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Dune Trail


The unity provided by religion, that is.

Here is a post I just made to Talisman9, a Bahai oriented discussion group:

It was written, “I doubt that religion — the most divisive force we have ever had — will unite us.” Yes this has been written many times and recently by me. Your comment that this is like saying unity is divisive points to a paradox and sets up a question.

If religion unites groups large and small why can’t it be used to unite the world?

The answer and more questions lie within the quote from Abdul Baha that you provided — as is often the case with his writing. He often provides answers that also contain challenges.

“After the moral aspect of humanity becomes readjusted, then the greatest unity will be realized; but without this moral readjustment it is impossible to establish harmony and concord, for it is a fact that war, conflict, friction and strife are but the visible results of deterioration of morality and corruption of character. But when the morality of humanity is beautified with praiseworthy virtues there will be an end to war.”

Here AB doesn’t say that religion will change the moral aspect of humanity (not in this quote) — he says that once the readjustment has taken place — then unity will occur.

I agree with this completely.

Abdul Baha was an enthusiastic supporter of many religions. He said to Elbert Hubbard that his trip to the US would have been worthwhile if it had accomplished nothing more than introducing him to Christian Science. He told many Baha’is who where troubled by the thought of a father or daughter who held onto their birth religion that they should be left alone because their faith was serving them well. I don’t believe that he really thought that everyone would become a Baha’i or that this was necessary for the establishment of a new world order and world peace.

The readjustment that Abdul Baha wrote about will occur one person at a time. There will always be many religions in the world, some making more sense and being more useful than Baha’i. But Baha’i and many other religious movements will continue to help improve the moral aspect of humanity. This does not depend on a particular belief set or particular mythology. Many belief sets and mythologies work well to move people toward Abdul Baha’s vision of moral readjustment.

The paradox of unity is divisive will be undone when people are willing to share and work together with folks who believe differently from them. Many Baha’i’s do this today, some with no intention of converting their colleagues in other religions

What is needed is not one over arching religion designed to unite the world, what is needed is a readjustment of the moral aspect of humanity. This will be done one person at a time through education, communication, study, prayer, philosophy, poetry, religion, literature, painting, photography, altruism, good causes and all of the other positive forces in the world.

The world shrinks more everyday. We know of the suffering of people on the other side of the world in minutes. People are mobilized to help. They join forces even though they probably have differing views of the heavens and earth, of the existence or non-existence of god or gods; of life after death or oblivion. As the Buddhists believe — these things are irrelevant to the readjustment to the moral aspect of humanity. It is the readjustment that is important.

In the end it is love that will unite us, or nothing will


What does F8 and be there mean to me? I ask that question because it came up in a discussion thread on http://www.shutterpoint.com, a stock photography web site I belong to. A new member was introducing himself and getting some advice about camera shake and other technical issues in photography. So I thought I’d give the new guy my take on the photographic middle way. Here is what I wrote:

“F8 and be there” means that one of the most important ideas in photography is to have your camera with you when you see something that would make a good photo.

F8 is a mediocre setting — or at least some people think that way. Its not wide open to create bokeh — the artsy blurring of a background that makes an object (flower, butterfly or person) stand out; nor is it stopped down to create seemingly limitless depth of field as in a landscape where everything in the image seems to be in focus. No, F8 is useful because it is a compromise between these two extremes. Its a simple setting for simply capturing reality. Or for simply capturing reality.

But being there — being wherever you would like to be to capture a ‘decisive moment’ — being there is the most important thing of all. Oh except that you need to have a camera with you.

There have been photo contests called the best camera contest or words to that effect. The idea is that the best camera is the one you have with you, so many entry’s (or maybe all of them) in the best camera contests are cell phone cameras.

The idea is that if your gear is so bulky and complicated that it sometimes prevents you for getting out and getting the shot or if you find that you can’t take a photo you’d like to because you left your bulky, complicated camera home — remember “F8 and be there!”

(I think the term F8 and be there” is an old one dating back to the days when Ansel Adams and others formed a group called F64 — it was dedicated to maximum depth of field. Some people reacted to this with an F8 and be there way of thinking. In reality, as Buddha taught, the middle way is best. Sometimes you want maximum depth of field — sometimes you can be quite happy with an F8 and be there attitude. My advice is not to be doctrinaire about either idea.)

