do you see who i see?

A young, red-headed boy is seated in a wheelchair. A well-dressed adult male is facing him, bowing awkwardly in an attempt to bring himself to eye level with the boy. We hear their conversation:

Man: My brother, you know, he’s like you.
Boy: (excitedly) He likes motorcycles?
Man: No . . . I meant . . . He has what you have.
Boy: (obviously hurt) That’s my disease. That’s not me.

This young man better get used to it. His disease is neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder for which there is currently no cure. There’s no need to mention his name (Lawrence), since he’ll always be “the guy in the wheelchair.” We do it all the time.

The woman with the limp (not Karen).
The bald man (not Joe).
The Indian woman (not Shirley).
The rich businessman (not Bob).
The homeless woman (not Lisa).
The gay guy (not Michael).

Those of us who’ve been around a while learned long ago that, to most people, we’ll never be simply Pat, Bill, Jenn, Charlie, or Amy. We will always be known primarily by our physical appearance, our jobs, and our societal transgressions.

The blind woman.
The guy with the scarred face.
The black man.
The teacher.
The gal who works at the convenience store.
The guy who did time for a felony..

Many Christians (say they) believe that Christ (or God) is present within each one of us. They quote from the scriptures (John 1:6-9),

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light (Christ), that all men through him might believe. He (John) was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light (Christ), which lights every man (and woman) that comes into the world.

Centuries later, John of the Cross, explained this concept in a truly succinct manner,

To understand this union of which we speak, know that God is present in substance in each soul, even that of the greatest sinner in the world. (The Ascent of Mount Carmel, bk.2, chap. 5)

In other world religions, I have encountered a similar understanding. I have read in Buddhist writings of the Inner Buddha or the Buddha Within. The Dalai Lama is frequently quoted explaining that all sentient beings have the seed of the Buddha within them.

Can it possibly be that when we look into the face of another person, we are seeing the seed and presence of God? Can it possibly be that there is not an exception? Can it possibly be that this holds true for:

  • the sick and the fit?
  • vegetarians and meat eaters?
  • Buddhists, Christians, Jews, and Muslims?
  • Republicans and Democrats?
  • male and female?
  • old and young?
  • saints and rapists?
  • Catholic and Protestant?
  • presidents and prostitutes?

If the Christian scriptures and John of the Cross have it right, as I believe they do, the answer has to be an unequivocal yes. We absolutely have to train ourselves to look into our neighbors’ eyes and see God. Only then can we experience what Jesus spoke of as the sum of all the law and the prophets.

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Can we even begin to imagine what could happen (in ourselves and in our world) if we start training ourselves to look beyond appearances, professions, and misdeeds? Scraping away that first outer layer, we will begin to see Shirley, Mike, Lisa, and Bob. And then, looking even more deeply, we will see the Divine.

I feel like I’m making some slow and weak progress in seeing beyond the outer layers in others. My greatest impediment is my inability or unwillingness to see beyond my own outer layers. It seems like it’s easier to forgive others than it is to forgive oneself. It also seems that forgiving and accepting oneself, acknowledging the seed of God in one’s own soul is a prerequisite to experiencing God in others.

I have quite a few acquaintances connected to religious communities in which the participants practice distinctive dress. One of these acquaintances once explained how he was approached by a stranger with a pointed question, “Are you Amish?”

His reply came simply and without hesitation, “No, I’m David.”

I think he’s on the right track.

Notes

  • The opening dialogue is from the television series, The Guardian (2001), Season 1, Episode 3.
  • John of the Cross actually wrote, “Para entender, pues, cuál sea esta unión de que vamos tratando, es de saber que Dios, en cualquiera alma, aunque sea la del mayor pecador del mundo, mora y asiste sustancialmente.”

© panthera2, 2012.

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attachment

It seems that most major world religions are in agreement on the subject of materialism. Attachment to the temporal things of this world is not good.

There seems, however, to be some divergence when it comes to how much and in what ways we are attached to other people. Having spent most of my life in a Christian milieu, I am accustomed to hearing things from that particular angle. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your enemies. Love one another as I have loved you. Let brotherly love continue. If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. The list goes on and on. (The fact that very, very few people who call themselves Christians actually practice any of this is a subject for another day.)

My way of reflecting on these Christian teachings was recently challenged when I heard a recording of a speech given by the Dalai Lama. Following is an excerpt from that speech that was particularly challenging to me.

I also feel that too much attachment is not good. Sometimes I find that my Western friends consider attachment to be something very important. It is as if without attachment their lives would be colorless. I think we have to make a distinction between negative desire, or attachment, and the positive quality of love that wishes another person’s happiness. Attachment is biased. It narrows our minds so that we cannot clearly see the reality of a situation, eventually bringing us unnecessary problems. Like the negative emotions of anger and hatred, attachment is destructive. We should try to maintain a greater sense of equanimity. That doesn’t mean that we should have no feelings and be totally indifferent. We can recognize that one thing is good and that another is bad. We should then work to get rid of the bad and possess or increase the good. (delivered at Central Park, New York City, 15 August 1999)

The Dalai Lama begins by pointing out a difference between typical Western and Eastern thinking. He seems to be saying that Westerners tend to confuse or unnecessarily entangle love with negative desires and/or feelings of possession. If this is what he’s trying to say, I think he’s right.

Most of the unnecessary problems and pain I have experienced in my life can be attributed to my confusing love with attachment or, worse yet, with possessive control.

What the Dalai Lama is saying is not at all at variance with what Jesus or the Christian scriptures say. [Love] seeks not her own. For if you love them which love you, what reward have you? (Even tax collectors can do that.)

I have to conclude that Jesus and the Dalai Lama are actually in agreement. Love is good. Attachment is harmful.

Love is the heartfelt desire for another person to be happy and free of pain and suffering. One who loves places no conditions or restrictions on his or her love. It is given freely without any expectations of getting something in return.

This sounds good, but I don’t think I can do it. In order to avoid hurting and being hurt, I think I will need to become a recluse.

© panthera2, 2012.