Do You Want Me to Thank You?

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The merchant Umeza decided to donate some money to the master Seietsu so that he could build a bigger school.

Umeza brought a bag full of coins and placed it before Seietsu, who was meditating. “This is for you to build a new school,” he said.

Seietsu opened his eyes, nodded, and went back to his meditations.

Umeza was a bit perturbed and he remarked, “There is enough money there to pay a year’s wages for 50 men.”

Seietsu opened his eyes and said, “So do you want me to thank you?”

Umeza said, “Well, isn’t it the least I should expect?”

Seietsu said, “Why should I? The giver should be thankful.” And he resumed his meditation.

Truth is Seldom Safe

Photo by Jared Tarbell

I remember a few years ago when the Vatican abolished “limbo”. Limbo is supposedly a permanent state for the souls of infants who die without being baptized, but who haven’t been cleansed of original sin.

This was major news in the Philippines which is a predominantly Roman Catholic country.  Several people were interviewed by a TV station about what they thought about it and one of the responses amused me. The woman said “I’m so happy the church abolished limbo because now I know my baby is in heaven.”

We need to open their eyes and wake up. Our little beliefs and doctrines do nothing to reality. All these years, this woman has harbored despair in her heart over her dead baby because of a belief perpetuated by a religious authority. Now, when this authority relented on its decision, she suddenly feels relief. What will happen next time if some other doctrine is created? Is my peace of mind to be determined by a group of people who have absolutely no experience of the reality they are espousing?

We like to live in the comfort and stability of their beliefs. That is why when something comes along to shake that belief, the first instinct is to try to explain it away. Failing that, the next move is to look for a cleric (pastor, priest, imam, theologian) and pass the burden of explanation on them. When they explain, we are expected to nod our heads in assent. After all, aren’t these the specialists of the field? Haven’t they spent more years studying and reading books, studying the Bible, the Koran, the Talmud, the Vedas, the Sutras?

Sometimes, some of us still go further and question more. That is the time that others begin to look at us strangely — begin to whisper and say that we are asking strange questions, that we should just accept what is taught and not be such a bother, that we are sounding like heretics and unbelievers.

At this point, most people retreat back into the confines of their belief. After all, most people are not really after the truth. What they want is reassurance. What they want is safety.

But truth is seldom safe. And reality is hardly so reassuring.

Do we then live in fear? Of course not, because fear is an illusion as well — an expectation of things that may or may not happen.

We live with eyes open, in the moment, in the now — realizing the wondrous nature of ourselves and of reality. Life must be savored in all its sweetness and bitterness, in all its highs and lows, in all its tenacity and fragility. The search for truth is a climb up a never-ending staircase. Each step you leave behind falls away into deep nothingness.

Spirituality is Relationship

Photo by Gustavo Verrisimo
As if to rebuff my previous post about getting out of the church habit, I found myself in church (albeit a different one) two Sundays ago and heard an interesting sermon about religion and relationships — one that I agreed on.

The point was that religion (or spirituality) is about relationship and not so much about rules and regulations. But people today have this whole idea backwards. That’s why people look at churches as a place where rules and norms are observed, instead of a place where one can relax and be oneself.

Come to think of it, that is a large part of what turns me off about church. Aside from mostly unenlightening sermons that make me tune out and doodle on the program sheet, it is the artificial nature of relationships. There is a large amount of trying to look good, of trying to live up to the ideals of what a Christian should be, a large amount of covering up one’s preferences and shortcomings instead of just being honest and open about them.

Followers of Jesus should remember that sinners flocked to him. They wanted to be with him. With him, they felt no judgement, no condemnation, only compassion and rest. This so irritated the Pharisees who did not want to have anything to do with “sinners”.

I would like to extend this idea to most religions — because there is indeed a tendency to have this “holier than thou” attitude when one is steeped in the protocols of one’s religion.

The true measure of one’s spirituality is not the amount of friends you have in your own religion, but perhaps, the amount of friends you have outside of it — who are aware of your beliefs and convictions, and yet enjoy and even yearn for your company nonetheless.


Photo by Kate Ter Har

“People are not naturally cruel. They become cruel when they are unhappy — or when they succumb to an ideology.

If religious people had always followed the instinct of their heart rather than the logic of their religion, we would have been spared the sight of heretics burning at stakes, widows walking into funeral pyres, and millions of innocent people slaughtered in wars that are waged in the name of God.

Compassion has no ideology.”

— Anthony de Mello

Getting Out of Church

Photo by RC Designer
It has been a while since I’ve felt the need to go to church. Yes, I do go once in a while. In fact, I attended last Sunday because a friend of mine was speaking and I knew he’d talk sense. If he didn’t, at least I was confident that he wouldn’t drag things out to the point of boredom. But it has been a few years since I’ve really felt the need to “go to church” either for worship or fellowship or whatever.

Spirituality for me has become something very personal. It is not measured in how often I go to church or how involved I am in its activities. I used to think that way though, but no longer. Spirituality is in the moment. It is in the now. If you are not spiritual now, then you cannot be more spiritual in church (although it may feel that way). Spirituality is not a result of actions but comes by just being silent and still inside. It is an inner knowing of who you are — and a constant gratitude and celebration of your being.

When I was in high school (and still very much involved in church activities), I encountered a poem that I didn’t quite agree with at that time. But there was something in it that called to me. I kept that poem and even used it when I was teaching English literature a few years back. Reading it again now, I think I’ve come to understand it better, and I know why it called to me — because that was how I really felt in my soul.

Here’s the poem.

by Oscar Peñaranda

Here I am again
sitting alone in my car
nostrils and mouth sucking wafts
of wind rushing through open side windows
on a cliff hanging over the bay there is
music from the radio

that green monster of a gelatin sea
kisses white tongues of foam kneeling
to lick the shore serenading the lone
oak tree
atop the jagged crags of rocks
there is music there also
they drown the chimes of distant chapel bells
come, take my hand
roll up your sleeves
and bare your chest before the naked sun


what I want to know is where
they ever got the barbaric gall
to call me
an unbeliever

this is how I pray

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