Welcome to the Fellowship of Comparative Religion


Celebrating diversity.
Promoting peace, tolerance, and mutual respect.
Providing religious, educational, and humanitarian resources.
Honoring the sacred wisdom to be found in all spiritual traditions.

We hope that you will find here information that will encourage and inspire, inform and enlighten.

Use the buttons in the menu above to learn more about the Fellowship and find many articles to educate and inspire.

Below, find our most recent blog posts; please join in the conversation by leaving a comment.

About Today

By Glenda | March 24, 2016

Today I had to reach deeply into the sources of my spiritual life, seeking the means to be with, in a sacred way, as I like to say, what I am experiencing of the outer world.

It was not easy, for at first I could only see a world full of both bomb blasts and bombastic rhetoric.  I felt the impact of a world swamped by grief, fear, and anger.  I listened to accounts of the hypocrisy involving a governor who won an election by running on a holier-than-thou ticket of his version of “family values” who is now caught up in a shocking sex-scandal revelation that has his wife releasing salacious materials to the public and filing for a divorce.

In short, I felt overwhelmed by a world full unhappiness: the self-righteous outraged by the ludicrous, the dangerous exploiting the naïve, the uninformed believing absurdities, the manipulative and the power-hungry apparently out-maneuvering overly-gentle non-partisan progressives.

To escape all this doom and gloom, I thought to step outside, right here in the deep woods where I live.  But, although I immediately found myself listening to the wind in the trees, looking at the radiant blooms of the spring flowers, walking the familiar paths down to the creek, I still kept wondered how, on such a beautiful day, things could be so awful elsewhere, and, I kept asking myself why it is so difficult for human beings simply to quieten themselves, live in peace, and, as they say, “smell the roses.”

To quieten my own self, however, I knew I would probably have to first listen to myself;  I’ve learned to pay attention in a respectful way to whatever is surfacing from deep within, without becoming obsessed by it.  So, as I walked, I allowed my frazzled thoughts to float where they would, without trying to censor them too quickly with Pollyanna pretense or my own over-simplified pontificating.

So, my thoughts turned first to the pain I felt over the suffering of people wounded in the current bomb blast.  I allowed myself to imagine the fear and horror of the bystanders, the agony of those grieving for the dead.

Then I began to think about those who had caused this tragedy—the radicalized Islamic terrorist suicide bombers who had said they believed so completely in their “holy war” that they were willing to do battle, to die to make the world live by to their religious beliefs.

Suddenly, I heard in my mind the words of an old hymn I haven’t sung in many years, words that go something like this: “Onward, Christian soldiers! Marching as to war, With the cross of Jesus Going on before.  Christ, the royal Master, Leads against the foe;  Forward into battle, See his banners go! Like a mighty army moves the Church of God; Brothers, we are treading where the Saints have trod. We are not divided; all one body we: One in hope and doctrine, One in charity. Onward, Christian soldiers! Marching into war.”

Militant crusade lyrics, these, urging “one in doctrine” to do battle, and this from another side of the current religious fault line.

As I thought about the history of ideologically driven chaos and suffering, I wanted to cry out, “How long shall we be torn apart by fanaticism, of any and every kind?  What can we do to stop this escalation of verbal and physical violence, coming at us from every direction?”

Thinking about the long history of war, I remembered Carl Jung, who, as Hitler rose to power, wrote in his journal, agonizing over his awareness of the developing catastrophe, feeling unable to stop it, even though he spoke again and again about how people needed to examine their own “shadow” selves and the “shadow” side of the culture and even the “shadow” side of their particular concept of God if the horrors he could see coming were to be prevented.

I also thought about a German couple I once knew in California who tried to explain to us Americans how “good people” in Germany could have stood by and allowed the holocaust to happen.  This nice man said to us, “Well, in the beginning, Hitler wasn’t that bad; after the previous war that had been and still was so hard on all of us, Hitler at first said things that made us feel better, promised us good things to come, and, really, none of us ever believed that what eventually happened could happen in our enlightened nation, the nation of Goethe, Bach, Beethoven, etc…”

Now, I watch what is happening in my own country, what dreadful things are developing, and I search inside myself for the words, the ways that I myself can speak out, can reach out, can make a difference in this present chaotic state of the world.

So easy it is to feel helpless in the face of such a whirlwind of emotion and such a variety of passionate energy propelling us as a society into further conflict and horror.

Lately, alone here in the deep woods, I pray.  I sit so quietly, day after day, trying to be starkly present to the reality that is happening that some of my friends are beginning to fear that depression has overtaken me.  But I wait for inspiration, guidance, for the future and my part in it.

And, again and again, my spiritual bedrock beliefs stand me in good stead.

