Thich Nhat Hanh, the Pure Land, The Kingdom of God, and a prayer to Mother Earth


I have just finished reading finding our true home by Thich Nhat Hanh.
It is about “living in the pure land here and now.”
The Pure Land is a Buddhist concept and is where the Amida Buddha of compassion lives and welcomes all who call upon him.  This Buddha, according to the revered Japanese monk, Honen Shonin, made it easy to enter what Christians might call the Kingdom of God, or heaven, teaching we do not need to undergo deep aesthetic practices or training to be ensured of our place in the spiritual realm. We need but call his name in meditative practice to deepen our understanding and be guaranteed acceptance in the Pure Land without having to reincarnate in another suffering body in a suffering world.
It seems to me Jesus made that clear too when he came back after his crucifixion to demonstrate there is life after death. To call upon Jesus and allow his teachings to penetrate our being is to enter the Kingdom of God in the here and now with a promise of continued eternal life which gives us hope but is not intended to replace daily living with all its challenges and joys.  
Thich Nhat Hanh gently reminds everyone that to practice Pure Land Buddhism is to practice mindfulness that helps us be present to all of the moments in our lives in a way that relieves suffering, ours and other people’s, and honors our Mother, the earth. is a wonderful website listed at the back of the book which contains a directory to sangha communities throughout the world.  These are communal groups who practice mindfulness following the fourteen mindfulness trainings (which are explained on the site and I will address individually in later blogs):
1. Openness
2. Nonattachment from Views
3. Freedom of Thought
4. Awareness of Suffering
5. Simple, Healthy Living
6. Dealing with Anger
7. Dwelling Happily in the Present
8. Community and Communication
9. Truthful and Loving Speech
10. Protecting the Sangha
11. Right Livelihood
12. Reverence for Life
13. Right Livelihood
 14. Right Conduct   
 A New Year’s Prayer for Mother Earth
Dear Beloved Mother Earth,
Dear Ancestors, both Spiritual and Genetic,

We present ourselves before you at this solemn moment of the New Year to express our awareness, our gratitude and our aspiration as a spiritual family. We know that our ancestors are always alive in us and that we can always take refuge in you and in our ancestors.

Dear Mother Earth, breathing in, we see that we and all of our ancestors are your children. With your patience, stability, endurance and creativity you have raised us and guided us through many lifetimes. You have given birth to countless Great Beings, Buddhas, Saints, and Boddhisattvas.  You are the great Earth, you are Terra, you are Gaia, you are this beautiful blue planet. You are the Earth Refreshing Bodhisattva–fragrant, cool, and kind.  We see that though we and our ancestors have made many mistakes, you have always forgiven us. Each time we return to you, you are ready to open your arms and embrace us.

Because of our wrong perceptions and discrimination we have lived a life of separation, hatred, loneliness, suffering, and despair.  We have allowed individualism to prevail, and it has caused a lot of damage and hardship to you and to ourselves. We have run after fame, wealth, power, and sensual pleasures  and have forgotten that these pursuits could never bring us true happiness.

We have spent many lifetimes not able to recognize your presence as the Pure Land, as the Kingdom of God, as the most wondrous home that we have. We have run after a distant Promised Land, in heaven or in the future. This has caused us and you much suffering. Tonight as we touch the Earth, we let go and offer you and our ancestors our true presence. We have arrived. You are our home, our only home.

We have learned that only love and compassion can make our lives meaningful, allowing us to protect and preserve your beauty, and allowing us to heal ourselves.  We can learn to live as one family —  as a community of brothers and sisters, all children of the same Great Mother Earth, giving our descendants a chance for a healthy and a bright future. We know that only through building brotherhood and sisterhood in the present moment can we make this future a reality.

Dear Mother, tonight, on the occasion of the New Year 2012, we make the vow to learn to live in harmony and peace, in the very heart of our family and our community, just as bees in the same beehive and cells in the same body.  We promise that we shall remain openhearted and capable of communicating with the members of our family and our community.  We promise to always listen deeply and to use peaceful and loving speech.  We shall learn to listen to your voice, Mother Earth, to understand you deeply and to hear your guidance and the guidance of our ancestors.  We vow also to listen to our brothers, our sisters, our friends, and to our children so that we may live in peace and harmony with them. We promise to learn to see the happiness and well-being of our family and community as our own happiness and well-being.

