10 ways to control your anger - Professional expert’s advice

I am really emotional and excitable person. I think that there are two types of anger: constructive anger and a destructive one. In order to understand the anger phenomenon I decided to investigate the nature of anger, reasons of its appearing, key factors and anger management.

What does it mean this anger? Anger is a strong indignation feeling of our emotional sphere that is attended by self-control losing. Anger is a signal of our state. Glands produce an array of hormones that have a great and deep effect on all our body. The main participants of this process are adrenaline and cortisol. They activate cardiovascular system and consequently all organs. Adrenalin causes fast heart beating, rising blood pressure. These rich oxygenated blood streams to the places are responsible for reaction. Thus some extra energy is released.

There are 4 basic ways of anger expressions:

1. Straight and immediately (verbally or nonverbally) to show your anger. It gives an opportunity to free from the negative emotions.

2. To express anger in an indirect way. In this case usually suffer persons that are weaker, not dangerous and those ones who “come to hand”, usually they are our family and close relatives. Thus we hurt our dear ones. One of the best ways is to express your anger to the person who is the source of this very anger. If it is impossible- better find some compromise.

3. Restraining anger you “drive” it deep inside. So, negative emotions store will provoke a big stress sooner or later.

4. You may foresee situation of anger feeling, try not to expand this feeling but get to know the reason, understand and solve it. A Roman philosopher Seneca said: “When you are feeling of ascending “volcano”- stand still, not doing anything- not speaking, not moving.”

Anger is a normal and natural human feeling, especially nowadays as life is really fast and we have a huge amount of information to accumulate (in comparison with our previous generations). The range of anger is rather wide: from a slight annoyance to impetuous fury. Anger can be quick and long, lasting for years in form of bitterness, vengeance or hate. Anger can lead to health issues like depression, high blood pressure, hearth diseases, stresses, alcohol dependence and obesity. If you are anger- express it. If you feel discomfort from these “negative splashes”- then we can give some techniques how to manage your emotional anger:

  • 1. Take a deep and continuous breath. Count up to 50 or imagine your aggressor just naked, only in socks. This will help you to calm and smile.

  • 2. Have a walk. Look at high sky. Continue to breathe deep and easily. So you appraise the situation and calm down.

  • 3. Do some physical exercises. When you are angry- your body is very tensed and tough. If you stretch your muscles it will relax your body, as you will spill out all your negative energy into action. Your brains will get more oxygen and it assists to clear your thoughts.

  • 4. Write down all your thoughts. Write down that you are mad and why. Avoid being rational, logical or laconic. Write on paper all you are feeling this moment. Try to write all in details. The function of this technique is to shift all your anger out of your head on paper.

  • 5. Be grateful. Find someone to thank. Do you not forget about yourself. Thank that you have woken up today, thank that that the Sun is shining for you, that the sky is blue and the grass is green.

  • 6. Prayer. Ask God to be with you during this anger moment and lead you.

  • 7. Meditation. Close your eyes, look into solar plexus, and be all your anger, breathing deeply.

  • 8. Change of places. Move yourself on your enemy’s place. And look at situation from his point of view. Better look at the situation from the ceiling. Focus on details, especially on funny and absurd ones. Strive to forgive your enemy as well as forgive truly yourself.

  • 9. Go back to your childhood memories. Recollect state when you were angry. Hug this child and say: “All is ok. I am here. You are good child. I love you and I will not leave you.”

  • 10. Your values. What is the most significant thing in your life? Who are the most important people in your life? What kind of person do you want to be? Think and accept that point that you are living your life, and you are living your values. There is a good man inside you that wants to help you. I wish you good luck!

Popular content

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Do men and women have different types of “spiritual realizations”?

Last night at dinner my wife, my father and myself were all talking about our different experiences, or lack of experiences, with spirituality.

Mine in particular is pretty evident. My father, like previously mentioned in another post, was quite sick last year. After hearing news that he may not make it (which he did) he said he had a moment of realization. While not quite a spiritual realization, he did say it put him on a different path than he had already been on. For whatever reason he was drawn to Deepak Chopra’s books and was particularly inspired by his book SynchroDestiny. He was blown away about the idea of interdependence and has been thinking about it quite a bit.

My wife than chimed in about how she didn’t necessarily need a religion or spiritual practice, that she was happy leading the life she is. Which to me is great, she’s really centered, caring and knows what she wants.

This was where the profound words came out of my fathers mouth. He said something like…

“I think women may not seek a spiritual practice as much as men. Women have them without searching. The love a woman feels when a child is born could be compared to a moment of awakening. The love that flows from a woman the first time she sees the child she has bore for 9 months is an awakening in itself. So I think women have a one up on guys.”

These of course were not his exact words, but they are close enough for government work. I wrote this up because I really want to get reader’s reactions to his “theory” about women maybe not feeling the need to have a spiritual awakening of sorts because they seem to have them without even looking. What do you think?

by Precious Metal

Indigenous Culture and Traditions of Nepal

Nepal is the pious country in the lapse of the Himalayas, which is beautiful, quiet, the birth place of Buddha and origin of Hinduism. Besides being the country of Everest it is equally popular with its diverse cultural values. This is the land where civilization began and is also known as the country of 'SANGRILA.' Nepal is as holy place to Hindus & Buddhists, as Mecca for Muslims and Jerusalem to Jews and Christians.

Nepal is a country sandwiched between China and India. Because of its geo-political situation, Nepal's sovereignty has always been very sensitive. Nepal is rich culturally and naturally. Our successful foreign policy would be to maintain our culture, traditions and indigenous identities to balance between China and India. Actually, Nepal is a paradise which provides calmness and rejuvenation to the mind. This lovely place is also said as the potpourri of ethnicity and has many cultural landscapes. This land of bio-diversity has so many cultural and religious landmarks that give a soothing experience to everyone.

Prithvi Narayan Shah, the unifier of Nepal is the pride of Nepal. It was almost 100 years before unification of Germany (1868), Italy (1868), and the restoration of the Meiji (Japan, 1868) in which America was also under British dependency, that Prithvi Narayan Shah had already unified (1768) 54 small fiefdoms to build a large, expanded and greater Nepal. But after the movement of April 2006 and the party leaders came to power they smashed the statue of the great King, contempt and insulted him and called off the birth anniversary of the late king as a day of national unity.

Why? A country's existence and prestige can gradually be eroded by finishing off its faith and belief tradition and culture and the creator of nation. If anyone wants the assurance of integrity and lasting peace in this country, one must not be confused about the country's century's old customs and religion traditions as well as the builder of nationality and unity.

Nepal was worthy to be bowed down by Hindus all over the world. This is the highest honor Nepal could receive from the international community. Nepal's prestige and honor would elevate further if this country is declared as "Hindu and Buddhist" country, instead of a secular state. But, at present why the peaceful country where Lord Buddha was born has become the venue of confrontations?

The main causes of the crisis is the abolishing our culture and traditions. Some are going to abolish the creations of Prithbinarayan Shah and to destroy his statute. Similarly, some are active to minimize Hinduism and dismiss the existence of Buddha. One of the communist old-leader Mohan Bikram Sing has written that Buddha was burn in Orissa (India) but not in Nepal. (See: Kantipur B.S.2059 Bhadra 19) What is that means? Such antagonistic so-called politicians, some against of Christian are habituated to exploit our national culture, religions and identities. This is the matter of grief for all the nationalists.

Everybody knows, among all religions of the world Hindu religion is considered as the most liberal. According to renowned philosopher Voltaire, Hinduism is the best gift of the East to the West. Similarly, George Bernard Shaw, Irish litterateur also said 'Hindu religion is the most important and the most liberal religion in the world. According to Encyclopedia of Religions and Ethics, signs of Hindu religion are even found in the present Islamic country like Iran. A stone scripture of 486 BC found in Iran contains the words Hindu and Hindus.

Even an ancient Parsi scripture 'Shatir' has lifted a word of Ved Vyas 'I am a true Hindu born in a Hindu country'. Another Hindu philosopher Manu has taken the area between Bindhya in south India and the Himalayas in the north as Aryabrata, the land of Aryans. Even outside travelers like Megasthaniz and Fai Han have written in their travel memoirs after their visit of the Kingdom of Chandra Gupta Maurya that Hindus have tall figure, long life, healthy, who avoid narcotics, simple, intelligent, truthful, who do not keep witness in transactions, do not lock their houses and there is no theft.

