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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  171                       Cumulative Days Blogging: 156

Today’s Mileage: 5                                                    Total Trip Mileage: 1139

National Day of Prayer in United States: National Day of Prayer is held on the first Thursday of May each year, inviting Americans of all faiths to pray for the country and its leaders.

Is that a sacred scripture or a weapon?

Greetings fellow pilgrims!  I am reminded today why one of my favorite statements about technology and electronics is” “just when you think it is your friend it turns on you!”  I rode the bike this afternoon and dictated my posting concerning today as the National Day of Prayer.  Then when I sat down to transcribe it I found that the tape was blank!  For some reason it did not record so I will have to try and recreate it from memory.  Here goes…

I hope that everyone has taken a moment during the day to offer a prayer in whatever way is appropriate according to your belief system.  I feel the need to add this qualifier (“in whatever way”) because sadly the events of the day have been marred by controversy.  I say sadly because our community, nation and world can use all the help we can muster to set aside our differences and come together to face our growing shared problems (terrorism, global climate change, dwindling resources, conflict and war).  However, even something as promising as a call for all people to turn toward the divine for help and guidance has become a derisive issue.

Two issues seem to provide fuel for this controversy.  One centers on the issue of whether it is appropriate to have an “official” day of prayer; the second is a question of what constitutes an appropriate prayer.

Private Prayer... Freedom of Expression

A recent court decision, which is being appealed, sided with the argument of those individuals who believe it is inappropriate to have an officially sanctioned day of prayer as this represents the government sanctioning religion in general. Whether this religion is practiced by a majority of the people does not matter as the backers of this legal challenge believe it breaches the separation of church and state.  These individuals will often point out that existing laws that are written in inclusionary manners are often ignored or actively flaunted by elected officials who use their proclamations of faith for political gain.

Not just for Christians!

Personally, I do not see a problem with the government sanctioning a day of prayer as long as there is no official prayer and individuals of differing faiths or no faith at all are not subjected to exclusionary prayers.  An exclusionary prayer is one that proclaims or insinuates that there is only one valid path, valid name, valid experience associated with the divine.  Such prayers may outright condemn as false or heretical any and all other paths and names for the divine or divine experiences.

Recently at a local county council meeting atheists, secular humanists, and two groups of Buddhist were made (they were given no warning and/or before the fact choice) to sit through an “in the name of Jesus Christ our Savior” opening prayer that specifically targeted with condemnation abortion providers and gays.  The council member who delivered the meetings opening prayer offered no apology when a person in attendance complained. How do you think the Buddhists in attendance (community members, taxpaying citizens, who were there to request the county’s recognition of Buddha’s birthday) felt?  Were they made to feel uncomfortable and excluded simply because a “devout Christian” did not want to miss an opportunity to preach his message, which happened to be one of hate and exclusion in this case.

 Just this last week I sat through a graduation ceremony for a local state supported university.  While most of the individuals in attendance were likely Christians, the opening and closing invocations, which were given by a member of the school’s board of trustees, ended with proclamations about Jesus Christ.  In addition, the US Senator who was the commencement speaker also worked into his talk mention of Jesus Christ. Curiously, he finished his talk by sending off the graduates into the world with the advice to “make lots of money!”  No call to rise up and transcend our needs and desires for the greater good of the people and nation.  No challenge to aim for Mars, cure cancer, help clean up politics, just a call to produce and consume!

 I am living in the Bible Belt so I recognize the importance of faith and religion in people’s lives. It is an important part of my personal life.   However, it is troubling and unsettling to see individuals who represent all of the people of the county, state, country (elected officials and University board of trustee members) act as if there is no valid diversity of beliefs and faiths.  It seems to me the least they can do is to use a pluralistic inclusionary invocation at public meetings. If someone in attendance wants to mutter the name Jesus Christ under their breath while their neighbor mutters Buddha or Goddess, or just takes a deep breath and relaxes, how does this deny anyone their “right” to their faith?  Does it matter at all that I have the right to sit in a public meeting (this is not a church service or revival) without having to hear someone “proclaiming their faith” in ways that insinuate that I, my children and my fellow church members are somehow misguided, wrong and “going to hell.”  Again, I am not attending their church or revival, I am not speaking about the ten commandment signs they place in their yards, I am speaking about a tax payer funded meeting, conducting “official business” where I have to just sit and bite my tongue, I guess because I am in the minority! 

