Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Most Important Gift

The idea for today’s post is excerpted from an article by The Miracle Distribution Center, Anaheim, CA, a wonderful organization supporting A Course in Miracles.
“Many of the old Christmas-time movies have wonderful spiritual messages to them. One of our all time favorites is It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart, but The Bishop’s Wife is another holiday gem. It stars Cary Grant as an angel named Dudley and David Niven as the Bishop. As the plot plays out, the Bishop thinks Dudley is there to help him with his all-consuming task of raising money so that an edifice to God can be built in the form of a new cathedral. But Dudley is really there because of the Bishop’s prayer for help — and real help is what the angel offers!
“We want to offer a little of the “good feeling” from this movie by sharing the poignant Christmas Eve message that the transformed Bishop delivers. We hope you enjoy this reminder of the true message of Christmas. …
Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking. Once upon a midnight clear there was a child’s cry. A blazing star hung over a stable and wise men came with birthday gifts.
“We haven’t forgotten that night down the centuries. We celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, with the sound of bells, and with gifts, especially with gifts. You give me a book. I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer, and Uncle Henry could do with a new pipe.
“Oh, we forget nobody… adult or child. All the stockings are filled. All that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. A stocking for the child born in a manger. It’s his birthday we are celebrating. Don’t let us ever forget that. Let us ask ourselves what he would wish for most and then let each put in his share: loving kindness, warm hearts, and the stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shining gifts that make peace on earth.
These are such beautiful thoughts – Loving kindness, Warm hearts, and the Stretched out hand of tolerance - the shining gifts that make for peace on earth. Why can’t I enjoy these thoughts all the time?
Because I choose not to, that’s why. Huh? Yep! I choose not to enjoy these thoughts of happiness and bliss and helpfulness. I choose to concentrate my thoughts on my perceived problems of the day, the perceived problems I think are facing the world, the perceived problems I think my neighbors must be having, the perceived problems I think my spouse, family or friends must be facing.
Key word? Perceiving!
Lesson 346 of A Course in Miracles (ACIM) states: “Today the peace of God envelops me and I forget all things except His Love.” The lesson consists of a very beautiful prayer that resonates with this Christmas message from The Bishop’s Wife.
1. Father, I wake today with miracles correcting my perception of all things. And so begins the day I share with You, as I will share eternity, for time has stepped aside today. I do not seek the things of time, and so I will not look upon them. What I seek today transcends all laws of time and things perceived in time. I would forget all things except Your Love. I would abide in You, and know no laws except Your law of love. And I would find the peace which You created for Your Son, forgetting all the foolish toys I made as I behold Your glory and my own.
2. And when the evening comes today, we will remember nothing but the peace of God. For we will learn today what peace is ours, when we forget all things except God's Love.
As Alan Watson writes [A Workbook Companion, Volume II, Circle Publishing, 2006. P. 624]: “… I know there is a part of me that resonates in perfect harmony with this lesson, but there is also another part that stands off cynically and says to me, ‘Forget all things except His Love? Hah! More likely you will remember everything except His Love. How long will this high-falutin’ attitude last after you walk out the door?’ And, if this is so, why bother with the lesson at all?”
Unfortunately, that describes me most of the time. But there are instances where I really feel that sense of unity and calm. Watson goes on to say: “…So, as we read this lesson now, let us simply suspend our disbelief for just an instant, and let these words be true for us. Let us believe that what we say represents our true Self, for it does. Let us be in the spirit of these words.”
“Each little gift you offer to your brother lights up the world.” (ACIM, T-22.VI.9:9) Loving kindness, Warm hearts, and the Stretched out hand of tolerance the shining gifts that make for peace on earth.
This is my Christmas message to each of you. We will be leaving for Portland Oregon shortly to spend the holiday with my daughter’s family. I will resume after the New Year.
Although these messages are mostly for me, thanks for listening. As always – feel free to forward this message to your friends, family, and those accompanying you on your spiritual journey.
#3 December, 2013

Copyright, 2013

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Consumerism and Spirituality