Dear Mother, with great reverence, we give rise to the deep aspiration to begin anew. We promise to you and also to our children: that we shall learn to breathe and walk mindfully each moment of our daily life, to use the eyes and ears of the family and community in order to understand, to live simply and to love without discrimination, as you do. We promise to stop running from our suffering, but to recognize, embrace and transform it. Only by understanding our suffering can we heal and touch true happiness, and at the same time, restore your beauty and freshness.  You have been calling to us, and some of us have heard your pain. You have been asking us for many lifetimes whether you can count on us. Tonight, with palms joined and with one heart, we say “yes, Mother, you can count on us.” We shall practice for you and for all our ancestors so that joy, peace and harmony will become possible again. Please accept our offerings of incense, flowers, fruit, tea, and our love.  Yes Mother, we will be faithful to you.

Reciting the trainings, practicing the way of awareness,
Gives rise to benefits without limit
We vow to share the fruits with all beings.
We vow to offer tribute to parents, teachers, friends,
And numerous beings,
Who give guidance and support along the path.

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Listening to the Soul of the Church: Circles of Trust

 Church of Scotland, Oban–photo I took of sanctuary.

A presentation for Faithful Friends,

1-17-2012, 4:00 PM at Bates Memorial Presbyterian Church, Barboursville, WV

How are we to form Circles of Trust in our lives: Parker Palmer gives details which I have tried to simplify for any who might want to start a group.  Please read Parker Palmer’s book for more details: A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life  It’s a good read.

Later on in this blog I’ve added some conflict resolution measures from: Sande, Ken. The Peacemaker. Grand Rapids, Mi: Baker Books, 2004.

Finally, there is an article titled: The Issue of Sin    An opinion expressed by Desmond Tutu

We live in a culture of invasion and evasion, but when people feel safe to tell their stories without others wanting to fix, judge or criticize, deeper truth emerges.

Truth becomes discernible as a pattern in individual lives and in the lives of institutions.

For instance, an exercise for us all to do is consider what we mean when we unwittingly say “That’s the story of my life.” A pattern may be in place that needs to be changed, but can only be transcended through greater self- awareness.

Storytelling is at the heart of being human:

  • It passes along traditions
  • Confesses failings
  • Heals wounds
  • Engenders hope
  • Strengthens sense of community


So, how do we gain insight and learn to listen to one another, without imposing our belief system on others, without busily considering what we want to say when others are speaking so we only half hear them?

How often do we live side by side with people but remain superficial–never telling our deep stories, the ones that matter? Perhaps we fear dismissal, ridicule, rejection. 

It’s odd to realize, though, that the more we reveal our true selves, our vulnerable selves, to those we trust not to hurt us and to respect us, the more we sense connectedness and community. 

When we stick with abstractions, opinions, knowledge, beliefs, but do not tell our hearts, we lose a genuine sense of being connected to one another. 

One of the problems we have when we are dealing with conflict is that both sides are convinced they are right, and when we are dealing with conflict in churches, people fall back upon their interpretation of the Bible, something they may well take to be inerrant and absolute.  In fact, all too often, people latch on to one aspect of Scripture and use it as a weapon against others.  Bible verses become Bible bombs.  We are convinced we must be right because God says so–and maybe we heard it from preachers too–so it is hard for us to understand that one verse of Scripture might well be contradicted by other verses, and while the Bible is inspired, it is also a special history of a faith journey, and a special type of literature intended to help deepen our understanding of truth. 

Parker Palmer makes the realization that my truth is not your truth. However, all truths are not equal, nor is there a relative truth, but rather in community, when we bring our deepest truths together, we are enabled to enter into a transformative process.