It is my understanding that the reason we have a constitution is to protect the minorities, as the majority can vote in the leaders who write the laws.  Therefore the courts and the constitution are there to protect the non-dominant races, faiths, sexual orientations, ethnic groups, and political groups.

Back in the Fall I blogged about the importance of great teachers, most being guided by profound deep faith in the divine.  I included Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and Billy Graham.  Rev. Graham’s son Franklin Graham has placed himself in the center of the ongoing controversy about today’s day of prayer.  It seems that he was invited to speak at the Pentagon but this invitation was later withdrawn because of some very negative things he said in an interview about the Islamic faith.

While Franklin certainly has every right to free speech he needs to recognize, as I have taught my sons, that the things we say have consequences.  You can’t go saying negative things about a major religious tradition which will be part of an ecumenical Day of Prayer, with the purpose to “bring together” the community, and expect to be welcomed.  To add insult to injury he now claims that this is all part of some systematic affront toward white Evangelical Christians by President Obama.

In a Tuesday USA Today interview he was reported to have said: “Muslims do not worship the same ‘God the Father’ I worship.”  He also took a swipe at Hinduism, saying, “No elephant with 100 arms can do anything for me.  None of their 9,000 gods is going to lead me to salvation.  We are fooling ourselves if we think we can have some big kumbaya service and all hold hands and it’s all going to get better in this world.  It’s not going to get better.” 

Hindu Deity Ganesha

Is it any wonder why the organizers of the Pentagon service uninvited Franklin Graham?  He proclaims to know what Muslins believe and then displays his lack of knowledge about the Hindu deities (Genesha has an elephant head but only four arms; Vishnu is often pictured with multiple sets of arms).  Again I have no problem with Franklin Graham offering whatever form of Christian prayer he chooses at private gatherings or public religious gatherings, but not at officially government sanctioned event that are undertaken to bring together our diverse communities of faith.

One final point; as I stood in the locker room at my gym this morning Franklin came onto CNN, which was playing on the locker room TV and made a timid statement that he can only be expected to pray in the way he was taught to pray and in the way he believes.  He may believe this to be the truth, but if we accept this reasoning and logic then a lot of people who had in the past to change, adapt and adjust might have been “off the hook.”  If a racist Southern sheriff could have just said “that was the way I was raised” as an argument for why he should not be expected to follow the new civil rights laws, or people opposed to women’s new found right to vote refusing to give them a ballot because they still believe in “the old way.”  There are many loving, devout Evangelical Christians who can sit in a meeting and hear a non-denominational prayer without feeling that their faith has be slighted. They might even listen to a prayer by a Hindu or Muslim and see the similarity in all forms of prayer.  If Franklin Graham wants to limit himself to exclusive Christian prayers then I suggest he stick with his church and his revivals.  If he wants to be accepted into the larger faith community than I suggest he learn how to speak to the heart of all faith and religions, free of any denominational or specific faith trappings.

Hindu Deity Vishnu

Just a quick aside, when I served as the Chaplin for my son’s Boy Scout troop I often lead prayers that called on the boys to look within themselves and toward the divine for strength and answers.  It was not a Taoist prayer, or a Unitarian Universalist prayer, it was an inclusive upbeat non-denominational prayer.  I did it! I challenge Rev. Franklin Graham to do the same!

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Greetings friends and fellow pilgrims.  I am still preparing for and adjusting to my son’s departure for Fort Lewis Washington.  As a going away gift I am having the book “365 Tao” bound as a hardback book.  He has read it in the past to the point of breaking the binding so I thought a hardback copy would serve him well,  I also had the book binder include several pages of my words of encouragement and what I call “Words of Wisdom.”  I thought my readers might enjoy see them, so here they are:

The following represents “Words of Wisdom” I have gleamed from my life experiences.  I hope that pondering them may help you recognize their possible relevance in your life.

