The book selection for my spirituality book club is a book about the life and teachings of Gautama Buddha, Old Path White Cloud by Thich Nhat Hanh. It is not a well written book, in my opinion. It is written simply as though for children. Buddha comes off as a bit too perfect and a bit too honored for my taste in heroes. I stuck it out because the book club members stuck it out.
In spite of my criticism of the book as a piece of literature, I have to admit that it has helped me understand buddhism more than any book I have read to date. (I guess that says something about what it takes for me to understand something…put it in child’s terms). This morning I read about a teaching the Buddha gave to a king who in his old age was suffering from severe anxiety. Having searched for solace in many other philosophies and expressions of faith, the king asked the Buddha this question: “What kind of fruit does the (buddhist) spiritual life bear that hundreds, even thousands, abandon their homes to pursue it?” (I thought to myself, “What a great question! I wonder how many would ask this same question of Christians?” I don’t think that Christianity is still attracting people as it did in the beginning…but, maybe that might stir a similar question: “What kind of fruit does the current Christian spiritual life bear that hundreds, even thousands, abandon it to pursue other paths?”
Okay, I started going down a road I hadn’t intended. I really want to share with you the Buddha’s answer to the king’s question. He named seven fruits. I will share only the seventh because it has relevance to a question I asked of myself the other day. It came up in a previous blog. (See February 28, “Mother Teresa and Political Involvement”) There I revealed that I am finding myself in a new kind of relationship with politics. The seventh fruit that Buddha shared with the king is that a follower “regards all dharmas (various teachings, ideologies, truths, religious practices, etc.) with complete equanimity, without fear or worry. He rides the waves of birth and death in order to (help others) free themselves from the maze of desire, hatred, and ignorance.” A few sentences later he says, “(Followers) do not engage in partisan politics but contribute to the building of peace, joy, and virtue in society. The fruits of his spiritual practice are not for the (follower’s) sole enjoyment and benefit. They are the people’s and the country’s inheritance.”
I am not sure this reading has brought me to some kind of final resting place, but it does make me feel better about pulling away from political and religious wrangling. It brings me back to what I’ve heard over and over again from my many spiritual heroes, especially Jesus…changing the world begins with changing one’s heart. Then, as one goes about one’s assigned life…the changing of others is a miracle that happens like throwing yeast into a bowl of dough.