Category Archives: Living the Love of Wisdom

This category is the parent of a series of essays charting the evolution of moral consciousness following the paradigm in verse 38 of the Tao Te Ching: fear, ritual, rules, beneficence, virtue, and Tao (Love).

In Praise of Ego

The ego can be a good thing—an artful, beautiful self embodying soul in the world.
Thomas Moore

I have heard it said that the famous anthropologist Margaret Mead would awaken every morning, and exuberantly exclaim, “Thank God I am Margaret Mead!” That is certainly an eye-opener, and at first blush sounds unpleasantly self-centered. It is also an incredibly difficult thing to say. Try it yourself: “Thank God I am …” I’ll bet your name stuck in your throat. I know mine did. Although it appears as though Ms. Mead is egotistically crowing at the dawn, I think that there is a wonderful sense in which her affirmation can be seen as a grateful recognition that she has been given existence as a unique individual who has the potential to be a blessing to herself and to the world.

In the Prologue to Demian, Herman Hesse writes a moving tribute to the precious reality of each and every individual:

“Each human being represents a unique and valuable experiment on the part of nature … the very special and always significant and remarkable point at which the world’s phenomena intersect, only once in this way and never again. That is why every [person’s] story is important, eternal, sacred; that is why every [person] as long as he [or she] lives and fulfills the will of nature is wondrous and worthy of every consideration.”

I find two ideas in this quote inspiring. The first is that each of us is an experiment on the part of nature in the creation of the human. Each of us is a variation on the theme of humanity, a variation that has never existed before and will never show up again. It is as though nature says, “Ok, John or Sally or Peter, here is your particular slice of humanity. Now let’s see what you can do with it.” We do not make our choices and create a self with impunity, however. The world will either be better off or worse off, if only by a trifle, simply because you and I have passed through it. Will we leave a few small ripples of kindness behind us, or more distrust and fear? This is a question, I think, that is worth asking every day, as a step toward being the man I want to be.

The second idea that inspires me is the notion that my perception of the world here and now is actually creating a world that exists only in this moment, and only through me. This is reminiscent of the opening lines of the Dhammapada: “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.” Have you ever looked at a sunset, say, and realized that this particular sunset is for you alone and no one else? No one is seeing it from your place in the world, from your angle, with your thoughts and feelings. Think of it: everything you see right here and right now–and in every moment of your life– is the creation of your perceptions. An irreducible world comes into being with your birth, flowers with your every step, and vanishes at your death. We truly are co-creators with the Divine, and I imagine with Alice Walker that our Divine Collaborator must get exasperated with us when we don’t treasure our creative power. We have the opportunity to revel in the beauty that it is our privilege and perhaps responsibility to create and enjoy. In the Color Purple, Shug says, “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” And when we piss God off this way, She just plunks another field of purple flowers in our path, just to see if this time we will co-create it with Her, or remain wrapped in our complacent slumber.

Continue reading

Two Dreamers: Martin and Willy



Plato clearly saw that the material realm is a sluggish and recalcitrant collaborator with Soul in the creation of a world–personal and social–that is truly good and beautiful.  Even though we live in a messy, confusing, inconsistent world, however, we are blessed with the power to dream, and to shape the world, partially at least, into the image of our dreams.  The dreams we dream spring from, and express, the depth of our humanity and our vitality..  So I wonder: do my dreams approximate those of Martin Luther King, Jr. or those of Willy Loman?   I know what I like to say, but I must ask myself how I live, for it is only in the living of life that my true values manifest themselves.  Joseph Campbell once said that we live in one world and babble about another.

Further, it seems that the society of which I am a part falters in its attempt to nurture the highest dreams of humanity, the dream of aiding the human family to align with each other and with the transcendental source, however it is understood.  For our dreams–those we imagine and those we live–are the stuff of which our social systems are made. The need for structure and order in those systems molds them into powerful institutions that quickly become rigid bureaucracies.

