Sunday, May 29, 2011

Prayers 2.0

This post is a promised follow-up to Prayer Pruning: Goodbye Jesus?

It's just a snapshot of a work in progress. Jesus and the Christian God have been edited out. The bodhisattva prayer and vows remain. If Buddhists don't worship a god, one might ask who or what is being prayed to.  Good question. I don't know the answer. For that matter, who is doing the praying? Another good question. Same answer. I don't know.

These are not intended to be an example of what Buddhist prayers should look like. They are just words that have been percolating in my heart for a long time that I wanted to share with you.

As a self bounded by space and time, in gratitude for here and now, to the self that is boundless, I bow.

May wisdom and compassion guide my actions.

May every being that suffers find comfort.

While space and sentient beings exist, may I remain to help relieve their pain.

May every being find me that needs whatever I may have to give. May I find wisdom to know who they are and what to give, the strength and means to give it, and courage when fear holds me back.

I repent the suffering caused by my actions and inaction. May I learn from my mistakes to better serve those in need.

Those who have hurt me, those I resent, and those I fear, I love, forgive and release.

All beings without number, I vow to liberate.
Endless blind passions, I vow to uproot.
Dharma gates beyond measure, I vow to penetrate.
The Great Way of Buddha, I vow to attain.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Ten Commandments Cross-Examination

Courtroom war stories are a bit off the beaten track for this blog, but I couldn't resist sharing this one.

Occasionally people have told me I’m too nice to be a trial lawyer, pointing out that I don’t even eat meat. My standard comeback is “yes, but I do eat lying witnesses...”

I represented a father in a custody dispute with the mother of their young child.  No need to go into details except to say the character of the mother’s new boyfriend was critical.

When she was on the witness stand, she described her boyfriend as being her fiancé. She also testified that he was a very religious person, that he said grace at each meal, and gave Bible readings every day.

Next day, it was his turn to testify.

He was a tall skinny guy with a little beard and very long hair, looking a bit like the caucasian Jesus pictures. He wore his stovepipe jeans tucked into cowboy boots and actually sauntered, I thought rather arrogantly, up the aisle and got into the witness stand.

My cross-examination went something like this:

DA:                 Yesterday your fiancée swore under oath that you are a very religious fellow. Are you?

Witness:         Yes. (What else could he say?)

DA:                 She swore under oath that you say grace at each meal. Do you?

Witness:         Yes.

DA:                 She also swore under oath that you give Bible readings every day. Is that true?

Witness:         Yes. (possibly sensing the paint brush in his hand)

DA:                 So ... what’s your favourite Bible passage?

Witness:         I don’t have to answer that.

Judge:            Yes you do. It’s a fair question.

There was a long pause while the witness stared off into a far corner of the ceiling. Just as I was about to say, “What’s the matter? Can’t you think of one?” he blurted out:

Witness:         The Ten Commandments.

DA:                 The Ten Commandments? That’s your favourite passage in the entire Bible?

Witness:         Yes.

DA:                 OK. I suppose different people have their own preferences. Are you familiar with the book of Exodus, chapter 20, verse 15?

Witness:         No. (dimly sensing paint covering most of the floor)

DA:                 Are you sure?

Witness:         Yes. (feeling his feet get sticky)

DA:                 Well, the Bible is right beside you. Why don’t you read it to us?

Witness:         I don’t have to do that.

DA:                That’s OK, I’ll read it (reaching over to pick up the Bible)

Judge:            Mr. Ashton, what is the passage you intend to read out?

DA:                 Oh, it’s the Ten Commandments, your honour. (The witness, just before losing consciousness, realizes that it isn’t paint on the floor, it’s his blood...)

Footnote: I am not a walking biblical encyclopedia [younger generation: An encyclopedia is an archaic multi-volume set of books with articles on a wide range of topics, something like Wikipedia but way heavier and not updated every second].

It was pure coincidence that I had written on my notepad, “Thou shalt not steal – Exodus 20:15,” and that Mr. Fiancé chose the Ten Commandments as his favourite Bible passage.

I was planning to use that quote in my next line of questions (You believe in the Bible, don’t you? You believe in the Ten Commandments, don’t you? You believe in “Thou shalt not steal”, don’t you? You would never steal, would you?) to set him up for the witness I had waiting out in the hall, a waitress from a local restaurant where he had recently done a “dine and dash”. Since he so obligingly shot his own foot off, I didn’t need to call her, and my client got custody.

I may get struck off the Buddhist blogrolls for knowingly publishing a blog post with no perceptible Buddhist content, but hey, I'm still giddy from surviving the Rapture....

Monday, May 16, 2011

Prayer Pruning: Goodbye Jesus?