 1)      “Shit happens” – our lives are a constant parade of events that we are required

                                             to adjust too,  how we adjust affects our level of happiness!

  TYPES OF SHIT:

a)      Just Happens” Shit – we have little or no choice in the event’s occurrence

  1. THROWNESS – conditions we are born with (gender, race, baldness, etc)
  2. “DROPPED OUT OF THE BLUE” Shit – largely unexpected or unforeseeable events and conditions (illness, accidents, acts of nature)

      Keys to adjustment for the “Just Happens Shit”:

  1. Acceptance and Accommodation – some people actually embrace the

            event as a way of adjusting (“bald is beautiful”)                                        

  1. Foster Coping Skills – prepare for the next “unexpected event”

            (buy insurance, build strong social support, foster spirituality, get training)

      Most Common Errors:

  1. “Fight the Shit” – this is the basis for many marketing efforts

                                   (hair loss treatments, diets, cosmetic surgery)

  1. “Fear the Shit” – worry about all the “what ifs” that could occur

 b)      Stepped in It” Shit – we have some responsibility for these events occurrence 

                                                       as they are influenced by our life choices

  1. CONSEQUENCES – conditions we create by our actions, they are not necessarily predictable, but likely outcomes of our actions (highly probable).  They may involve the consequences of ours and others people’s actions, we tend to not see these coming, although in “hind sight” we realize that they were highly probable. (cancer due to smoking)
  2. “SEE IT COMING” Shit – if you are observant and know how to recognize it, these are the situations/ relationships/ events that you can steer clear of/ avoid (getting in the car with a drunk, going out with a drug user, skipping classes, unprotected sex).

      Keys to adjustment for the “Stepped In It Shit”:

  1. Make Corrections – change the causal behaviors or attitudes that 

                                       lead to event (quit smoking, start exercising, 

                                       leave the relationship, training, etc.)            

     2. Learn From It – take a lesson away from the experience and then 

                                Implement changes to decrease the likelihood of   

                                future problems (choose relationships more wisely)

     3. “Fight It” – work to take control (now) over the things you still have

                         control over… manage the fallout! (apologize)

      Most Common Errors:

  1. Embracing the Shit – this “there is meaning in suffering” attitude 

                                        often leads to a lack of action (everyone dies!)

  1. Misinterpreting it – seeing it as “Just Happens Shit” and accepting it 

                                      as an unchangeable situation. (I said “I do!”)

      Note:  Situations often represent combinations of these categories.  An unwanted  

                pregnancy maybe experienced as a “Dropped out of the Blue” event, but in 

                hindsight it is a “See it Coming” Event.

“I seldom end up where I wanted to go, but almost always end up where I need to be.” – Douglas Adams

 2)       “Be Happy”           

–    Life is all about attitude! Attitude represents a filter or lens (like a pair of glasses) that we  

           view the world through.  Like a dirty lens, we often assume that what we perceive

           (through the lens) is the world and not a filtered image (anger is a dirty lens)

–          always remember that your lens needs polishing and cleaning… check it frequently!

3)      “Never Say Never”

–          We can only make predictions about the future, none of us can know what it holds!

       This attitude helps keeps us from committing to inflexible positions… keeps us from

       having to “eat our words” in the future… helps us keep our options open!

“Prayer is when you talk to God; meditation is when you listen to God.” – Diana Robinson

4)     

“Be Certain, But Humble”

–          Strive to be certain about your beliefs (in yourself and your worldview).  Strive to have your life experiences fit your life view, but be humble about your beliefs because they are yours and do not necessarily fit the life experiences of other people. 

–          This is particularly important with respect to political and religious beliefs.

 5)      “Change is Mandatory, Growth is Optional!”

–          perhaps one of the most important overriding points about life is that it is a process!

–          it is always in the process of becoming something (something more or something less, but surely something different) our control over this process is sometimes limited

–          like it or not, planned and unplanned changes (shit) happens, it is what we do with these changes (resist/ignore/adjust to them) that is of paramount importance

–          how we respond dictates the general course our life follows (do we consistently make mountains out of mole hills… or see mountains –obstacles- as just speed bumps)

–          wise choices do not always lead to success (a lack of failure) but they always lead to  growth (improving our happiness and chances for success in the future)

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” – Buddha

 6)      “Always strive for Balance”

–          Growth is a process of finding balance between our desires and needs (present and future) and the demands of life situations (rules and laws, other’s needs)

–          Buddha and the Taoists preached “the Middle Path” – don’t deny your needs but don’t give in to excesses – always treat others with compassion and care!