Perhaps our inner values and outer behavior are strange amalgams of King’s dreams of love, and Loman’s dreams of social prestige and material success.  It seems that our major institutions share this central dissonance in that they offer the great promise of lofty dreams, but deliver the tawdry disillusionment of the salesman’s silk stockings.  Education promises learning, but many teachers deliver dry, rote memorization; medicine promises health, while doctors often deliver cold technique; the justice system promises equal justice for all, yet the courts deliver racial and economic discrimination; religion promises God’s love and forgiveness, while ministers with patriarchal authority deliver sin and Hellfire, building funds and empty ritual.   Martin dreams, and Willy delivers.

These observations are tragic in the classical Aristotelian sense: greatness brought to ruin by a tragic flaw.  The magnificent dream of America–liberty and justice for all–is corrupted by “The American Dream” which becomes more materialistic with each passing year.  American institutions and America herself embody incredible promise and disillusioning heartbreak.  The great voice of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes, puts it this way: “Who am I? You know me, Dream of my dreams. I am America.  I am America seeking the stars.  America—Hoping, praying, fighting, dreaming, knowing there are stains on the beauty of my democracy. I want to be clean.”

In the light of the above, it is tempting to give up on our society and her institutions.  To say “To Hell with it; be dirty if you want.” How simple it would be to heed Voltaire’s advice, and with Candide, to cultivate our own gardens.  But to relinquish the dream of a better tomorrow and to sink into complacency might be the truest tragedy.  It would mean that we had stopped reaching for the stars.  No, with Langston Hughes, I want to be clean.  I want America to be clean.  I want our schools, our hospitals, our courtrooms, prisons and churches to be clean.

The truth that transformation starts with me is so obvious and so often stated that it borders on cliche.  Be that as it may,  It seems clear that if I value my integrity, I can only ask the world to be as compassionate as i am, as non-punishing as I am, as non-judgmental as I am.  To ask more of others than I ask of myself seems self-indulgent and hypocritical.   What good does it do to rail against the Willy Lomans of the world and to ignore the Willy Loman in myself?  Willy will fight me, will sabotage me, just as he does the institutions of the world.  I must ultimately see Willy for what he is: a self-created  and powerful part of myself.

The quality of my character contributes to the character of the whole.  Just as a beach is composed of countless grains of sand, so every act of every individual contributes to the spirit of all. While most of us will not be called to the center stage of the human drama, we each alter the world, infinitesimally but truly, by each kind or harsh word, each creative or destructive gesture as they unfold in small and seemingly insignificant moments.  It has been said that the world will be a shade kinder or a shade more harsh simply because you and I have passed through it.  That, to me, is an awesome responsibility.  And if we are called to a wider social arena, let us hope that we can remember our belief in the power of love as Martin Luther King, Jr. did.

As Plato says at the beginning of this post, we live in a world that is inherently and perhaps eternally imperfect.  Dr. King was not perfect, and neither is any human being.  I like to think that the current population of the world is simply at a relatively early stage in the evolution of humanity.  Wonders await us–if we can survive our childhood. But for now, Willy is with us, in our hearts and in the world, and he must be dealt with.  I believe, however, that it is not helpful to see Willy–the materialistic imperfections of self and world–as an enemy in a war. The Buddha’s teaching that only love turns away anger is an ancient truth that Dr. King not only believed, but lived.  Attack engenders defense and retaliation.  Judgment is by its very nature divisive.  So I must bring the Philistine in me, the materialist in me, the coward in me, and yes, the racist in me, to light, and once there, to acknowledge him with compassion and understanding.  For if the Buddha is correct, it is from the ground of love that transformation can begin. Plato suggests that the most powerful teaching is not through words but through actions.  The teacher simply points to, and lives, the light. The Martin in me (and I believe he is in all of us, dormant in some, quickened in others) needs to reassure and guide the darker parts of myself toward the light.  Like everyone, Willy needs reassurance and guidance, and only then might he quiet down, might he entertain the possibility of more humane dreams, and discover the resources to live with kindness and grace.