The title of a book I read years ago rings in my ears, “I never promised you a rose garden…”

As concerned as we all rightly are about justice and injustice, rights and privileges, freedoms and the lack thereof—I am constantly reminded that an unevenness apparently pervades nature and reality itself, that beyond any sense of right-and-wrong or good-and-evil, for example, a storm can suddenly destroy forests or cities or whatever is in the path, that meteors can hurtle through space and smash into things, that the innocent often suffer and the unrighteous sometimes escape punishment.  I am reminded that reality seems equally fraught with pain and sorrow as well as it is suffused with delight and happiness.

How to make my personal and spiritual perspective large enough to encompass that reality, while maintaining any kind of hopeful balance, any kind of overall concept of wholeness and spiritual well-being—that is the ever-necessary discipline I face.

I have been taught well, of course.  My spiritual mentors would expect nothing less of me than to meet this current challenge to my spiritual compass with the strongest thing I know to do.

So today, I focused on this one assertion–that love is still possible, even in the worst times.

What kind of love, though, you may ask?  Well (and this is the tricky part), for whatever is at hand—a violet, small and shining in the new green grass; or a friend, confessing his grief on the other end of the telephone; or a blithering someone on the television that I really want to call the most awful names because he seems so vile—that is the challenge.

We have been taught, all of us, to love, to love each and all of what is, the beautiful, the precious, and the awful and the frightening—that is what all the world’s religions teach.  To love our enemies, to have compassion for those least loveable, to be gentle with our own failings, even to reverse the teaching and “Love ourselves as we love our neighbors.”  For truly, there is no difference.

I have to sit still a long time to work it out though.  It’s complicated, many sided.

If I believe, as I do, that ultimately, in the big picture, there is no separation, that we are, indeed, One, that Life itself is indivisible, then my neighbor, my enemy, myself (and the violet and the storm and the meteor) all are inter-connected.  Loving anything or anyone touches everything, while withholding love, or even hating anyone one or anything touches everything too.

I’m not so good at this, I confess.   First it requires discernment.  While everything may be One, I am Me.  Boundaries matter.  Safety matters.  My values matter.  Not just in an egocentric way either, but in a big way too.

If we are, in fact, co-creating the universe, then my actions for good, for what I believe in, my actions against what is dangerous and dreadful—this too is important.

So figuring out where I begin and end, where I should act or refrain from acting, where I can trust “the universe” or “spirit” or whatever to take care of the “big picture,” and where I need to speak out and act strongly, that is the first challenge.

What form shall this love so ardently advocated take?

Then, whatever way I go, it requires honesty.  And courage.

For me, that means not trying to hide in stupefied revulsion, or self-induced ignorance, or deepening self-pity, or ranting and railing in an impractical and fruitless exposition of my own opinions. That’s all so much easier to do.  But it doesn’t work.  Not the way real love works.  Not the way kindness works, or compassion, or forgiveness, or even equanimity.

Knowing, as I surely do, that love is actually the secret ingredient, the very essence of all life, allows me to trust that, even now, love is available and strong enough to change this troubled world.  I do believe, when I get quiet, that love can be channeled through me, through all or any of us, enough to fill each moment, however dreadful, for us with “peace that passes understanding.”

This is not just Pollyanna pretense either.  Again and again, it has been proven.  “Be still, and know….”

When we quieten ourselves enough, our souls expand, and filling the space carved hollow by sorrow, a healing compassionate tenderness rises in us, with love for friend and foe alike, along with an awareness that we are loved, and that we embody love, that we can manifest love in the world.  No matter what.

To feel the power and strength of that, even in the face of the worst days, the worst news, the saddest images, that is the ground of my practice.

As I said, I’m not so good at it.  But today I return to it yet again, tenacious and fierce in determination.

And, there’s this.  Equally important, I know I must give myself permission, even discipline myself, to allow joy and beauty often to sweep into and over me, filling me with bliss and perhaps swaying me with giddy pleasure—that too is equally necessary “medicine” for me in these otherwise draining days.  I must not fall into the false trap of feeling guilty for feeling good.  My joy, too, like my pain, radiates out into the world, so you might say I have an obligation to participate in joyfulness as in suffering!

Those are some of the things I thought about today.

And because of my love and respect for you, and because of who I am, I felt a need to reach out to you on this difficult day.  So these are the musings I chose to send on to you.  Not “nine simple rules for survival.”  Not a big sermon or a profound statement, to be sure.  I never have that to give.

I merely send out my voice to you, hoping to remind you that together we are, truly we are, we can be, we must be a force for good.  We must not hold back, we must not give up, we must not lose our courage, our sense of proportion, our sense of humor, or our deep awareness of the many dimensions of history and of an unseen reality broader and deeper and wider than we can imagine, a reality that is manifested in love.  We must not give up, or give in to hopelessness.

Together we stand for sanity and peace. Together we can choose to restrain our most virulent comments and opinions and actions.  Together we can, in the familiar words, “bind up our wounds,” and carry on. Together we can find the strength to be still, and, also, paradoxically, the strength to act, to speak out, to say, perhaps,  “The emperor has no clothes,” or “This shall not stand,” or “This I believe, but I will listen respectfully to what you believe,” or whatever other words finally find their way through each of us.

