The rantings of a beautiful mind

On life, society, and computer technology.

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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I live in the Fortress of Solitude. I drive the Silver Beast. My obsession is justice. I used to be a Windows software developer. I retired in 2000 when my stock options helped me achieve financial security.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

James Loney Speaks

"I'm always having to confront my own inability to love and my own inner poverty. But it's a way to live that makes sense. It seems to be a real and practical way to live as a Christian."
James Loney

Read this Toronto Star piece.

I am learning many things from my captivity, and have a universe of things to be grateful for. Among them is a new and deep appreciation for the women and men who wear the uniform of military service. I likely would not be writing this today if it were not for them. Thus, I am confronted with a great paradox. I, the Christian pacifist peacemaker, am alive, am free because of the very institutions I believe are contrary to Christian teaching.

Christ teaches us to love our enemies, do good to those who harm us, pray for those who persecute us. He calls us to accept suffering before we inflict injury. He calls us to pick up the cross and to lay down the sword.

We will most certainly fail in this call. I did. And I'll fail again. This does not change Christ's teaching that violence itself is the tomb, violence is the dead-end. Peace won through the barrel of a gun might be a victory but it is not peace. Our captors had guns and they ruled over us. Our rescuers had bigger guns and ruled over the captors. We were freed, but the rule of the gun stayed. The stone across the tomb of violence has not been rolled away.

James Loney reminds us that spirituality is not a destination, it’s a journey. And it’s a difficult one. Like he, I too wrestle with my own inability to love, my own inner poverty. But struggle we must, for this is the only way that we can hope for a better future, one that is free from violence and hate, one where we as a species grow and evolve into truly spiritual beings.

Yesterday I attended a lecture at U of T (Trinity College) given by Gehlek Rimpoche, the renown Tibetan Buddhist lama. It was entitled, “Spiritual Practice in Challenging Times.” He began by talking about the vain attempts by people to seek happiness in all the wrong places...through consumerism and economic greed, through addiction and violence. (This is consistent with what I’ve been learning from The Mystery of Love, that people pursue pseudo eros of all kinds in a vain attempt to live erotically.)

Then he discussed how everything in the world is interconnected. No person’s actions are isolated; we all contribute to the welfare, or disease, of the world through the spiritual interconnectedness that is recognized in nearly all religious faiths.

Towards the end, Rimpoche came to the key point of the talk. He said that all of our problems, both personally and globally, stem from our “egos,” not the psychological definition of ego but the aspect of ourselves that reveal our selfishness and negative human impulses. He urged people to rise above our own egos and to seek spiritual connectedness. We cannot be responsible for how others behave, we can only be responsible for ourselves. As individuals, we can contribute to the spiritual health of the world, and even if it seems that our own contributions pale in comparison to the evil that looms over us, at least we hew to our integrity, in particular, our spiritual integrity.

Like the “butterfly effect” that Marc Gafni alludes to in The Mystery of Love, each of us has an effect on the world, no matter how small. Rimpoche echoed this in his talk.

Two waves in the ocean were having a conversation as they flowed toward the shore. The larger wave was extremely depressed, and the small wave was peacefully flowing along. “If you could see what I see from up here,” says the larger wave to the small wave, “you would not be so happy.” “Well, what is it?” “In not too long we will crash into the shore and that will be the end of us.” “Oh that,” says the small wave. “That’s okay.” “What, are you crazy!?” “No. I know a little secret that tells me it’s all okay,” says the small wave. “Would you like me to share it with you?”

At this point our large wave friend is both curious and suspicious. “Will I have to pay a lot of money to learn this secret?” “No, not at all.” “Will I have to do zazen [sitting meditation] for thirty years in lotus position?” “No, not at all,” says the small wave. “Really, the whole thing is only eight words.” “Eight words!!! Well, tell me already!” So the small wave says ever so gently, “You are not a wave. You are water.”

You’re not a wave, you are water. This is why the symbol of love in Hebrew mysticism is water. For to love humanity is to get beyond the limited boundary of the wave that is bound to crash.

- The Mystery of Love

When I read this passage from the book, I was stunned. This exact same notion (and the same metaphor!) entered my mind independently several years ago, the same notion that essentially ignited my spiritual journey! At the spiritual level, you and I are not separate and distinct from the homeless man in the street, from the starving child in Africa, from the punk kid in high school carrying a firearm, from the terribly misguided head of state in the Oval Office, from the mugger who steals your wallet in the parking lot, from the crazy neighbour trying to remove your air conditioner, from the sex worker plying her trade in a seedy strip joint, from the Islamofascist trying to kill us, from the Scientologist movie star going on about antidepressants. At the spiritual level, we are all one. And when we fight against each other, we are fighting against ourselves. In the view of Gehlek Rimpoche, it is our egos that separate and divide us, that retard our spiritual evolution.

We begin with ourselves. We take responsibility for our own spiritual development. That’s all the individual can do; we have no control over others’ behaviours. But in doing our part to embrace love and compassion, we can expect positive change to percolate throughout the world. The process may not be obvious or visibly delineated but it has to be a matter of faith (just as the success of the current course of action by the Americans in democratizing the Islamic world is a matter of faith).

During the question and answer period after Rimpoche’s talk, a young student asked Rimpoche how the violence of the Second World War, which was considered necessary and just in stopping Hitler, could be reconciled with the idea of love and compassion. Rimpoche’s response was both unexpected and astonishing.

He said that the Second World War, as a matter of historical event, had a positive outcome – Europe was freed, the Jews were saved, the evil that was Hitler was eliminated – but we had learned nothing from that war. Violence continued to be a fact of life since WWII...Communism swept the world, numerous brutal dictatorships arose, and today we face terrorism. Without spiritual evolution, the war changed nothing in the human condition. We don’t know that a different course of action might not have eventually ended the Nazi threat; in fact, we will never know. But Rimpoche said that had he been in Churchill’s shoes, or Roosevelt’s shoes, he might have chosen a course other than war.

Following the path of love and compassion is a necessary requisite if we hope to ever eliminate violence and hate. It does not mean that we can always avoid the use of force, but it does mean that we must always try to embrace love and compassion, that we must hold to this attitude closely when we deal with the world. The problem with the Bush administration and all those who support the Iraq War is that, for them, it was an either-or proposition, mutually exclusive. Worse than that, it was never an either-or proposition, because they never had the capacity to follow the path of love. They never possessed the spiritual connectedness that was required. Such is the illness that holds our world it its grip.


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