And so, like Sisyphus, we trudge up the hill of personal and social transformation.  Each day of our lives offers us new challenges that invite further growth.  Life is a wonderful friend, for it never leaves us alone, always ready to throw another curve ball to disrupt our complacency. We often encounter Willy Loman along the way.  Our personal lives as well as our social institutions can be profoundly disheartening, but the challenges and imperfections we encounter give energy and direction to the unfolding of beauty, much as the Colorado River formed the Grand Canyon.  Martin invites us on a journey toward a more just and loving world, a world that shines like a pearl. Willy supplies the sand, the grist to soften our hard edges.

A Lived Life


“The unexamined life is not worth living.”   This is perhaps the most famous statement Socrates ever made.  One day many years ago, as I was teaching this section of Plato’s dialogues, it occurred to me in a flash that the opposite was also true: The unlived life is not worth examining.  I went on to share this thought with my students: so many people spend their time on earth worrying about life after death and adjusting their beliefs and behaviors to accommodate this worry.  But the far more important and relevant question, it seems to me, is “is there life before death?”

For our morning reading this month, Carolyn and I are enjoying a lovely book by Dawna Markova entitled “I will not die an unlived life.”  This woman expresses her hard won wisdom with a beauty that flows deeply into the soul.  She shares an inspiring vision of living an undivided life with love and passion and grace.

In our reading this morning, Dawna told a story I found fascinating.  She and her husband had been invited to India to visit with the Dalai Lama.  Upon arriving, she was told to ignore the beggars and this she did, closing her heart as she made her way to Dharamsala.  As she entered her guest house, she realized her body had become tight and protected and her heart felt small.  She was then told that the Dalai Lama was ill and could not see her, and that she would have to settle with an audience with a Rinpoche.  Disappointed and depressed, she walked out into a grey world,  and immediately met a small beggar girl who had clearly suffered from leprosy.  Dawna’s heart melted as she scooped the girl into her arms and sang to her a song of love.  Dawna continues:

“This little brown child, whose name I will never know, broke my heart so wide open that it could have contained the whole world.  From her I learned that passion is a river. … It creates the desire to reach, to pass on to the world what you love.  And through that opening, the world passes into you.”  That little girl became one of Dawna’s inner advisors: “and each reminds me that even in the moments when I feel the most helpless to ’do’ or fix or help, I can still, always, love in simple and ultimate ways.  I can let in, let be, or be with, opening and experiencing what life brings to me.”

Her words alone shine a light on what it means to live life.  A further thought occurs to me, however.  Dawna had traveled halfway around the world to meet with a justly famous spiritual teacher who became unavailable. Then on a dusty road she met a small brown angel who became one of her  greatest teachers.  We never know where, or in what form, grace is waiting for us.  I want to remember to pay attention, and to trust that every door that closes is moving me toward another unexpected blessing-in-disguise.


In the line at the grocery store yesterday, It was impossible to avoid the bold headlines of one of America’s more popular rags.  It trumpeted that after four months of marriage George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin are headed for a 200 million dollar divorce after countless screaming fights.  Seeing this “news” placed so unavoidably in the checkout line made me sick to my stomach.

First, it could well be sensationalistic speculation, a distorted spin that feeds people’s schadenfreude: the joy and pleasure felt at other people’s misfortunes.  But even if it is true, it means that two human beings are in a world of pain right now, and to exploit that pain to sell papers and to titillate ungenerous hearts seems unkind to the point of viciousness.

Schadenfreude is countered by the Buddhist virtue of joy, or “mudita” in Sanskrit.  This is not a Snoopy-at-supper-time giddy dance, but simply rejoicing in the happiness of other beings.  It seems obvious that a loving heart embodies compassion and empathy for the fact that we are all fighting a very hard battle, as the popular quote has it.  A great example of schadenfreude is the Grinch, whose “heart was two sizes too small.”  He was ticked off at the joy of Christmas, and did all he could to ruin it.  In the case of Clooney/Alamuddin, the vicarious hit of a glamorous marriage quickly gave way to envy in hearts too small.