Of course if you want bokeh or endless depth of field F8 will usually not do it for you. Until recently most point and shoot cameras (cameras without interchangeable lenses and with some ‘idiot proof settings that automate photographic decisions) had F8 as the smallest aperture. That’s changing but it symbolizes or embodies the F8 and be there esthetic, I think. Funny thing is because of the geometry of small sensors found in P&S cameras, F8 yields good depth of field when using these cameras. bokeh is more difficult to achieve because of this, but it can be done at least to a degree.

Really fine images can be made with your P&S or even with your SLR set on F8 — maybe with a walking around lens attached — for many this is a 28 to 105 zoom — kinda like the range of the whole Leica rangefinder kit many well heeled photographers of 50 years ago used. But that’s another story.


We need myths; they  help define who we are. In Christian countries the myth of the virgin birth of Christ has persisted for centuries. Jesus is our Superhuman being who transcended all human limitations. Buddhist myths seem to be the opposite. They center on a man who through his own determination became enlightened — awake. He discovered the middle way and enjoined compassion. Jesus taught that through him mortals could attain eternal life. Buddha taught impermanence. Nothing persists, all things perish. Treat your fellows with compassion — we are all here for a short while. Here in suffering because we want more than we deserve.

The myth of Buddha is that through meditation any person can become awake and aware of the true nature of life. Buddha proved that in the way he lived. The myth of Jesus is that a deity — God the creator gave us his only son to redeem us and wash us clean of sin. Jesus lived to die for our sins.

I have been at a Christian service and was told that I was forgiven no matter what I have done in my past. I was at a Bahai service and was told that Bahaullah was the perfect reflection of God, who brought God’s message for today which if applied correctly will solve all of our problems. I was at a Buddhist service and was told that only I know how good I can be. I prefer the Buddhist wisdom.

Of course I am ignorant of Buddhist culture and context and probablty too aware of the Christian and Bahai ones. Its a problem. But one I hope to solve.

Merry Christmas.


“Night Walk” Photograph copyright Frank Winters a Canon G9 image

Night Walk

Luke 17:20, 21:

“And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, the kingdom cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here, or lo there! for behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”

In the Baha’i writings the thirteenth Hidden Word says:

“O Son of Spirit!

I created thee rich, why dost thou bring thyself down to poverty? Noble I made thee, wherewith dost thou abase thyself? Out of the essence of knowledge I gave thee being, why seekest thou enlightenment from anyone beside me? Out of the clay of love I molded thee, how dost thou busy thyself with another? Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his journal:

“The highest revelation is that God is in every man.”

And in his essay Nature he recounts a transcendental experience:

“Standing on the bare ground,–my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space,–all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball. I am nothing. I see all. The currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God”

I believe that these passages refer to the same truth. That God is within each of us and that by turning within we may find God.

The quote from Baha’ullah is particularly interesting. Taken as a whole it seems to recount humankind’s evolution and self invention through Nature and the acquisition of knowledge. Nature is the clay of love. The essence of knowledge refers to the source of mankind’s mental growth and spiritual evolution as well as the process of discovery through science and intuition.

The Lord’s prayer says “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread…” Baha’is believe this refers to the time when Baha’ullah came to fulfill the prophecy. Many Christians believe this refers to a future time when Christ will return in the glory of the father and bring about the kingdom of God on earth.

But the kingdom of God is within you says Jesus. Baha’ullah says find Me within you. Emerson says he and all of us are the part and parcel of God.

That’s enough for me. The good news is that the kingdom can come for us in the here and now as can eternity, just as our daily bread comes. However, the kingdom is in the future for most of us because we have not achieved what Buddha called nirvana. But his views will wait for another time!

I am pleased to have reached this conclusion after thinking about these and other passages for months if not years. While I am open to finding a different meaning to them I find this understanding clear and helpful. Meditation will now be easier, I think.

A primary difficulty for me in accepting the Baha’i faith as the basis for belief is in the concept of the Covenant which says that God will send messengers every thousand years or so and humankind will accept and follow them. Baha’i believe that no direct contact with God is possible. All knowledge from God must come through a Manifestation, they believe — because that’s what Baha’ullah taught even though he also wrote the thirteenth Hidden Word.

Many Baha’is over the years have told me that they respect or are fond of Emerson yet he taught just the opposite from this fundamental (and somewhat fundamentalist) Baha’i belief. I think this is because Baha’i beliefs are inconsistent internally. Look at them or interpret them one way and they are aligned, for example, with Emerson. Take another look and they are not. But I imagine this is true of organized religion generally. (Of course I am not nearly knowledgeable enough to know if this is true.)

