Sunday, 24 January 2010

Haiti and Dana

I came across this interesting article by Linda Horton who is pastor for the Unitarian Fellowship of Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, who has been focusing on Buddhist loving kindness meditation recently as the grim news arrived from Haiti.

She reflects upon the less obvious meanings of the second Buddhist precept “not to take what is not freely given” which pairs this teaching with a positive—calling us to the practice of Dana, or generosity.

“The violence in our world and degradation of our environment is likely to continue until something shifts, and wealth is seen more as a source of responsibility than entitlement.

When we use more than our fair share of the world’s resources, are we not, in a sense, stealing? And not only food from hungry children, but our also our grand-children’s future?

When we take from the earth more than it can replenish, are we not stealing from the earth? When we destroy the habitats of whole species, are we not stealing their very existence?

What gives us that right? Is it simply that we can? Does might make right?

To turn the lens of that teaching in another direction, what about how we treat our own bodies? How many of us steal health and well-being from our bodies by destructive habits—eating poorly, not exercising, not taking sufficient time for sleep and relaxation, meditation, reconnecting with nature?

Then there is stealing peace of mind and serenity from ourselves by not taking time for spiritual practices. There are laws about not taking physical possessions belonging to others. But how about self-respect? Hope and trust? Sense of safety and peace of mind?

We are not born with moral discernment, although I do believe that there is an impulse to compassion that can be nurtured in even small children. We have to be taught to be “human”—not to simply let the most primitive part of our brain determine our actions. There is always room for reflection and improvement.

Religious traditions help us to do this, and to find the courage to protest actions that are life-stealing rather than life enhancing.”

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