Help Yourself, Help Us All – Lama Surya Das

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” And so, here we are, living in volatile times, even capable of eradicating ourselves from the face of the planet. If we are paying attention, days like these can provide us with a genuine learning opportunity for conscious evolution and enhancing our discernment, combined with a heartfelt need to build community for solace in kindred spirits and meaningful connection.

To help muster the energy required to face the challenges of our complex world, I rely on what Buddhist activists call

The Three Freedoms:

Freedom from undue hope & expectations
Freedom from fear & anxiety
Freedom from selfishness & bias

Buddhism teaches that nothing is more dangerous than an untrained or unhealthy mind, and nothing more conducive to great happiness and wellness than a well-trained clear and wise mind. Yet it’s not only all about mind and intellect, our emotions, body, energy and soulful dimension also come into play. Right action can be a way of achieving one’s goals. Practicing patient forbearance in the face of harm and abuse, without being overly passive in our pacifism, we find that nonviolence is and can be a dynamic multi-dimensional means of persuasion, a technique for political activism, and a recipe for peacemaking and harmonizing—a fearless and forceful way of living authentically as well as speaking truth to power. Right action equals appropriate morality, it carrying with it a sense of discerning wisdom, precision and skillful means.

That is why I am calling for a grassroots arising of a heartfelt and committed Lobby of Compassion, a participatory mandala of persons who are willing to link hands, heads and noble hearts in a measured, focused and sustained effort to develop sufficient clear vision and appropriate action to find and pursue another way—as an alternative to the slippery slope of partisan politics and vestiges of Cold War thinking that has afflicted us for centuries. So we may have a century of dialogue upon the heels of the last century of wars, bloodshed and environmental degradation.

You are the most powerful person in your world. Everything you do could be motivated by compassion. A better and more just and equitable world depends on your own clarity of mind, purity of heart, and a decisive spirit. It is within your reach and special power.

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What About The Spiritual Life?

I’m getting tired of hearing from Christopher Hitchens in the media, and his fervid and all-too-familiar religion-bashing. I happen to like the guy, and also very much appreciate such diverse opinions–he is brilliant, after all, and has some valid points, which is why I bother to read him–-but overall he goes way too far and keeps grinding the same ax ad nauseum. God Is Not Great is a fine book title but a weak thesis. Rest assured that I myself have plenty of similar criticism about religions, including my own; but doesn’t he know that there are hundreds of millions (and have been billions) of very spiritual people, as well as intensely religious ones, who need little or no deity in order to pursue a spiritual path and live and embody a beautiful, wise and loving spiritual life, both within and outside the formal traditional religious denominations? Moreover, there are plenty of theists who have a much more subtle and sophisticated understanding of the divine, of prayer, and of reality than that which he lumps all deists together with.

There is a difference that can be made between religion (organized, for the most part) and spirituality itself, which is the heart of it all; and moreover, spirituality has no Crusades, Inquisitions, book burnings, isms and schisms, and so forth. Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and their skeptical post-modern atheist ilk seem far too extreme to convert true believers or even to sway the moderate middle; their dogmatic arguments are more often than not one-sided monologues lacking in balance. Although their points of view and critical analyses and reflections are certainly not without merit, and deserving of serious consideration, one might also notice that scientific-minded ultra-rationalists are not without their presuppositions, blind spots, superstitions and beliefs, not unlike those very people of faith whom they roundly criticize. Hitchens himself seems to evince little or no expertise on the subject of Eastern spirituality and practice, although he did live in Rashneeshвs ashram for a little while–in order to write about it–an extreme example of a place to study in India, if there ever was one. I have read things about the Dalai Lama and Richard Gere from Hitchens that I personally know to be inaccurate.

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