Posts Tagged ‘understanding’

Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 59                               Consecutive Days Blogging: 60

Today’s Mileage: 10                                           Total Trip Mileage: 522

Red line marks our progress.

Holidays and Holy Days on December 8:

Bodhi Day – Buddhist celebration of the time when Prince Gautama took his place under the Bodhi tree, vowing to remain there until he attained supreme enlightenment. Once this state was attained he became the Buddha (the enlightened one).  

Immaculate ConceptionCatholic Christian day of celebrating the belief that Mary, mother of Jesus, was preserved from original sin all of her life.


As I ride this morning I want to wish a Happy Bodhi Day to all my family, friends, and fellow pilgrims. All of the world wisdom traditions (religions) have their major holidays.  Today represent one of the two most sacred days for followers of the Buddhist faith. 

Bodhi day is celebrated by the majority of Buddhists around the world to commemorate the day that Prince Gautama became The Buddha, “the enlightened one.”

Buddha at the moment of enlightenment surrounded by temptations, desires and demons

the "earth witness" hand jester

The sacred story states that Siddartha Gautama was a prince from a small kingdom in northern India.  After fleeing his palace in search of the true meaning of life, he spent seven years seeking answers with various Hindu holy men (Yogis). Having tried some of the most austere and demanding techniques of the Hindu faith, he is reported to have seated himself under a Bodi tree and committed to stay there until he found his answers.  It was here that he was confronted with all of the desires and temptations the world had to offer.  At one point while being tempted by the demon Mara, he reached his hand down to touch the earth as a means of grounding himself. At that moment he attained enlightenment.

He recognized the true nature of reality as summarized in the Four Noble Truths: Life is suffering; Desire leads to suffering; Cease desire and you cease suffering; the way to do this is through the Eight Fold Path.  He then spent the remainder of his life, close to fifty years, wandering India preaching his wisdom and teaching his followers. Some would go on to attain enlightenment (Buddha hood) themselves.

Buddha displaying the "transmission of teachings" hand jester

His was a radical message within the Hindu world, enlightenment (salvation) within a single lifetime, for everyone regardless of your caste, gender, race or place of origin.  Buddha did not speak of God or the afterlife, he did not see himself as divine, he focused his teaching on the present condition (suffering) and it’s causes (desire and ignorance). His followers turned his teachings into sacred scriptures (the Sutras) and spread his words to the far reaches of the ancient world, becoming the first of the great missionary wisdom traditions.  

How should we in the west approach such teachings which seem so inherently different, using symbolism and faces that appear so foreign? Huston Smith, the well known Comparative Religion scholar, in his book The World’s Religions, argues that it is critically important that we listen to the faith of others.  In our crowded modern world, which technology continues to shrink on a daily basis, he argues that “understanding is the only place where peace can find a home!”

Smith notes that understanding can lead to love, but the reverse is also true. Love brings understanding; the two are reciprocal. It is impossible to love and be compassionate toward another human being, something all of the wisdom traditions espouse, without listening to them! Furthermore: “We must have the graciousness to receive as well as to give, for there is no greater way to de-personalize another than to speak without listening.”  Many people would say that such “de-personalizing of others” is a core pathology of our current culture (e.g. angry talk show hosts, screaming mobs at town hall meetings).

“Where do we find the divine?” asked Thomas Merton, Trappist monk, interfaith pilgrim and author.  God speaks to us in three places he noted: in scriptures, in our deepest selves, and in the voice of the stranger.

When I listen to “the truths” of other faiths and peoples I remind myself that they hear the voice of the divine in their sacred scriptures, that they feel the presence of the divine in their deepest selves, and that they are a mirror for me to see and hear the divine in myself!

Buddha Sunset over Southern California

 The information on holy days and sacred holidays comes from http://www.interfaithcalendar.org.


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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 51                             Consecutive Days Blogging: 52

Today’s Mileage:  11                                        Total Trip Mileage: 450

Holidays and Holy Days on November 30:

Saint Andrew’s DayChristian observance of the coming of Christianity to the area now know as Scotland. The martyrdom of St Andrew is remembered as the season of Advent begins.