So, in the evolutionary process of the world's civilization, Hindu philosophy is taken as liberal, simple and tolerant. A Nepali Scholar Mr. Dinbandhu Aryal expains -'Hinduism is the sum and substance of the traditional humane cordiality. The African leader Nelson Mandella was impressed from Vedas, legends and Upanishads. He wanted to be converted Hindu for that purpose he wanted to perform penance or provide donation if necessary. He would be gratified and feel fortunate'

Hinduism is the most liberal and tolerant of religions. How can the oldest and most liberal of religions be thrown away just like that? No religion (and certainly not Hinduism & Buddhism) should be made a political issue. Why the culprit leaders of (Congress,UML & Maoists) party didn't try to understand the sentiments of the people?

It is the main duty for all the leaders to care the basic norms and values of the nation. But, by declaring Nepal a secular state, the visionless party leaders have done just that: tried to put together the unmixable, which could be dangerous for the stabilized Nepali society. No one has right to trample believe and conviction of the people rights.

Is a matter of grief that our cultural assets are thieving by the some Nepalese culprits and the foreigners since 30 years? Being not the national honesty to our political leaders and administrators, Nepal is becoming poorer & poorer day-by-day in our culture and national existence & spirit.

One of the cultural historians G.C.Alpen has written remarkably before 24 years ago in The Rising Nepal - 'To see well this organized art theft going on daily apparently unhanded, is a painful experience for those of us who do not look at all upon Nepal as an 'under-developed', but a highly civilized country, unique in the world as a fascinating focus of culture and religion, a treasure-house of spiritual knowledge and traditions that have survived here, as if a miracle-amidst a spreading world of our and aggressive materialism.'

People in the developed country appreciate the physical beauty of the stolen ancient images from the temple of Nepal at their respective country while the Nepalese old mothers are desperate and breaking out into tears. The images which were meticulously carved with precious stone and jewels taking two thousand years were destroyed within the period of recent thirty years. Let there be no such destruction anymore.

More than that the Hindus have the freedom to pursue their own way of observing the religion. If Nepal is to be declared a secular country, all countries, which call themselves as Christian or Muslim countries should also be declared secular countries.

If they want Nepal to become a secular country, then they should also be willing to shun their 'Cross' of the Christians, 'sign of David of the Jews and 'Kava' of Muslims. However, it needs to be pondered that even if Nepal was a Hindu Kingdom, its nature was like a secular country as Hindus have never done anything that would harass or trouble other religions. The Hindus and the Buddhists are more than three billions.

It is a scared land for more than a billion Hindus and Buddhists. So, it is our request not to exercise in ineffectiveness. In the name of transforming the country into 'New Nepal' this is not the way to destroy our culture and traditions. We should have to think independently and have to come to our own conclusion. This will be the solution to keep intact our indigenous cultural assets and our monarchy & sovereignty.

By Dirgha Raj Prasai

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Buddhism and Physics

"The lines between science and spirituality have become inevitably blurred." (Gerald Penilla)

"If I were an Eastern mystic the last thing in the world that I would want would be a reconciliation with modern science." (Jeremy Bernstein)

In his video "Where Science and Buddhism Meet," Gerald Penilla argues that there are such strong parallels between how physics and Eastern spirituality, including Buddhism, understand reality that the boundaries between them are not as clear as many may suppose. That is, physics and Buddhism are simply two different methodologies that lead to pretty much the same understanding of reality and reinforce each other.

This idea became popular in some circles with the publication of Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics in 1975. Since then, many writers have echoed Capra's thesis that Eastern mysticism and modern physics share a similar worldview and corroborate one another. Gerald Penilla's video follows this tradition.

For instance, according to Penilla, both Eastern spirituality and modern physics agree that the foundation of all reality is a "field of potential from which everything arises." In Eastern spirituality, this field is called such names as 'Tao' and 'Brahman.' In physics, it's called the 'quantum field': An electromagnetic field from which all particles arise not, ultimately, as separate objects but as "different forms of the same system."

Penilla also asserts that the physics concept of quantum entanglement parallels the eastern spiritual concept of oneness or interconnectivity in which all particles and composite objects in the universe exist only in relation to each other and to the whole system that they comprise.

Finally, Penilla argues that both Eastern spirituality and modern physics agree that mind underlies matter. To make his point, he quotes Buddha as saying, "All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything," and Max Planck, one of the founders of quantum physics: "All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter." He also quotes the great physicist Werner Heisenberg:, "Reality is defined by the mind that is observing it." Penilla concludes by stating, "Reality does not exist without the mind that is defining it. Without mind, reality exists only as infinite potential. Quantum physicists have now stumbled upon what mystics have been saying for over 2000 years--that reality is a projection of the mind."

Many would take issue with Penilla's assertions and argue against looking for mutually corroborating parallels between modern physics and Eastern spirituality. For instance, philosopher-mystic Ken Wilber argues that physics, by itself, won't lead one to the highest spiritual insights, because physics investigates only the lowest level of reality--the physical level--whereas the great spiritual mystics have achieved deep insights into the dynamic interrelatedness of all levels--the physical, biological, mental, and spiritual levels. So, for example, physicist talk of quantum entanglement in which two subatomic particles instantaneously interact over vast or "nonlocal" distances does not parallel the Buddhist concept of the interconnectivity of all physical, biological, mental, and spiritual reality. Furthermore, he argues that most physicists don't believe that human consciousness creates physical reality but only observes and alters it through its observations, as should be obvious when we consider that the physical universe existed before humans did. Finally, he asks rhetorically, If spiritual concepts are "hitched" to scientific ones, does this mean that the former should be "ditched" when the latter, with their propensity for change, no longer support or even contradict the former?

Although Gerald Penilla may oversimplify the parallels between modern physics and Eastern spirituality and make dubious assertions about the insights we can gain from them, it is nevertheless instructive to explore both science and spirituality so that we can understand better if and how they're related, and we shall do this in future articles.

By Steve Curless

Friday, May 22, 2009

Religious Attitudes Influence Suicide Risk

SAN FRANCISCO, May 21 - A sense of religious affiliation may protect people from attempting suicide, but not from thinking about it, researchers said.

In a large population-based cohort, attendance at religious services at least once a year halved the risk of suicide attempts, Jitender Sareen, M.D., of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, and colleagues, reported here at the American Psychiatric Association meeting.

But a separate, nationally representative study showed that higher scores for spirituality and religious affiliation did not keep people from considering suicide.

"We're finding spirituality plays a big role in mental health," said Erica Smith, M.D., of the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, at the poster presentation of her study.

Spirituality and religiosity are complex issues with varying definitions, commented David Baron, D.O., of Temple University in Philadelphia and program committee member.

"The sense of support -- that a higher power is taking care of things -- can be protective," he said. But "the importance is what it means to the individual."

Dr. Sareen agreed. "Spirituality is one component, but you have to look at the whole person."

His group analyzed the mental health and wellbeing portion of the 2002 Canadian Community Health Survey, a cross-sectional population-based survey of people age 15 or older living in private dwellings.

Among them, 63% reported spiritual values and 56.1% attended religious services at least once a year.

Religious affiliation was associated with 47% lower risk of having attempted suicide over the prior 12 months (odds ratio 0.53, 95% confidence interval 0.37 to 0.77).

Adjustment for demographic characteristics and social support strengthened the protective effect of attending religious services (OR 0.39, 95% CI 0.17 to 0.89).

However, spirituality alone -- without connection to organized religious services -- did not appear protective after adjustment for demographics and social support (OR 0.64, 95% CI 0.31 to 1.34).

Dr. Sareen attributed the effect, in part, to religious beliefs that may not be as common in those who feel connection to the divine but don't have strong ties to an organized religious group.

"Clinically what I see is that in some religions, if you commit suicide you're not going to have an afterlife," he said. "That comes up clinically."

But a sense of community and social support among members of a religious group are important as well, Dr. Sareen added.

In Dr. Smith's analysis of the National Comorbidity Survey Replication, spirituality and religiosity were not distinguished.

The survey included a nationally representative sample of 9,882 adults interviewed face-to-face by professional interviewers between February 2001 and April 2003.

Dr. Smith and co-author Erick Messias, M.D., Ph.D., developed a "spirituality scale" by summing responses to the following broad questions:

  • How often do you usually attend religious services?
  • In general, how important are religious or spiritual beliefs in your daily life?
  • When you have problems or difficulties in your family, work, or personal life, how often do you seek comfort through religious or spiritual means, such as praying, meditating, attending services, or talking to a religious adviser?
  • When you have decisions to make in your daily life, how often do you think about your religious or spiritual beliefs?

The prevalence of suicide ideation did not vary significantly across the 4- to 16-point range in spirituality scores (P=0.126), but prevalence of history of suicide attempts did (P=0.002).