 7)      “Just because you can doesn’t mean that you have too or should!”

–          Life presents us with multiple possibilities and choices, we must choose wisely!

–          Not all choices are equal! Some choices represent unreasonable risks (You can see it coming shit) and     

            threaten to move us away from a balanced position.

–          Stupid people make stupid choices: 1) They couldn’t do what they tried to do (lacked skills to do it); 2) They

            didn’t see the potential risk (should not have done it); 3) They told themselves they “had to do it” (a dare,

            standing up to an insult, to look tough).

I hope that you found my words thought provoking and humorous… have a wonderful day!

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding: 150                                      Days Blogged: 134 

New Mileage: 6                                                     Total Trip Mileage: 1042

As I ride the bike today I am thinking about spiritual inspiration and the situations that remind us of the spiritual aspects of our lives.  This topic was inspired by a newspaper article and an internet story. 

Ganesha

The article noted that the Shroud of Turin will soon be put on display and that people can reserve a spot in line for a 3-5 min viewing of this sacred relic.  A million people have already signed up for this pilgrimage. The internet story: “Ganesha gets chopped; Hindus are furious” came from an Indonesian city.  It was reported that Hindus were making a pilgrimage to a site where the image of Ganesha was observed in the bark of a tree, many of them were leaving flowers and incense.  The outrage was about the fact that a low level official of the city cut down and destroyed the tree.

In the case of the Shroud we have a pilgrimage to a site to view a sacred relic.  In the second story we have a pilgrimage to observe what is sometimes labeled as Simulacra. This is defined as a sighting of an image with spiritual or religious themes, usually religiously notable people or spiritual symbols in everyday objects or phenomena of the natural world.  These phenomena have received considerable attention since the advent of the Internet.  Recently on E-Bay, someone sold of a piece of toast bearing the Virgin Mary’s likeness for $28,000!

A relic is defined as an object or a personal item of religious significance, carefully preserved and venerated as a tangible memorial.  Relics play an important role in many but not all of the world’s religions. According to the Catholic Church, relics can be classified into three groups.  First-Class Relics are items directly associated with the events of Christ’s life (manger, cross, etc.), or the physical remains of a saint (a bone, a hair, a limb, etc.). Traditionally, a martyr’s relics are often more prized than the relics of other saints.  Second-Class Relics are items that a saint wore (a shirt, a glove, etc.) Also included is an item that the saint owned or frequently used, for example, a crucifix, book etc.  Third-Class Relics are any object that is touched by a first- or second-class relic.

The Shroud of Turin

Relics have various degrees of importance for different faiths.  In the Catholic Church relics were an important aspect of the consecration of new altars and churches.  After Buddha’s death his cremated remains were divided up and place in the various Stupas that have now become important pilgrimage sites for Buddhists.  The “Cloak of the Prophet” is kept in the sacred Muslim Mosque of Kandahar, Afghanistan.  It is kept locked away and only taken out during times of great crisis.  Making a pilgrimage to these relics is often seen as a way to come closer to the saints and thus form a closer bond with God.

Simulacra have received considerable attention in the media recently, particularly on the internet.  This started in 1977 with Christ’s image on a flower tortilla, since labeled the “Miracle Tortilla,” and continued with the “Nun Bun” and the “Virgin Mary toast.” This phenomenon is not a new development as many early pilgrimages were made to grottos, caves and rock formations that presented the believer with an “image” of religious significance seemingly etched by natural element.  For many pilgrims these were seen as signs of the sacredness of the site and special “healing powers” were often associated with them.