I realize that tiny hearts are in pain themselves, and perhaps rejoicing in other’s misfortunes eases that pain a bit.  I know from experience that when I have acted with negativity or judgment or anger, it has always been from a place of pain in myself, and not from a place of open, confident love.  It simply strikes me as terribly sad that millions of people have Grinch-like hearts, at least enough of the time that papers can make so much money pandering to the need to feed on another’s pain.

I also find comfort in the knowledge that millions of people long to be kind, as George Saunders said at Syracuse University:  “So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it: What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.”   Saunders is encouraging, however, in his reassurance that kindness, while difficult, is a deeply natural part of human growth:

One thing in our favor: some of this “becoming kinder” happens naturally, with age. It might be a simple matter of attrition: as we get older, we come to see how useless it is to be selfish — how illogical, really. We come to love other people and are thereby counter-instructed in our own centrality. We get our butts kicked by real life, and people come to our defense, and help us, and we learn that we’re not separate, and don’t want to be. We see people near and dear to us dropping away, and are gradually convinced that maybe we too will drop away (someday, a long time from now). Most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving. I think this is true. The great Syracuse poet, Hayden Carruth, said, in a poem written near the end of his life, that he was “mostly Love, now.”

The saddest part of Schadenfreude, therefore, is that it hides the marvelous potential for love and true joy at the center of every human being.  Again, Saunders put this powerfully:

“That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality — your soul, if you will — is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.”


ON RITUAL: A Sip of Tea

The Japanese Tea Ceremony
In an earlier post I wrote about how rituals could easily lose their juice on the one hand, or be gateways to an incarnate beauty on the other. I spoke of the Catholic Mass and its climax in the Consecration. Today, I would like to reflect upon the Japanese Tea Ceremony since I think that the analogy between the Tea Ceremony and the Catholic Mass is particularly apt. Truth to tell, most Americans and many Japanese find the tea ceremony a crashing bore. One finds oneself kneeling uncomfortably while watching an unsmiling and perhaps nervous young woman whisk tea into a bilious froth. Being asked to eat an over-the-top sweet while feeling large and clumsy in one’s ignorance of the proper ritual can be a nerve-racking experience. “What’s all the fuss about?” is a perfectly good question.

Imagine how partial and mechanical it would be to isolate the five minutes of the consecration from its context within the Catholic Mass. Even more profoundly, it would be a jarring dislocation to view the consecration outside of the encompassing rich spirituality of its tradition and of the masters of that tradition. The same is true of the Tea Ceremony. What most of us witness is a small slice cut from the rich texture of the complete ceremony and its ancient tradition.

Before outlining a few of the values inherent in the Tea Ceremony, I’d like to share a couple of my experiences in Kyoto, where I lived for many years. I was once invited to participate in a formal Tea Ceremony at one of the venerable villas in the Higashiyama district, close to the Silver Pavilion. There were 7 guests, six of whom were Tea Masters from various parts of Japan. I was clearly the odd man out. The ceremony itself was offered by two famous Masters from the Urasenke School founded by Sen No Rikyu (about whom I will speak later). I had to memorize four pages of movements and formulas so as not to embarrass my host. The Ceremony lasted for four hours!

The guests first gathered in the garden while we had a chance to get to know each other. We then had formal tea (thick tea) in the main tea room, while the Masters explained the origin and history of the cup from which we drank. This was one of the most important elements of the ceremony. The cup was crafted by a famous potter over four hundred years ago, and had graced many famous tea ceremonies. The feeling of an amazing history living today in this very cup was inexpressible. We next adjourned to a porch overlooking a beautiful Zen garden framed by the borrowed landscape of the Eastern Hills. Here we were served an elaborately simple kaiseki meal of exquisite quality. Finally, we moved to a more simple tea room for an informal tea gathering (thin tea), and shared the recognition that we had been blessed with a rare experience.