These are some very interesting Buddhist concepts to ponder this holiday season. This is a portion of an interview by John Elder of Stephanie Kaza. It was sent to me by a friend. I found these thoughts very helpful.
A student of Zen for over thirty years, Stephanie Kaza has been … a professor [since 1991] in the Environmental Program at the University of Vermont. Buddhist environmental thought and the role of activism in social change have been central both to her teaching there and to her writing…. Her most recent book, “Hooked! Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire, and the Urge to Consume” (2005), is an anthology of provocative essays from dharma teachers and writers that explore Buddhist tools for engaging the challenges of modern consumerism.
I spoke with Kaza last January over tea in my living room in Bristol, Vermont.—JOHN ELDER
How would you define consumerism? In a practical sense, consumerism is a belief system and culture that promotes consuming as the path to self- and social improvement. It’s a complete political and economic ideology, sponsored by sophisticated marketing techniques that generate significant profits while stripping the earth of resources. As a dominant cultural force, consumerism offers products to address every dissatisfaction, while actually creating social conditions that undermine equity and environmental stability….
And do you view this as a new ideology, above and beyond the impulse to buy, sell, and trade goods that has always existed in human society? I won’t say it’s new, it’s just more exaggerated now. It’s much more sophisticated, more technological, more effective, more codified. And it’s much more accepted as an established way of doing business. So that now elections, for example, have a lot of the hallmarks of the consumer society, as evidenced by how candidates sell themselves through sound bytes and advertising. Military recruiting is about selling the army to young men. A lot of fairly complicated ethical dilemmas—public dilemmas that could be discussed in public forums—have been boiled down to what seem like competing consumer products.
If consumerism is indeed on the rise, why is that? Did consumerism as an ideology increase along with the rise of capitalism? For one thing, extraction and production technologies have become extremely efficient at harvesting resources and generating material goods. In early history, most people did not have disposable income. There was not an option to go and buy luxury goods. You were happy if you got some salt and butter, or something like that. But with the acceleration of communication and transportation in the twentieth century, even a small amount of discretionary income could then be spent on things like TVs, autos, trinkets—goods that reduce our discomfort in life, and that are attractive and entertaining. So the scale of consumption, and its acceleration, is more rapid in the last quarter century than any other time before….
How has the increase in consumerism affected the human psyche or consciousness? Kalle Lasn, the author of a book called Culture Jam, speaks of “microjolts of commercial pollution” that flood our brains—about three thousand marketing messages per day. This has a tremendous impact on our consciousness. It’s a mass cultural experiment that may have penetrating effects we can barely imagine. One of the biggest impacts is the widespread disease of greed, status envy, overstimulation, and dissatisfaction. Children are especially vulnerable to brainwashing from commercials. We find them developing a sense of identity based on brands before they can barely read. The Buddhist writer and scholar David Loy suggests that the drive to consume has displaced the psychic space once filled by religion, family, and community. More time spent on personal lifestyle pleasures tends to mean less time spent in civic engagement and public life….
So what unique insights does Buddhism have to offer in critiquing and countering consumerism? … I suggest three fundamental Buddhist critiques…. The first focuses on the process of personal-identity formation. The usual idea of self is seen as a significant delusion in Buddhist thought, yet consumers are constantly urged to build a sense of self around what they buy. Consumer goods become symbols of status, political or religious views, social group, and sexuality—all of which solidify a sense of self….
What are the other two? The second leg of the Buddhist critique of consumerism is that consumerism promotes and condones harming. The foundational principle behind all Buddhist ethics is non-harming or ahimsa, expressed in the first precept as “Do not kill” or “Do no harm.” While consumer goods manufacturers may not intend to cause harm, the extraction and production processes often leave death and injury in their wake—clear-cutting forests, polluting waterways, abusing workers. Producers justify tremendous harm to many forms of life to meet the bottom line of profit and gain.
But any time we consume anything we are harming to a certain extent. We eat animals and plants, cut down trees, mine ore. Does that mean that consuming anything is problematic? Or are we again just talking about a matter of scale? It’s the conundrum of the precepts: A human being cannot survive without causing harm. But you try to cause as little as possible. If your bodhisattva vows are to reduce suffering, then you don’t want to cause excess suffering.
And the third aspect? The third aspect of the Buddhist critique is that consumerism promotes desire and dissatisfaction, the very source of suffering, as explained in the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths. The state of dissatisfaction—clinging, craving, impulse, thirst, attachment, compulsion—is the very opposite of contentment and equanimity. Marketers stimulate desire and dissatisfaction very effectively, offering a plethora of products to relieve almost every form of human suffering. What is unique about the Buddhist approach is that it goes to the very root of the urge for more, the desire, the hook that keeps us constantly searching for what will relieve our dissatisfaction.
What kinds of changes do you suggest that people make in their consuming habits? I did not want this book to be prescriptive. I didn't want people to seize on some standard that any of the authors put out there as the only standard. Because I don't think that's skillful means. I think it's much more skillful just to enter the struggle. Don't just adopt some easy thing like "I'll be a vegetarian," because then you won't look at the source of your plant food. And you won't really think about the ecological impact of shipping your mangoes, say, from South America so you can enjoy them in Seattle. So if there's one recommendation that's consistent throughout the whole book, it's "investigate, go deeper, ask questions about every single thing you consume."
Although these messages are mostly for me, thanks for listening. As always – feel free to forward this message to your friends, family, and those accompanying you on your spiritual journey.
#2 December, 2013

Copyright, 2013