It seems to me there are two questions that often arise in relationship to both the existence and use of relics and simulacra. The first question has to do with the validity of these objects (relics) and events/observation (simulacra).  Some scientists will explain simulacra by ascribing them to a human faculty for delusion called “pareidolia,” a perception of pattern and meaning from randomness.  Many scientists also believe that humans are hardwired to recognize facial patterns for example babies begin to recognize facial features by the time they are one month old).  In addition, human perceptual Gestalt principles operate subconsciously in all of us. They work automatically to fit partial pieces of information into a “whole” picture or figure.  Of course the issue of the validity of relics is a hotly contested issue.  Scientific research on the Shroud of Turin has raised serious questions about its age, placing its creation in the 13-14th century.  The Vatican has tiptoed around the issue, making no claim about its authenticity but calling it “an instrument of evangelization.”  I do not want to engage in arguments about “validity claims”.  Belief in these things has more to do with faith than it does with data.

The Nun Bun!

To me the more important question concerns the usefulness and meaning of these phenomenons in the lives of the pilgrims who travel to see them or choose to find significance in their mere occurrence.  If these events help to strengthen a person’s spiritual belief system, renew their faith in the presence of the divine, provide them with a purpose to explore their goals and priorities and/or promote and trigger a significant mystical or religious experience,  then I would argue it has been a good thing. Whether the person has trekked around the world to view the burial shroud of Christ or Buddha’s birth place, or found spiritual revelations in cloud formations or the shape of a breakfast pastry does not matter as long as the experience functions to deepen their spiritual connections.

 As a pluralist and a mystic I believe that the presence of the divine, along with revelations and insights can be found in all aspect of our existence.  If we are perceptive and open to these messages we will find them.  I take frequent walks and nature provides me with spiritual revelations in the cycles of nature, the beauty of a blossom, and the sensation of rain on my skin.  To some people it’s just the changing of the seasons, a flower and rain… to me they all have functionally profound spiritual significance.

Virgin Mary Toast!

 In the end,  isn’t it more important that I feel energized and invigorated and that I share these feelings  with other pilgrims?  What does it matter whether the insight came from a sacred scripture, a visit to a church or temple, a walk in the woods, or a water stain on my shower door!

Before I leave I want to add one additional  twist to our discussion of seeing or finding images in what appears to be random or haphazard patterns.  In Psychology there is a class of Personality tests called Projective tests.  The most famous among this group is the Rorschach, or “ink blot” test.  The rationale behind these tests is that if you present someone with an ambiguous stimuli like an ink blot, wood grain pattern or wall stain, a person will see images based upon their personality, needs and prevailing beliefs.  So a highly religious individual would be expected to see religiously significant images. 

I came across an example of Simulacra featured on a blog page.  A slab of granite was quarried that bore, in many peoples’ opinion, an image of Christ.  The piece reportedly sold for four times its usual value to a church which plans on placing it in their kitchen.  The blog site asked viewers what they saw in the image.  The results of this informal survey included: Christ’s image, a skull, a mother bird feeding it’s young, a mushroom, sexual genitalia, a dinosaur, a hotdog, to name only a few. What might you see?

 

Granite Slab Rorschach!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 137                            Consecutive Days Blogging: 119

Today’s Mileage: 5                                             Total Trip Mileage: 958

I just finished riding the bike and I have to admit that I am not feeling 100% tonight.  As such I am going to make today’s posting brief.  It just so happens that today is an important Religious Holiday in the Islamic world. 

Mawlid is a celebration of the Prophet Mohammed’s Birthday.  The holiday is celebrated in most Muslim countries in a carnival manner, with large street processions, children receiving special gifts and sweets and the decoration of homes and mosques.  Charity and food is distributed, and stories about the life of Mohammed are narrated with recitation of poetry by children.

Mawlid is celebrated in a number of non-Muslim countries where sizable numbers of Islamic followers are present.  India is noted for its extensive celebration which includes the  display of relics at various shrines.  Saudi Arabia is the only Muslim country where Mawlid is not an official public holiday.

The Prophet

To give you a sense of what the festivities can include one site gave the following description: “The Holiday is usually celebrated in a festival with strength contests, card and shooting games, clown and puppet shows- it ends up looking like the circus came to town. Whether you prefer to ride the swings, arm wrestle or try to find the queen of spades, don’t forget AROUSET El MOULID (The Mawlid’s Doll) and the candy horse, more popular among boys than girls. The experience would be incomplete without the doll-shaped candy and a box of sweets like FOULEYA, which is sweetened and caramelized peanuts, and MALBAN, a jelly like candy covered with powdered sugar, and sometimes stuffed with walnuts.” 