And, at times when we feel most alone, we can practice listening, deep inside ourselves, as I had to do today, to what the old Eskimo shaman called “the still, small voice of Spirit that says, ‘Be not afraid.’”  Or to what Jesus said: “I will be with you, even unto the end of the world.”  Or to what Krishna said: “A person who remains steady and unattached when pleasure and pain comes and goes will achieve the highest goal.” Or to what Buddha said: “The only way you can become free is to love those who hate you.”

I write this message to you, to the world, I suppose, as my own practice in loving.

I am just wanting to let you know that I am here, just being here, holding this space on the wheel, holding you, as always, in my heart with love and with the utmost respect.

Glenda Taylor

Director, Fellowship of Comparative Religion

 

 

Yes!

By Glenda | September 25, 2015

Had I power to command, I’d command everyone to take the time to watch this entire interfaith ceremony at Ground Zero, with participation by all the world’s religions. Of especial note was the equal participation of women,the embrace of the rabbi and the Muslim cleric, the emotion of the young Muslim woman participating at this sacred site, the appeal by all for peace. May peace indeed be with us.

Ancient Wisdom

By Glenda | September 3, 2015

I have entered a new phase of my life.  That does not simply mean I have gotten older, although that is certainly underway.

I refer rather to something else, far more difficult to summarize with a label or a cliché.

An aspect of this new phase, however, seems to involve making an attempt to communicate, ever more clearly, what it is that I have been about, what has been evolving in and through me, all these years, willy-nilly, haphazard as I may have manifested it, however little I myself may have consciously understood it.

Hence this urge today to speak yet again about our human place in the whole scheme of things, insofar as I continue to experience it.

I have spent a good bit of time recently visiting a number of ancient ruins built by a society obsessed with their own proper place in the whole scheme of things.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The ancient Puebloan people of the Four Corners Region of the Southwest devoted generations of human effort to replicate here on earth, in the placement of the very house beams and doorways and windows of their every dwelling, an alignment with the precisely observed patterns of the stars, moon, and sun.

Their homes, their communal structures, and even their long roads were extraordinarily aligned in accordance with their correct observation of patterns of light during cycles of sunlight and moonlight—of solstice and equinox, of the many-year-long sequences of the moon’s cycles, of the infrequent but regular intersections of moonset and sunrise at particular times of the year, of seasonal changes etc.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

To be aware enough to observe such natural periodic alignments, especially over extended time and space, is an amazing accomplishment.  More importantly, perhaps, to be able to see that one’s place in the midst of it all could be rightly ordered—that was part of the genius of this people.

It is clear that their spiritual perspective was replicated on the very ground itself, extended over miles and miles in what is now several states in the region, in an amazing alignment of constructions—observatories, carefully selected and placed domestic communal complexes, ceremonial sites, and roads running straight as an arrow, aligned to true north, over hill and canyon for hundreds of miles between sites.  At least some of the roads apparently had to do with certain ceremonial occasions when many people went on spiritual processions on the roads, one of the roads being thirty feet wide for many miles.

How much had to be learned by these people about the inter-relationships of the natural world, about the permanence or impermanence of materials.  How many timbers had to be cut with stone tools and how many building stones had to be carried for miles.  How much vision occurred to initiate such massive projects.  How much  leadership skill, workmanship skill, and extraordinary human dedication and discipline was required to accomplish such incredible feats of aligned construction, over many generations, without modern tools and scientific equipment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Puebloan people who designed these communities could study the patterns of movement of stars and planets, the periodic changes in light that impacted the plants and the animals and the human community itself, in part because the sky here is so wide open.  In a time without electricity and all the distractions it provides, they would have spent many a starry night looking up at the rotation of the constellations across the sky.  The movements of the planets would have been as familiar to them as the patterns of the seasons are to us.

During the day in this region, the horizon is so clearly marked in the far distance, by this mesa or that remote mountain peak, that one has a fixed directional perspective.  One is not confused by the overshadowing of chaotic forms that other environments, like the flat-land woodlands of my home territory, provide.

So my own sense of self has been altered, deepened, as I have stood again and again this summer within the order, symmetry, and beauty of the ancient pueblos, and especially as I have prayed in one or another of their kivas, their place of “emergence” from one world into the next, the ceremonial site that both centers one in and allows one to transcend the natural world of time and space.

Great Kiva

This time here in the Four Corners has cleared away a lot of my own mental “clutter,” revealing in the clear light of contemplation a renewed appreciation for intangible kinship, relationship, reciprocity, resonance, and the ongoing and ever-changing dynamic of Beingness Itself.

My growing humility about my own alignment (or lack thereof) with the incredible harmony and symmetry and emergent powers of the universe fills me with a great tenderness.

My gratitude and appreciation for those people who went before us and for all that they have left for us—these push me to care ever more deeply for what we may yet leave to future generations.

One contemporary Puebloan woman remarked that so many visitors to these ancient sites ask “What happened to these people to make them leave these sites they had built so carefully over generations?”

