about what these people are giving you for free,” my student told himself. “You’re no match for this little kid.” That lesson gave him the strength to stay in the mountains for another three years.

For a monastic, the bowl also represents the opportunity one gives others to practice the dharma. In Thailand, this is reflected in one of the idioms used to describe going for alms:“proad sat,”doing a favor for living beings. There were times on my alms round in rural Thailand when, as I walked past a tiny grass shack, someone would come running out to put rice in my bowl. Years earlier, as layperson, I would have wished to give them some material help. Now I was offering them the dignity that comes with being a donor.

For the donors, the monk’s bowl becomes a symbol of the good they have done. On several occasions in Thailand people told me they had dreamed of a monk standing before them, opening the lid to his bowl. The details differed as to what the dreamer saw in the bowl, but in each case the interpretation of the dream was the same: the dreamer’s merit was about to bear fruit.

The alms round itself is a gift that goes both ways. Daily contact with lay donors reminds the monastics that their practice is not just an individual matter. They are indebted to others for the opportunity to practice, and should do their best to practice diligently as a way of repaying that debt. Furthermore, walking through a village early in the morning, passing by the houses of the rich and poor, the happy and unhappy, gives plenty of opportunities to reflect on the human condition and the need to find a way out of the grinding cycle.

For the donors, the alms round is a reminder that the monetary economy is not the only way to happiness. It helps keep a society sane when there are monastics infiltrating the towns every morning, embodying an ethos very different from the dominant monetary economy. The gently subversive quality of this custom helps people to keep their values straight.

Above all, the economy of gifts allows for specialization, a division of labor from which both sides benefit. Those who are willing can give up many of the privileges of home life in return for the opportunity to devote themselves fully to dharma practice. Those who stay at home can benefit from having full-time dharma practitioners around on a daily basis. The Buddha began the monastic order on the first day of his teaching career because he saw the benefits that come with specialization. Without it, the practice tends to become diluted, negotiated into the demands of the monetary economy. The dharma becomes limited to what will sell and what will fit into a schedule dictated by the requirements of family and job. In this sort of situation, everyone ends up poorer in things of the heart.

The fact that tangible goods run only one way in the economy of gifts means that the exchange is open to all sorts of abuses. This is why there are so many rules in the monastic code to keep the monastics from taking unfair advantage of the generosity of lay donors. There are rules against asking for donations in inappropriate circumstances, against making claims as to one’s spiritual attainments, even against covering up any exceptional morsels in one’s bowl with rice in hopes that donors will then feel inclined to provide something more substantial. Most of the rules, in fact, were instituted at the request of lay supporters or in response to their complaints. They had made their investment in the merit economy and were interested in protecting their investment.

On their first contact with the sangha, most Westerners tend to see little reason for the disciplinary rules; they regard them as quaint holdovers from ancient Indian prejudices. When, however, they come to see these rules in the context of the economy of gifts, they too become advocates of the rules. The arrangement may limit the freedom of the monastics in certain ways, but it means that the lay supporters take an active interest in how the monastic lives - a useful safeguard to make sure that teachers walk their talk. This ensures that the practice remains a communal concern. As the Buddha said,

Monks, householders are very helpful to you, as they provide you with the requisites of robes, almsfood, lodgings, and medicine. And you, monks, are very helpful to householders, as you teach them the dharma admirable in the beginning, admirable in the middle, and admirable in the end, as you expound the holy life both in its particulars and in its essence, entirely complete, surpassingly pure. In this way the holy life is lived in mutual dependence, for the purpose of crossing over the flood, for making a right end to suffering and stress.

By its very nature, the economy of gifts is something of a hothouse creation that requires careful nurture and a sensitive discernment of its benefits. I find it amazing that such an economy has lasted for more than 2,600 years. It will never be more than an alternative to the dominant monetary economy, largely because its rewards are so intangible and require so much patience, trust, and discipline in order to appreciate them. But then, there is no way that the dharma can survive as a living principle unless it can be offered and received as a gift, in an atmosphere where mutual compassion and concern are the medium of exchange, and purity of heart is the bottom line.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu is the Abbot of Metta Forest Monastery in Valley Center, California. He is the author of the forthcoming book“The Wings to Awakening”(Dhamma Dana Publications).