This description of dolls, horses and sweet treats reminds me of the major festivals of many other faiths.

This celebration is not without some controversy.  It was noted on several sites that Islamic scholars are divided on whether observing Mawlid is necessary or even permissible in Islam. Some see it as a praiseworthy event and positive development while others say it is an improper innovation and forbid its celebration.

In recent years there has been some efforts made by Muslim’s in western countries to have the Holiday receive official recognition, most notably in the United Kingdom.  They argue that such recognition would afford the Muslim community an opportunity to better educate the population about their faith. These efforts have largely been met with resistance.

Sacred Words!

This question of designating religious holy days as official state holidays has the potential of being divisive within communities and nations.  Many people will remark that only the holidays of the “predominate faith” should be so honored.  But what defines this distinction, a simple majority? 

I remember having a conversation several years ago with a Buddhist nun from Sri Lanka who said that Christians were creating conflict in some part of the country by demanding that Sunday be made a non-work day, as it is in the Christian nations of the west.  It’s easy to see how this could add to animosity between the faiths rather than build bridges between them.

Let us honor our Muslim friends and fellow community members by wishing them a happy and festive Mawlid celebration as we pray they will honor us on our faith’s celebrations.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  124                                              Days Blogged: 106

New Mileage: 6                                                                 Total Trip Mileage: 886

Often the synchronicity of events in my life makes me smile.  Yesterday I shared with you the nature of my inner guide.  I noted that this guide is embedded within a framework made up of several humanistic assumptions about life and that it represents a dynamic process that takes into account situational demands with a general goal of balance and growth.  Several phrases I find myself using in my teaching speak directly to wisdom generated by this process.  Statements such as: “One size does not fit all!; Never say never!; The ends do not justify the means!; Be certain, but humble!; Change is mandatory, growth is optional!”

Buddha of the Ten Forms of Wisdom

I mention this because I had reported that we were going to visit a religious theme park in Orlando today.  However, situational factors demand or at least suggest a change in these plans.  As I mounted my bike to ride, of course, virtually toward Orlando, I realized  we were going to pass by an important diversity pilgrimage site in Kissimmee.  This site is unique as it offers a cluster of shrines unlike any that I have uncovered on my widening search for pilgrimage and retreat locations.

Shrine to Buddha's Birth

I use the term Diversity Site to label retreat and pilgrimage locations that feature a faith which are commonly located in other parts of the world but found more rarely in the United States.  For example a small city near where I live houses a Vedic Hindu temple, A Coptic Christian church, and a Buddhist Ashram with one of the few female Buddhist monks in the US.  I would classify all three of these  Diversity Sites,as  they are places one can visit to learn of the teachings, traditions and rituals of a unique world wisdom tradition.  All three of these sites are embedded in a landscape featuring a multitude of Christian denominations, and each offers a unique educational opportunity.

Shrine to Buddha's Enlightenment

Nestled on the outskirts of Kissimmee Florida is the Wat Florida Dhammaram, a Theravada Buddhist temple and monastery affiliated with a Buddhist temple in Thailand.  The temple serves the local Buddhist community and has resident Buddhist monks.  The central temple complex houses a large bronze statue of Buddha and welcomes visitors of any faith.  What makes this site highly unique are the four separate shrines included within the temple compound.

 Many major world religions suggest that adherents of their faith travel to sites that played a central role in the development of the faith (e.g., Mecca for Islam, Jerusalem for Jewish and Christian followers).  For Buddhists there are four such sites, all located in present day India or Nepal.  The Wat Florida Dhammaram has constructed replicas of the sacred places of pilgrimage honoring Lord Buddha’s life.

