Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Latest Human Kindness Foundation Newsletter

~Thoughts From the Road~
Dear Family,

As I sit in a little motel in Murfreesboro TN to write this, President Bush has just put forward his new budget in which he has cut funds for Medicare and other social programs, and has increased spending to an unprecedented degree for the Pentagon and Homeland Security. In defending these cuts and hikes, the President and his spokesmen have all said that the new budget reflects our national priorities.

I’m afraid they’re right. They are essentially saying that FEAR AND INSECURITY are our national priorities, not health or poverty, not homelessness or education or communities or caring for our elderly. And they have a good case. The only reason this group of mean-spirited wealthy businessmen are running the world in the first place is that they played to our fears and won, and they keep doing it. Even his most ardent supporters must know in their hearts that President Bush is not very bright and is constantly dishonest with the American people. But they are convinced that a) their children are in mortal danger; and b) he is mean and heartless enough to do whatever it takes across the world for America to be safe. Like the old saying goes, “we have met the enemy, and he is us.” The United States is becoming a menacing figure across much of the world, because our national lifestyle uses 30-40% of the world’s natural resources, and we need to colonize other nations in order to keep consuming so much more than our fair share. NO politician, whether democrat, republican, libertarian or any other, is urging us to use less, to make a dramatic shift in how much we drive, how far away our food comes from, how much electricity we use.

This newsletter is called “A Little Good News,” so where is the good news in all of this? Where it always is - in the hearts, minds and lives of each of us who dare to step aside from the fear-based mainstream culture and live more deeply. When our nation is cutting its own throat and becoming a beastly presence around the world, could there be a better or more important time for us to become real spiritual seekers and sages? Could there be a more appropriate time for us to personally become beacons of compassion, humility and wisdom? If our economy collapses under the weight of those military budgets, if China goes to war with us over oil, if the utility companies begin to schedule regular brownouts or blackouts as many countries already do to save petroleum, tens of millions of Americans are going to be seriously unstable. We don’t do too well without our morning TV and coffee, without our air conditioners and hair dryers, without our personal freedom to hop in our cars and drive anywhere we like anytime we want.

Many mature and intelligent people are predicting very hard times ahead for Americans in the near future. Our entire national lifestyle is based upon an unsustainable addiction to petroleum. It would be great if you and I become more serious about our spiritual journey right now so that we can be calm and strong in the face of such worldly troubles. People are going to need some guidance and reassurance, some strength that only comes from knowing that this world of fleeting consumer happiness and political insecurity is trivial compared to spiritual joy and peace. There is never any real “security” in that material world, and there is never any real threat to our spiritual nature. It’s time for us to be serious about Jesus’ advice to “be IN this world, but not OF it.” The world we are in is falling apart. The world we are of is still beautiful, noble and holy. Always will be.

What do I mean by “become more serious about our spiritual journey right now?” I mean right now, this minute. I mean taking a look at the bottom line - less selfishness and less vanity - and deciding this very hour to commit ourselves to living for the sake of others from this day on. We know someday we’re going to do it, we know someday we’re going to get on board with the advice handed down by every sage in the history of the world. We just keep assuming today isn’t the day we radically change. It’s not convenient, it’s not practical. Dear friends, our civilization is descending into open madness, our children have statistically become the most violent people on Earth, tens of millions of us are taking anti-depressants just to get through the day, and so it’s hero time. It’s time to take that enormous leap of faith and live for a higher purpose than selfish pleasure, selfish security and selfish gain. Someday, it’s got to be NOW. That leap cannot always be a little ways off into the future. How about making this article the last thing you ever read as a self-protective, self-centered materialistic human being? I mean it! Don’t just read through this. I’m talking about you!!

The path is simple, though the details can be very complex. The path is living for the benefit of others, living for the benefit of all creation. Keep that idea simple. We don’t need ridiculous arguments about Salvation or Heaven or who’s going to get there. We merely need to wake up every morning and spend a few minutes in prayerful reminder that we intend to live for the benefit of others today. Then each day becomes an interesting adventure of how to do that! But at least we will have a single and clear focus for our lives. That alone will begin to dissolve our fears and bring us peace and strength.

