1944—The Jungle

I am twelve years old.

Our back lot line on Garfield Avenue is bordered by trees and shrubs, tall and thick enough that you can’t see through them or over them. We call this strip The Jungle. One beauty of the Jungle is the dense foliage, with enough sturdy low tree branches for climbing. They make excellent watchtowers. In the winters, the Jungle lies fallow when plants and trees lose their leaves, depriving us of privacy and camouflage.

The Jungle is our playground during polio epidemics and quarantines in the Midwest.  Over the back of our lot line lies the property of our quarantine playmates Bobbie and Tootie Stevenson, ages 10 and 5. Bobbie, Tootie, Mary (my sister age 5), and I can’t leave our yards all summer lest we fall victim to the poliovirus, which, we are told, kills or cripples thousands of kids during epidemics.

The Jungle hosts dark rituals, ancient battles, holy rites, and burials. No costumes are required. One end of the Jungle is devoted to an animal cemetery: dead birds, deceased squirrels, and fish that have floated to the tops of our aquariums. Anything below the vertebrate level is not eligible for burial.

During burials, everyone plays a role. Bobbie is the priest because he’s the only male. Being the eldest, I qualify as the grieving wife or mother. Props are always welcome if available—a white table runner for the priest, black slip as headgear for the mother or widow, key chain for an incense pot, and so on.

Mary and Tootie are either pallbearers or acolytes, depending on their willingness to collaborate. Their cooperation is more likely if they’re given props.

Elements of Catholic ritual, learned from my grandfather, are often used. He is a lapsed Catholic, attending Mass only at Christmas and Easter visitor. We sneak his rosary from his private effects as needed and return them when we’re done. Suffering from early dementia, Grandpa never notices the thefts.

We have no traditional music available, so we chant homemade liturgies suitable for each ceremony.

Are You a Pantheist?

TAO

Pantheism is the belief there’s no such thing as a personal God. All of reality is considered an expression of the divine. Pantheists feel no need of an anthropomorphic God—that is, a God resembling humans in any way. Modern pantheists believe that their God is not above them nor outside them, but within them.  You may call yourself an agnostic, when the term “pantheist” might be closer to the mark.

Origin of Pantheism

Although the idea of pantheism was first introduced to the Western world during the Renaissance by the philosopher Spinoza, the basic idea of pantheism as a religion has existed in various parts of the world for thousands of years.

After Baruch Spinoza introduced Westerners to the idea of pantheism during the 1600s, it took hundreds of years for the philosophy to catch on. By the middle of the 1800s, many leading writers and philosophers subscribed to the idea: William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge, Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry Thoreau. Even Abraham Lincoln was considered a pantheist. Those close to Lincoln said that he doubted the immortality of the soul as the Christian world understands it.

Carl Sagan, the famous 20th century scientist was once described as believing “in the god of Spinoza and Einstein, not behind nature but as nature, or equivalent to it.” Einstein himself wrote in 1954, “I do not believe in a personal God and have never denied this but have expressed it clearly.”

While many modern Westerners are unfamiliar with the term “pantheism,” many of them unknowingly subscribe to the underlying philosophy. (Pantheism has been described as Hollywood’s religion of choice since the 1990s.)

Hybrid Religions

Most folk religions, including those of Native American origin, can be seen as pantheistic or a mixture of pantheism and other doctrines. Asian religions that include elements of pantheism include Sikhism, Hinduism, Confucianism and Taoism. In the case of Hinduism, pantheistic views exist side by side with reverence to more than one deity.

Pantheism is a popular element in modern spirituality and new religious movements. Some consider pantheism a form of religious naturalism. It has been described as an example of “dark green religion” with a focus on environmental principles. Sometimes pantheism is confused with animism.

Animism

anubisAs one of the world’s oldest religions, animism involves worshipping the spirits of animals and even objects. Natural objects of veneration include animals, mountains, bodies of water, and celestial bodies. For example, in certain Native American traditions “Grandmother Moon” is believed to watch over the children of Earth, helping them realize their dreams and visions. Spirit beings are thought to have human-like emotions such as desire, jealousy and even anger.  The animist world view usually promotes unity and goodwill between the living and spirit worlds. The pantheist view is less concrete; it excludes the concept of individual deities and envisions no afterlife.