He says: My working definition of truth is simple, though practicing it is anything but: “Truth is an eternal conversation about things that matter, conducted with passion and discipline.” Truth cannot possibly be found in the conclusions of the conversation, because the conclusions keep changing. So if we want to live “in the truth,” it is not enough to live in the conclusions of the moment. We must find a way to live in the continuing conversation, with all its conflicts and complexities, while staying in close touch with our own inner teacher.

In a circle of trust, we can dwell in the truth by dwelling in the conversation. In such a circle, our differences are not ignored, but neither are they confronted in combat. Instead, they are laid out clearly and respectfully alongside each other. In such a circle, we speak and hear diverse truths in ways that keep us from ignoring each other and from getting into verbal shootouts–ways that allow us to grow together toward a larger, emergent truth that reveals how much we hold in common…

According to conventional wisdom, we arrive at shared truth only by confronting and correcting each other in debate. But my experience suggests that we rarely change our minds and move toward mutual understanding in the heat of argument. Instead, we become separated from each other, and from the inner teacher, by our fear of losing the battle–and the energy we expend trying to make sure that we win leaves us with no resources for reflection and transformation.

In combative situations, some people withdraw from the fray, disappearing into the foxholes of private belief where the conflict cannot touch them. Others stay on the field and fight by clinging more tightly to some preexisting conviction, wielding it to fend off their foes like the familiar weapon it is. In the midst of intellectual or spiritual warfare, we rarely risk expressing those tentative probes and vulnerable ideas that might lead us to new insights but would also leave us open to attack. Confronted by “the enemy,” we become even more committed to whatever we have always believed and are less likely to embrace the challenges that might lead to new understanding. 

In a circle of trust there are ground rules that forbid us from confronting and correcting each other, and a remarkable thing happens: we confront and correct ourselves!   In a circle of trust we have a chance, over time, to sit quietly with our own and other people’s thoughts–a chance to see how our insights relate to the larger pattern of the group and to determine how much of that pattern we wish to embrace as our own.  

These are the ground rules for creating “circles of trust:”

  • Covenant to keep anything revealed by others as confidential.
  • Begin with a prayer for harmony, wisdom, freedom, love and community.
  • Respect the others in the group, recognizing they may have understanding you do not have, and that God speaks through all people and circumstances in many ways.
  • Everyone has a chance and a right to speak, but only if they so wish.
  • Agree to hold the person speaking in prayer.
  • Do not interrupt, attempt to fix, correct, or argue with the speaker.
  • While someone is speaking, listen deeply, paying attention to one’s own reactions/emotions.

Each member of the circle will sign a covenant of agreement to these rules.

The facilitator will introduce a reading–because religious people have presuppositions about how God speaks through the Bible, the proposed reading is a poem. The goal is for everyone to listen to the poem, and see what issues, understandings, memories, images it elicits. After the reading, the facilitator will begin by telling his or her story that emerges from this reading.  Then others are invited to share their stories.

At the end of the session, we close with prayer (and a circle of healing). 

Covenant of Trust

  • I agree to participate in an opening prayer for harmony, wisdom, freedom, love and community.
  • I agree to keep anything revealed by others in the group as confidential.
  • I agree to respect the others in the group, recognizing they may have understanding I do not have, and that God speaks through all people and circumstances in many ways.
  • I agree to hold the person speaking in prayer.
  • I will not interrupt, attempt to fix, correct, or argue with the speaker.
  • While someone is speaking, I will listen deeply, paying attention to my reactions/emotions.
  • I will allow the facilitator to guide the group by leading us with a reading and beginning the story-telling time with his or her story.
  • I agree to participate in the closing prayer.

 Signatures of Participants:

________________________                ________________________

________________________                ________________________

________________________                ________________________

________________________                ________________________

________________________                ________________________

________________________                ________________________

________________________                ________________________

Adapted from: A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, Parker Palmer– Telling our Stories,  Kindle 1251-53

Sande, Ken. The Peacemaker. Grand Rapids, Mi: Baker Books, 2004.

This is a book dealing with conflict resolution. It upholds Biblical traditions and was written by a lawyer.

From Chapter 1: Conflict Provides Opportunities

The Slippery Slope of Conflict p.22-27

There are three basic ways that people respond to conflict.