In order to make our best guesses all through the day of how to be unselfish, we need to take decent care of body, mind, and spirit - specifically, a healthy body, a quiet mind, and an open heart are the goals of daily spiritual practice. A body we abuse through bad diet, lack of exercise, etc.; a mind we cloud with noise all day long, violent images on TV, pornography, etc.; and a heart we keep closed due to fears and desires, do not enable us to tune in very well to the Divine guidance that whispers inside of us all through the day. Every tough or confusing situation carries its own solution within it, but we are usually too unfocused to perceive it. When we start cleaning up our act, many of our problems reveal their own solutions that then seem so obvious we are amazed we couldn’t see them before

Are you really going to find joy through comfort or false security? You know you’re not. But does that real joy exist? Is it just a great big rumor? A few words of hope to help unhappy people cope with their unhappiness? Apparently a lot of people think that is the case. Even a lot of clergy have become little more than lay psychologists and humanists, suggesting that miracles and mystical events like the parting of the Red Sea, the virgin birth and resurrection, the raising of the dead or healing of the blind, are merely metaphors and do not need to be taken literally in order for us to have faith in the goodness of mankind. Yikes! Where do we mystics begin to straighten out such denial and ignorance?

Well, first thing: Millions of people throughout history, even some of us reading this newsletter, have experienced mystical states of consciousness, what sages would call some degree or other of “Transcendence.” We often get mocked or exiled or even executed for bringing it to anyone’s attention, but that doesn’t negate its reality. In this state - again, to any degree of it, from a tiny taste to full-blown God Consciousness - miracles abound, and are completely natural. The virgin birth or resurrection are child’s play on that level of reality. Reports of these experiences, from every religion and civilization, describe several qualities that are common to all those different cultures and centuries: A union with God, with all of existence, the cessation of the individual egoic identity, a Divine Awareness of the individual as a vehicle of God’s purpose on Earth, and an overwhelming, absolutely unconditional Love that really and truly has the power to move mountains or create new worlds.

These descriptions are virtually the same and describe the singular core experience that led to every religion. Religion is about a higher reality, not just an historical story and some dreamy poetry about rewards and punishment, heavens and hells. It’s about something that is real whether we choose to believe it or not. And the goal of religion is to touch that real experience ourselves. Let’s try to keep that in mind, okay? The bottom line of religion is to touch God, not to just be a nice person.

I spend a lot of time in motels these days, and sometimes I flip through the channels to find religious programs to keep me in touch with what is passing for Christianity among the general population. It would be scary if it weren’t so unbelievably silly. Fear-mongering and money-raising, exhortations to be “loud and proud” about one’s faith. Jesus himself told us “When you pray, don’t pray loudly out in the streets for people to hear you, but pray in the closet.” Yet we have turned modern American Christianity into a loud, barking sideshow doing exactly what the Savior Himself told us not to do. Jesus also warned us not to believe everyone who comes in His name, but rather to look for those who do His Father’s work - feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner, shelter the homeless. Yet any well-dressed snake-oil salesman can buy some TV time and launch a loud, proud, money-grubbing crusade in Jesus’ name and there always seem to be enough people to send them money for their limousines and mansions. All in the name of the simple carpenter from Nazareth who said it will be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for such a man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Yikes again. I guess it really is true that the bigger a lie, the more people will believe it.

Let’s get back to the Good News. The saints and sages encourage us to spend some time every day alone, quiet, sequestered from everything that is in the world of time and place, the world of material reality. Why? Why did Moses go up on top of Mt. Sinai, alone and humble? Why did Jesus go out in the desert, alone and humble? Why did Mohammed go into the cave, alone and humble? Why did the Buddha sit under the Bodhi tree, alone and humble? For the same reason Jesus tells you and me to go pray in a closet: To humbly open ourselves to a higher reality, the Great Mystery, what most of us call God, what Buddhists call Bodhi Mind, what Native Americans call Great Spirit. All the same, all One. We go off alone and submit ourselves, present ourselves, to its presence. Not loud and proud. Not as scholars or “members.” But as children before the Lord, not knowing anything except that God is Good. You’ve heard the expression “Waiting on the Lord.” That’s what we do in the closet for those few minutes every day. That’s what we do for longer periods of time in occasional retreats. We learn to sit down, shut up, offer ourselves to that Larger Reality, and humbly wait.

