My dear friends and readers, it is Christmas Day in my part of the world. As usual my mind starts its philosophical musing. Today I am thinking about the great wisdom expressed by the different religions of the world. Whatever holiday you celebrate, please take a moment to think about our places in the world. Let’s think about the future, not as a time to focus on pettiness or pain, but as a time to focus on the wisdom from whatever religion you practice. If you don’t practice a religion, then please borrow one of the following doctrines. Although I am not an expert in these religions, I would like to share a bit that I have learned from them.
From Confucianism, I learned that you have to start where you live. Make things better for your family and friends; then make things better for your neighbors. Create harmony in your household and then move out from there to share that feeling.
“Where in everyday moral conduct and in everyday attention to proper speech I am lacking in some respect, I must make every effort to attend to this; where there is excess in some respect, I must make every effort to constrain myself. In speech pay attention to what is done, and in conduct pay attention to what is said. How could the exemplary person not but earnestly aspire to behave in such a manner?” [David Hall and Roger Ames. Focusing on the Familiar: A Translation of the Zhongyong]
From Taoism (Daoism), I learned about balance. It’s not about whether it is a good day or a bad day, but whether you adjust and adapt to the day, and whether you live that day in balance. If you judge everything as bad, including yourself, how can you have a happy day?
Many years ago I heard a saying: a lion does not apologize for his nature. That adage seems to affirm the Taoist (Daoist) concept that there is nothing wrong with being what one is, whether that is a lion or a person. Each is different, and the human should not attempt to become a lion. Certainly learning that lesson would be beneficial to many.
“Free from desire, you realize the mystery. Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.” [Lao-tzu, translation by S. Mitchell. Tao Te Ching.]
From Buddhism, I am reminded that everything changes. If we hold on tight because we are afraid of that change, it will only hurt us more. Yet, we do; when life is wonderful, we want to seize it and hold it tight to keep things the way they are. But change can be a good thing too.
“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.”
Buddha also said: “Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace.”
As someone who has had more than a few problems with Christianity as it plays out in this culture, I am amazed what happened when I returned to study a faith that I thought I understood. First, I realized that people build interpretations from many places, most of them emotional or petty. Why would anyone keep to the teachings of Jesus, a very radical Jew? What a difficult philosophy he taught. Even Jesus knew that his followers had different paths. He told his disciples to give up everything: job, family, and house. Yet, a few were called to walk with him — in modern day, monks and nuns most closely match that — and some to preach — following in the footsteps of the apostles as well as Priscilla (one of the first church leaders, mentioned by Paul in Corinthians) — and some he told to go home and do good works. The last category seems to be the largest and easiest for contemporary times. Lately I have studied the letters of Paul, in whose name many atrocities and subordinations have been committed. Yet, all is not how it seems — but that is too lengthy for today’s writings. Let us remember the Christian teachings of kindness, generosity, and love. As Paul wrote:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” [1 Corinthians 13:4-7]
Once again this blog grows too long. I will write more on this another day. First, a summary of my thinking. Many of the world’s religions tell us that we can learn from Nature because Nature knows how to be in balance, knows how to nurture and protect, knows how to be stable and how to change. Most of the world’s religions teach about kindness and compassion to others (and to ourselves). Those are good lessons for us too.