In the logistic regression model, a higher spirituality score was strongly associated with fewer suicide attempts (P=0.01), and weakly linked to lower likelihood of having contemplated suicide (P=0.04).

Both Drs. Smith and Sareen concluded that spirituality and religiosity may be important to assess clinically, such as while taking the patient's history.

Dr. Sareen's study was funded by grant funds from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Drs. Smith and Baron reported no conflicts of interest.

Primary source: American Psychiatric Association
Source reference:
Smith E, Messias E "Spirituality and suicide: results from the national comorbidity survey replication" APA 2009; Abstract NR5-088.

Additional source: American Psychiatric Association
Source reference:
Rasic D, et al "Religion, spirituality and suicide in a large community sample" APA 2009; Abstract SCR 15-45.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Your request is being processed... Jonathan Ellerby Jonathan Ellerby Author of Return to the Sacred, Spiritual Program Director for Canyon Ranch Hea

Have you heard of the www.thespiritualitysurvey.com? We are looking for answers. Why? Spirituality is one of those complicated fields of study in which there are as many questions as answers; as many charlatans as masters; as many practical dimensions as completely absurdities; and without a doubt, there is potentially as much hurt as help. Why then do we persist? Why does spirituality show up in all cultures since the very origins of humanity? Even in the most austere atheistic laboratory there is typically a cult of information and protocol that rivals the Catholic church in its religiosity and reality defining group worldview... that too (like it or not) is also a form of spirituality.

In a simplistic way, you could see spirituality as very closely aligned with "worldview" - its not just the beliefs and practices you profess or subscribe to - that might be your religion. Spirituality is the essential lens through which you see the world, it's the way you make meaning and how you feel about those universal questions of purpose, connection, and self-concept. Much like your physical nature, like it or not, we all have a spiritual nature. For example, whether you exercise and eat healthfully is your choice, but if you are reading this, then you are still undeniably a physical being as well. Whether you intentionally explore life's questions of meaning and self or not, you still have assumptions about those things that rule your every move. Is your spirituality intentional or reactive? Is it fear based, or purposefully grown? Does it matter to you or not?

Research shows that America has more obese people than any other country in the world and the problem is only getting worse. So we know that there is a neglect of the body. Is there a neglect of the spirit? The problem with a lot of the research, especially polls and surveys, is that they only show the results - a thin snapshot that tell us little to help reshape our assumptions or help us get out of the trouble we may be reporting. In recent years polls have shown that over 90% of Americans believe in some kind of a Higher Power, it also shows that fewer people are self-identifying as religious, and specifically that America is predominantly Christian but declining in numbers every year. Other studies and speculation shows that other traditions such as Islam and Buddhism and practices that may exist outside of traditions, like meditation and yoga, are all on the rise. So, what is truth?

Most interesting to me is the question: are we becoming more spiritual as a nation, driven by the intuitive heart and an inclusive worldview that seeks peace for all; or, are we still mostly a religious nation, bound to our faith, our communities, and our intent to capture and grow only our own piece of the world?

I regularly travel to speak about my book, run workshops, and do private counseling work. I work with thousands of people a year and more often than not when I ask people about their spiritual life, they choke. The first thing I hear is some guilty inventory of their relationship to their church or synagogue. They run through what their parents expect/ed of them (even if they are grandparents themselves) and then... then they tell me what they "really" feel. They often say things like, "I'm Christian, but I don't agree with everything in my church, I actually feel more spiritual than religious." Or they will say, "I'm Jewish" or "Hindu" and "its more of a culture than a religion to me, I read about and explore other traditions and philosophies - they all have something to offer."

Now, I am the first to note that maybe I just have a very refined self-selected group that I encounter. However, it does represent a sample of this nation and of this world. Looking to the media really hasn't been a help either, it seems just as biased a sample that we hear from. It's the extremes of religion and science that always seem to get the most air play, and I just don't think the extremes ever speak for the whole. What do you think?

I have created a simple survey to address the hidden truth about spirituality in America and the world today. It is only 4 questions, takes 1 minute to complete and requires no personal information. It is called "The Spirituality Survey" and you can participate at www.thespiritualitysurvey.com or at my website where there is a link to the survey www.returntothesacred.com - check it out, take part. There is nothing to lose, you might even learn something about yourself. If you like, spread the word, we want to hear from all walks of life. We are only interested in seeing what is true, not in proving an agenda.
What is the true American spirituality? Is there one?

By Jonathan Ellerby

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Robert Thurman probes inner space

Robert Thurman says he can't wait to see the new Star Trek movie out this summer. As a leading scholar and translator of Tibetan Buddhism to Western audiences, he believes science fiction provides a likely metaphor to describe the "multi-dimensional universe of infinite possibility" inherent in the Tibetan Buddhist worldview.

The following thoughts are excerpted from an interview with Thurman prior to his participation at the Sun Valley Wellness Festival on Friday, May 22, at 7:30 p.m. as keynote speaker with Michael Beckwith:

Two world views

"Tibetan Buddhists have a quantum physics and astral physics world view. There is life on many other planets and enlightened beings all over the universe. There are also universes in every atom. The Western, materialist worldview has us on a cold and lonely planet, fearing invasions from aliens. Our scientists send Beatles songs out into the cosmos, hoping for a response from Alpha Centauri, or something.

"We are trapped in a failure of the imagination in America today because of the prevailing view of materialism. There are those who recoil from this materialism and go back into old-fashioned, Western fundamentalism, which is very closed and flat. The Earth is flat, like during the Inquisition. We are stuck in either of these two options.

"Buddhism helps to discover the best that is in our culture. In any culture—America, Mongolia, Japan, or Iran—as it did in ancient times, Buddhism seeks to grasp onto the elements of altruism and scientific wisdom, and we have those in abundance in our Western culture. Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson had Buddhist sensibilities."

Science and reality

"Science in the West is valuable, especially when it doesn't settle for the dogma of materialism, but looks very carefully at the atoms and the subatomic energies, when it gets down to that you can't really pinpoint what reality is. You have to implant your mind as a part of nature, and your observation affects what you observe. There is no such thing as absolute reality. You have to program in the presence of your subjectivity. You are responsible for your presence in the universe. That is ancient Buddhist science and it is modern quantum physics.

"The Buddha discovered that if you look at the nature of reality carefully and analyze it, and study it scientifically, although the scientific instrument he used was an extremely focused and laser-like mind that could really concentrate and drill down to the deeper nature of things; when you do that, you find that the nature of things is fine. It's wonderful. The energy of the universe is abundant. It's blissful, not harmful. You don't have to be afraid of other people. You don't have to fight with the universe. You could say this is the 'good news' from Buddhism."

On learning

"In all forms of Buddhism there are three traditional kinds of wisdom: one formed of learning through books, one born of critical reflection and one born of focused meditation. So read different opinions and develop critical understanding, then deepen what you know through meditation. This is very important. For Buddhists, ignorance is not bliss, but rather, the cause of suffering. Reality is bliss, and so knowledge of reality and wisdom of reality is blissful.

"The instrument with which a human being achieves liberation from suffering is fundamentally that which also opens the floodgates of compassion, and to open the gates of wisdom we have to get rid of our uncritical ignorance.

The Buddha once said, 'Monks, wise people, accept my teachings only after thorough analysis, as a goldsmith buys gold, only after cutting, rubbing and burning it to test it to see if it is real gold. Don't just accept it out of reverence to me. It is very important to think clearly and critically, using the rational mind to understand things, to look at the behavior of our teachers and see that it measures up to what their teachings are. We should implement the good things that they teach but not necessarily become too dependent on them."

On meditating correctly

" One misunderstanding rife in the world of Buddhism is that meditation means 'don't think anything,' to just empty your mind and shut down your thinking process. That is not correct from the Tibetan Buddhist view. It is very important to develop your critical wisdom and to learn something. If we just sit there and empty the mind without first critiquing and seeing into our preconceived wrong notions about the world, we will simply be meditating on our wrong notions. Even though we will not be thinking of them, they will be stuck in our minds. It might give us temporary peace of mind and some calmness, but in the long run we will be stuck in a kind of mud of our own confusion.

"There is a point where you go beyond thinking in terms of formal argumentation or syllogism, to a 'one-pointed' state of mind. But you would only be aiming that one-pointed mind by first critically inspecting your view of the world, making sure it is reasonable. You deepen what you have come to understand logically until it is visceral."


Monday, May 18, 2009

When Korean Culture Flourished

In the geography of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the gallery devoted to Korea acts as a sort of land bridge between China and South Asia that all too often serves as passage rather than destination. The first in a series of shows to be held over the next 10 to 15 years, "Art of the Korean Renaissance, 1400-1600" may change this.