Shrine to the Buddha's teaching of the Four Noble Truths

The shrine named Vihara Maha Mayadevil located in Lumbini Nepal commemorates Buddha’s birthplace. The shrine named Mahabodi Temple located in Bodgaya India commemorates Buddha’s enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.  The shrine named Dhamekha Stupa located in Sarnath India commemorates Buddha’s first teaching of the Four Noble Truths. The shrine named The Parinibbana Temple located in Kusinara India commemorates Buddha leaving his moral body and passing into Nirvana.

Shrine honoring the Buddha's entrance into Nirvana

While some people might argue that a visit to these shrines is not a substitute for a visit to the real thing, I suspect that time, distance and costs likely precludes many people from a pilgrimage to India and Nepal.   I would argue that if a visit to a shrine replica helps a person renew and/or strengthen their faith then it has served a critical function in that person’s life.  In line with my afore mentioned philosophy, I believe if kneeling before and offering incense to a replica helps the person find balance and grow in  commitment to their faith (both representing positive outcomes) then the pilgrimage process was a healthy and productive one!

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  94                                      Days Blogged: 91 

New Mileage: 8                                                      Total Trip Mileage: 741

I once had a student tell me that he thought the world would be a much better place if there was no religion! I told him I could not disagree more. I view religion as a double edged sword.  Clearly it may serve a very positive function within an individual’s life.  It may help to give their life meaning and a sense of direction.  It also serves a very important function within our communities. Many of our important national and world leaders like Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Dali Lama arose from within the ranks of religious citizens. In response to Haiti’s devastation many religious groups are stepping forward with assistance.  Whether they are responding to Christ’s or Buddha’s commands to providing comfort and aid to the less fortunate and those in need, they are stepping forward.

Words have consequences!

 The other side of this sword is the fact that the religious beliefs and actions of certain individuals and groups can be turned into potential instruments of bias, divisiveness, hatred and some might even say evil.  Religion can be used to drive a wedge between people rather than become a device to bring together our communities.

Most recently two examples of this negative side of religious beliefs have come to light. The first occurred several weeks ago, when in response to Tiger Woods’ adultery, commentator Brit Hume of FOX News suggested that Tiger Woods should turn to Jesus to deal with his sins because the Buddhist faith does not offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption offered by Christianity. He suggested that Tiger should “turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.”  As you might expect this statement has created a firestorm of protest from both Buddhist leaders as well as within the liberal Christian community.  Robert Thurman, a professor of Tibetan studies at Columbia University notes that “it is insulting to Buddhism to indicate that it does not care about its own believers and followers.”  He notes that adultery is as much a sin in Buddhism as it is in Christianity and that the ethics are the same in both traditions.  There are clear philosophical differences between Buddhism and Christianity.  Buddhism believes that a person must look inward and that the problem is something he’s got work out for himself, while Christianity believes that only a potent “creator God” can bestow redemption.  I have no problem with Brit believing what he believes but his statement that Tiger should “lose his faith” and that this faith is inferior or somehow lacking is an insult to not only Buddhists but to anyone who does not hold to a Christian viewpoint. This approach does not foster deeper understanding and acceptance of others within our community.  The fact that his views were aired on a network that prides itself on being “fair and balanced” just adds insult to injury in my view.

The second and I believe somewhat more egregious example occurred in response to the terrific destruction in Haiti following the recent earth quake. I’m referring to Pat Robertson’s statement in which he noted that “something happened a long time ago in Haiti and people might not want to talk about. They were under the heels of the French you know Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said ‘we will serve you if you will get us free from the prince.’”  Pat Robertson then goes on to note that Haitians need to have a “great turning to God” in response to this earthquake. It has been noted that this is not the first time that the former Republican presidential candidate has made controversial comments in the wakes of disasters he was quoted as linking Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 terrorist attacks to a legalized abortion and the presence of the gay agenda in our country.

While Pat Robertson has every right to make his statements, the questions for me are:  What good do the statements server?  Do they help the Haitian people in their moment of need?  Do they help our response to the disaster?  Do they simply represent a “holier than thou” or a “we’re right and favored by God and you’re wrong” exclusionary religious rant?  Is he trying to help quell questions from his followers about why or how could a “just and caring God” do this to these people?  

Are your words and deeds like candle offerings to the divine?