1. Escape Responses include denial, flight and suicide.

2. Attack Responses include assault, litigation and murder.

3. Peacemaking Responses are the middle road and include overlooking the offense, reconciliation, negotiation, mediation, arbitration, and accountability.

A Biblical View of Conflict p.29-31

Many of the problems associated with the escape and attack responses to conflict can be prevented if you learn to look at and respond to conflict in a biblical way. In his Word, God has explained why conflicts occur and how we should deal with them. The more we understand and obey what he teaches, the more effective we will be in resolving disagreements with other people. The following are a few of the basic principles behind a biblical view of conflict (which is defined as a difference in opinion or purpose that frustrates someone’s goals or desires):

  • Misunderstandings from poor communication (Josh. 22: 10-34)
  • Differences in values, goals, gifts calling, priorities, expectations, interests, or opinions (Acts 15: 39; 1 Cor. 12: 12-31)
  • Competition over money

Conflict is not necessarily bad, however. In fact, the Bible teaches that some differences are natural and beneficial. Since God has created us as unique individuals human beings will often have different opinions, convictions, desires, perspectives, and priorities. Many of these differences are not inherently right or wrong. They are simply the result of God-given diversity and personal preferences (1 Cor. 12: 21-31)

Not all conflict is neutral of beneficial, however. The Bible teaches that many disagreements are the direct result of sinful attitudes and behavior.

The Four G’s of Peacemaking p.38

  • Glorify God: How can I please and honor God in this situation?
  • Get the log out of your own eye: How can I show Jesus’ work in me by taking responsibility for my contribution to this conflict?
  • Gently restore: How can I lovingly serve others by helping them take responsibility for their contribution to this conflict?
  • Go and be reconciled: How can I demonstrate the forgiveness of God and encourage a reasonable solution to this conflict?

 The Issue of Sin

An opinion expressed by Desmond Tutu

Tutu’s position is reflected in excerpts from a newspaper article and a sermon preached in Southwark Cathedral, London, in 2004.

A student once asked me, If I could have one wish granted to reverse an injustice, what would it be? I had to ask for two. One is for world leaders to forgive the debts of developing nations which hold them in such thrall. The other is for the world to end the persecution of people because of their sexual orientation, which is every bit as unjust as that crime against humanity, apartheid.

This is a matter of ordinary justice. We struggled against apartheid in South Africa, supported by people the world over, because black people were being blamed and made to suffer for something we could do nothing about — our very skin. It is the same with sexual orientation. It is a given. I could not have fought against the discrimination of apartheid and not also fight against the discrimination that homosexuals endure, even in our churches and faith groups.

I am proud that in South Africa, when we won the chance to build our own new constitution, the human rights of all have been explicitly enshrined in our laws. My hope is that one day this will be the case all over the world, and that all will have equal rights. For me this struggle is a seamless robe. Opposing apartheid was a matter of justice. Opposing discrimination against women is a matter of justice. Opposing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a matter of justice.

It is also a matter of love. Every human being is precious. We are all — all of us — part of God’s family. We all must be allowed to love each other with honor. Yet all over the world, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are persecuted. We treat them as pariahs and push them outside our communities. We make them doubt that they too are children of God. This must be nearly the ultimate blasphemy. We blame them for what they are.

Churches say that the expression of love in a heterosexual monogamous relationship includes the physical — the touching, embracing, kissing, the genital act; the totality of our love makes each of us grow to become increasingly godlike and compassionate. If this is so for the heterosexual, what earthly reasons have we to say that it is not the case with the homosexual?

The Jesus I worship is not likely to collaborate with those who vilify and persecute an already oppressed minority. I myself could not have opposed the injustice of penalizing people for something about which they could do nothing — their race — and then have kept quiet as women were being penalized for something they could do nothing about — their gender; hence my support for the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate.

Equally, I cannot keep quiet while people are being penalized for something about which they can do nothing — their sexuality. To discriminate against our sisters and brothers who are lesbian or gay on grounds of their sexual orientation for me is as totally unacceptable and unjust as apartheid ever was.