“Well,” the woman said, “First, they didn’t abandon the sites mindlessly; they left because all of the environmental circumstances which they were so in touch with made it appropriate to move; on the other hand,” she said, “they just moved to a different location.  They didn’t disappear.  They were our ancestors.  From them we came.  And we are still here!”

We are still here, all of us, who can learn from these ancient ways.

May we too become observant enough to recognize the dangers facing our environment.

May we too be more aligned with our natural world so as to be responsive to the changes that are threatening our future existence.

May we also have the humility and the courage and the discipline to do what must be done to create and recreate our own societal structures in right relation to all else.

May the beauty and sacredness created by these ancient peoples emerge again in the kivas of all our hearts, even today.

That is my prayer.

Topics: Climate, Earth, Pueblo Peoples | Comments Off on Ancient Wisdom

Diversity and Oneness

By Glenda | August 14, 2015

I am spending a brief time of rest, renewal, and reflection in the area of the United States called Four Corners. Here the “corners” of four states touch: Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. Here, too, different topographical regions touch: towering mountains dip rapidly down to high desert, the temperature dropping ten degrees in a matter of twenty minutes driving time.

durango-colorado-460x247

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here too there is the meeting of a diversity of cultures. On the street corners of Durango, for example, Tibetan Buddhists walking in procession on their way to scatter the colored sands of a recently created sand mandala may brush shoulders with Navajo sheep herders come to town for supplies, or with real cowboys with muddy boots and well-smushed hats, or with deeply tanned mountaineers in hiking boots, or with art connoisseurs checking out the many fine local art galleries, or with strolling tourists out of Texas just enjoying the cool dry air, or with someone emerging from a local smoke shop, smiling slightly askance.

I thrive in such an eclectic environment. To be able in one place to dance with the Sufis in the Dances of Universal Peace, to sing Hindu chants accompanied by local musicians who combine guitar, tabla, and digeridoo, to attend an Intertribal Indian Ceremonial with Native Americans, to sit in silence in the peace of the mountains or to stroll along the side of a rushing river—all of these feed me in a most essential way.

For my own “way,” if I can be said to have one, is the practice of inclusive, all-encompassing wholeness, while celebrating the rich diversity of life and finding a sacred place for it all on the great wheel of meaning.

I’m not, of course, talking about making a sort of spiritual stew, where everything cooks up together and becomes something else. No. Each thing has a savor of its own, a meaning of its own, a way in which it alone rings true and shines forth its essence, its aspect of the Overall Whole.

Nor am I interested in robbing any spiritual tradition of its sacred secrets, its traditional teachings, its ways of being, in some sort of superficial collector’s mentality. No. I “practice” only those traditional things that I have been properly taught and given permission to use and in some cases to share; beyond that, I stand, silent and in awe, before the mystery and uniqueness of each tradition and each individual, and hold them sacrosanct in their way of being.

Aztec_Ruins_National_Monument_AZRU0919

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But I contemplate them, all of them, what I learn of them, allowing each to deepen my own unique perspective, my own way of being.

For, as I said, most of all I believe in wholeness.

I grew up on Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung and Allan Watts and a remembrance of Walt Whitman.

I memorized very early in life the little poem: “He drew a circle to shut me out, heretic, rebel, a thing to flout; but Love and I had the wit to win; we drew a circle that took him in.”

I live in an era in which conflict, controversy, rebellion, and polarity are the main energies on the airwaves. One hears little praise of tolerance, inclusiveness, civil discourse. Even the good words “hope” and “trust” are cynically dismissed. I live in a time when being “middle of the road” is likely to result in getting run over. Most everyone would rather I had a label, that I belonged to some certain sect or tradition with specific doctrines that could be agreed with or disdained.

Well, I belong to the Universe. I am a daughter of the Earth and a child of the Sun and a grandchild of the Cosmos. I am made of Star Stuff. So I will not be shut down by prejudice or small-mindedness.

Years ago, I helped to organize the Fellowship of Comparative Religion so that like-minded individuals could celebrate both the sacred diversity and the over-arching wholeness of all that is.

I suppose that, from time to time, I feel the necessity to explain this all, once again, just to set the record straight, not defensively or even offensively, but just in answer to some deep Calling to reveal the beautiful depth of this way of seeing things.

For it is beautiful! To see the similarities and redundancies of human endeavors, as well as to savor the subtle distinctions in time and manner, what an adventure!

It seems that every spiritual tradition shares in a common basic human need and spiritual aspiration, while each spiritual tradition in its own way has shown some unique face or way of being. To love both and all—what could be better?

I have often said that on whatever memorial marker may be put up for me when I am gone on, I hope it merely says “Yes, And…”

So this area, this Four Corners, this is heady stuff for me.

Last weekend I was in Canyon de Chelly, surely one of the most conspicuously holy places on earth, talking with a very young Navajo, as he explained the symbols on the ancient pictographs to me.

