Tonight was so amazing that it will be impossible to capture all of the wonderful things I heard. I hope others will pitch in to share their impressions, and together, a collective mosaic may be created for all of us to enjoy.
Rev. Heng Sure was the guest speaker tonight. He started by talking about the kind of giving that was akin to planting seeds of blessings.
He then talked about three kinds of danas or giving. The first is at the material level, involving resources (money, tangible services/products etc.). The second kind of giving, more important than the first, is at the level of courage. When someone is having a hard time, giving that person some comfort, telling them to hang in there is very helpful. When someone is growing old, and their physique is no longer what it used to be, rubbing their shoulders or giving them a hug can go a long way toward helping that person overcome fear of old age - letting them know that this is natural, and they have love along the way. The third and most important giving is the giving of dharma, loosely translated as wisdom. That, by which, others awaken. Skill lies in knowing which kind of giving to engage in and how much.
The Reverend then talked about gods (with the lower case), referred to as the "devas." In the monotheistic traditions, this is not common, but in the Eastern traditions, it is quite common to hear about the devas. Who are these devas? From the Buddhist sutras (and also other eastern traditions), the Reverend points out that they are beings with a ton of good karma, who can get whatever they want, and all seems wonderful. However, at one point, the good karma exhausts and the gods have to die and be reborn as humans. This is a powerful idea - even gods die. As humans, the erstwhile gods still have some momentum and hence have some privilege or riches in their lives. This, just like their godlike status, is temporary, and once all of their past karma, earned through giving and planting good seeds, has exhausted, the current riches and privilege will end. Therefore, in the Eastern traditions, we are severely warned not to covet the status of gods or heaven. The Buddha likened it to a house on fire with its severe temptations - in that condition, we forget that we are in a temporary house and there begins the downfall. The Eastern traditions tell us to transcend the craving of good and evil, to awaken (a word that the Reverend preferrend to enlightenment).
The Reverend went deeper into the fruits of a nation's acts, and he posited that the wealth and richness of this nation were due to its past good acts of giving, which were quickly being exhausted with two wars and much else that have brought much suffering upon this earth. The only purpose of a landmine is to severely harm the lower part of the human body. The only two countries in the world that have not signed the anti-landmine treaty are the US and China. The US is the largest manufacturer of landmines. The Reverend then pointed out that for the first time in a century (I think that's what he said), the mortality rate has dropped this year. He said that if as a country we do not restore the cycles of giving and eliminate the cycles of harming, then the fruits that we currently enjoy will quickly exhaust. Not sure if he said this or if the thought just came to me that a large part of the world's oil supply (which everyone is concerned about) is simply wasted by the armed forces in every country of the world, either on unnecessary wars or weapons that go far beyond defence.
His comments resonated at another level for me. My professor, Prof. Ron Howard, is a philosophical Buddhist, and at an Ethics class that he was teaching, the second world war and the Nazi era was discussed. He traced a remarkable thread of karma in that session by pointing out that a big reason for Hitler's rise was that most Germans in his time felt very badly about being harmed and given a bad deal by the rest of the world after the First World War (which was true). The reason they got such a bad deal was because of the way the First World War was resolved. Initially, it was a stalemate, and if left to themselves, France and Germany would have figured out that fighting each other as neighbors made little sense and then made their treaties. The balance was upset when the US got involved and swung the war in one direction, resulting in a very uneven hand for Germany, that alienated its people, and sowed the seeds of anger, which almost always go with delusion.
The Reverend also pointed out the flip side of the karma theory, when one looks at all of the Nazi atrocities, where one wonders what kind of karma would justify that - that is an unresolved edge.
The Reverend then sang lovely songs on a guitar called Rosemary. The story totally rocked. His friend Fabrizio is a master guitar maker and had made two guitars, one of which he brought to the Reverend to test. The Reverend loved it. The guitar then made its way to "Eric's shop." After a year, when the Reverend spoke to his friend again, he learned that the guitar had not been sold and due to the economic downturn, most people were not buying guitars. He then asked if he could "babysit" that guitar for Fabrizio. Fabrizio told the Reverend that he'd been thinking about it and he really wanted the Reverend to have it. The guitar was named after Fabrizio's daughter.
He asked Fabrizio if he could share the story with others at CF, and here was Fabrizio's response:
Hello Heng Sure,
I appreciate the sentiments - thank you! Giving you the guitar didn't feel like anything but setting it free to have a blessed life, and to pass on those universal blessings, and so it's hard to reconcile that with taking any kind of credit or receiving any personal recognition. It just feels like stepping out of the conventional and accepted world of scarcity and fear, into one of abundance and joy. That step feels liberating to me, and I really wish I could take those steps every moment, so in a way it almost feels selfish. I'm glad I got the opportunity act in line with values that are far more noble and natural-feeling than the ones that are generally accepted as "normal."
So if you'd like to share with the Charity Focus people, you may. I'll view it as one of the blessings that must be shared, as long as it doesn't point to me in any way, but rather points to the wholeness that we are.
Before having food, the Reverend shared the vows that monks take when accepting food they have received from others. I'm hoping someone remembers all the vows.
Nipun shared the story of Ishwardada's life and his passing. Some of it is captured in Neil's touching post. Nipun then asked us to dedicate our merit to Ishwardada. The dedication of merit was led by the Reverend, and a part of it was a sing-along. Hoping we will be able to hear the audio as well as the whole session was audio-recorded.
I later asked him what he thought about the dialog between Krishna and Arjuna and the Buddhist injunction to not kill. He said that Arjuna was lucky to have God with him - the problem for him was that he could only speak from a "hypothetical" standpoint (I think that's what he said). That really hit me. If a man like the Reverend who has dedicated himself to a lifetime of service declares uncertainty, then it speaks volumes of the level of uncertainty I should incorporate in my own beliefs. The fascinating thing is that last night, I was reading Feynman's essay titled The Uncerainty of Value (in The Meaning of it All), and found the following:
"Admitting that we do not know, and maintaining perpetually the attitude that we do not know the direction necessarily to go, permit a possibility of alteration, of thinking, of new contributions and new discoveries for the problem of developing a way to do what we want ultimately, even when we do not know what we want."
The Reverend asked me to reflect on the Gita and find my own perspective in comparing it with the Buddha's teaching. I also got a big boost toward doing that - as I was relating this conversation to CFMom, Manju aunty overheard and shared her perspective on the Gita. She first posed the question, "If Buddha went to Krishna, what advice would Krishna give him?" As I started thinking about this, she set me straight, "Buddha would never go to Krishna" and started laughing. She further clarified, "Krishna's commentary was for Arjuna, a warrior sworn to fight and kill. The problem was that Arjuna had no issue fighting and killing - he just had an issue fighting and killing his own relatives, due to his attachment." That was a very deep point. I persisted, "The Buddhists of our time still have to advise those in Arjuna's shoes. What should they tell Arjuna? To abstain from killing altogether?" Aunty pointed out that we are all Arjunas, and that there was no escaping these dilemmas, without which, life would not be as interesting. :)
As I reflect on the Reverend's words and aunty's words, it is clear that the edges are an important gift in our lives. Without these edges, there is no need to find one's own truth - one just has to follow the path and all the answers are present. Thank goodness there are edges, things that manifest as unknowns to tempt us with life.
CFMom cooked for so many people today, and sprained her back muscle while picking up something heavy. And yet, only a big smile and gratitude in her heart. Grateful to everyone tonight for the big smiles and hugs and goodwill.
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