As I ride the bike this morning I sort through the various blog topics I collected during the previous day. Where do these topics come from? As I go through my day, a word, a phrase, a glance sets me to “thinking” and topics starts to take shape. I feel this process is partly a result of the creative muse (an openness to the rich tapestry of my daily life) and partly a product of facts, teachings, theories, research, trivia, memories, poems and stories I carry within me.  This concoction is constantly stirred by my inquisitive nature and non-critical awareness of feelings and actions. Each time I dip the ladle into this stew, I am surprised with what comes out.  As one of my sons recently stated about a bowl of Susan’s chili: “There’s a lot of good stuff in here!”

My students among the readers will see the title of todays blog and say “heard that one before.”  This “be certain about what you believe, but humble that these beliefs do not fit for everyone” statement contains my most frequently uttered words of advice.  In particular, it is advice I give to students who desire to follow in my footsteps and become a therapist. This approach is almost a requirement if one wants to be an effective and ethical professional therapist.  It  is also related to a question that came up in a discussion I had with a regular commentator  to  my blog.  The discussion was about: how you should view and respond to other people’s questions?

A Question!

We discussed how questions can be seen, especially by teachers, as challenges to their authority and adequacy.  A professor might interpret criticism to mean that he/she has not covered the material properly, explained concepts adequately or made the topic relevant to the student’s world.  Questions can be sent as sharp barbs which attempt to humiliate or establish moral superiority. Yet these very same questions, when filtered through a “certain but humble” prism can be viewed and received as gifts! Every question, regardless of the motive, is a chance to plant another seed!  A chance to further clarify, to share stories and observations; a chance to step back and look at the bigger picture and then dive back in with a new explanation or clarification. Questions are gifts and weather vanes, they tell you how far you may have travelled in exploring the wonderous, sometimes mundane, sometimes frightening world view of another human being.  The reaction to questions tell you whether to proceed or pull back, or return another time.

A Gift!

I have come to realize there are two general processes behind most questions.  Those that seek to arrive at a genuine understanding and insight into another person’s worldview and lead the questioner to develop cognitive and emotional empathy.  The second group are those that are fashioned and delivered in an effort to develop an  “attack plan.”  They probe a person’s belief system for weaknesses, for fuzzy boundaries, for uncertainty.  The purpose of these questions is not to understand the structure of someone’s beliefs to help them, but to cause that structure to collapse.  They ultimately desire to poke holes in worldviews, create uncertainty, and undermine foundations so that they may be there to “help” you rebuild.  They strive to prove that your worldview is wrong and theirs is right!

Unexpected gifts!

How should you react to such questions?  By formulating your own attack, by deflecting and then lunging for their heart? You can do this, but it only leads to struggle, like two warriors with their shields up probing the others defense. The outcome at best is a standoff, most often someone needs to be vanquished. Should you just shut down the conversation, walk or run away?  This only leaves the other standing alone, feeling victorious, self-righteous and “just.”

If you arm yourself with a certainty in “your beliefs,” but the humbleness that your beliefs are not and should not be those of the other, you answer their questions about content (i.e. the names of God, existence of heaven and hell, etc.) with a smile. Treat their question like a gift, like a request for true understanding not a probe in preparation of an attack. Whether it bears a point like a weapon or a look of awe and puzzlement, of new discoveries.

Be a gift, plant a seed!

Let them aim their biting  questions for your heart, let them strike with their best blows if they must.  The blade will effortlessly pass through you with nothing to tear, damage or destroy.  For your certainty, your core happiness and joy, your spirit is made of light, love and personal knowledge of the divine. You smile at the gift and wait for the next lunge.  You have not tried to change them, not played “tit-for-tat”, not become defensive, not called them names or condemned them to hell. You have given them a glimpse of another reality, you have mirrored the divine, you have planted a seed of possibilities!

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