Uploaded by AlJazeeraEnglish on Mar 14, 2012
An extraordinary visual essay about deforestation in Indonesia as experienced through the eyes of a dying orangutan called Green, whose habitat has been totally destroyed. This story is told entirely without words.
Archive for March 20, 2012
Uploaded by AlJazeeraEnglish on Mar 14, 2012
There’s a verse from Psalm 46 that summarizes the relationship between the practice of religion and the practice of spirituality: “Be still, and know that I am God.” It’s a prayer, an admonition, an encouragement. The two poles of this verse — be still, know God — together they offer a different way than the frenetic pace of my daily life. They offer the promise of rest as a result of trusting in someone greater than myself.
But it’s hard to be still. My children embody (and create) this difficulty for me. We have a green and yellow painted table where Penny and William are supposed to eat breakfast. They sit in their little chairs for all of three minutes, and then one of them pops up. “I need to give you a hug,” Penny says. Or William, carefully carrying his cereal bowl, announces, “I would like to eat on the floor.” Or they want to open the microwave or feed Marilee a spoonful of baby food or run into the playroom “just for a minute.” They aren’t being intentionally disobedient. They get distracted. It’s hard to be still.
If I’m honest, I know the same is true for me. Whenever I try to turn my undivided attention to a writing project or reading to my children or praying for five minutes or even to a simple task like cooking dinner, my mind jumps around just like my kids at breakfast. I fault my iPhone explicitly for taking away some stillness in my life. I used to pray when I found myself with a few unstructured moments. Now, I pull out my phone. I can scan my e-mail, glance at the most popular articles from the New York Times and possibly even check a few blogs. Prayer takes more concentration, more energy and, well, more stillness.
Stillness is possible, of course, and the Psalmist implies that such stillness only arrives in the context of a relationship with God. But knowing God — acknowledging and submitting to God’s power and authority — is at least as hard, in our culture, as attempting to be still. For me, the difficulties start with doubt. I’ve been a Christian for decades, and yet questions and fears line up outside the door of my mind, and the less time I spend being still in God’s presence, the more space those questions and fears consume. But part of the point of Psalm 46 is to say that even when the world is literally falling apart all around us, even then, God is God.
The second form my trouble takes is that of pride. Not only do I forget that God is God, but I also forget that I am not God. I have trouble remembering that at the end of the day, whether or not I have responded to every e-mail that has come in, the world will keep on spinning. I have trouble remembering that I can’t (and shouldn’t) control other people. I have trouble remembering that even when I get it wrong, God is still good and faithful and can redeem my mistakes and my sins. I have trouble remembering that God will keep working around me, no matter what I do or don’t do.
We have three kids, and a few months back we moved William into a bed so that Marilee could move out of a pack ‘n’ play and into a crib. Over the course of the next few weeks William stayed up later and later and later. He got up earlier and earlier and earlier. One night, I held him on my lap. He was exhausted, but he refused to stay in his bed. I said, “William, what do you need to be able to go to sleep?” He turned his head to look at me and said, “Mom, I need a fence.” We put him back in his crib, and he returned to his previous pattern of sleeping 11 hours at night. In order to be still, he needed boundaries. He needed a fence.
When I think about the interplay between spirituality and religion, I imagine that religion is the fence, the boundaries that give us freedom to explore true spirituality. Or, in the words of the Psalm, knowing God is the fence, the protective barrier, that allows us to be still. Our son William needed a fence — the bars of his crib — in order to sleep, and those crib bars were good for him. Of course those bars only served their purpose as long as there was a mattress. Without a mattress, crib bars would be a terrible way of forcing him into an incredibly uncomfortable position in which being still was even more impossible than ever before. Religion without spirituality is as uncomfortable and purposeless as a crib with no mattress. But spirituality without religion offers freedom without security. We need to understand how to develop both spirituality and religion, how to be still and how to know God.
America is awash in spirituality. And again, spiritual practices — personal prayer, meditation, yoga and the like — can indeed nourish the soul even if divorced from their religious roots. The world is awash in religions, and religions other than Christianity can offer meaning, moral guidance, and other good things for their adherents and communities. What I have to offer is my experience as a Christian, and I believe the Christian story makes the most sense of the world and is the best news for all of us.
It anchors our spiritual longings — for goodness, peace, joy, justice, love, acceptance, community and rest — in a God who is love and who has demonstrated that love in a particular way through Christ. It’s an oft-quoted line for a reason, I suppose, by Augustine, that “our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” I am spiritual and I am religious because I am a Christian. Because my restless heart has found stillness in knowing the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the Bible, the Triune God of power and love.