GlendasNavajoPictographLarge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

His gentle words echoed the wisdom of dozens of teachings I have heard from others explaining a variety of different traditions, while his unique sweet spirit touched me deeply.

I was especially moved by his words about part of the little slab of rock he held in his hands, a small pictograph that he himself had made that day. He spoke about many symbols—the spiral, the wheel, the scorpion, the rain and rainbow, etc.—but I focused on one special symbol—two circles, one inside the other.

GlendasNavajoPictograph

Pointing to the inside circle, he said, “This is our visible world, what we can know or see, this little circle is us …..see…..and this little circle, us, we are inside the larger circle which is the Wholeness, the Invisible, the Holy World.” The two circles, one inside the other—I had recently heard a famous Jewish rabbi use exactly the same analogy to explain reality.

And standing there in the clear air of the ancient canyon, I almost wept, as I held the little rock carving the young Navajo boy placed in my hands, his deep brown eyes smiling at me, full of wisdom from many and many generations, handed down, passed on, a treasure for me to hold and share, the same treasure of knowing that I had received over and over, from that Jewish rabbi, from Episcopal priests and Buddhist monks, from secular philosophers, from many Grandmothers, from Sufi lovers, from Life itself. The little circle, inside the Great Circle. The little self, inside the Great Self. The many, inside the One.

 

Here in the Four Corners area, I am enjoying rest, renewal, and also a recognition of who I am, small and great, simple and complex. And I feel, stirring within me, once again, the Call, the deep, resonant Call, to show forth this Beauty Way, this beautiful truth that surpasses all differences.

When I return back to that opposite sort of topographical climate where I live most other times of the year, when I go back to the river bottoms and heavily forested southern woodlands of East Texas, to the “Bible Belt” and the long-prevailing conservative political bent of much of the populace, I will take with me this repeated and cherished experience of the Four Corners’ vast wide open skies, the quickly passing storm clouds, the rich diversity of life and population, and the touching in balance of different distinct state’s boundaries.

I am blessed. I am grateful. I have spoken. Again.

Topics: General, Oneness, Pueblo Peoples, Religious tolerance | Comments Off on Diversity and Oneness

The essence of Buddhism

By Glenda | July 25, 2015

“Gratitude for the past, service to the present, responsibility for the future…” Huston Smith’s definition of the essence of Buddhism.

Topics: General | Comments Off on The essence of Buddhism

Connections

By Glenda | May 20, 2015

A quotation from the book Creators on Creating:

100_1641

“Myriad connections, though perhaps unseen, exist between all things. While I may jump in the air, I fall down again; and the sun energizes plants and they energize us; molecule after molecule is stacked up to make a tree, which is pulverized to make the paper for this book in your hand; ideas float on the air between mouths, between cultures, and the world is changed; a painter’s palette expresses emotion, as well as a photochemical reaction in his eyes; zeroes and ones in particular sequence solve differential equations that describe complicated natural systems; a long-lost friend telephones just after she is remembered; slate under pressure over eons becomes diamond; musicians get in tune by feeling for beats; water and oxygen flow continually through our bodies; DNA connects grandmothers to mothers to daughters; electrical sparks across synapses connect neurons together in thought, and axons to muscles in limbs, so we are mobile; shadowy imprints of dinosaurs and asteroid dust, ancient cities, are layered underneath earth’s lively crust; ancient plant bogs formed carboniferous pools of oil, which now power industries and automobiles; an atom metamorphosed becomes light; wishes become dreams become realities; and black holes suck in plasma to where? Another universe?

“Universal patterns inform creative symbols and the symbolizing mind of the creator. The ancient Greeks called such patterns archetypes. Archetypes or not, history is always there, but ahead of it there is a future not determined by anyone or anything, but contingent on the products of our own creation. It is we who make the future, and our imagination of the future affects who we are and what we do now…”

Editorial comment by Frank Barron, Alfonso Montuori, and Anthea Barron

The Ultimate, A Quotation

By Glenda | May 12, 2015

“…It is not that certain peoples such as the old Japanese believed that individual ‘spirits’ or ‘souls’ inhabited stones and trees, but that the One and Only Being, manifesting both simultaneously and successively through an indefinite multiplicity of states, spiritual, psychic, and physical, aroused their awe and received their reverence in and through one of these manifold forms which Being apparently assumes. This does not involve pantheism, which falsely assumes a substantial identity between Creator and creatures, but an essential and non-dual identity between Being and beings. It could more justly have been described as ‘panentheistic,’ implying that while God is not in the world, the world is in God. In practice…it is one of henotheism, in which the particular form, mythological or material, to which (a person) directs his veneration and awe, becomes the symbol of the Formless, the channel through which he communes with the Supreme Being. Like Hinduism and other Traditions of great antiquity, Shinto may wear the many-coloured robes of polytheism, but its undergarments are pure white: its eight million gods being but personifications of the Divine Names, the qualities and attributes of the One Reality.” Harold Stewart, from A Chime of Windbells, A Year of Japanese Haiku in English Verse.