On another occasion, my elder son and I spent an afternoon visiting the Daitoku-ji Zen temple on the North side of Kyoto. This was the temple at which Sen no Rikyu lived for most of his life. We wandered into a sub-temple and found the Zen Master giving a lecture laced with great humor to a group of high school students. Luckily my son’s Japanese is much better than mine, so he was able to tell me what was going on. After the students had left, we struck up a conversation with the Sensei, and told him that we were both practitioners of meditation. He got very excited, and brought us into the meditation hall of the monastery where we spent a fascinating hour learning rather esoteric breathing techniques. The man’s enthusiasm was contagious. As we were leaving, he asked us to stop by in the morning for more conversation and some tea. We of course agreed. The next morning he brought us into his study, and we sat on the tatami floor while he chatted away. He picked up a brush and wrote in flowering calligraphy “Cool stream flows over green moss.” He handed it to me with a wink, and said in English, “Japanese air conditioning.” He then continued chatting and joking as he prepared a cup of tea, and he was well into the preparation before I realized that he was perfectly performing the formal motions of the tea ceremony. I have never seen anything like it. D.T. Suzuki says in his book Zen and Japanese Culture, “Tea is Tea only when Tea is No-tea.” Even more than at the formal ceremony described above, I learned that morning what all the fuss was about.

Like the rituals found in every culture, the tea ceremony is a dance of prescribed grace. Each gesture is practiced over and over so that its precision has the flow of nature. Second, the tea ceremony is a form of worship, not of transcendental gods but of the sheer wonder of existence in the here and now. In his Book of Tea, Okakura Kakuzo puts it this way: “Tea…is a religion of the art of life. It is a worship of purity and refinement, a sacred function at which the host and guest joined to produce for that occasion the utmost beatitude of the mundane (1956, 9. 33). It was a time set apart when like minded souls would “meet to drink from the common spring of art appreciation.” Finally, chanoyu, the tea ceremony itself, can be understood and appreciated only within the broader context of Chado, the Way of Tea, and this more broadly still within the context of Taoism and Zen Buddhism.

Chazen ichimi: Tea and Zen are One
The Japanese monk Eisai visited China in the late twelfth century of the common era. He returned home in 1191 with two imports of profound significance for Japanese culture: Zen Buddhism and the green tea that Chinese monks drank as an aid to meditation. (Even today, the green tea drunk in Japan carries a terrific wallop of caffeine.) Over the years, the drinking of tea ranged from monastic ritual to opulent tea-tasting competitions in great villas. It was, however, the great Tea Master Sen No Rikyu (1521-1591) who established the art of Tea as a celebration and an embodiment of the Taoist and Buddhist values that lie at the heart of Zen. Under Rikyu’s guidance, wabi-sabi, the feeling of rustic and elegant simplicity, became the soul of tea. And from this ground of wabi-sabi, Sen No Rikyu taught, spring the great flowers of the Tea Ceremony: Harmony, or gentleness of spirit (wa), Reverence (kei), Purity (sei), and Tranquility (jaku). These characteristics are the essence of Chado, and they are the essence of Zen.

Zen and the Tao
Zen is the Japanese rendering of the Chinese Ch’an, which in turn is a Chinese rendering of the Sanskrit Dhyana, or meditation. When Buddhism made its way into China from India, it took root in the fertile soil of Taoism. In many of his books, Alan Watts says that Zen is as much–or more–Taoism than Buddhism, and there is some truth in this assertion. I hesitate to write about the Tao, since Lao Tzu, the most famous voice of Taoism, states at the beginning of his book that “the Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao.”   The minute one begins to talk about the Tao, the Tao is lost.  There is a central insight of Taoism, however, that relates directly to our discussion of ritual. This is the notion of “wu-wei,” not-doing, or non-action. In verse 43 of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu says:

The softest thing in the universe (water)
overcomes the hardest thing in the universe (rock).
That without substance can enter where there is no room.
Hence I know the value of non-action.
Teaching without words, and work without doing
are understood by very few.

