from William Wordsworth's "Resolution and Independence"

My former thoughts returned: the fear that kills;
And hope that is unwilling to be fed;
Cold, pain, and labour, and all fleshly ills;
And mighty Poets in their misery dead.
--Perplexed, and longing to be comforted,
My question eagerly did I renew,
"How is it that you live, and what is it you do?"

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Gifts of Buddhism

I am not now a Buddhist--were I to put it in the common vernacular, I might term myself a "recovering" Buddhist.  But I have enormous respect for the gifts, the emphases that Buddhism brings to life.  Chief among these gifts are the concept of practice and of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is nothing less than awareness--living in the present moment.  (This always strikes me as an odd thing to say--after all, when else can one live?  But somehow we seem to find a way.) Mindfulness is common to many faiths, many practices.  But few make it an actual centerpiece.  While it is clearly taught by Jesus in the Bible, it is not a very common strain of thought in Christianity after Christ--we see it in the teachings of a few saints and from time to time it is hearkened back to, but if one were to name the hallmarks of Christian teaching, this would not be one of them.  And so too with most major world faiths.  But Buddhism calls us up short and says--hey, wait a minute, how do you hope to get anywhere if you don't know where you are right now?  You can't move forward from yesterday or tomorrow--you're mired in what is not.  To move forward, you must be aware of what is.

Mindfulness is one of the gifts given by the teaching of the Buddha and elaborated upon by his followers so that we have not only the understanding, but another of the great gifts--a method.  Buddha and his followers clearly delineated a method for beginning to become aware, for waking up to the present moment.  It is neither easy nor short, but it starts with the intent to be awake.  Just as that drowsy period in the morning between waking and sleeping depends on a commitment one way or the other, so mindfulness begins with the intent to be mindful--with the desire to come awake and to experience the wonderful world as it is now.

A third gift of Buddhism is the rawness of their focus on compassion and loving-kindness. Again, a common element of all world faiths--Buddhism brings it front and center as part of the eight-fold path to enlightenment.  Compassion, loving-kindness, and all the rest of what is good are clearly indicated in Right Thinking and Right Practice.

Looking at Buddhism, there is so much to admire and so much to emulate.  And because it is a practice, a way of life without dogma, these practices can be so easily adapted for people in any walk of life.  There is no inherent contradiction in a Christian living a mindful life  (most of the Saints managed somehow to wake up--without help from the Buddha, one assumes--on the other hand, too few of them left a record as to how to go about it).  There is nothing to prevent any practitioner of any faith from moving compassion and loving-kindness to a central place.  Indeed, we are often told that it holds a central place in the Christian faith--though to see some supposedly Christian acts and displays one would have to wonder.

So, learn from where there is truth to be learned.  Use what is good and what leads you home, leave the rest behind.  A person can hold only so much in head and heart and still function like a living, loving human being.

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