With only 47 objects, the exhibition explores a fertile 200-year period in Korea's cultural history, revealing as much through its choice of works as it does through the order in which it displays them. The show's modest size makes the point that, sadly, little has survived from this period, when the Joseon -- or Fresh Dawn -- dynasty (1392-1910) united the Korean peninsula militarily, established Confucianism as the national ideology and introduced a phonetic alphabet.

The high-fired stoneware that came to be dubbed buncheong represents Korea's most famous legacy. Fittingly, examples are sprinkled throughout the show.

The lines are not always plumb and the forms not perfectly rounded, giving buncheong-ware an appealing, rustic connection to the hands that shaped it. A late 15th- to early 16th-century piece perhaps best embodies buncheong's spirit: On a slightly off-kilter drum-shaped vessel the artist has drawn a bird, wings and tail extended, swooping to catch a fish. The scene is flanked by lotuses, which rise like charmed snakes from a wavy sea. It is easy to see why Japanese tea masters prized this pottery when, during the Japanese invasion and subsequent Imjin War (1592-1598), the Japanese brought many pieces and potters back to their homeland.

In most cases, this homegrown stoneware is displayed next to porcelains, showing off the latter's sleek lines and designs. At a time when Ming China was producing polychrome and blue-and-white porcelains, the works here stand out for their plainness, reflecting the effort to instill neo-Confucian ideals by restricting the import of Chinese porcelains and reining in decoration.

Another remarkable innovation is King Sejong's introduction of hangeul, the phonetic alphabet that appears in two books in the show. Interestingly, the letters in the first one, printed in 1447, just four years after hangeul's introduction, are geometric and blocky. In the second book, dated 1567-1608, the font emulates the stroke of the calligraphic line.

The alphabet, according to curator Soyoung Lee, was "not necessarily a negation of the brush." This is borne out in the selection of landscapes, the foremost genre of Korean painting in the 15th century.

Landscapes gained pre-eminence in part because early Joseon rulers banned Buddhism from public life and in part because the Joseon literati held the view that nature was the paradigm of the ideal world order. As two sets of landscapes illustrate, Korean painters in this period revived a love for China's Xiao and Xiang rivers in Hunan province, a subject much favored in the Chinese Song dynasty (960-1279).

In the first set -- two of eight panels painted in the mid- to late 1400s -- fluid brushstrokes create scenes in which the very rocks seem to weep. The second set, composed of eight 16th-century paintings, exudes different moods, from a serene horizontal composition to a windswept landscape with strong diagonals in which the artist's brushstrokes range from ax-hard to wire-thin.

Faithfulness to classical themes did not, however, stifle personal interpretation. Tradition dictates that in depictions of "Evening Bell From Mist-Shrouded Temple" two figures be shown listening. But none appear in the show's 15th-century painting, leaving it up to the viewer to hear the distant chime in the contours and lines.

A similar surprise awaits in a group of scenes celebrating various stages of civil service. In the first painting, little figures sit in tidy rows outside a building where matching figures have staged a celebration for successful candidates. In the second, similar figures mingle in a red-columned pagoda set amid a smattering of trees and rounded mountains in the distance.

But in "Gathering of Government Officials" (1551), nature suddenly dislodges the officials from center stage. They are now relegated to the bottom while a mountain stream cascading through rocks fills the top two-thirds of the hanging scroll. Compared to the show's landscape paintings, this mountain scene is tidy and controlled, perhaps suggesting Joseon officialdom's idealized view of nature.

Whether this was the case or not, the painting offers a counterpoint to the Buddhist imagery in another five paintings, including a late 16th-century "Medicine Buddha Triad" remarkable for its rich rendering of fabrics and faces; and one bronze of Amitabha Buddha, flanked by two bodhisattvas. The composition is balanced, the expressions serene, and the matching folds in the robes imbue the piece with a quiet rhythm.

Again, the layout of the artworks helps tell the story. Depending on whether you enter the gallery from China or South Asia, you tour the show clockwise or counterclockwise and either start or end with Buddhist works. Both routes are accurate. Buddhism preceded the Joseon and, about 150 years into the dynasty's reign, dowager Queen Munjeong oversaw a revival of Buddhist worship.

Ms. Lawrence

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Catholic experts comment on Obama's Notre Dame speech

I've invited four Catholic experts to comment during President Obama's speechat University of Notre Dame today. You can hear the speech yourself on the university's webcast, on C-Span1or MSNBC. Follow our coverage in our news coverage and keep track of Faith & Reason panelists by refreshing your screen often right here.

4 P.M. UPDATE: Michael Sean Winters saved his fire for the end. He found Obama's views on faith and doubt "bewildering."

His honorary doctorate is a doctorate of laws, not a doctorate in theology and the speech should have avoided this sophomoric foray into the nature of faith.

Winters is "guessing" that the huge tribute to Rev. Hesburgh "was done at the request of Notre Dame officials who know Father Ted's magic will help with alumni donors."

The President was kind not to point out that the GOP has done nothing to lower the abortion rate and so far from being "pro-abortion" his policies aim at lowering the abortion rate here and now, not in some remote and frankly unlikely criminalization of abortion. George W. Bush would make a phone call to the Right-to-Life march every January. Not sure what that did to help women facing crisis pregnancies.

Chittister, a Notre Dame graduate, says,

The strength of this speech is that it calls people beyond the temptation to impose our personal positions whatever the cost to the universal principles of the Golden Rule. He asks no one to change their own religious principles. Instead, he asks us to maintain our faith with confidence so that we can all both learn and teach one another. This speech will be a catalyst for a higher national discussion than the particular issue that prompted it.

I've asked the panel for their overall remarks so watch for a new post shortly..

3:45 UPDATE: Obama's speech concludes to a standing ovation. He spoke of

... the law that binds people of all faiths and no faith together. It is no coincidence that it exists in Christianity and Judaism; in Islam and Hinduism; in Buddhism and humanism. It is, of course, the Golden Rule - the call to treat one another as we wish to be treated. The call to love. To serve. To do what we can to make a difference in the lives of those with whom we share the same brief moment on this Earth.

He told the story of how Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, former president of Notre Dame, brought together 12 diverse members of the Civil Rights Commission to create the foundational resolutions of the civil rights act. Hesburgh took them all fishing -- a place of common ground.

I will not pretend that the challenges we face will be easy, or that the answers will come quickly, or that all our differences and divisions will fade happily away. Life is not that simple. It never has been.

But as you leave here today, remember the lessons of Cardinal Bernardin, of Father Hesburgh, of movements for change both large and small. Remember that each of us, endowed with the dignity possessed by all children of God, has the grace to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we all seek the same love of family and the same fulfillment of a life well-lived. Remember that in the end, we are all fishermen.

3:40 UPDATE: Obama described his work as a community organizer in Chicago working with a Catholic-church funded effort that pulled together an "eclectic crew:"

Catholic and Protestant churches. Jewish and African-American organizers. Working-class black and white and Hispanic residents. All of us with different experiences. All of us with different beliefs. But all of us learned to work side by side because all of us saw in these neighborhoods other human beings who needed our help - to find jobs and improve schools. We were bound together in the service of others.

He cites Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, the late Archbishop of Chicago and "a saintly man" who always spoke his mind but was "always trying to find common ground" who said, "You can't really get on with preaching the Gospel until you've touched minds and hearts."

The graduate's he said will face all their challenges while...

You will hear talking heads scream on cable, read blogs that claim definitive knowledge, and watch politicians pretend to know what they're talking about. Occasionally, you may also have the great fortune of seeing important issues debated by well-intentioned, brilliant minds.

They should speak their minds, hold firmly to faith, stand as a lighthouse.

But remember too that the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt. It is the belief in things not seen. It is beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what He asks of us, and those of us who believe must trust that His wisdom is greater than our own.

Lawler finds this morally confusing:

The sight of the president standing at the country's biggest Catholic podium, literally wearing the badge of Catholicism, pontificating on the meaning of dialogue, tells viewers who might not understand the Catholic perspective on the issues that the Church believes that a principled stand on problems like abortion is beyond the realm of dialogue. Fr. Jenkins is responsible for the moral confusion that results from this episode.

Maniscalco says,

The president speaks of universal principles but seems to treat many beliefs in a relativistic way -- my belief is as good as yours. Reducing abortion is not the same protecting life (positively).

3:35 UPDATE:

The 163rd graduation class of the university, Obama says, must deal with the global economy, the environment and the world's need for peace and we must find a way to reconcile our ever-shrinking world with its ever-growing diversity - diversity of thought, of culture, and of belief. In short, we must find a way to live together as one human family.

