Folks sometimes ask me, “What are your favorite scriptural passages?” In a recent column I answered with Jewish, Christian and Muslim texts. Today we’ll look at three Asian treasures.

•“When men lack a sense of awe, there will be disaster” begins Chapter 72 of the Tao Te Ching in the Gia-Fu Feng/Jane English version of this ancient Taoist classic.

Some translations use the word “fear” instead of “awe,” but in either case the warning means that unless we are aware of what counts, we are in danger.

Our desacralized culture can easily distract us. There is nothing wrong with talking on a cell phone, but not while driving; you better pay attention to the road.

An economy leveraged by those more focused on their pay than on working for the common good leads to widespread hurt and failure.

More generally, when our preoccupation with the partial overwhelms feeling the whole miracle of existence, the impulse weakens to share what we have with others, and we may do crazy things.

But with awe we can see that the universe is, in William Blake’s words, “infinite and holy.”

•The Heart Sutra may be the most commonly chanted Buddhist text. In English, it is less than 300 words long.

Halfway through is the astonishing claim that there is “no truth of suffering, of the cause of suffering, of the cessation of suffering nor of the path” — in effect denying the Four Noble Truths that the Buddha himself taught.

So here is a Buddhist text that seems to undermine the very foundation of Buddhism. I know of no parallel text in any other religion.

But Buddhism, at least in theory, is based on undermining itself. It is an ancient post-modernism, calling into question any description of reality, including its own, because humans crave descriptions of reality more than reality itself.

•The Hindu Bhagavad-Gita 2:47 teaches us to “act without attachment to the result,” advising us that our minds become polluted when we desire an end more than simply doing what is right.

Inaction is not an option. But only with a clear head can we discern our responsibility and act on it, as if it were a sacrament.

We cannot be sure of the ultimate result, only of the integrity of our act. The outcome is in God’s hands.

These scriptural passages urge me to pay attention to what counts, to regard any human system of thought or picture of reality with caution, and to do the right thing without worrying about the consequence.

By Vern Barnet

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