A Sip of Tea
Dhyana-Ch’an-Zen Buddhism is redolent with the spirit of wu-wei.  It is this spirit that flows through, and is embodied by, the great Zen arts, each of which is manifested within a particular ritual. To become a student of these arts–tea, poetry, ikebana (living flowers), or sumi-e painting–is to devote oneself to a path that leads to an awakened mind, a peaceful spirit, and a compassionate heart. At their best, they embody the Taoist ideal of Wu Wei, as did the Sensei at Daitoku-ji. In the act of painting, or poetry, or the pouring of tea, the ego falls away, and the one pouring is the pouring. In that instant, time and eternity, the subject and the object, the pourer and the pouring, merge into non-dualistic unity.

Thus, the very same ritual can be a shoddy, empty waste of time, or the sacred embodiment of egoless love. It depends upon the intention, attention, and the attainment of the practitioner. Simply going through the motions because they are the “right” thing to do is dehumanizing. But to bring loving dedication to one’s practice is to approach the tranquil realms of the Tao. Okakura Kakuzo captures this with eloquent simplicity: “…Let us have a sip of tea. The afternoon glow is brightening the bamboos, the fountains are bubbling with delight, the soughing of the pines is heard in our kettle. Let us dream of evanescence, and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things.”

Sacred Arrow Haiku

byudo center Kyoto City Budo Center

Whenever I went into central Kyoto, the martial arts center was one of my favorite stops, especially the range for Kyudo–the Art of Archery.

Eugen Herrigel’s book Zen and the Art of Archery was my very first introduction to Zen Buddhism, and I can still feel the excitement I felt as I read the book in the Spring of 1968.  I don’t think it is accurate to call the Zen arts in general, and the Art of Archery in particular, “religious.” The use of the word “religious” is problematic when applied to Japanese culture.  For most Westerners, the word carries the connotation of rigid dogma, exclusivity, and strict moralism.  None of these characteristics applies consistently to Buddhism or Shinto, which from the Nara period (8th century CE) have been marked with a syncretism only occasionally marred by feuds or Nationalistic cooptation. During the six years I taught in a Japanese University, I had a fascinating time explaining why Westerners took Religion so seriously.

Still, as with all things Zen, there is a marvelous ritual and spirituality in the Art of Archery. Practitioners wear special dress and approach the line with reverential short steps. They first kneel sideways to the targets, and, as in the tea ceremony, every movement is prescribed, from the stringing of the bow, to taking aim, to releasing the arrow:

kyudo kneeling

Here is another picture from the Kyoto Center:

girls kyudo

On every visit, I was transported by the grace and beauty of the Art.  It was truly a marvelous dance.  I was also amazed at the distance to the small target:


One day as I was enjoying the artistry of the archers, I noticed a man who seemed about my age (at the time, 72), moving with exceptional grace and apparent lack of control, who hit on or near the bullseye every time.  It was a privilege to watch him, and I felt his centered concentration seep into my own mind and heart.  When he finished, I approached him to offer my gratitude and appreciation.  He was most gracious in return–but then he said “Nansai desuka? (how old are you?)” Nanajunisai desu (72) I answered.”  He smiled.  “Kodomo (a child!)” he said. Pointing to his nose, he said “Kyujunisai desu (I am 92).”   I was swept away by the wonder of artistic mastery and the relativity of age:

grace smoothly flowing

his back straight as an arrow

old man disappears

linked to carpe diem haiku kai

Parsing Carolyn on Compassion: On Loving Your Enemies


This post got a lot of us thinking.  I re-post it here, with the hope that you will spend time with the many comments.  They  constitute a dialogue of unusual insight and caring, in which many of us do our best to come to terms with a teaching that is virtually universal among religions and philosophies, yet seemingly impractical and rarely honored in reality.  There are also some very useful references.  Enjoy! 