Seeking Only His Will

From The Christian Reader:

Seeking Only His Will

How blessed is he who reaches the fourth degree of love, wherein one loves himself only in God! Thy righteousness standeth like the strong mountains, O God. Such love as this is God’s hill, in the which it pleaseth Him to dwell. “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?” “O that I had wings like a dove; for then would I flee away and be at rest.” “At Salem is His tabernacle; and His dwelling in Sion.” “Woe is me, that I am constrained to dwell with Mesech!” (Ps. 24.3; 55.6; 76.2; 120.5). When shall this flesh and blood, this earthen vessel which is my soul’s tabernacle, attain thereto? When shall my soul, rapt with divine love and altogether self-forgetting, yea, become like a broken vessel, yearn wholly for God, and, joined unto the Lord, be one spirit with Him? When shall she exclaim, “My flesh and my heart faileth; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever” (Ps. 73.26). I would count him blessed and holy to whom such rapture has been vouchsafed in this mortal life, for even an instant to lose thyself, as if thou wert emptied and lost and swallowed up in God, is no human love; it is celestial. But if sometimes a poor mortal feels that heavenly joy for a rapturous moment, then this wretched life envies his happiness, the malice of daily trifles disturbs him, this body of death weighs him down, the needs of the flesh are imperative, the weakness of corruption fails him, and above all brotherly love calls him back to duty. Alas! that voice summons him to re-enter his own round of existence; and he must ever cry out lamentably, “O Lord, I am oppressed: undertake for me” (Isa. 38.14); and again, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7.24).

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Seeing that the Scripture saith, God has made all for His own glory (Isa. 43.7), surely His creatures ought to conform themselves, as much as they can, to His will. In Him should all our affections center, so that in all things we should seek only to do His will, not to please ourselves. And real happiness will come, not in gratifying our desires or in gaining transient pleasures, but in accomplishing God’s will for us: even as we pray every day: “Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6.10). O chaste and holy love! O sweet and gracious affection! O pure and cleansed purpose, thoroughly washed and purged from any admixture of selfishness, and sweetened by contact with the divine will! To reach this state is to become godlike. As a drop of water poured into wine loses itself, and takes the color and savor of wine; or as a bar of iron, heated red-hot, becomes like fire itself, forgetting its own nature; or as the air, radiant with sun-beams, seems not so much to be illuminated as to be light itself; so in the saints all human affections melt away by some unspeakable transmutation into the will of God. For how could God be all in all, if anything merely human remained in man? The substance will endure, but in another beauty, a higher power, a greater glory. When will that be? Who will see, who possess it? “When shall I come to appear before the presence of God?” (Ps. 42.2). “My heart hath talked of Thee, Seek ye My face: Thy face, Lord, will I seek” (Ps. 27.8). Lord, thinkest Thou that I, even I shall see Thy holy temple?

In this life, I think, we cannot fully and perfectly obey that precept, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind” (Luke 10.27). For here the heart must take thought for the body; and the soul must energize the flesh; and the strength must guard itself from impairment. And by God’s favor, must seek to increase. It is therefore impossible to offer up all our being to God, to yearn altogether for His face, so long as we must accommodate our purposes and aspirations to these fragile, sickly bodies of ours. Wherefore the soul may hope to possess the fourth degree of love, or rather to be possessed by it, only when it has been clothed upon with that spiritual and immortal body, which will be perfect, peaceful, lovely, and in everything wholly subjected to the spirit. And to this degree no human effort can attain: it is in God’s power to give it to whom He wills. Then the soul will easily reach that highest stage, because no lusts of the flesh will retard its eager entrance into the joy of its Lord, and no troubles will disturb its peace. May we not think that the holy martyrs enjoyed this grace, in some degree at least, before they laid down their victorious bodies? Surely that was immeasurable strength of love which enraptured their souls, enabling them to laugh at fleshly torments and to yield their lives gladly. But even though the frightful pain could not destroy their peace of mind, it must have impaired somewhat its perfection.