This essay is adapted from a longer ebook, ‘Why I am Both Spiritual and Religious.’ Amy Julia Becker is also the author of ‘A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny.’
For years Bart Ehrman has been routinely bombarded with one question: Did Jesus Exist? As a leading Bible expert, fans and critics alike have sent letters, emails, posted blogs, and questioned Ehrman during interviews wanting his opinion about this nagging question that has become a conspiracy theorist cottage industry the world over.
The idea that the character of Jesus was an invention of the early church—and later a tool of control employed by the Roman Catholic Church—is a widely held belief and Ehrman has decided it’s time to put the issue to rest. Yes, the historical Jesus of Nazareth did exist.
Known as a master explainer with deep knowledge of the field, Ehrman methodically demolishes both the scholarly and popular “mythicist” arguments against the existence of Jesus. Marshaling evidence from within the Bible and the wider historical record of the ancient world, Ehrman tackles the key issues that surround the popular mythologies associated with Jesus and the early Christian movement. Throughout Did Jesus Exist? Ehrman establishes the criterion for any genuine historical investigation and provides a robust defense of the methods required to discover the Jesus of history.
Those committed to the “non-existence” theory will need to read this formidable scholar’s counter argument while the more traditionally minded will enthusiastically support Ehrman’s definitive answer to the question. Perfect for the vigorous online debating community, this eBook original will be a must read for anyone interested in Jesus, the Bible, and the birth of Christianity.
Large numbers of atheists, humanists, and conspiracy theorists are raising one of the most pressing questions in the history of religion: “Did Jesus exist at all?” Was he invented out of whole cloth for nefarious purposes by those seeking to control the masses? Or was Jesus such a shadowy figure—far removed from any credible historical evidence—that he bears no meaningful resemblance to the person described in the Bible?
In DID JESUS EXIST? historian and Bible expert Bart Ehrman confronts these questions, vigorously defends the historicity of Jesus, and provides a compelling portrait of the man from Nazareth. The Jesus you discover here may not be the Jesus you had hoped to meet—but he did exist, whether we like it or not.
Bart D. Ehrman
Bart D. Ehrman is the author of more than twenty books, including the New York Times bestselling Misquoting Jesus, God’s Problem, and Jesus, Interrupted. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and is a leading authority on the Bible and the life of Jesus. He has been featured in Time magazine and has appeared on NBC’s Dateline, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, CNN, History, and major NPR programs.
As we already are feeling divisiveness of current politics and upcoming presidential elections…
As we feel into pain and complexity of people holding seeming irreconcilable values which actually harm each other, on topics like the economy, immigration and same-sex marriage…
As even people’s intentions for doing good in the world, whether through nonviolent dissent, or simple holiday shopping to provide for a family’s happiness is met with pepper spray and handcuffs…
Now more than ever we need our Mindfulness Practice.
We need the Freedom that Mindfulness invites for us — the freedom that we do not have to follow the unconscious patterns of acute reactivity. We need to remember that it is possible to notice deeply what is happening, understand it with some wisdom, treat it with some of the compassion inherent in our humanity, and move into responses and actions that are of benefit — that is, to move toward that which lessens suffering and creates happiness, not just for us as individuals, but us as a collective world.
Our Mindfulness practice, whether it is on the cushion paying attention to the emotions and thoughts that weave between the breath and bodily sensations, or whether it is in the world paying attention to our actions and behaviors which emerge from our emotions and thoughts, is always a reminder that in order to change any unhealthy or harmful patterns — in order to transform any suffering — we have to first become aware of the patterns themselves. We cannot change anything that we are not aware of. This is also true of our collective transformation into a culture that meets the needs of greater numbers of people and beings: We first have to become deeply aware of the conditions that we are living within, and then that will guide us into transforming the world into a better place to live.
On a personal level this may show up within the experience of intense emotions. Often we are driven by unconscious motivations of our emotional landscape. How often do we feel lost in the rage or the upset that sometimes arises? The powerful impact that Mindfulness brings is that the experience of being aware of the rage is not the rage itself. Being mindful of all the sensations of rage or anger is not being lost in or consumed by the fire. How often do we actually feed the experience of anger without examining what is really happening? Do you find yourself pouring fuel on the fire of rage, or even getting angry at the anger? What might be happening other than the thoughts or emotions inflaming the fuel?
If we examine closely, we will likely find that the experience of anger and rage have pleasant sensations associated with them. Pleasant sensations are always seductive. That is the nature of “pleasant.” And generally, without an awareness practice, unconscious conditioning impels our human experience to desire more pleasant sensations — without any questions asked. We begin to enjoy the sensations of feeling angry and even feed them with experiences such as self-righteousness, or a sense of “better-than,” or even revenge. The deceptive nature of the pleasant feelings of rage is that the behaviors and actions which emerge do not always lead to less suffering in the world. Much of our behavior and actions in the world are driven by the immediacy of this kind of reaction toward strong emotions or acute pain. These actions often lead to more suffering — unless there is Mindfulness.
