Saturday, April 23, 2011

Love's in Need of Love Today

This morning I attended a funeral service for an acquaintance who died last week. Most of the small, Acadian town here turned out for the service -- a very traditional Catholic funeral in the town's single, large cathedral.

Having grown up Baptist, I always feel like I've stepped into another world when I visit a Catholic church, with its alien liturgies and rituals and rich iconography. The feeling of being a visitor from another planet was heightened, this morning, by my being dressed conspicuously in the robes of a Buddhist monk, which literally marked me as an alien presence and made it impossible to pretend otherwise. But the local people here are accustomed to having Buddhist monks in their midst.

Since this morning, I've been reflecting on something the priest said during his homily. "In order to experience life in its fullness, we must share the fullness of God's love with others." To put that into more secular language: no man is an island. We are relational creatures, and we find and experience the fullness of meaning in our lives through the love, kindness and compassion that we give and receive in relationship to one another.

The Buddha expressed this as the truth of interdependence. We do not actually exist as solid entities, separate from one another; we "inter-are," as Thich Nhat Hanh puts it. In the fullness of realizing our interdependence, we feel others' pain as our own, and there are no barriers to the natural flow of love and kindness. Sounds like heaven, doesn't it?

Meanwhile, back on earth, there seems to be no shortage of barriers blocking the flow of kindness and compassion between human beings. Open the newspaper or turn on the TV. The world is hurting, burning with violence and conflict. "Hate's goin' round, breaking many hearts," mourns Stevie Wonder. "The force of evil plans to make you its possession. And it will, if we let it, destroy everybody. We all must take precautionary measures."

In his book Awakening Through Love, the Dzogchen teacher Lama John Makransky writes:

"Everything that is most important to human beings is dependent upon love. Powerful and enduring love, grounded in wisdom, is the panacea to cure the ills of this world, starting with our own. We all have this curative power of goodness within us; all we need are the means to unveil it."

Replace "God" with the "power of goodness within us," and that's pretty much exactly what the Catholic priest said this morning.

Oh, and here's that Stevie Wonder song, from 1976. Its message couldn't be more true, or more timely.

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