by Bernard of Clairvaux, from On Loving God

The Ongoing Conquest of Jericho

from The Christian Reader:

The Ongoing Conquest of Jericho

by Eric Rauch

The story of the Battle of Jericho is one that is probably more familiar to children than most adults. Like many of the bold tales of God’s deliverance and judgment found in the Old Testament, many Christians aren’t quite sure what to do with city walls that fall down due to shouting and trumpet blowing. But I am convinced that a deeper understanding of the events of Jericho is the key to a deeper understanding of what the 21st century church has been called to be and do. Just as an older generation of grumblers in the wilderness had to come to terms with the fact that their children would be the ones to inherit the promised land, so an older generation of 20th century pew dwellers need to come to terms with the fact that the “good old days” are long gone and the future is now in the hands of their offspring.

The context for the Jericho story begins, not in Joshua 1, but in Numbers 13. Moses sends a party of 12 men—one from each tribe of Israel—to spy out the land of Canaan. When the spies return, 10 of them give a report of defeat, informing Moses and Aaron that although there was indeed milk and honey flowing in the land, it was also inhabited by giants which would be too strong for Israel to overcome (13:31). When Caleb (from the tribe of Judah) and Joshua (from the tribe of Ephraim) try to give their report to the congregation—that if the Lord is fighting for Israel it makes no difference how big the Canaanites are—they are shouted down and threatened with stoning. It is a classic case of the two spies walking by faith and the other ten walking by sight. Joshua and Caleb don’t deny the report of what the other spies saw, in fact they confirm it, but they don’t limit God to what their eyes can see. Caleb gives a good report by saying:

The land which we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us—a land which flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the LORD; and do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them. (Num. 14:7-9)

At this point, after Moses intercedes for the children of Israel, God informs him that all the men of the generation that witnessed the exodus from Egypt will by no means enter the promised land. In a covenantal role-reversal, God informs the Israelites that the children they were claiming to protect from the Canaanites (14:3) will be the very ones to take possession of the land.

Your children, however, whom you said would become a prey—I will bring them in, and they will know the land which you have rejected. But as for you, your corpses will fall in this wilderness. Your sons shall be shepherds for forty years in the wilderness, and they will suffer for your unfaithfulness, until your corpses lie in the wilderness. According to the number of days which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day you shall bear your guilt a year, even forty years, and you will know My opposition. I, the LORD, have spoken, surely this I will do to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be destroyed, and there they will die. As for the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land and who returned and made all the congregation grumble against him by bringing out a bad report concerning the land, even those men who brought out the very bad report of the land died by a plague before the LORD. But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh remained alive out of those men who went to spy out the land.

(Num. 14:31-38)

Thus begins Israel’s 40-year desert wandering as a divine judicial punishment for their covenantal unfaithfulness and unbelief. Because of their good report, Joshua and Caleb are the only spies to remain alive. God later tells Moses that Joshua will be his successor and the one to lead the next generation into the promised land (Num. 27:15-23).

Fast forward 40 years. Moses and the rest of the previous generation (those over 60 years of age, Num. 14:28-29) have died and Joshua is preparing the next generation to cross the Jordan River into Canaan. Like Moses before him, Joshua again sends spies ahead of them to view the land. Interestingly, he only sends two, rather than twelve, recalling the good report of the minority from the first mission, 40 years earlier. When the two spies enter the city of Jericho, they encounter Rahab, a harlot, and she gives them refuge in her house. Rahab tells the men that she knows God has given the land to them and that all the inhabitants of the land are terrified of Israel. “For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath” (Joshua 2:10-11). In exchange for her kindness to the spies, Rahab asks for protection for her family’s household during the siege. The men grant that if she is faithful to her promise to keep quiet, they will repay her kindness when they destroy the city.