Animists seek to appease the spiritual world in the hopes of good fortune during life and a clear path to the afterlife. They usually believe that it’s possible to contact the spirits of the dead.

What’s Your Path?

Are you a pantheist, animist, a little of both, or neither? If you don’t have a personal God, but believe in all beings as a universal spiritual force, you may be a pantheist. The term “pantheist” applies to many people who, when questioned, identify themselves as “agnostic.”

If, on the other hand, you believe that unique entities, such as trees and animals, have their own souls or spirits, your spiritual path has elements of animism. People who subscribe to parts of both spiritual paths or aren’t sure what they believe, fall into the category of “agnostic.”

If you’re not a Christian, Jew, or member of any other orthodox religion, you may be a pantheist without realizing it.

The Lord’s Prayer in A.A. Meetings

In my AA home group, we start meetings by reading from the Big Book: “AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization, or institution.” Then we end with the Lord’s Prayer.

There’s something wrong here. The Lord’s Prayer is from the New Testament of the Christian Bible (Matthew 6:9-13). As a Christian Internet source states. “Through this prayer, Jesus invited us to approach God as Father. Indeed, the Lord’s Prayer has been called a summary of the Christian gospel.”

Like many other members of AA, I am not a Christian. My spirituality does not embrace a God of either gender. The Big Book chapter “We Agnostics” states: “When therefore, we speak to you of God, we mean your own conception of God” and “To us the Realm of Sprit is broad, roomy, all inclusive.”

The Lord’s Prayer is a long-running hot topic that crops up regularly at AA meetings around the world. To many alcoholics, the Lord’s Prayer is a mandatory part of the AA meeting ritual. They don’t stop to consider that insulting people like me with a prayer we don’t believe in—making us feel apart from instead of part of—goes against the grain of the fellowship’s philosophy.

A study of AA groups around the world asked AA members what prayers they use at their meetings. Responses came from sober Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Shintoists, Native Americans, atheists, and pagans from North America, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa. Most groups in non-Christian counties use the Serenity Prayer to close their meetings.

Why don’t we?

 

 

Buddhism in Gainesville, Florida

Noted Lama Visits Gainesville

Buddhist Lama

Bardor Tulku Rinpoche

On Friday, October 21, 2011, Bardor Tulku Rinpoche appeared at the Historic Church of Gainesville on NE First Street in Gainesville, Florida, to speak on “Buddhism and Family Life.” After his formal talk, he entertained a variety of other topics in a question-and-answer period. Bardor Rinpoche is recognized as an incarnate lama by His Holiness the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa.

Shortly after 7 pm, the lama was assisted to the podium by two monks, as he has been experiencing some difficulty walking since a stroke in early 2010.  He was greeted by an audience of several hundred people who bowed with respect, some by prostrating themselves.  Several members of the audience brought white silk scarves to be blessed by the lama.

Once the lama was seated, his gestures were fluid and his face animated. Although he spoke exclusively in Tibetan, the audience sat in almost complete silence attending his words.  Several minutes of speaking were followed by several minutes of translation.  The gathering ended at 9 pm.  Copies of his book, Living in Compassion, were sold at the exit by his wife and several assistants.

Highlights of the Talk

• A brief history of Buddhist sanghas since the sixth century.

• The importance of honesty in family communications balanced with tact and loving-kindness.

• The necessity of selective autonomy in a marriage or domestic partnership (as opposed to the total autonomy of single life).

• The spiritual benefits of supporting a partner fully and desiring the best for him or her.

• The importance of avoiding competition in a partnership.

• The dangers of subtly sabotaging a partner in order to be “top dog.”

Highlights of the Q&A Period

• The difference between the Western concepts of guilt and regret from a Tibetan Buddhist perspective. Translation of the question posed by an audience member took a few moments because there is only one Tibetan word to cover both concepts. However, as the translator pointed out, Tibetan Buddhists recognize shades of regret/guilt.  Bardor Rinpoche pointed out that we call “regret” is considered positive as it gives one the opportunity to expunge a behavior or thought pattern. “Guilt” is a negative emotion because it allows one to stay mired in identification with the behavior.

