John Believer’s Prophecy

The Fool in the Tarot de Marseilles

When I was a college freshman in Oregon, a bearded fellow in a long black coat would sometimes harangue the crowds in the quad at lunch time. He’d bring a box to stand on and a Bible to wave. He called himself John Believer.

This was the late 60’s and though he tried for hell and brimstone, I think he’d done too much acid to pull it off. Out of his sometimes interesting theological mishmash, one of his ideas stuck with me and resonated with teachings I would hear later from two spiritual masters.

John Believer said the spiritual center of earth was right there in Oregon, (that’s why he’d moved north from Berkeley), but we should expect trouble. The spiritual center is always on the move, he explained, and it was about to head back to the orient. During it’s long Pacific crossing, humanity would experience an age of darkness.

In May, 1940, the Hindu master, Paramahansa Yogananda, gave one of several lectures predicting a coming time of travail for humanity.  The transcript of the May talk  is available as a pamphlet, World Crisis, published by Self-Realization Fellowship. Seventy-seven years ago, Yogananda said:

“A great crisis is going to come, a crisis such as never before has hit this country…There is a world revolution going on. It will change the financial system. In the karmic firmament of America, I see one beautiful sign; that no mater what the world goes through, she will be better off than most other countries. But America will experience widespread misery, suffering, and changes just the same. You are used to the better things of life, and when you are obliged to live simply, you won’t like it. It’s not easy to be poor after being rich. You have no idea how this change is going to affect you through the years. Never before in the history of this land has there been so deep a contrast in living standards as will visit this country – the contrast between riches and poverty.” (emphasis added)

Yogananda predicted that though the darkness would last several centuries and even threaten the future of life on the planet, it would likely pass and usher in a time of spiritual growth for humanity. Continue reading

Notes from 2017: Six ways to be miserable (and one way to be happy).

Public Doman

Public Doman

The following aphorisms on traits to avoid were written by Patrul Rinpoche, a 19th c. Tibetan master. A contemporary Tibetan lama, Phakchok Rinpoche, gave a teaching on the text that was printed in Tricycle in January, 2016. Here are the aphorisms:

The proud will never be pleased.

The jealous will never be happy.

The greedy will never be satisfied.

The hateful will never be reconciled.

The stingy will never have enough.

The ignorant will never accomplish.

By contrast, here is what the Dalai Lama advised to cultivate happiness and wellbeing:

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

Notes on Saint Stephen

100-saint-stephen

Today, December 26, is known as Saint Stephen’s Day, and in the UK, as “Boxing Day.” I’ve never understood the latter term – nor does Wikipedia, which says, “There are competing theories for the origins of the term, none of which are definitive.”

Saint Stephen was the first Christian martyr. A young and zealous deacon in the early church, he was tried for blasphemy. After denouncing the authorities who sat in judgement upon him, he was stoned in the year 34. Saul of Tarsus, who later became Saint Paul, famously held the cloaks of those who threw the stones.

The word, “martyr,” has lost much of its meaning through overuse. Now we use the word for someone who complains a lot. In church history, a few of the early martyrs seemed to choose their fate. There are stories of judges who said, “Look, if you just shut up, I’ll let you go,” but they wouldn’t. They believed that this literal following of Christ was a fast-track ticket to heaven.

The last thing the world needs now is religious zealots of any variety – those willing to use physical or legislative violence to try to destroy other people’s freedom to believe what they want to believe. Atrocities committed in the name of God – any God – are especially heinous. I suspect that much of that sort of violence, like politically motivated violence, boils down to fear. If my self-knowledge is so shallow that I don’t really know where I stand, then a contrary opinion that threatens my world view must be discredited or or silenced.

There are ways other than projecting my views onto some vengeful God. The Dalai Lama, one who humbly but joyously lives by the words he speaks, has said, “We could do without religion, and we could do without ritual, but we cannot survive without kindness.”

-Great words to remember on Boxing Day, which I’m pretty sure has to do with re-gifting rather than post-Christmas pugilism…

Where seldom is heard a discouraging word

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, by John Snape, CC-BY-SA-3.0

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, by John Snape, CC-BY-SA-3.0

This morning I showed my wife a newspaper photo depicting a politician who closely resembles a recent movie villain.  “No one will vote for him,” I said.

She laughed and agreed, but a little while later said, “Wow, that made it hard.  I’m trying to give up criticism for Lent.”

I apologized, for I know how hard real spiritual discipline can be.  Then I reflected that her resolution echoes a thought I’ve had on and off for some time – cutting, or at least reducing, the negative topics and posts in this blog.  The period of Lent, about seven more weeks, seems like a good trial period, so I’m going to try this experiment and figure it out as I go along.

When considering this move in the past, I’ve had fears along the lines of becoming Pollyanna or having nothing to write about if I close my eyes to the world’s crap.  I am confident, however, that tens of thousands of writers can take up the slack if I take a break.

There are many reasons to do so.  First and foremost for me is this simple truth from Zen teacher, Cheri Huber, so simple and yet so easy to forget:  “The quality of your life is determined by the focus of your attention.”  

The same truth is expressed in completely different terms in Scott Adams’s new book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.  This cartoon genius who gave us Dilbert says:  “Reality is overrated and impossible to understand with any degree of certainty. What you do know for sure is that some ways of looking at the world work better than others.”  (I plan to review this book here soon).