I’m interested in knowing what others think about this. What did Jesus mean? Are the passages above saying the same or similar things, or not? Do you feel that the Kingdom of God could possible be within you?


Sink

This is what a Buddhist monk said to a student when asked “What is the meaning of life?”

This simplifies my life. I think of this wisdom every day and always promptly do the dishes.


Dandelion

Is faith a belief in something inexplicable? Or a conviction based on knowledge?

The Bahai writings call faith ‘conscious knowledge’ followed up with goodly deeds. How such knowledge gets into ones consciousness is an important question. The Bahai teachings do involve acceptance of some things as fact that can’t be easily proven. Like most religions Bahai has its dogma. But not quite on the level of, say Christianity that usually (depending on the sect) requires belief in the miracles of virgin birth and resurrection, for starters. In Bahai the dogma that stands out for me is the requirement to believe that the Faith’s founder — Bahaullah — was the perfect mirror of all the perfections of God, that he was infallible, was always in touch with God and that meeting him was the same as meeting God. Quite a bit of faith/knowledge is required to have this much faith.

So whether it’s resurrection or infallibility, faith for most people requires a ‘leap.’

But must Faith always involve a leap? Emerson wrote that he believed in miracles because he could move his arm. To him everyday living was a miracle. Emerson didn’t believe in the miracles of the Bible but did think that every breath was a miracle — he had faith in life.

Religion usually requires faith of it believers. In fact belief in religion is synonymous with faith in most respects.

I’ve been learning about the Unitarian/Universalism religion and so far have learned that while the followers of this religion may have differing views from each other, many believe as Emerson did that the true miracles are the ones that occur each day in everyone’s life.

I think this is a helpful idea — one worth meditating on. It proves itself everyday and doesn’t cause anyone to suspend rational thinking. Yet its transcendent and uplifting.

The book that Reverend Cindy (of Westford’s First Parish Church) loaned me to read — “A Chosen Faith” by John Buehrens and Forrest Church — refers to Pascal’s wager regarding religion. Its a wager I’ve thought a lot about. Its mentioned in the Bahai writings (without referencing Pascal if I remember correctly) that I was brought up reading — and the idea has been stuck inside me for 50 years now.

Pascal said — look — why not believe in God and a life after death — be one of the faithful. If you are wrong when you die you’ve lost nothing — you simply turn to dust like everyone else. But if you are correct you reap the rewards of the faithful.

Who wouldn’t accept a bet where you have nothing to lose and everything to gain — just by professing a little faith.

The rub here is that this doesn’t seem to be how faith works. Professing belief and really having faith must be too different things. Rather that hedging one’s bets why not start with the miracle of the present moment and work from there?

Joseph Campbell said years ago that “eternity has nothing to do with time.” And I think faith has nothing to do with leaps or hedging one’s bets. I think it has much more to do with the quality of our moment in time.

What do you think faith is? I’d love to hear from you on the subject!

P.S. I forgot to mention something I feel is important — Gandhi described faith as putting one’s foot on the first rung of a ladder when you don’t know where it is leading. It seems to me that this definition of faith applies to faith of many kinds — and to the human condition — most of us travel on a journey unsure of where it is leading. Is that true of you?


Springtime is Buddha time. Time to be awake! If not now — when?

Sprout

Aurora and I have attended a few Sunday services at The First Parish Church in Westford this month. We’ve enjoyed the fellowship and Reverend Cindy’s sermons very much.

On Sunday May 13th the program for the service included this quotation:

Believe nothing because you have been told it, or it has been traditional, or because you yourselves have imagined it. Believe whatsoever you find to be conductive to the good, to benefit the welfare of all things Buddha

This is a good sign for us because we dislike dogma and this advice about what to believe seems like the opposite of dogma.

But how to determine what is good and beneficial? Meditate on the Four Noble Truths and the Eight Fold Path? Not a bad place to start. Listening to the small quite voice the Quakers teach about will also help. Praying is a good start too. But after the meditation, prayer and quiet listening — we must act.

Does peace of mind come from constructive action or do we need to have peace of mind before we can act? Don’t know — but I guess its a circle — just get on and go. Think about what Buddha said and take action; then think some more, then more action and so on…

The human race is rapidly approaching a time when sustainability will be the only test of any action by individuals or groups. We will need to be awake all the time to figure out and act on ‘whatsoever you find to be conductive to the good, to benefit the welfare of all things.’ This is good — a call to be in a kind of year round springtime!

Let’s be awake!

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