No Cathedral can guarantee us the direct experience of the Holy One, and no prison cell can keep us from it. Jesus told His apostles, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.” Just sweet words? Just a metaphor? Or are you willing to consider that in some incomprehensible way, the entire infinite, unbounded Kingdom of Heaven is actually, literally within you and me?!! Go pray in the closet. Such simple words, such simple instruction. Go pray in the closet. He’s handing us the keys to the Kingdom and we keep building more huge churches and holding what could only be called ceaseless membership rallies under the name of Christianity. It’s become just about membership, hasn’t it? “I’m saved; are you saved?” How about the actual teachings of the religion, of the Savior Himself? You know, putting others first, turning the other cheek, giving away our wealth, trusting that God will feed and clothe us, rejoicing over the reformed criminal, accepting everyone at our Father’s table - you know, all that stuff Jesus actually instructed us to do? How has the popular religion in His name become merely a loud, proud, elitist membership fraternity? That’s a real head-scratcher!

But you and I do not need to figure out how tens of millions of people have unintentionally fallen into a mockery of Christianity or any other faith. You and I simply need to make our own decision about where we will stand. Jesus told Pontius Pilate, “You have no power over me.” Since Pontius Pilate then ordered Him to be executed and He was indeed killed, we need to reflect on what Jesus meant. In this world of people and events, Pontius Pilate certainly did have power over Jesus. He had Him crucified. Yet three days later, Jesus came back to show us that even imprisonment, torture and execution are trivial next to the Love He represents. He came to show us there is this world that we are in, where the Pontius Pilates will always seem to have power over us, but then there is this world we are of, which is a Force that makes death itself trivial and reversible.

Be in this world but not of it. Hmmm. Be in prison but not of it. Be in parenthood but not of it. Be in your job, your marriage, your hopes and dreams, your achievements, your plans, your recovery, but not of it. As they say in the South, you and I are “not from around here…” Being both in and of this world we see around us would be really depressing and make us feel quite disempowered. That world is headed toward a train wreck politically, socially, ecologically, in just about every way. Countless millions of people go through the day not believing in anything truly beautiful, noble, or holy. How unbelievably sad. Because this very same world is astonishingly beautiful, noble and holy when we view it from the spiritual realm that we are of.

My dear elder, an Anglican monk named Father Murray Rogers, says “Bo, faith is not the most important thing; it’s the only thing!” Father Murray also said “Every crisis is a crisis of Faith, no matter what else it appears to be.” Father Murray once defined Faith as “Believing in an Ultimate Goodness behind everything, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”

You and I can directly touch that Ultimate Goodness in the closet. I have many times. The Supreme Force is not neutral, it is Good. It is beyond our understanding, for sure, but not beyond our ability to experience it, or put more accurately, to merge into It when our separateness falls away. Don’t settle for too little. Many of the “New Thought” or “New Age” churches seem to be trying to make this worldly level of reality the perfect one. They have all the right words about everything being God and so forth, but they’re trying to make personal, small, egoic happiness the Big Joy. That will never happen. This world we are in is tiny and limited and extremely conditional. The world we are of is a unified consciousness that doesn’t need protection from trivialities like poverty, illness, or adversity. By knowing where we are OF, we can have less fear and more power to help in the world we are IN.

This is a time when it would be helpful for us to simplify our spiritual perspectives. “May I be less selfish today than yesterday. May I be less vain today than yesterday. I dedicate myself today to live for others.” All the practices and paths are merely to serve these simple ends. Like one of the great Tibetan teachers told his student, “What is needed now is not more teachings, but more practice, my son!” Let’s really do this TODAY. Commit yourself to living for others right now. You know it’s the right thing to do, so don’t wait any longer. Believe me, your life will be a fascinating adventure just figuring out what it really means to put others first. And Life truly will bring you all you need if you really make this commitment

With Love,

Human Kindness Foundation
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