Matthew 6

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the-first-sermon-at-the-deer-park-450x312Imagine the effect this passage had on a young idealist. I internalized this passage as a backbone: an irreproachable ideal for my moral self. Apologies for an overlong quote:

Matthew 6

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

9 “This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’

14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Just as a Buddhist who commits murder self-disqualifies by failing to observe the most fundamental tenets of his belief system, so too does the Gospel afford Christians and lay people alike strict, identifiable guidelines against which their behavior may –indeed must– be judged. Re-read this passage with respect to your own life or the lives of people you know. How many by their own behavior self-reduce  to the ‘professed’ existence of talk-talking walk-non-walkers?

Passages such as Matthew 6 and the Noble Eightfold Path offer adherents fundamental guidelines for the conduct of their daily affairs. As a Buddhist raised in the Protestant Christian tradition I find the traces of my youthful adoption of the precepts of Matthew 6 still in practice alongside my modern observation of the Noble Eightfold Path and the offerings of the Tao Te Ching. This cohabitation of dogmas is expressly permitted by the Buddhist sangha to the extent observation of Buddhist thinking (remember: Buddhism is not a religion) does not throw one into conflict with one’s professed religious beliefs.

Matthew 6 recounts only a part of the Sermon on the Mount, itself as foundational a narrative to Christian practice as the Deer Park Sermon is for followers of the Buddhist way. Matthew 6 was a personal gateway for a young idealist: confirmation that it was right to be good, that it was ok not to care about things and money and attention, that the object and source of one’s piety were always only everywhere he was, that attachment is suffering. Perhaps most importantly it confirms the probity of solitary contemplation: explains that in such meditation lies the source of God’s reward. It was in a very tangible sense the Apostle Matthew who lay the foundation for my practice today.

The time I spend with the Tao reveals that things have rectitude as they are; that all around us extend fractals of observational detail, each a new wisdom to apprehend. The knowledge one gains sitting still is its own reward; is indeed infused with the divine.


Tao Te Ching Chapter 16

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My first exposure to the Tao Te Ching was like emerging from a forest. My first twenty years spiritually were a lot of straight lines, all somehow standing at their own angle, none particularly true, always seemingly in the act of shifting. A lad with an eye open for sterling examples of humanity on which to model his own behavior saw the man who sings loudly in church but hits his kids; the kids who gleam like angels in public then slink away to wrap themselves tightly around burgeoning hatreds, addictions, or vanities; preachers not practicing. I was still able to agree in broad terms with the morals and principles they espoused in public and in church but unable to reconcile those morals and principles with their known private behaviors. I didn’t feel motivated to involve myself in blame of them, either Jesus Christ or these individuals, but I could not help connect how the same teachings from the same minister in the same church could yield such an inconstant, cognitively-dissonant result, or how other denominations in titular service of the same divinity seemed to fare no better. I was unaware at the time of Gandhi’s observation “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ,” but would have found the words reassuring, naked as they left me.

As a minor I wasn’t free to wander off and worship as I saw fit, so I went with my family where they went (as a lad will) and sometimes that was church. I was no longer expecting Jesus there. I had grown accustomed to not looking but was happy to still find him along the way in the form of moments of relevance and real-life value of his words and teachings (not an apparition or disembodied voice thankfully). When at 20 I was required to read the Tao Te Ching in an East Asian Philosophy class my Way appeared beneath my feet, a little track through the edge of the bamboo, winding away over the sunny plain. I still find Jesus out here, but also Lao Tzu, the Buddha, Confucius, and the numberless monks, poets, and sages, all singing.

Chapter 16 (among others) was a warning: learn to sit; learn to do nothing.

Empty yourself of everything.
Let the mind rest at peace.
The ten thousand things rise and fall while the Self watches their return.
They grow and flourish and then return to the source.
Returning to the source is stillness, which is the way of nature.
The way of nature is unchanging.
Knowing constancy is insight.
Not knowing constancy leads to disaster.
Knowing constancy, the mind is open.
With an open mind, you will be openhearted.
Being openhearted, you will act royally.
Being royal, you will attain the divine.
Being divine, you will be at one with the Tao.
Being at one with the Tao is eternal.
And though the body dies, the Tao will never pass away.

The Morality of Meat

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Hogs in a Confined Animal Feeding Operation
Hogs in a Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO)

Jeff McMahan, professor of Philosophy at Rutgers, offers a trenchant examination of the problems inherent in the modern practice of meat eating:

“Our own form of predation is of course more refined than those of other meat-eaters, who must capture their prey and tear it apart as it struggles to escape.  We instead employ professionals to breed our prey in captivity and prepare their bodies for us behind a veil of propriety, so that our sensibilities are spared the recognition that we too are predators, red in tooth if not in claw…The reality behind the veil is, however, far worse than that in the natural world.  Our factory farms, which supply most of the meat and eggs consumed in developed societies, inflict a lifetime of misery and torment on our prey, in contrast to the relatively brief agonies endured by the victims of predators in the wild.  From the moral perspective, there is nothing that can plausibly be said in defense of this practice.  To be entitled to regard ourselves as civilized, we must, like Isaiah’s morally reformed lion, eat straw like the ox, or at least the moral equivalent of straw.”

The focus here is on the immorality of killing and consuming other conscious, feeling creatures. Christian viewpoints are represented (especially Isaiah), presented in historical context.