Notice that the inhabitants of the land were fearful of the Israelites. They had heard the stories for the last 40 years and they knew that this day was coming. In fact, Jericho had surrounded itself with a wall for this very reason. In Joshua 6:1 we read this: “Now Jericho was tightly shut because of the sons of Israel; no one went out and no one came in.” Jericho was “tightly shut” because of the sons of Israel. The pagan inhabitants of Canaan (Jericho probably means “moon city,” indicating it as a place of celestial worship) knew that they were living on borrowed time. They had spent much time and money to fortify themselves behind massive brick walls [1]. Even so, their hearts melted with fear when they heard that the Israelites had crossed the Jordan (Josh. 5:1, cf. 2:11).

This important point should not be overlooked or taken lightly. Modern Christians must remember this every time they encounter hostility, slander, and ridicule from the city of man. The citizens of this city are not interested in inviting you in for cordial discourse. The walls they have erected around their castles of humanism are not primarily designed to protect what is inside, but to prevent outsiders from entering. The walls are there because God’s people are in the land. Whether or not they will admit it, their “hearts are melted and no courage remains in them” because of God’s covenant people. If you think this is hyperbole, listen to what political scientist Gary Segura has written (and was used as evidence by the plaintiffs’ opposition to Prop 8 in California):

[R]eligion is the chief obstacle for gay and lesbian political progress, and it’s the chief obstacle for a couple of reasons… [I]t’s difficult to think of a more powerful social entity in American society than the church… [I]t’s a very powerful organization, and in large measure they are arrayed against the interests of gays and lesbians…[B]iblical condemnation of homosexuality and the teaching that gays are morally inferior on a regular basis to a huge percentage of the public makes the…political opportunity structure very hostile to gay interests. It’s very difficult to overcome that. [2]

It’s very difficult to overcome only if they actually allow the church to be engaged in the debate. This is why the church is regularly marginalized, ignored, and not invited to be a part of the discussion: the opposition is afraid of this “very powerful organization.” The older generation can’t seem to understand why the church’s voice has been steadily losing influence during the last 50 years, but the new generation is unconcerned with this because, like Joshua and Caleb, they know that the Lord has promised to give them the land. The giants on the borders and the walls around the city are not barriers to the God of heaven and earth, and if God is for us, they are not barriers to us either. Rather than being frustrated and put off by the walls, we must begin to recognize that their very presence indicates that God is still at work in the land.

To be continued…


[1] The walls that surrounded Jericho are believed to have been double walls, with the outer wall being about 30 feet high and six feet thick and the inner wall, also about 30 feet tall, being about twelve to fifteen feet thick (R.K. Harrison, Old Testament Times: A Social, Political, and Cultural Context [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005], 168). If this is correct, this means that the “walls” of Jericho could have been more than twenty feet thick!

[2] See the entire document here. Segura’s comments can be found on page 101.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pagans At The Dawning Of The Age Of Aquarius

from Patheos:

Pagans at the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius

August 25, 2010
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By Ivo Dominguez, Jr.

I believe that we are in the creative tumult of the turning from one Age to another. As a Wiccan, the turning wheel of the Moon's phases and the Sun's stations of the seasons are my holy days and also my guideposts through my journey in time. I am also aware that there are cycles within cycles and that the largest wheel I know is coming to its next season. I describe this turning of the Ages with the language of Astrology; others may use other systems, but one thing we all might agree upon is that large cycles move slowly. As such, even a child born today that is raised in a Pagan faith will not live to see the completion of this time of growth and change in Paganism.

What would such a child see? The continuation and acceleration of what we are already seeing. Year by year we are seeing an explosion of new proto-traditions, new liturgies, new magickal techniques, and cultural experiments within the spiritual gene pool of what we broadly call Paganism. Like a speciation event, like a dandelion seed head blowing, like an oak scattering an of abundance acorns, like the mixing milt and eggs of a thousand salmon of wisdom, all these new forms are encountering each other and changing each other and creating more. Time and Nature will decide which will flourish and which will wither in the environment of a new Age. Over the next several decades, we will see what succeeds and in which geographies or cultural niches. I don't think we can see the details yet, let alone the broad shape of things to come, but I think we can make extrapolations. In the same way that I can make sound guesses about what flowers in the Spring rather than the Autumn, I can suggest what is fostered by the Age of Aquarius for Paganism.