...Moreover, no one person, or religion, or nation can meet these challenges alone. Our very survival has never required greater cooperation and understanding among all people from all places than at this moment in history.

The difficulties in finding common ground are legion. Selfishness, prejudice, fear, and human nature itself, he said, citing

...the imperfections of man - our selfishness, our pride, our stubbornness, our acquisitiveness, our insecurities, our egos; all the cruelties large and small that those of us in the Christian tradition understand to be rooted in original sin.

It is "vexing" that "even bringing together persons of good will, men and women of principle and purpose, can be difficult, particularly without "demonizing" those who disagree.

The soldier and the lawyer may both love this country with equal passion, and yet reach very different conclusions on the specific steps needed to protect us from harm. The gay activist and the evangelical pastor may both deplore the ravages of HIV/AIDS, but find themselves unable to bridge the cultural divide that might unite their efforts. Those who speak out against stem cell research may be rooted in admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son;s or daughter's hardships can be relieved.

Obama tells how he changed his own web site during the campaign after a pro-life physician emailed that he though it was not fair-minded to call people like him "idealogues." That phrase was removed, he said,

And I said a prayer that night that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me.

Because when we do that -- when we open our hearts and our minds to those who may not think like we do or believe what we do -- that's when we discover at least the possibility of common ground.

That's when we begin to say, "Maybe we won't agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this is a heart-wrenching decision for any woman to make, with both moral and spiritual dimensions.

So let's work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term. Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics and sound science, as well as respect for the equality of women."Â

(Applause punctuated every sentence in that paragraph).

He calls for "Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words" -- a way of life he called the Notre Dame tradition.

Maniscalco notes, "Chrisian tradition" and "original sin" -- not heard too often from politicians." and that this "Call to responsibility and "one human family" are themes Catholics would resonate with."

3:15 p.m. UPDATE:The President began with a joke about his honorary degree.

I know it has not been without controversy. I don't know if you're aware of this, but these honorary degrees are apparently pretty hard to come by. So far I'm only 1 for 2 as President. Father Hesburgh is 150 for 150. I guess that's better. Father Ted, after the ceremony, maybe you can give me some pointers on how to boost my average. The President began with a joke about his honorary degree.

(Maniscalco notes: "Good joke. But it highlights ND might have got away with only having him speak.")

3:10 p.m. UPDATE: Rev. Jenkins is giving a resounding introduction to Obama, saying that while much attention was paid to the invitation to Obama, little has been paid to why the president chose to accept and to address a community that disagrees with him on pro-life issues.

Lawler is unimpressed::

Fr. Jenkins's introduction pits those who favor dialogue against those who "demonize" or "condemn" others. This obviously has overtones for the debate over Obama's appearance. Fr. Jenkins intentionally misunderstands the difference between seeking dialogue with those who oppose you and honoring them. Again, no one at Notre Dame would object to a dialogue with the president -- it is just that commencement and an honorary degree do not constitute a dialogue at all.

Chittister says,

Graduates made a clear statement in their opening applause of Obama's welcome at Notre Dame that the pursuit of ideas, from all perspectives, are still the foundation of a Catholic university.

2:50 P.M. UPDATE: President Obama is awarded an honorary doctorate, "not for the demonstration for potential to improve the world but for its actual accomplishment," says University of Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins. He cite's Obama's "willingness to engage with those who disagree with him," as well as his commitment to diplomacy and his welcome to voice of faith to bring their views to the table.

If anyone objects, they're not in the camera sight-line for the university video and only cheers can be heard.

2:25 P.M. UPDATE: The president has entered to resounding cheers (but networks report that a nearby campus prayer grotto is full of protesters, too). Winters notes:

The absence of a member of the hierarchy, however, is glaring. The bishops have delivered their snub. Hard to believe that they couldn't find a way to welcome him and express their ambivalence at the same time.

Lawler says,

A picture is worth a thousand words, and this picture says that the nation's most prominent Catholic university welcomes the president, his policies not withstanding.

Chittister's comments in advance of the speech are that inviting Obama to speak was "right and necessary...

It is a sign of political majority and responsibility to a new group of voters, the proof that the country and the university take them seriously. It is not a brainwashing act. What he says and does is their responsibility to evaluate now with the rest of us, as we must now do in regard to the other eight Presidents awarded honorary degree, including the most recent George W. Bush.

Obama's task, she says, is to "assure the public that this new stem cell initiative does not permit the creation of stem cells for either research or cloning.

2:10 P.M. UPDATE: Huffington Post is carrying what it says is the text of Obama's speech. Read for yourself here. Obama is entering the stadium now.

Sure enough, he will talk about the need to find "common ground" by working bi-partisanly to reduce the number of abortions, promote adoption, and provide for expecting mothers. Of course, those are all things that the pro-life movement already excels at doing. So in that sense it is, as expected, a huge disappointment. He will talk about a "sensible conscience clause," which would hearten pro-life advocates except for his recent decision to do precisely the reverse: undo many of the conscience clause protections enacted by executive order by President Bush. A misleading statement, it seems.

2 P.M. UPDATE: Earlier posts are below.

Before the speech, I asked experts: Was Notre Dame wrong to extend the invitation to an honorary degree and the commencement speech? What could Obama say that might draw -- or drive away Catholic leadership and the public?

-- Michael Sean Winters had no problem with Notre Dame's decisions and a great deal of problems with the strong protests by more than 70 Catholic bishops. He says, they look like "they are taking their talking points from The Republican National Committee."

As the administration and Congress get ready to debate health care and immigration reform, issues the bishops also care about deeply, the President is within his rights to tell the bishops they will not have a seat at the table seeing as they have spent much of the past two months embarrassing him in public. I don't think he will do that. I do think the bishops need to take steps to repair their relationship with the administration.

He says, if Obama

re-iterates his commitment to reducing the abortion rate(something Republican administrations have not accomplished) he will appeal to most centrist Catholics - the swing voters - who are concerned about abortion and won't vote for anyone who dismisses Catholic concerns on the issue, but who also recognize the GOP has not delivered and it is time for a new political approach for the pro-life movement. Once he clears that "threshold" most centrist Catholics agree with the President on virtually every other issue.

-- Joseph Lawler disagrees on all points. He says Obama's track record violates the guidance of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops which says, institutions should not offer honors to those who "act in defiance of fundamental Catholic principles."

Some of those actions include repeal of the Mexico City policy, the reversal on President Bush's stem-cell research restrictions, and the efforts to undo certain conscience clause provisions for doctors, he says.

Even so, Lawler says,

There is plenty that Obama could say to please his pro-life opponents. Any signal that he would reaffirm the conscience clause, protect parental notification laws, or promise to oppose government funding for abortion, etc., would be viewed as a major step forward for pro-lifers. Language about reducing the number of abortions, however, without addressing the policies he is promoting that directly increase the number of abortions, will fall flat and increase the divide. It is never too late for the president to cross the divide with pro-life opponents, but he has to give them something real.


Here's more about them and the perspectives they may offer.

Joseph Lawler, a 2008 alumnus of Notre Dame where he was managing editor of an independent Orthodox Catholic newspaper, recently notedthat Obama, who shies away from sectarian prayer and symbolism at public events, will don Notre Dame's doctoral robes "prominently featuring a cross and a prayer to Mary in Latin meaning 'Our life, our sweetness, and our hope.'"

In an earlier post, he writes

...The Church hierarchy has, when it has spoken on the issue, clearly and unambiguously condemned Notre Dame's decision to honor Obama. At last count 70 American bishops, including 4 cardinals, had responded publicly to the Notre Dame situation. All were at least skeptical of Notre Dame's choice, and many denounced the university officials in strong language.

Msgr. Francis Maniscalco, former spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and now public policy director for the diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., heads the diocese's Respect Life office.

His objections to Obama's actions on this topic look as well into move the president thas made to open federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Maniscalco wrote, in a discussion on the soul:

The human embryo deserves respect and protection for that reason and because it alone among developing creatures is destined to receive an immortal soul at whatever moment God chooses to create it.

Maniscalco also served on my panel of experts commenting when Obama and Sen. John McCain appeared last summer at a forum at Saddleback Church (Rick Warren's megachurch in California). That's the time when Obama, asked when life begins, said the answer was "above my pay grade." Maniscalco said,

To grant that abortion is a moral issue but to duck when human life begins is at best inconsistent. One would think it is vital (no pun intended) to think though exactly that question. (Obama's) unguarded line about not punishing a daughter of his with a child really hurt him in the pro-life movement.