How helpful is it in our preparing for natural disasters or dealing with terrorist threats to make blanket statements in which we tie the occurrence of these disasters to social political causes (e.g. abortion, gay rights). Do you help people who have a “pact with the devil?”  How do we compromise and find common ground on issues like abortion if any kind of support is seen as bringing God’s punishment and damnation upon us?

One of the blessings of our great nation is people’s right to speak their opinions. However, I believe that there are responsibilities that go with this gift and that one of these is to work toward a greater sense of community, toward solutions that bring people together not drive apart. You can label it “fair and balanced” all you want, if it is derogatory, inflames passions and drives wedges into our communities then I believe we may be heading toward a path fraught with EVIL consequences.

Haiti is suffering!

As I prepared to post today’s blog my partner pointed out to me an editorial by the NYT writer Ross Douthat in which he notes that Brit Hume’s comments have fostered a much needed religious discussion.  I agree that such discussions are needed, however, I would suggest that they not be started by commentators who present one sided and insulting statements. I would suggest starting with a balanced two sided presentation of the topic in question.

Please hold the people in Haiti in your prayers as they struggle to survive and rebuild!

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  92                                      Days Blogged: 90 

New Mileage: 12                                                   Total Trip Mileage: 733

I am riding the bike tonight in a great deal of pain.  Last week I made a trip to the dentist.  It made for an interesting experience and was mentioned in my blog, but something is amiss!  So I will try and get in to see someone in the next couple days. Hopefully all it will take is an antibiotic and some pain killer to make things right.

Today I met with the two sections of my Psychology of Religion course for the first time.  Close to fifty young people will sit through my lectures and tests for the next fourteen weeks.  We will discuss the various personal and societal functions that religion meets within our individual lives and our culture.  We will explore fourteen different religious traditions that now have roots in the United States, everything from Jainism, Baha’i’, Zen, to Islam. 

Tolerance or Acceptance?

We talked today about the difference between diversity, a recognition of the wide variety of different faith traditions, and pluralism, which is an acceptance of the validity of these beliefs for each tradition.  For society to function properly we must have at least a tolerance of the diversity within our society.  For our society to flourish and prosper I would argue we need to not just tolerate others but celebrate our differences by embracing a pluralistic attitude.

I tell my students that it is not my intention to challenge or undermine their belief systems. I do not want them to “lose their religion.”  However, I expect that they will explore their beliefs on various topics that are important in the discussion of religious traditions.  Such as:” What is the source of mankind’s suffering? What is the nature of the divine (Deity or Godhead)?  What happens after we die?  Each of the various belief systems has an answer to these questions.  Our exploration and discussion is not undertaken to establish which of the belief systems has “the truth,” but to explore how each express and experience “their truth.”

All hold their truth!

I challenge the students to recognize the importance of culture and time period (e.g. how were Buddha’s beliefs tied to Hinduism, India and the time period of 400 BCE) to understand what shaped the nature of a tradition’s beliefs.  I challenge them to recognize the various sources of knowledge and how different religions make use of these sources. For example, the primary monotheisms are called “people of the book” for their reliance on the revealed wisdom of the Old Testament; whereas Zen Buddhists will tell you to burn all of your sacred books because true knowledge and understanding comes from revelations of moment-to-moment experiences.

We will study the differences between cults, sects and churches and the importance of mystical experiences in some of the wisdom traditions.  We will discuss the characteristics of belief systems that head down a “slippery slope” to what some people would call an “evil religion.”  One of these characteristics is holding to the belief that “the ends justify the means.”  I remember hearing someone after the 9/11 terrorist attacks make the statement: “kill all of the Muslims and let God sort them out.”  In their eyes the goal of safety with respect to a perceived threat trumped the death of innocents and the ill will that such actions would generate.

It will be an interesting semester with so many religious topics in the news to act as fodder for our class discussions.  Of course as the semester progresses the unfolding “signs of spring” will make it harder for the students and their teacher to focus on course materials. Maybe rather than lecturing on Taoism I will just send the class out to commune with nature and “know Tao” as an in-the- moment experience!

Each brings their offering to the community table.

Please keep the people of Haiti in your prayers as they struggle with the effects of today’s earth quake.

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