Read More from: The Future of Paganism


Sacred science and passion will become more blended so we should see Paganism taking on more of the practices of Western ceremonial magick. There will be a transition of power wherein Knowledge takes the throne vacated by Belief. There will be more schisms and divisions within existing traditions and even umbrella terms such Paganism and Heathenism will no longer be broad enough and will divide and branch. There will be more solitaries, unaffiliated seekers, but also more formal faith communities that will create brick and mortar infrastructure. Some will seek to restore the Goddesses and Gods through a closer adherence to the ways of the past and others will listen for the new ways to announce themselves.

Both Saturn and Uranus rule the Age of Aquarius, one the builder of icons and the other the iconoclast. There will be less agreement and less commonality in our faith communities with the attending risks that come of this circumstance, but that is the cost of diversification. Paganism will sway and rock but we cannot wait for the pendulum to swing or be still, because we will have gone from the paradigm of pendulums to that of mobiles. We must find and continue to add the counterbalances that bring proper relationships between the disparate elements of the new Paganism. I am hopeful that we can do this. We will thrive if we greet flux and ambiguity with the spark of anticipation as we superimpose the template of the future that we each are shaping.

Ivo Dominguez, Jr. is a visionary, and a practitioner of a variety of esoteric disciplines. He has been active in Wicca and the Pagan community since 1978, has been teaching since 1982. Ivo was a founding member of Keepers of the Holly Chalice, the first coven of The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel a Wiccan Tradition. He currently serves as one of the Elders of the Assembly of The Sacred Wheel, a Wiccan syncretic tradition that draws inspiration from Astrology, Qabala, the Western Magickal Tradition, and the folk religions of Europe. His techniques and insights are rooted in a synthesis of traditional metaphysical teachings, modern science, and memories from past lives. He has taught at many gatherings, conferences, and venues across the United States. He is the author of Spirit Speak, Castings: The Creation Of Sacred Space, and Beneath the Skins. Visit his site at

Polypraxy: A Multitudinous Future

From Patheos:

Polypraxy: A Multitudinous Future

August 25, 2010
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By By Eryn Rowan Laurie

Here's my wisdom for your use, as I learned it when the moose

And the reindeer roared where Paris roars to-night:

There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,

And -- every -- single -- one - of -- them -- is -- right!

~ Rudyard Kipling, "In the Neolithic Age"

A lot of folks talk about Paganism in its varying manifestations as being not a religion of belief but one of practice. Generally speaking, I agree with this assessment. Belief is all well and good -- I believe in spirits and deities and that magic works -- but when the rubber hits the road, practice is where things really happen in spiritual and ethical communities. You can believe all kinds of wonderful things, but if you never act on them, you might as well not believe either.

In monotheistic religions we see manifestations of orthodoxy (correctness of belief) and in many of them we see orthopraxy (correctness of practice) as well. The ortho- element in the words is defined in the 1913 edition of Webster's Dictionary as "A combining form signifying straight, right, upright, correct, regular." With this concept, far too often, comes the idea that there is only one correct belief or practice.

Calling various types of Paganism, including Celtic reconstructionist Paganism (CR), religions of practice doesn't point to uniformity, though. In the multiple Celtic cultures encompassing centuries of time and thousands of miles of place, practices varied from village to village and era to era, so it's hard to claim an orthopraxy in any meaningful sense. In Gardnerian Wiccan circles, you can usually expect to get something that doesn't vary a whole lot from group to group. There is a certain orthopraxy beneath the varied personal practices. A Gardnerian can, generally, expect their initiation rituals to be the same from group to group in a particular lineage.