Sister Joan Chittister, author of numerous books on peace and contemporary spirituality. The former prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, PA., recently analyzed the church's need for renewal in an article for the National Catholic Reporter. In it she notes that the Church cannot quell all the new ideas afloat, including,

"...ideas we don't want to hear, for ideas that are continually disrupting the past, for thinking groups of Christians who are beginning to organize themselves. Now the task is no longer to suppress dissent; it is to keep up with it, just in case, as the sixth-century Rule of Benedict says of visitors who point out difficult things to the community about itself, "God guided them to the monastery for this very reason."

Free lance writer and blogger Michael Sean Winters, author of Left at the Altar: How the Democrats Lost the Catholics and How the Catholics Can Save the Democrats, is also a correspondent for the British Catholic weekly, The Tablet.

There he wrote his own version of the speech Obama "ought" to give at Notre Dame, focusing on areas where people can find common ground. I can't link to the full text as it's subscription only but David Gibson excerpts from Winters-as-Obama here, including this passage.

I believe that common-sense proposals to try to reduce the abortion rate are the only available common ground. I believe that if we stop shouting at each other and listen to the women who are actually facing an unplanned pregnancy, we will find plenty of work to do to help them through a difficult chapter in their lives ... I believe that if we seek common ground on this most divisive of issues, it will be easier for us to work together on the other urgent moral tasks facing our nation.

In an America magazine post, Winters points out why he thinks 54% of Catholics voted for Obama despite his positions on life issues that conflict with Church teachings:

...While we recognize that our concern for the unborn springs from the same part of the Catholic heart as our concern for the poor, for the immigrant, for those who lack health care, many voters concluded that the Republicans were paying lip service on abortion and it was better to vote our moral conscience on these other issues where we are already seeing a difference.

Keep your screen set on Faith & Reason (and The Oval where our political writers will be live-blogging Obama's text) for the panels commentary during the speech. Refresh your screen often for updates once the speech begins.

USA Today

Friday, May 15, 2009

The punk rocker with 'industrial-strength spirituality'

If rockers were the cultural gurus of the sixties, and techies like Steve Jobs and Nicholas Negroponte were the nineties' watered-down version, documentary filmmakers may very well be emerging as the new prognosticators of where we're headed.

Velcrow Ripper, the 45-year-old filmmaker with the part-punk, part-New Age pseudonym who lives on the Toronto Islands, is a clear example. His widely praised 2004 documentary Scared Sacred, a tour of war-devastated lands, was intended to be less a documentary and more of a meditative piece and call to arms.

And so is his second film in a planned trilogy – Fierce Light: When Spirit Meets Action. The new film takes Scared Sacred a step further by trying to get at the motivation for activism, examining how inward-focused spirituality can compel people to act outwardly, protesting against injustice and environmental degradation.

While filming Scared Sacred, Ripper found that what got people through horrific, wartime tragedy was a sense of personal meaning. “I witnessed it firsthand. Those who had a sense of meaning, whatever it was that gave them that, were the ones who survived. Those without any meaning were the ones who gave up,” he says.

“One of those sources of meaning was to take action, to actually try to stop what had happened to them from happening to anybody else. And I began to realize that the relationship between sources of meaning – a depth of understanding in one's inner life – and taking action to create change is a really harmonious thing. The spirit and the action, they go together really well. In fact, they are meant to go together.”

This kind of talk has made Ripper the doc community's version of a star. He gives lectures and conducts workshops to share his vision of spiritually conscious activism. Still, he rejects the idea that Fierce Light simply preaches to the choir. Instead, he deliberately lets emotions run high in the film to move audiences – even if not everyone agrees with its political assumptions.

“The theme of Fierce Light is about coming from the heart, as well as the head. It's going to be unsatisfying if you go to it looking for facts, facts, facts. The reason I did that is because the film is about soul force … what I call almost an industrial-strength spirituality.”

Yet Fierce Light doesn't aim for a kind of Chicken Soup for the Soul self-help airiness, nor does it reach transcendence like the 1979 documentary masterpiece Tibet: A Buddhist Trilogy. Fierce Light never strays from its street-level, activist core.

The filmmaker, born Steve Ripper, grew up on British Columbia's idyllic Sunshine Coast and was raised in the Baha'i faith, which is based on the spiritual unity of all religions.

But even that was too confining for him. As a young punk rocker, he felt torn between spirituality and activism. At a hippie gathering, surrounded by kids called Feather and Crystal, someone gave him the nickname Velcrow, with an added “w” to lend a measure of mystique. (Velcrow's friends know him as Crow.)

“As I went along, it became clear in many activist circles that you had to stay in the closet as a spiritual person,” Ripper says. “Spirituality wasn't something that was part of the picture. There had been a real rejection of religion because of fundamentalism and the human-rights abuses done in the name of religion.”

However, something new is afoot, his films argue, and that's what Ripper is becoming a figurehead for: It's the interest, building for years now, among those on the left – an acknowledgment that spirituality seems to be at the heart of activism.

As Ripper adds: “My Facebook profile has a quote from Antony Hegarty, the New York musician, that says, ‘Hope and sincerity are the new punk.'”


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Each Faith Offers Ethics Guidelines

Shortly after the Bernard Madoff story broke, "Religion & Ethics Newsweekly" broadcast a program called "Jewish Reaction to Madoff Scandal."

Among those interviewed was Robert Lappin of the Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation of Salem, Mass., which trains teachers and educates children about Judaism and sends Jewish teens to Israel.

Lappin was only one of thousands of Madoff's victims. So was his foundation. Money manager Madoff pleaded guilty to a multibillion-dollar investment fraud.

The foundation's funds and most of Lappin's personal funds were wiped out. The foundation closed, but supporters have rallied to help. Many Jewish institutions and charities had invested with Madoff, and some were forced to close.

In the broadcast, Rabbi Yitzchok Breitowitz of Silver Spring, Md., said Madoff's crime was an affront to the Jewish religion.

"When a person behaves in such a way that the Jewish people, the Jewish religion, the Torah and ultimately God is treated with disrespect and disdain in the eyes of others, that is considered to be a sin that is much more serious than the particular actions which constituted the sin in the first place," he said.

"The Talmud in fact tells us when we go up to heaven and give an accounting of ourselves, the very first question that the Almighty asks us is whether we conducted our business affairs with integrity and honesty.

"If you are not honest in business, you are not a religious Jew, because the same Bible, the same God that requires certain ritual observances - keeping kosher, observing the Shabbat and the like - says you have to be honest in your business affairs."

As with Judaism, other faiths have teachings and principles that should serve as guidelines for conducting business ethically.

Among them:

Christianity: Henry Spaulding, Christian ethics professor at Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., said the Christian faith should be lived out in all of life, including business.

This holistic approach to morality means "the virtues of graciousness, fairness, justice, generosity and honesty should guide a Christian business scheme for ethics," he said.

He said Christians in business should form associations that will help them to promote moral values in their business practices.

"Whether a person owns the business or works for the one who owns the business, the Christian narrative calls for the virtues of graciousness, fairness, justice, generosity and honesty," he said. "Therefore, if an employee is asked to do something that is unethical, the answer should be 'no.' If there is cost to this, then it is part of what it means to bear the cross of Christ."

Islam: Because Islam looks at itself as a way of life, not just a religion, business ethics cannot be separated from a Muslim's daily life, said professor Rafik Beekun, author of "Islamic Business Ethics" and co-director of the Center for Corporate Governance and Business Ethics at the University of Nevada.

"In the Qur'an, man is described as the trustee of God on earth, so he must act in accordance with the conditions of that trust," he said. "The role model for Muslims is the Prophet, and the word that God uses to describe the Prophet's pattern of behavior is khuluq, which is a derivative of the word 'ethics.' So the role model for Muslims should be a model of behavior that is based on ethics."

Because Islam does not distinguish between a person's public and private life, work and business are viewed as acts of worship, Beekun said.

"So if I'm not cheating my customers and suppliers, I not only get the benefit from the sale to my customers, but my ethical behavior would also be considered a good deed by God," he said.

In Islam, various concepts are important in a business relationship. These include justice, trust, benevolence and fair wages.

Hinduism: Hasu Doshi, who has been a businessman for more than 30 years and is active in the Kansas City Hindu community, said his spiritual faith and Indian cultural heritage form the basis of his business philosophy.

He has integrated five principles into his business acumen, he said.

1) Karma: "The belief that one does to others as he or she wants done to oneself," he said. "I treat my clients and business partners with the same respect and professionalism as I would want to be treated."

2) Aham Brahmsa: "The belief that Braham (or god) exists within me and all living beings, in many different forms. I keep this in mind when I interact and talk to other professionals."