My wife Carolyn was a Professor of Psychology and Therapist for many years.  I tell people I am her principal client, and this is more true than I care to believe.  This morning she was thinking of the awful things that have happened recently in our world, and she penned the following lines that I think call for reflection.  She wrote:

“Maybe the horrors in our world are instigated and carried out by the very people who most need compassion and love–but they scare us so much that they trigger more fear and even hate, disgust, depression and despair.  These all need compassion, even if we cannot completely understand.  Surely our own acts that stem from fear, or lack, or a sense of scarcity, need compassionate and tender consideration?  If I am to commit fully to love, then I am also fully committed to extend love to all–even those who commit the most horrendous atrocities. This love seems so out of reach.  Yet once in a while I know its healing power.”

Here is a coda by Rumi:

With the Beloved’s water of life, no illness remains.

In the Beloved’s rose garden of union, no thorn remains.

They say there is a window from one heart to another.

How can there be a window where no wall remains?

My good blogger friend Hariod Braun offered this insight:

“I understand; though I shall have to allow disgust to play through first; that and many thoughts for the children, both dead and alive – I think they come first in the queue. [re: Peshawar]”

I of course agree–both with Hariod and with Carolyn.  With Hariod, I cannot help feeling anguish at the slaughter of innocent children and the ultimate sacrifice of dedicated teachers. Having lost a child, Carolyn and I both know the wrenching grief that the parents of Peshawar feel as they bury their children.  The vicious assassins of the Taliban fill my heart with anger, disgust and confusion. How can a grown man feel justified in the massacre of scores of children?   What kind of a monster could do this?

Yet with Carolyn, while acknowledge these feeling of revulsion, I find that they throw this most radical teaching of the world’s religions into bold relief.  It might be illuminating at this point to juxtapose these teachings:

Christianity, the Sermon on the Mount: You have heard it said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Judaism, Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 9.4:  Who takes vengeance or bears a grudge acts like one who, having cut his hand while handling a knife, avenges himself by stabbing the other hand.

Islam, Qur’an, 41.34-35: the good deed and the evil deed are not alike.  Repel the evil deed with one which is better, then lo! he between whom and you there was enmity shall become as though he were a bosom friend.

Islam, Qur’an 60.7: It may be that God will ordain love between you and those whom you hold as enemies.  For God has power over all things; and God is Oft-forgiving, Most merciful.

Buddhism, Dhammapada, 1.3-5: “He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me!” In those who harbor such thoughts hatred is not appeased.  “He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me!” In those ho do not harbor such thoughts hatred is appeased.  Hatreds never cease through hatred in this world; through love alone they cease.  This is an eternal law.

Hinduism, Ramayana, Yuddha Kanda 115: A superior being does not render evil for evil; this is a maxim one should observe; the ornament of virtuous persons is their conduct.  One should never harm the wicked or the good or even criminals meriting death.  A noble soul will ever exercise compassion even towards those who enjoy injuring others or those of cruel deeds when they are actually committing them–for who is without fault?

Taoism, Tao Te Ching, 49: The sage has not fixed ideas. He regards the people’s ideas as his own.  I treat those who are good with goodness, and I also treat those who are not good with goodness.  Thus goodness is attained.

There are so many theoretical quibbles among cultural belief systems–one life or many, one God or many, transubstantiation, the Filioque–which have few practical implications.  The most fundamental theme, however, is this seemingly impractical one of loving one’s enemies and doing good to those who hurt us.  This principle seems not only impractical, but downright wrong.  We need, people say, to reset the balance of Justice by punishing the evildoers, and it is astounding how often the almost universal teaching of love and compassion is honored in the breach.