The same can't be said in Celtic reconstructionist religions for the simple reason that we don't have handed-down texts of rituals to work from. We can all look at the same source texts of poetry and tales and history and come away with different interpretations and different ways of ritualizing the content of those texts. Individuals in a community may influence one another's interpretations and practices, but even within a small local community like the Seattle CR schmooze group that I'm a member of, we have different approaches, different interests, and different types of focus on the material. We have folks who are interested in Irish or Scottish materials and folks interested in Welsh materials. We experiment with different types of ritual based on the sources to see what happens and how it all works -- if it does at all.

And so what we see in the Pagan community at large, and within many reconstructionist communities as subgroups of the Pagan community, is what can really only be called polypraxy -- a multiplicity of practices based on variations in source materials, interpretations, and localized bioregional expressions, much as P. Sufenus Virius Lupus notes in his essay on "Niche Religions."

Polypraxy still happens in Ireland, where the festivals for Lá Fhéill Bríde (Imbolc) vary from one town to another in the same county. In CR approaches to the same holy day, localized manifestations are going to be a feature of the movement by the very nature of human spiritual experience and its interpretation. One group might focus on the weaving of Brigid's crosses and putting out the Brat Bríd, while another looks at ways to bring in aspects of the cross-dressing Biddy Boys traditions and public processional, and a third deals with Bríg Ambue and the purification of outsiders who are then welcomed into the community as full participants.

None of these approaches are incorrect, nor does any group have to have all of them to be a "real" CR group celebrating a culturally appropriate festival. It's possible to have a philosophy of polypraxy within a movement and be very much true to both the originating culture, the source texts, and the spiritual impetus of the individuals who make up the modern movement without any of it being inauthentic. Each of these rituals address different needs in the particular community where the rituals occur, all of them based on traditional literary sources or folk practices.

There is another layer to this, though. Religion and spirituality are living things. They change with each generation and with each movement from place to place. Texts are reinterpreted within these new contexts of time and geography. Other cultures and religions are encountered and their philosophies and practices are observed, discussed, studied, even experienced. People add new practices to their lives. New non-spiritual philosophies are encountered as well -- feminism, post-modernism, egalitarianism. Old ways are modified to accommodate the need for equality of gender and social class and, often, old exclusionary rules are discarded or modified. Women take their place as ritualists, teachers, warriors. Men take up tending Brigid's flame. These may not have been part of the original cultures, but they reflect our needs today, and the ways in which culture and spirituality are changing in response to our needs and the needs of generations to come

People who consider themselves primary practitioners of one path often add secondary practices like Buddhist meditation, or attendance at an Umbanda house, or supporting dancers in local Native communities, or puja at a local Hindu temple to their personal spiritual work without seeing this as a source of conflict or a betrayal of their primary allegiance. We can still be CR or Asatru or Wiccan and have other practices and other altars in our hearts and our homes. Given the global nature of modern culture, I see this as a welcome step toward cooperation and understanding, not a dilution or a betrayal of tradition. It is an addition, not a subtraction, and it is one that fosters understanding between groups, between religions, and between cultures.

The ideal of polypraxy, of Kipling's nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays, is one that has always been a part of the human condition. Large orthodoxies have tried repeatedly to muffle or destroy this human urge, but it continues under the surface, even in the most conservative spiritual communities. In my work with a Siberian teacher from the Ulchi tribe, I was told that there are very firm rules for what kinds of things may be offered to the spirits, but if a particular spirit asks for something that is considered a violation of those rules, you listen to the spirit. Traditional ways are guidelines that preserve the culture, but even in traditional cultures, there are exceptions, there are changes, there are drifts. There are places outside the mainstream, and modern Paganism swims in these waters. Polypraxy is important to our future as a multifaceted constellation of spiritual communities.

And every single one of them is right.

Erynn Rowan Laurie is a poet and writer who lives on Puget Sound. Animist, polytheist, and centered on the pre-Christian spirituality of Ireland and Scotland, she is the author of Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom and has occasionally been known to have a few things to say about Pagan religions. For more information on Erynn and her writing visit The Preserving Shrine.