3) The whole can only be the sum of its parts: "The belief that everyone is needed to accomplish a task successfully, and at the end of the day, whatever I accomplished was done to the best of my ability."

4) Pure thoughts: "The belief that everything that I think, say or do should be clean and especially moral."

5) Equanimity: "Evenness of mind, especially under stress. I make daily business decisions based on reason and not on emotion."

Buddhism: With what has happened in the corporate world, many people have feelings of anger and resentment, said Ron Bremer, a Kansas City businessman who has conducted workshops on business ethics in Buddhism.

"Buddhism teaches us that these emotions are the direct cause of our suffering and offers a path for overcoming them," he said. "One step along that path is called 'right livelihood,' and it means making one's chosen work part of one's spiritual practice, not some secular thing separate and apart."

There is no better place for spiritual practice than in the workplace, Bremer said.

"Buddhism teaches us not to harm others, to help others and to purify our own minds," he said. "When faced with unethical behavior in business, we can choose not to respond in kind under the mistaken view of 'meeting the competition.'

"We can set an example of ethical business behavior that respects our colleagues, our customer and yes, even our competitors in the full knowledge that our business practices are part of our spiritual practice of helping everyone with whom we come into contact."

Most of all, a person can control his or her actions and emotions that arise from interactions with others.

"Will all of this guarantee personal financial success in the business world?" Bremer asked. "Of course not. But it will guarantee that we will be part of the solution and not part of the problem."


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Spirituality in the Cockpit

The title of this article alone is enough to scare off most helicopter pilots. And if it doesn't scare them away, it's going to remind them of those occasional moments of terror when even the non-believers among us seek divine intervention, “just this one time,” to save us from one folly or another. But the spirituality I have in mind is of a different sort.

I consider myself fortunate in many ways. One is that I've had the opportunity to move back and forth as the need has arisen between three different career paths: helicopter pilot, writer and healthcare professional. As my financial requirements have surged or waned; as the need to be closer to home for a period has arisen; or sometimes, as the mood has suited me, I've been able to move to or return from each of these career paths in my life. My current path is back in healthcare. But I am, at all times, a helicopter pilot.
I am currently employed by a large, faith-based hospital system and recently had the mandatory “opportunity” to attend a two-day Leadership Development Institute. One of the themes of the Institute was “Spirituality in the Workplace.” We discussed the meaning of spirituality and how it compared and contrasted with religion. Admittedly, these are not subjects often overheard in the pilot break room or during safety briefings. But I discovered a meaningful connection that touched me, and — since we're in that touchy-feely frame of mind — I thought I would share it with my flying brethren.

Spirituality vs. Religion
During our training sessions one morning, we divided into small discussion groups and pondered the meaning and relevance of spirituality. Here are some of the revelations that came forth:

• For those who are religious, religion — and a fundamental belief in God — is the foundation for one's spirituality. One's belief in God drives one's spirituality.

• It is very possible to be religious, yet not possess a molecule of spirituality (not a good thing).

• Comparably, it is possible to be spiritual, but not necessarily religious (not a bad thing).

Regarding those who fall into this last camp, questions arose as to the source of their spirituality: if not from “God,” then from where? In my extremely humble opinion, the “where” is nothing more but nothing less than the thread of shared humanity that links all of us, one to another.

Now you may have noticed that I've avoided any attempt to define “spirituality.” That is intentional — and, candidly, reflects a bit of cowardice on my part. Spirituality is not an easy word to define, particularly outside of the scope of religion. But to me, and most of the members of my group, spirituality refers to one's active role as a caring member of humanity: our interest in and willingness to play a role in the lives of others; our concern for the future of our species; and our ability to have empathy for others and to act on that empathy.

The Grand Canyon Experiment

OK, if you're starting to look around the room for someone to hug, relax. I'm about to start talking about helicopters again.

For several years, one of my flying jobs was working as a tour pilot in the Grand Canyon. While many young people see this job as a stepping stone to something grander and more prestigious, like ENG or EMS, I have to tell you: I loved that job and I felt privileged to be paid to fly a new jet aircraft over one of the most beautiful and inspiring places on earth. Now I was not paid much, I confess… but I was paid, nonetheless. Of course, there were those days — with 100-degree temperatures, 30-knot winds, and almost eight hours in the cockpit — when I found myself with too much of a good thing. But not a day went by that I didn't have moments of sheer joy and gratitude to be where I was, doing what I was doing.

The Grand Canyon tour business is highly federally regulated. Every passenger on every commercial trip over the Canyon is counted and only two real routes are approved: the “Short Tour” through the Dragon Corridor and the “Long Tour” through the Zuni Corridor. Though both are beautiful, the Long Tour offers pilot and passengers a magical, spiritual moment that is unsurpassed in any other place I've flown (including Hawaii and other mesmerizing locations). Let me attempt to describe it — though I think it is impossible to capture in words or pixels.
The official entry point to the Zuni Corridor requires that you fly tightly defined paths and altitudes from the airport for about 10 minutes before you reach the Canyon. The Canyon is over to your left, but because you are flying with departing aircraft immediately overhead, for much of this time you're just 100 feet over a forest. The Canyon remains invisible, below the tree line, except for a few tantalizing glimpses that make the tourists leap for their cameras just in time to see a brief snatch of red rock disappear beneath a carpet of pines.

As you get nearer to the launching point, the forest slopes gently uphill to your left and you begin a sweeping left turn, pointing your aircraft straight towards the Canyon, still unseen, in front of you. The forest slopes up towards the belly of your aircraft as you hold your altitude. Closer and closer you get to the treetops as you near the precipice. Finally, you suddenly launch into space as you go from 50 feet AGL over the trees, to one mile AGL over the Grand Canyon. The windscreen is simultaneously painted, from one end to the other, with the Canyon's reds, purples, oranges and browns.

It is a moment that takes your breath away. It is magical. And yes, it is spiritual for pilot and passenger alike. I have flown this moment nearly 1,000 times, and every single time, the hair on the back of my neck has stood up, driven by something bigger than me and something shared with those around me.

Cockpit as Laboratory

Now, back to my training session and spirituality discussion. As we began pondering this concept of spirituality, it occurred to me that for years, I spent every day in a spirituality laboratory. In my laboratory, my cockpit, I was able to repeat the same experiment over and over and observe the results. In fact, there may be some important information to be learned from these experiments and resulting observations.

My leaps out into the Grand Canyon were, in fact, a crucible in which was mixed mankind, incomparable beauty, excitement, power, and, for many, a touch of fear. The whole mixture was ignited by “the moment” and the result was a spiritual experience. While people's reactions varied widely from the humorous to the highly emotional, one could see patterns emerge:

Group 1

The walnuts. I'm sorry to say this, but there are some people in this world who just don't get it. I don't know whether it is a permanent disability (I suspect so, for many) or a temporal lapse, but this group is lacking something fundamental found in the rest of us. They are totally unmoved by the Grand Canyon moment, and in fact lack cognizance that the moment has occurred. They may be arguing with their spouse, yelling at their kids, or just cleaning their fingernails. But they don't get it. What a shame. I call these few the “walnuts” because in my characterization of their clinical condition, they have a void, about the size of a walnut, at that place in their brains that for most of us contains the nucleus of what makes us human. I do not say this unkindly, but with sadness and sympathy.

Group 2

The religious. For people with a fundamental belief in God, “the moment” confirms everything they ever thought they knew about their God and immediately brings them into his presence. They cry. They shout. They sing. They pray. The see the hand of their God at work in the Canyon and they are deeply moved by it. Even if you are not religious, it is meaningful and powerful to be in the presence of someone living this experience. There is no doubt in my mind that for many of the religious, the moment served as a renewal of their relationship with their God.

Group 3

The spiritual. For the spiritual, “the moment” appears no less moving and emotional than it does to the religious. It may be a sense that there is something larger than us at work in the universe or just a profound appreciation of beauty and majesty that is so much bigger than we are. It is something to be shared with those around you — and sharing is what links us spiritually together. For that moment, everyone in the cockpit is linked together. That in itself is very spiritual.

Group 4

The totally freaked out. Like Group 1: a minority. The best example of this group that I ever saw was a woman seated next to me who began to have an epiphany about what was going to happen to her about five seconds before we exploded into the Canyon. Totally involuntarily, her legs began running backwards, attempting to propel her into the back seats to postpone the inevitable. Alas, the harness prevented this from happening, and she leaped into the Canyon with the rest of us, screaming bloody murder. Her spirituality was in question at the moment.

