“Even if you have the highest understanding of mountains as all buddhas’ inconceivable qualities, the truth is not only this. These are conditioned views. This is not the understanding of buddha ancestors, but just looking through a bamboo tube at a corner of the sky.” – Zen Master Dogen
Every World Religion has gone through a period of claiming itself as the only true path. This was necessary for their initial survival and development, just as a toddler needs to exert her or himself as the only one worthy of the mother’s attention. World Religions are slowly emerging from their toddler stage, and there is no going backwards. It’s obvious, the more globalized our world becomes, that no one religion has a foothold on reality. The world is too big to fit inside our small thoughts. Our eyes just cannot take in everything. We need each other, we need the wisdom of other faith traditions to remind us of our incompleteness as individuals and as societies.
Solid ground for our next toddler steps as a species can be found in three practices. These three are the meeting places of all the world’s Great Faiths:
- Restraint from harming self and others.
- Selfless service.
Which religion does not teach these three?
We can certainly find examples of intolerance, violence, and ego expansion in the texts and actions of all the major faiths if we wish to. According to Neuroscientist and Buddhist practitioner, Dr. Rick Hansen, our brains are wired to absorb bad and minimize good. That is how we evolved as a species. We are genetically programmed to remember bad things that happened to us, more so than good things. It’s a matter of survival.
However, it’s increasingly clear that what one person (or one nation) does has an effect on everyone else. The pursuit of individual happiness is an illusion if we discount the wellbeing of others. We are in a place now to focus our attention on the good – both within us and around us. This seems counter-intuitive to our genetic coding and may feel very awkward because old habits die hard. But what neuroscience is teaching us is that our brains are pliable. If we change the places where we direct our attention, then we can actually influence our own evolution as a species on a genetic level.
Both optimism and pessimism are unhelpful. We need realism. Thinking we need to feel positive in order for us to effect change is naïve. People are suffering all around us. The plants, animals, and ocean life is disappearing. We are in the midst of a mass extinction on par with the dinosaurs’ termination 65 million years ago. Hope lies not in the future, but in our present moment activities, what we choose to do and not do – with our thoughts, words, and actions right here and now. We can draw inspiration from the World Religions to measure our present activities and see where we line up, and also be humble enough to recognize where we fall short.
The Prophet Muhammad said, “All creatures are God’s children, and those dearest to God are those who treat His children kindly.”
How well do we treat our children and those of others, not just individually but as a society? What’s our record? Public outcry for the separating of families of immigrants is a compassionate response. Kindness can be fierce, strong, demanding and powerful. Can we find kindness in our own heart? Or do we numb ourselves from the pain?
Jesus affirms this kindness when he says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” How thirsty are we for righteousness?
The Buddha said, “let one be strenuous, upright, and sincere.” This is the path to loving kindness.
Apathy leads to chaos. It is seductive because it sits like ripe fruit that falls right into our hands. No effort is required to eat of it. Positive change – individual and collective – requires effort. It is the fruit that has us get a ladder and climb the tree, picking it before it rots.
Our worst enemy is not outside of our self. Thinking we know everything and everyone when we really don’t is at the root of our problems. Accepting our blindness, while uncomfortable to say the least, is where promise for the future begins.