Seekers, Buddha, and Church

As I continue with my reading of Pure Land Buddhism, I am impressed with Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on recollection. He says, as I understand it, that when one meditates on Amida Buddha, the Buddha of compassion, it is important to recollect all that the Buddha stands for. It is not a matter of saying a name over and over again, but of allowing this particular name–full of deep meaning–to fill our very being.

In Christian practice, this is also very important. When we meditate upon Christ, it is okay to say hey, Jesus has saved me. Okay. Hallelujah! Then comes an opportunity to engage with the deeper Christ with whom we are seeking unity. Here is the Christ upon whom we can lean and seek and ask to permeate our being with his compassion, wisdom, healing, love and strength, not merely to enrich our own particular life but that we may become centers of radiant holiness in all the lives around us. How? By being peace. By being compassion. By being authentic!

Church community offers us the big little ways.

For instance, Philip and I hosted the coffee fellowship after worship today. I was glad for the opportunity and also freaked out to have to “do food!” I am insecure about cooking and especially about serving a crowd.

Philip and I did our best, had it mostly ready, but I tossed and turned all night worried my cookies would be inadequate, concerned I’d got the day wrong, frightened I’d make a fool out of myself what with my Betty Crocker cookies, my package brownies.

File:Brownies with chocolate chunks.jpg

Philip made shortbread. I knew that was delicious. I baked my homemade French bread and prepared cucumber sandwiches. I hoped it would be okay.

I wanted everyone to enjoy the food. I wanted to let go of my anxiety.

The outcome? Well, since I was freaking out on how I’d manage to put on coffee, I was so grateful to Wayne for preparing the coffee (and Ryan for asking him on my behalf) I was so pleased people liked the food. Those who said we did okay, well thank you. It gave me confidence. It helped me overcome my anxiety originating from a childhood where we had no food to spare and certainly none to share. The church community, in this little matter of hosting the coffee fellowship, provided an opportunity for me to overcome deep-seated anxieties that keep me isolated.

To those seeking community try a church. You never know what you’ll learn.

Supernatural or Psychological?

Have you ever wondered what gave the Biblical Saul of Tarsus, the man who becomes St. Paul of the Bible, the evangelist, credibility?

The man was awesome and quite the personality, a highly educated, multi-lingual Jew who was also a Roman citizen. He was immersed in the Rabbinical teachings of his day, completely zealous, though not a Zealot, in his beliefs. Hence, he couldn’t stomach that Jesus person and his followers who presented a message quite radical to the teachings of his Judaic tradition.

So what did he do? He persecuted the followers of Christ unto death.

But here he was walking along the Damascus Road, and in a blinding light he experiences something very strange and very difficult and life altering: He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.  “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”  Acts 9:4-6 New International Version (NIV)

There is a psychological term for this sort of reversal of thinking that manifests in a physical way:

Conversion disorder is a neurosis marked by the appearance of physical symptoms such as partial loss of muscle function without physical cause but in the presence of psychological conflict. Symptoms include numbness, blindness, paralysis, or fits without a neurological cause. It is thought that these problems arise in response to difficulties in the patient’s life, and conversion is considered a psychiatric disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 4th edition (DSM-IV).

Interesting explanation. Was Paul struggling with his own thinking and his own behavior?  Could such a powerful experience merely be a psychological correction?

Personally, I have no doubt this was a supernatural experience that cannot be easily dismissed. I believe Jesus really did confront Paul and turned his thinking and behavior in a completely different direction.

But even if you don’t accept the idea of the supernatural–what an amazing metaphor this is to explain how killing and persecuting people is an evil arising from a type of blindness that needs to be cured.

After Paul recovers his sight (several days later), what does he do?: 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus. Galatians 1:17 New International Version (NIV)

Some scholars say this was in fact Mt. Sinai where he went to meditate. But no one really knows for sure what Paul was doing for those three years.

Paul asserted that he received the Gospel not from any person, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ:  Galatians 1:11-12 New International Version (NIV)

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

Paul becomes the Biblical evangelist who was instrumental in bringing the message of Christ to Gentiles.