OK, so where am I going with this whole idea? I'm not entirely sure. Except that for me, the whole thought process has given me a new appreciation for what we do. My helicopter has allowed me to share a spiritual moment with thousands of other spiritual beings. The net result: thousands of spiritual moments in my life that otherwise would not have occurred. How cool is that?
Other Cockpit Moments
As I began contemplating this idea a little more fully, I started to spot other moments in the cockpit where humanity and, perhaps, spirituality are revealed.

Think about the times you have been flying when you have found yourself approaching dangerous weather or IFR conditions, or have encountered a mechanical emergency. Your life was reduced — or perhaps elevated — to moments of complete clarity and focus. You were presented with a problem and you were entirely focused on the data, the options and the decision. You were living as much in the moment as it is possible to be. This is what living is about, and that is a spiritual experience. While these moments are not to be sought out (in fact, we are educated and trained to avoid them), when they do occur, we are transcended into a different state — perhaps, a form of spirituality.

What about instructing? As you take a new student through their introductory flight and watch them barely able to control any single element of the aircraft — but at the same time filled with excitement and awe with what they are doing — it is a powerful, perhaps spiritual experience. We have been there ourselves. As they continue with their training you get to learn much about them as you share the same space with them and observe them in the cockpit crucible. You see them angry. You see them frustrated. You see them scared. And you see them filled with joy: the first time they hover, their first solo. These are wonderful, spiritual moments that link us one to another.

To be honest with you, I've never had these thoughts before, let alone shared them. And yet, I knew there was something special about what I did and always felt fortunate to be doing it. It wasn't the money (God knows — for the religious among us). It wasn't just the fun. It wasn't just the excitement and the challenge. Perhaps all along, a part of it has been the spiritual nature of what we do. Fly safe. Fly aware.

Tony Fonze

Pastor Reflects on Japan Trip

The Rev. Bob Byrne has returned home to St. Paul Lutheran Church after a six-month stay in the Far East.

Byrne and his wife Chris left Aiken on Oct. 1 bound for Japan, where they spent six months working as missionaries through the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church, headquartered in Tokyo. The Byrnes returned home on March 31.

The couple were the first missionaries to serve in all five of the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church's districts, spending two months in the Tokyo area, a month on the island of Kyushu, a month in the Kamagasaki slum district of Osaka, a month in Nagoya and the final month on the island of Hokkaido.

Byrne said his most profound experiences on the trip came while working with the homeless, alcoholics and drug addicts in the Kamagasaki slum, which is reputed to be the worst slum district in Japan. The couple, their translators and Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church pastors went out on night patrols from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. each night.

"We'd be checking on the homeless sleeping on the streets, basically checking to see if they were still alive," he said. "We'd be pulling a cart with pieces of cardboard, donated blankets, tea, soup and onigiri - rice balls - which we'd made that afternoon. We'd go through the district and make a note of where the homeless were; if they were awake, we'd make a note of what they already had. If they were asleep, we'd wake them, ask them if they were not sleeping on cardboard and give them some if not, ask if they needed medical attention and take them to where they could get some."

"It's impossible to tell about the impact that experience has on your life and your theology," he continued. "It's beyond description, but it changes your outlook. What got my attention was that the first thing we'd do when we came in after night patrol was gargle with a strong antiviral mouthwash - it tastes horrible, it's like iodine - to prevent contraction of TB, which is very much alive and well in the slums."

Living in the slum with those to whom they were ministering was essential, he said. It gave them a chance to get to know their neighbors and a basis on which to build trust.

Byrne said he delivered approximately 45 sermons and presentations in 21 weeks, all through a translator, at churches and social organizations with ties to the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church such as schools, orphanages, senior homes, homes for the abused and homes for children with disabilities. Most of his audiences were made up of non-Christians; less than 1 percent of Japan's population is Christian, and all are converts from Japan's cultural religions, mainly Shintoism and a Japanese variant of Buddhism.

"There was no recognition of Jesus, of course; Shinto is a belief system of purity and nature, and Buddhism generally involves ancestor worship, in many different versions. Within both, there are literally thousands of gods - the idea of one God in Jesus Christ is a totally foreign concept," Byrne said.

The experience has had, what Byrne thinks, will have a lasting effect upon his preaching style.

"When you're not fluent in a foreign language, no matter how many degrees you have, you're illiterate. You have to listen more than you ever do in your own culture," he said. "It's very humbling. So I'm bringing back an expanded sense of humility. Because I preached with translators, it demanded a great clarity of thought and imagery, and the sermons had to be shorter. I learned to preach with the same or greater clarity in 10 minutes, because however much time you're given, you need half that for translating. It caused me to relearn what is most crucial in parish ministry, the Bible and clearly proclaiming its truth to people."

This was Byrne's third and longest trip to Japan. He spent six months prior to the trip immersed in study of the language and culture.

"All the study was useful, especially the cultural study. What was wide of the mark was the idea that any level of study would be enough to speak the language. They say it takes two years of intensive study to hold even simple conversations," he said.

"I would do this again, but I don't know if the experience could ever be repeated," Byrne said of the extended mission trip. "But given the right set of circumstances and the feeling of God's calling to me, I would do it again."


Monday, May 11, 2009

Grand Ceremony Celebrates Buddha’s Birthday

Buddhism has made contributions to fostering the national solidarity, said the President of the Vietnam Fatherland Front, Huynh Dam, at a grand ceremony held in Hanoi on May 9 to mark the Buddha’s 2553rd birthday.

Addressing the event, which saw the participation of more than 2,000 Buddhist monks, nuns and followers, Mr. Dam stressed that the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha (VBS) since its establishment has been joining hands with the entire nation in the national construction and defence, and building up the national unity.

He spoke highly of the achievements the VBS made over recent years and expressed his hope that the Sangha would further encourage Buddhist monks, nuns and followers nationwide to actively join in campaigns for the national solidarity.

Delivering the event’s message, Most Venerable Thich Pho Tue, VBS head, called Buddhist dignitaries and believers in and outside the country to make good deeds towards the celebrations of the 1,000th establishment anniversary of Thang Long-Hanoi and the sixth World Buddhist Summit slated to be held in Vietnam in mid-November 2010.

Vietnamese media

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Buddhist carvings found on cliff

Four cliff carvings of Buddhist images have been discovered in a remote spot in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. Experts say the discovery sheds new light on the development of Buddhism in China.

The carvings are in the Helan Mountain region, an ancient route that once linked Ningxia and Inner Mongolia. Archeologists found four images of Buddha inscribed on a cliff. The biggest is nine meters high and six meter wide. Sanskrit inscriptions were found beside the images.

Four cliff carvings of Buddhist images have been discovered in a remote
spot in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

Experts from the local cultural heritage authority have concluded that these Buddhist images were carved in the Ming Dynasty some four hundred years ago.

The history of Buddhist carving in China goes back over one thousand years to a time when Buddhism was becoming popular. From the Tang Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty, monks used to travel along the Helan Mountain route to spread Buddhism into Inner Mongolia. They paused to leave these inscriptions during their long journeys.

Source: CCTV.com

Monday, May 04, 2009

Spirituality in Britain today - a personal reflection

I write this as an observer of the culture, and as someone who is interested in the burgeoning of the multifaceted culture of spirituality, apparent in almost every area of life. This is a quick summation of the thoughts that have been running through my head following the ROMBS Conference last weekend.

Almost ten years agonow I was invited to be a part of a Christian group who placed stalls into Mind Body Soul exhibitions, at the time what we called New Age Spirituality was becoming a noticeable part of culture. This rise in a search for spirituality away from the mainstream religions ( or possibly because of them) reflected the cultural shift from modernity to post-modernity. Questions were being asked of the religion and its power bases and at the same time the search for spirituality was being spoken about in ways it had not been before, being a spiritual person was a good thing to be and topics that would have previously been taboo were suddenly firmly on the agenda.

For the following 5 years the Mind Body Soul exhibitions grew in popularity and attracted larger and larger crowds, to be spiritual said something really positive about you as a person. Supermarkets and advertisers were quick to catch on and products were marketed according to the experience they might give you rather than on a list of facts and figures, a spiritual experience was a plus.

In the subsequent 5 years something interesting began to happen, some of the big exhibitions were replaced by a proliferation of smaller ones, village halls and pubs became popular venues, I have even been asked to advise a schools on the subject of hosting spirituality fairs as fundraisers.

Spirituality is still firmly on the agenda, people are more open to speak about spiritual things and see spirituality as an essential part of being human. One thing that challenges me is the current readiness of folk to talk about Jesus in a positive manner, most recently this trend has been highlighted for us by Jade Goody and her statements about faith and baptism.

The question to the Church today is, are we ready to engage with the God who has gone before us, do we have eyes to see, and ears to hear where he is working so that we can join in?

Eternal Echoes