Anger is an important barometer possibly indicating when boundaries have been crossed, or injustices have occurred or oppression has been inflicted. However, anger can also have an unconscious life of its own when it is not met with the central question of our Awareness practice, which is also a vital choice-point of Buddhist spiritual practice: Will this lead to more suffering, or will this lead to less?
Life is complicated and this is not always a clean or clear decision point. Our practice simply invites us to do the best we can — to be as mindful, aware and kind to whatever arises, even our intense emotional landscapes. The personal mantra that I have developed to navigate through the complex dilemmas and social issues arising currently is:
Can I be mindful and loving of whatever arises.
If I can’t be loving in this moment, can I be kind.
If I can’t be kind, can I be non-judgmental.
If I can’t be non-judgmental, can I not cause harm.
And if I cannot not cause harm, can I cause the least amount of harm possible?
Our awareness practice does not simply end with how it applies to our personal life. The Buddha did not design an individual practice that solely leads to personal salvation or enlightenment. The invitation of the Buddha’s teachings is to make our Mindfulness relevant and integral to not only our personal journey towards happiness, but our collective transformation towards Freedom. It is written in the Satipatthana Sutta:
The Noble Ones abide contemplating internally, they abide contemplating externally, they abide contemplating both externally and internally.
This practice of applying awareness to our internal personal experience and the external collective experience is how we create Freedom for all beings — it is how we become aware of what needs to be transformed. Referencing our current reality, to change the dynamic of the 1 percent and the 99 percent, we first need to become fully aware of the suffering and the disparities involved, and how these disparities actually cause harm to the 100 percent, not just the 99 percent. In addition, not everyone in the 99 percent is aware that that they are part of the 99 percent.
This is a process that is beginning to expand. Some of the 99 percent might have a few more creature comforts than others (i.e. “pleasant” conditions in life); however, this does not mean that they are not oppressed by a larger system in place. Our collective consciousness is in the midst of being raised. And this collective awareness raising is not separate or different from the deepening of our personal mindfulness practice, internally and externally.
What we do on the meditation cushion to create clarity of mind, openness in our hearts, and mindfulness of our thoughts, emotions and actions is not any different than the work we do in the world to create a better life for all of us. As many spiritual masters and social activist elders have told us, from Mahatma Gandhi to Audre Lorde, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” Mindfulness can be the practice that connects our individual spiritual path with the path of all beings. Our paths toward Freedom are the same. We are not separate from one another.
Thich Nhat Hanh writes:
When you break through to the truth, compassion springs up like a stream of water. With that compassion, you can embrace even the people who have persecuted you. When you’re motivated by desire to help those who are victims of ignorance, only then are you free from your suffering and feelings of violation. Don’t wait for things to change around you. You have to practice liberating yourself. Then you will be equipped with the power of compassion and understanding, the only kind of power that can help transform an environment full of injustice and discrimination. You have to become such a person — one who can embody tolerance, understanding, and compassion. You transform yourself into an instrument for social change and change in the collective consciousness of mankind.
Thich Nhat Hanh describes one of the meanings embedded in sati, or mindfulness, and that is the capacity to remember what will lead to freedom in our lives — remembering that our personal and collective path toward Freedom is not dependent on any external conditions. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has spoken, “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” In his wisdom, he prepares us that Justice, as worthy a task as it is in our lives, will take longer than any of us would like. It will require the efforts of the many rather than the few. And it will require every spiritual attribute we can muster.
There is tremendous injustice and unfairness in our cultures, our society and our world. And the teaching is that Freedom is not even dependent upon Life being fair or just. True Freedom does not mean to be in a place where there is no problem, struggle or oppression. True Freedom means to be in the midst of any and/or all those things, and have clarity in our minds, openness in our hearts and integrity in our actions. This is the kind of Freedom that will allow us to move through even our most difficult struggles with greater ease and benefit for us all.
Now more than ever, we need to remember this.
Larry Yang teaches meditation retreats nationally and has a special interest in creating access to the Dharma for diverse multicultural communities. Larry has practiced extensively in Burma and Thailand, with a six month period of ordination as a Buddhist monk under the guidance of meditation master Ajahn Tong. Larry is one of the core teachers and leaders of the East Bay Meditation Center and is on the Spirit Rock Teachers Council. He is one of the coordinating teachers of the Spirit Rock Community Dharma Leader training program.