Topics: General, Oneness, Quotes, Religious tolerance | Comments Off on The Ultimate, A Quotation

Living in Beauty

By Glenda | April 14, 2015

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

All religions share a reverence for the fullness of beauty around us:

“The kingdom of God is within you and all around you.” Gnostic Gospel, Christianity

“Why should there be a reservoir when there is a flood everywhere?” The Upanishads, Hindu

“The Way holds all things within Itself. Like the vastness of the universe, it lacks nothing, and nothing needs to be added to it.” The Third Chinese Patriarch of Zen, Buddhism

“All blessings come from the Way, which is complete in itself,and it holds nothing back from anyone.” Tao Te Ching, Taoism

Through Love Alone

By Glenda | February 25, 2015

028

 

Recently I discovered that my 9th great grandmother was tortured as a witch in Europe during the Inquisition. This led me to reflect yet again on how violence is engendered by religious extremism of every type in every age.

The news today is full of stories of ISIS and “radical Islam,” and, on other days, of “hate crimes” against minorities in this country. Racial and religious tension is at a peak, it seems. And, as a result, I fear that many of us in our distress may be in danger of over-simplifying, over-identifying, or in other ways over-indulging in the very energies that we would denounce.

Or, we may, in our own emotional self-defense, simply hide ourselves away in exhaustion, turning off the news, tuning out the terrorism and the suffering.

So I feel obligated as a spokesperson for peace and reconciliation to remind us all, yet again, that no religious tradition is free from the taint of extremism, and none of the world’s religious source documents are without inducements to violence.

The latest article in the Atlantic magazine speaks in depth of the way ISIS is the rediscovery of medieval tenants, not modern Islam, and that, in fact, most of ISIS’s violence is perpetrated against other Muslims who are considered apostates because they do not follow the letter of the law written about 1500 years ago.

I am mindful, too, that, in our own midst, there are individuals and groups equally fervent and sometimes even equally violent, who use Biblical pronouncements of vengeance and punishment laid down some 2800 years ago to justify their own ideas.

In this stewpot of heated emotions and rhetoric, perhaps it would be hard to find anyone or any spiritual tradition innocent enough to “cast the first stone.” And so I urge us to the more difficult and more courageous task of being open to understanding in depth those who are different from us in any way, that we may find new ways of living in peace together.

And, while it is good to be clear-eyed and far-seeing and to protect ourselves from real harm, may we restrain our own violent responses to violence, let us re-examine our own blind spots and our own prejudices, and let us evolve new ways of dealing with conflict resolution and reconciliation.

Let us move forward each day toward a more perfect understanding of what Love is, of what being in one world together, at peace, might be.

I challenge each of us to pray daily, twice daily, morning and night, for forgiveness and tolerance, for understanding and renewal, in the world and in ourselves. Let us open our hearts to newness of life, even as we remain alert to actual danger from the ignorance and ill-advised behaviors of others, whoever they may be.

My heart is torn for my long ago grandmother, who finally, in prison, after being tortured and her tongue ripped out, took her own life. My heart is torn for countless sufferers in the Middle East, of all stripes. My heart is torn for those in my own country who are blinded by a thirst for revenge, who think “an eye for an eye” will yet bring peace.

Hate is never overcome by hate. Let us find yet ways to attune ourselves to the miracle of healing Love.

And here are a few quotations from the source books to counter those other horrific ones:

“Repel the evil deed with one which is better, then lo!, he between whom and you there was enmity shall become as though he were a bosom friend.” Islam. Qur’an 41.34

“Aid an enemy before you aid a friend, to subdue hatred.” Judaism. Tosefta, Baba Metzia 2.26

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Christianity. Romans 12.21

“Man should subvert anger by forgiveness, subdue pride by modesty, overcome hypocrisy with simplicity, and greed by contentment.” Jainism. Samanasuttam 136

“A superior being does not render evil for evil; this is a maxim one should observe, the ornament of virtuous persons in their conduct…A noble soul will ever exercise compassion even toward those who enjoy injuring others or those of cruel deeds when they are actually committing them–for who is without fault?” Hinduism. Ramayana, Yuddha Kanda 115

“Hatreds never cease through hatred in this world; through love alone they cease. This is an eternal law.” Buddhism. Dhammapada 5

Being Gentle With Myself

By Glenda | January 22, 2015

Have you noticed?  Often “Tis the season to be jolly” is followed by the season of wintry gloom and depression, the time of being downcast, of being revisited in the still of the night by the sorrows and sadness of our past or of the world?

I have.  Between that annual recurrence of melancholy and the flu, I have lately been laid low for long enough to reflect on this strange yearly regression I go through. I notice on social media and elsewhere that some others have the same issue right now.

What are we to do with sadness, powerlessness, grief?  What are we to do when we rediscover again and again, year after year, our failures, our weaknesses, our sense of alienation from ourselves and the rest of the world?