The trick, I think, is to feel the feelings of disgust, sorrow, and revulsion, and to condemn and curtail the atrocities–man’s inhumanity to man–while still believing in the power and the decency of compassion; while still believing in the divine spark in every creature; while still acknowledging the unfathomable depths of every person’ soul.  As many of the quotes above imply, this is a terribly difficult thing to do both in the face of our raw feelings and in the need to actively intervene to stop cruelty–sometimes even in a war.  My most inspiring modern example of loving active resistance is Martin Luther King, Jr. whose letter from the Birmingham Jail is a magnificent rendering of Christian (and universal) values.  The most eloquent classical expression (that I know of) of the importance of compassion even in the midst of war is that of Lao Tzu in verse 31 of the Tao Te Ching:

Good weapons are instruments of fear; all creatures hate them.

Therefore followers of Tao never use them. […]

Good weapons are instruments of fear; they are not a wise man’s tools.

He uses them only when he has no choice.

Peace and quiet are dear to his heart,

And victory no cause for rejoicing.

If you rejoice in victory, then you delight in killing;

If you delight in killing, you cannot fulfill yourself. […]

This means that war is conducted like a funeral.

When many people are being killed,

they should be mourned in heartfelt sorrow.

that is why a victory must be observed like a funeral.

Now please go back to the top and peruse the replies for a rich dialogue

Carolyn on Compassion


My wife Carolyn was a Professor of Psychology and Therapist for many years.  I tell people I am her principal client, and this is more true than I care to believe.  This morning she was thinking of the awful things that have happened recently in our world, and she penned the following lines that I think call for reflection.  She wrote:

“Maybe the horrors in our world are instigated and carried out by the very people who most need compassion and love–but they scare us so much that they trigger more fear and even hate, disgust, depression and despair.  These all need compassion, even if we cannot completely understand.  Surely our own acts that stem from fear, or lack, or a sense of scarcity, need compassionate and tender consideration?  If I am to commit fully to love, then I am also fully committed to extend love to all–even those who commit the most horrendous atrocities. This love seems so out of reach.  Yet once in a while I know its healing power.”

Here is a coda by Rumi:

With the Beloved’s water of life, no illness remains.

In the Beloved’s rose garden of union, no thorn remains.

They say there is a window from one heart to another.

How can there be a window where no wall remains?



A Crippled Angel


A crippled angel taught me a hard and precious lesson this morning.  Carolyn and I were walking toward the Madrid cathedral when a badly crippled beggar, his mind a bit addled by his traumatic life, held out a cup for money.  I only had 20 cents in my pocket and I dropped them into his cup.  He took one look and went ballistic.  He got right in Carolyn’s face and yelled “Por que? Por que tan poco dinero?”    (Why so little money?!!?)  He scared me badly, and my husbandly conditioning prompted me to feel protective toward Carolyn.  My heart closed, and with a stone face I fairly yelled back “Es todo lo que tengo!” (It is all I have).   He continued to shout, attracting a crowd.  Just then a lovely woman of about 60 came up behind us.  “Calmate, probrecito,” (be clam, poor fellow) she said, and dropped some money in his cup.  The young man’s anger was immediately diffused, and Carolyn and I moved on with shaken hearts.

We sat on a bench in the sun for a long time, feeling, and thinking, and talking about what had happened and about our fearful and closed response.  It seemed to me that the young man and the older woman were sacred gifts–he to challenge us, and she to show us the power of caring and empathy.

About three hours later, with a pocket full of change and more open hearts, we passed the young man again.  He held out his cup.  We both dropped in an amount we thought appropriate, and I said “Bendiciones y buena suerte, hermano mio.” (blessings and good luck, my brother).  He looked me in the eye and gave  me the sweetest of smiles: a gift far beyond money.  “Gracias, senor,” he said from a deep place.

Those two angels this morning taught me again the deep truth in this famous poem of Rumi:


This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.