A final, obvious example, given his recent visit to this country, is the Dalai Lama.  Beyond doubt, he’s the most joyous person who lives in the public spotlight.  I’ve never been in his physical presence, but I have met a few spiritual masters, men and women of several traditions, and for me, they all had one thing in common: when you get near them, you pick up their joy.  And I mean a profound joy, the kind that sometimes has left my jaw aching from smiling so much more than I am used to.  I’m sure the Dalai Lama is like that.

Dalai Lama with Christ University Choir, Bangalore, India

Dalai Lama with Christ University Choir, Bangalore, India

One of the many things he has said that always struck me concerns a difficulty he had when he first came to the west: he could not at first believe the degree of shame and self-hatred that are native to our culture.  It was completely new and shocking to him to hear such a thing, for there was nothing like it at all in Tibet.  I believe it’s no coincidence that you never hear the Dalai Lama say critical things about anyone else.  He doesn’t even criticize the Chinese, saying only, “They helped me cultivate patience.”

As I end this post, I realize some readers outside the U.S. might not be familiar with its title, which comes from an old western song, “Home on the Range:”

Home, home on the range,
Where the deer and the antelope play,
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,
And the skies are not cloudy all day.

“Home on the Range” is the state song of Kansas, and like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” that other great song that reminds us of Kansas, it seems to ask the question, “Why not I?” Or, “Why not us?”

Asking “why not” is itself a classic spiritual discipline.  What factors hold me back from the kind of life I want to live.  In my own case, criticism of self and others is part of that mix.  Let’s see what happens here over the next seven weeks…

July 6 is the Dalai Lama’s birthday

His Holiness with a participant at the Young Minds Conference in Sidney, Australia, June 17, 2013

His Holiness with a participant at the Young Minds Conference in Sidney, Australia, June 17, 2013

His Holiness the Dalai Lama is 78 today.  Regarded by many as an emanation of Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion, here is a summary of the Dalai Lama’s mission in the world from the website of the Gyuto Vajrayana Center in San Jose.

Three Main Commitments of His Holiness

Firstly, on the level of a human being, His Holiness’ first commitment is the promotion of human values such as compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, contentment and self-discipline. All human beings are the same. We all want happiness and do not want suffering. Even people who do not believe in religion recognize the importance of these human values in making their life happier. His Holiness refers to these human values as secular ethics. He remains committed to talk about the importance of these human values and share them with everyone he meets.

Secondly, on the level of a religious practitioner, His Holiness’ second commitment is the promotion of religious harmony and understanding among the world’s major religious traditions. Despite philosophical differences, all major world religions have the same potential to create good human beings. It is therefore important for all religious traditions to respect one another and recognize the value of each other’s respective traditions. As far as one truth, one religion is concerned, this is relevant on an individual level. However, for the community at large, several truths, several religions are necessary.

Thirdly, His Holiness is a Tibetan and carries the name of the ‘Dalai Lama’. Therefore, his third commitment is to work to preserve Tibet’s Buddhist culture, a culture of peace and non-violence.

A life lived for others

This has been a season of losses.  A friend recently died of something that should not have been fatal, and after the special treatments stopped working, we had to let go of our dog, Holly, who I wrote about in June.  That’s partly what motivated my recent reflections on what matters most in our lives.  The question comes up as well in the experience of a great friend and teacher who recovered from a serious illness this year.

Lama Kunga Thartse Rinpoche was born in Tibet in 1935.  At the age of eight, he entered Ngor monastery where he was ordained as a monk at 16.  In 1972, Rinpoche emigrated to the United States and later founded Ewam Choden Tibetan Buddhist Center in Kensington, CA (see the link on my blogroll).

Early this year, he was diagnosed with lymphoma.  He underwent chemotherapy while his nearby friends and students saw to his diet and daily needs.  Friends the world over offered prayers and traditional healing ceremonies.  His cancer is now in remission and he just returned to a full teaching schedule seeming more vigorus than ever.

Lama Kunga Thartse Rinpoche

A week ago Sunday, I joined some of Lama Kunga’s students and friends in the bay area to celebrate his birthday and his return to health.  This is a man who had lots of help in his time of need because he lives his life as everyone’s friend.  In Buddhism, compassion for all sentient beings is the most important attribute we can cultivate.  The Dalai Lama has said, “We can live without religion and meditation, but we cannot survive without human affection.”

Buddha gave different teachings for different kinds of practitioners.  The first was Hinayana, the “lesser vehicle,” which aims at enlightenment to end suffering for the individual.  Of far greater importance today is Mahayana, the “greater vehicle,” where the goal is to reach enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings.  People are naturally drawn to those who fully embody such an ideal.

His Holiness, the Dalai Lama

Though not nearly as well known as the Dalai Lama, Lama Kunga also has the magnetic personality of one who sincerely tries to benefit all other beings.  I hadn’t seen him in almost a year, but at his birthday party, we fell into conversation as if it had been just a week.  We talked about things like Tibetan ways of cooking  potatoes, but I found myself as uplifted as I have been after hearing him speak about subtle points of philosophy.

Some instructors teach with their whole being and not just their words, yet remain very human too.  Lama Kunga is an avid golfer.  In a 2002 interview in Golf Digest he said, “I would like to be reincarnated as a better golfer someday.”  One of his golfing buddies reports that he sometimes uses “colorful sounding phrases in Tibetan” on the course.

When I was a junior in high school, one of my teachers said, “I really think life is only satisfying when we live for something greater than ourselves.”  In the decades since then, the people I’ve most admired lived that ideal.  “Rinpoche” is an honorific that means “precious one,” a title that friends of Lama Kunga know he richly deserves.