Well, I’ve come to think of this as a visitation by an old relative, one whose habits are familiar, predictable, and difficult.  But, after all, this is my relative, and I must bear with her until she leaves, and find some way to take care of myself in the meantime.

I know there are self-help books and seminars that would have us rally our energy and, once and for all, get over this self-indulgent self-pity, this wallowing in this “aint it awful” game.  We’ve been told to tell our inner brat to grow up, get up, get going, get over ourselves.  Lighten up, they say.

And that’s great, as long as we can do it.  For me, there often comes a time when I realize that I must, like it or not, endure and survive while somehow honoring this visiting relative of mine, this inner villager that brings the same bad news, disguised in current variations but basically the same message: “It sucks, it all sucks, you are no good, never were, never can be,” etc., etc.

Now, the thing is, this seems to be a “given” in human experience.  I actually do not believe it is something we can do away with, or even that we should.  We develop means to cope with it, a value structure that shapes it, practices that lift us up eventually out of it, as other “villagers,” other aspects of our human nature, come again to the fore.  But experience it, I believe, we must, at times, all of us.

It supports me to know that I am not alone in this experience.  I am comforted somehow by the following fellow sufferers who are, in my opinion, among the most highly advanced, wise, and spiritual people I know about, coming from all ages and places on earth, people who know and often also speak at times of great joy and love and enlightenment and ecstasy, but who also suffer greatly, routinely.  I submit the following examples.

The very first pages of the great Hindu masterpiece, the Bhagavad Gita, begins with the main character, Arjuna, saying that his soul is sunk in grief and despair.

The Sufi poet Kabir writes of his loss of center, of the absence of awareness of the Divine Friend:

“When my friend is away from me, I am depressed; nothing in the daylight delights me, sleep at night gives no rest, who can I tell about this? The night is dark and long…hours go by…because I am alone, I sit up suddenly, fear goes through me…”

The radically mystical Ramprasad Sen over and over presents a bill of complaints against the Great Mother he worships:

“What did I do wrong? Every day it gets harder. I sit here blubbering all the time, telling myself I’m going to get out Of this place, I’ve had it with this life…”  And again, “I’m not calling you Mother anymore.  All You give me is trouble…I keep wondering what worse You can do than make me live over and over this pain, life after life.”

Again and again the Hebrew Psalmist King David, cries out his grief and suffering:

“How Long?  O Lord, wilt thou forget me forever?  How Long wilt thou hide thy face from me?  How long must I bear pain in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? …O Lord, give heed to my groaning…”

 The great poet Rilke:

“It feels as though I make my way Through massive rock Like a vein of ore Alone, encased. I am deep inside it. I can’t see the path or any distance: everything is close And everything closing in on me Has turned to stone…”

The woman mystic Mirabai:

“…How can I sleep…the seconds drag past like epochs, each moment a new torrent of pain…On my couch the embroidered flowers pierce me like thistles, I toss through the night…”

Jesus, in the Christian gospel, cries out:

“My god, my god, why hast thou forsaken me.”

So, there, you see, are my fellow sufferers, them and many of you whom I love and care about who are even now sunk in what is often dismissed as “seasonal affect disorder.”  It is seasonal, but it doesn’t simply happen in winter.  It is an affect disorder, but it can’t be erased by tricks of lighting or lightening.

Sometimes it must also be borne with, sat with in stillness, sometimes.  Sometimes I just have to go to bed and lie there quietly, letting the poison drain out of me, letting my sense of grief and solidarity with the rest of suffering humanity have its time, until it releases me, which it eventually does, as other aspects of myself come back, bringing me back into balance.

I was once given a great gift by Joan Halifax, a chant her community had come up with.  We sat in the semi-darkness, at that time, in a teepee in California, long before she became a Buddhist who is now friends with the Dali Lama.  I am sure she still chants it to herself sometime.  It goes:

“I will be gentle with myself.  I will love myself.  I am a child of the Universe.  We are one together.”

Being gentle with myself.  That is the key for me.  Once, in another of my periods of great suffering, when I was deeply disturbed by behaviors of my own and of others close to me, I parked my truck on the side of the road in New Mexico, and these words came to me and sang through me:

“You don’t have to be afraid.  You don’t have to be afraid.  Nothing you can do will ever separate you from the Maker of your life.”

Being gentle with myself, in times of reduced life force, of soul-searing loneliness, of self-accusation, of immense spiritual emptiness.  Being gentle.  Gentle.  Sometimes speechlessly gentle, for days.  Sometimes moaning, even as I go about the necessary tasks of life.  Sometimes moving, as Rumi moved and moved, spinning and spinning in a dance we came to call the dervish dance, when his mentor and loved friend was killed; his gentleness with himself and life required movement.  For some of us it comes in music, in getting a hug, in whatever way gentleness says to us, “It’s alright.  You are alright.  Even as you are.  Even as things are.”