• The long-term consequences of blaming our parents for our present problems because of what they “did to us.”  Problems our parents caused us are usually due to “karmic knots” of their own—which are an inescapable part of any human’s life. Parents rarely intend to do their children harm.

• Dealing with the trauma of having had severely abusive parents. Survivors of extreme parental abuse are more likely to heal from childhood wounds when they realize that their abusive parents had karmic knots so severe and overwhelming that they resulted in out-of-control behavior.

• The absence of God in the Buddhist belief system. Buddhists generally do not believe that the world was created by a supernatural being nor that any divinity controls the course of our lives.  Our spiritual welfare begins and ends with us.

• Belief (or non-belief) in evolution.  Most Buddhists believe that while evolution of the human species occurred in the past, we are probably now in an era of “devolution.”  This view applies to humanity in general, not to individual humans, who are still capable of upward evolution through their lives.

• The personal meaning of Buddhist practice and the concept of enlightenment. While words and concepts are important, they are only tools that lead us to the wordless experience of enlightenment and self-knowledge.

• The challenges of raising children in Western culture today. Parents are more likely to help their children survive today’s culture if they themselves seek tranquility through meditation.

• The reasons that children fall into destructive lifestyles. Bardor Rinpoche believes that out-of-control behaviors in maturing children are often the result of earlier parental overindulgence and failure to set healthy boundaries.

Bardor Rinpoche’s Background

Bardor Tulku Rinpoche was born in 1949 in Tibet. During childhood, he lived a nomadic life with his family, who were yak herders. When he was ten years old, he and his family escaped to India because of increased Communist oppression. A failed Tibetan uprising in 1959 caused the escalation of political persecution, causing many lamas to flee the country. Bardor Rinpoche’s parents died in Assam, India, shortly after their relocation due to health problems associated with the drastic climate change. Later he moved to Rumtek, Sikkim, and began his formal Buddhist training.

In 2003, Bardor Tulku Rinpoche founded  Kunzang Palchen Ling, a Tibetan Buddhist Center in Red Hook, New York. He resides on the other side of the Hudson River from the Center.    He also teaches at other Buddhist centers throughout North America. The mission of the Center in Red Hook is to offer Western students the teachings of all major schools of Tibetan Buddhism—but most particularly the teachings and practices of the lineage of Terchen Barway Dorje. More about Bardor Rinpoche and the Center can be found at http://www.kunzang.org/btr-bio.html

 

“Living in Compassion”

Living in Compassion was published by Bardor Rinpoche in 2004 (Rinchen Publications, Kingston NY, 171 pp). The book is divided into three sections: 1) understanding karma in our personal and family relationships; 2) a commentary on The 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva, a noted Tibetan text on the path of compassion and wisdom; and 3)  discussion of the six perfections–generosity, morality, patience, diligence, meditation, and wisdom. The paperback can be purchased for less than $17.00 from one of Amazon’s subsidiary booksellers at http://www.amazon.com.

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Arguing About Religion

Do you ever argue about religion thinking you’ll convince the other person that you’re right?  How often do you change their beliefs? Buddhists call this “unskilled speech.” It doesn’t work.  Heated discussions rarely change anyone’s mind. They just arouse angry emotions.

John Cobb, a Christian advocate of interfaith dialogue advises us to avoid religious topics unless our minds are open to new ideas and we want to understand the views of others. Discussions of spirituality are fine when they don’t get us worked up—when we can listen to others with a receptive, curious mind. They cause ill feelings when our intention is to convert others to our way of thinking.

This principle extends to other cherished beliefs, too. My triggers for debate are the sport of hunting, the “right to life” movement, and violence in the media.  The Buddhists refer to the triggers that hook us as “shenpa.”  Shenpa turns us from thoughtful, reasonable people into emotional, angry ones.  Since calmness is usually out of my reach when shenpa strikes, my best move is to divert the conversation politely before I get caught up in the desire to win.

According to Buddhist principles—clinging to people, material possessions, and even long-held beliefs causes us to suffer in the long run.  It’s easy to build an identity around these things.  The thought of losing them frightens us, so we defend them at all costs, sometimes leading us to violence.

We can make an ego out of religious identity as easily as anything else.

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