Each of the above writers I quoted went on to move into powerful times of praise and comfort and uplifting sentiments and personal power and achievement.  They found their ways out of the abyss.  So do I.  Again and again.

But I never deny the reality of the pain.  It is, as I said, an occasionally visiting relative that I honor and drink tea with.  I don’t try to throw her out into the wintry storm.  She is my relative, and she is real.  Just as spring is real and joy is real and love is real.  And perhaps her visitation, bringing with it almost a madness of despair, is essential.  Perhaps.

Thomas Merton said:

“The more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most.” And again:  “Only the man who has had to face despair is really convinced that he needs mercy…It is better to find God on the threshold of despair than to risk our lives in a complacency that has never felt the need of forgiveness. A life that is without problems may literally be more hopeless than one that always verges on despair.”

Stephen A. Diamond, in reviewing The Red Book, Carl Jung’s amazing journaling, which Diamond describes as “a very personal record of Jung’s complicated, tortuous and lengthy quest to salvage his soul,”  remarks:

“…There is no doubt that during this devastating period in his life, Jung was deeply depressed, and inundated to the point of being overwhelmed at times by these powerfully intrusive images, thoughts and feelings, which, as he put it, ‘burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me.’ And there is also no doubt that this extremely introverted (a necessary compensation for his former excessive extraversion) treacherous state of mind…that took almost total hold of Jung, affected his reality testing, impaired his psychosocial functioning, caused him to consider suicide, and forced him to withdraw from most of his former worldly activities, with the exception of his family and, oddly enough, his private practice. Indeed, two of the things that likely kept Jung’s head above water and feet more or less on the ground during these difficult and disorienting years–other than writing regularly in the Red Book–were his wife and children and daily sessions with troubled patients seeking his psychiatric assistance….

“Indeed, to me, denying the depth of Jung’s despair and severe psychic disturbance tends to undercut the power and importance of his monumental achievement: Rather than being defeated by it as are most, Jung stared psychosis in the face, unflinchingly confronted and explored what he found there, and ultimately came out the other side stronger, wiser, and more whole…

“What he discovered were manifestations of both his personal and collective unconscious. In this sense, he demonstrated by personal example that the enigmatic phenomenon we call “psychosis” is often about being completely inundated or possessed by the personal and archetypal unconscious…

That’s Diamond’s take on Jung’s experience. To be sure, I feel the need to say, Jung was a medical doctor, a psychotherapist, with many tools, as most of us are not when we face this dark night of the soul.  All too many people do indeed have untreated brain chemistry disorders, many are destroyed by psychosis, tragically.  Suicide does happen. We all need help.  We need each other, as Jung needed his family and colleagues.  We need anchors to bring us back to the “real world.”  We need a recognized spiritual dimension, which is, in fact, what Jung was about realizing in this search.  We need love to get us through those darkest times, and, in fact, Jung also had all of that to get him through. But for us, as for Jung, this dark night of the soul has, as Diamond concludes, psychological and spiritual significance, meaning and purpose.  If we allow it.  If we bear with it as it moves us to new dimensions.   Diamond says:

“C.G. Jung’s  Red Book  begins as a detailed log of one man’s personal, lonely nekyia or night sea journey to the underworld and ends with his heroic return to the outer world renewed, much like a latter day Dante, Jonah or Ulysses…”

So to all of you who may be, now or at another time, in a mild season of discontent, or on a deeply serious night sea journey, I send you my love and my solidarity.  All is not lost.  Hope also is a reality, as is love, as is companionship on the journey, as is balance and renewed creativity.  (After all, today, I got up and wrote this post!)

And I quote, in closing, Maya Angelou, speaking at a conference on Evil:

“Each person in this room has gone to bed with fear or loss or pain or distress—grief—at some night or another.  And yet each of us has awakened, arisen, made whatever ablutions we chose to make or could make.  Then, seeing other human beings, we said, ‘Good morning, how are ya?’  ‘Fine, thanks, and you?’ Now wherever that lives in us—whether it’s in the bend of the elbow, behind the kneecap—wherever that lives, there dwells the nobleness in the human spirit.  Not nobility.  I don’t trust the word.  I think it’s pompous.  But the nobleness is in the human spirit.  It is seen in the fact that we rise to good, we do rise.”

 

And lastly, Rilke again:

 

I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.

I want to free what waits within me

so that what no one has dared to wish for

may for once spring clear

without my contriving.

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,

but this is what I need to say.

May what I do flow from me like a river,

no forcing and no holding back,

the way it is with children.

Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,

these deepening tides moving out, returning,

I will sing you as no one ever has,

streaming through widening channels

into the open sea.

Subscribe for email updates

Enter your email address:
 

A Gaelic Blessing

Deep peace of the Running Wave to you;
Deep peace of the Flowing Air to you;
Deep peace of the Quiet Earth to you;
Deep peace of the Shining Stars to you;
Deep peace of the Gentle Night to you;
Moon and Stars pour their healing light on you;
Deep peace to you.

Blog Posts

Search