Until very recently, except for a short stint as an atheist in my early teens, I considered myself a Christian.

During that stint, I remember our sunday school superintendent telling us he would use logic to prove God exists. Wanting to base his argument on a solid assumption, he asked us to confirm that we all believed in 'good'. I chirped, "Define 'good'," and it went downhill from there. In my late teens, I discovered mysticism, spirituality and Zen Buddhism, and allowed Christianity back into my belief system because I found concepts like "Christ Consciousness" and the Holy Spirit appealing.

In my twenties, because they seemed like the logical things to do at the time, I went looking for a prayer tent and got born again, joined an Anglican church, got confirmed, got on the board of directors of the chaplaincy, and got involved with what used to be the Ecumenical Institute out of Chicago with plans to reform the church.

And then life moved on. By my thirties, all that was left was Zen and being Anglican. And now the Anglican is fading away.

Over the years, like me, my prayers have changed. Always a home-made hodgepodge of standard Christian prayers, Buddhism and various odds and ends, they were seriously due for a re-write. In the process, it struck me that there was only one tangential reference to Jesus Christ in the whole thing. It also struck me that I didn't really have any reason for having Him there at all.

A further thought struck me: inasmuch as the Rapture is scheduled to occur five days from now on May 21, this may be a singularly poor time to edit His Nibs out of my prayers.

Oh well...

God, I don't have a problem with – just not the Christian version.

As James Ford said over at Monkey Mind in Seeking the God Beyond God,

When we start to think of a deity that will fix things, or can, if we move for a second beyond sentimentality, we encounter serious problems. A deity that intervenes for this person but not that, who allows whole populations to starve or be murdered while blessing others is not a god I want to encounter in a dark alley.

I can't relate to a god that we project our human emotions onto, except perhaps love.

I don't want my dear Christian friends to think for a moment that I am disparaging their beliefs. The fact is, I just don't have the strength to hold onto mine.

There is a quality to both life and to the makeup of things that we human beings encounter as wonder, as awe. And for which it is difficult to refrain from naming. It's a human thing. However incomplete that name might be, we feel a deep and real need to try... Probably the best name is no name. Only don't know. Shut up within the presence. It is the place where such distinctions as self and other collapse, where I no longer know I am and you are.

So the revisions proceed. It's too early to say what Prayers 2.0 will look like, but I wanted to share this before anything unpleasant happens on Saturday.

P.S. Here is Prayers 2.0

Sunday, May 8, 2011


Thanks to Nate DeMontigny over at Precious Metal and the 2K11 Article Swap he organized, I'm honoured to host a guest post by TMC who writes a charming blog at Return to Rural, a place I happily frequent.

My life is filled with remarkable women. They’re remarkable in all the ways you’d expect: kind, loving, supportive, determined, concerned. They’re each unique unto themselves, and I feel their love and support in different ways. Their example makes me want to be a better woman myself.

If I had to pick one to model my life on, it’d be my grandmother, my mother’s mother, Georgia Hougaard Davis. She’s 98 now and I’m staying with her and my grandfather, helping around the house and just making sure everyone is safe. It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to spend so much time with my grandmother. She is a classic woman: a dutiful wife, a mother of 5. She’s a modern woman: she graduated college, encouraged by her father, and taught home economics for many years.

Her nature is one of softness and grace, even with all the hooks and snags of old age. Her character is enviable, so sweet and caring, always wondering if people need something to eat or if the beds have enough bedding to keep us comfortable. Ever the lady, she gets up every morning to wash and dress, being sure to include a modest camisole regardless of what type of blouse she’s wearing. It’s simply something that a lady does, she once told me, in not so many words. Grandma’s humor is sharp and witty, playful almost. She makes jokes about her situation, her age (she doesn’t like to be reminded of her age but we all think 98 is pretty amazing), and pokes fun at grandpa.

She’s so amiable as we push and pull her through her day: sit here, grandma; come here, grandma; time to go to bed, grandma. But she doesn’t make any complaints. I hope she knows that we do what we do in her best interest, to keep her moving, to keep a sense of normalcy in her life, a sense of comfort.

Her short term memory is spotty these days. I know she doesn’t remember my name, and I wonder sometimes if she knows I’m her first grandchild. Even if she doesn’t know, her hospitality is unmatched – make yourself at home, what can we get you – without any sense of concern on her part.

My grandmother is a woman among women who’s had the same ups and downs that we all have. But you’d never know that she’d worried a day in her life, such is her cheerful demeanor. Everyone should be so lucky to have this kind of woman in their life. Any of us would be lucky to live up to even half of the invisible bar she’s set. And because of who grandma is, she’d tell any one of us that we can do anything, be anything, go anywhere.

Let us all heed her example and know ourselves well. Let’s not be swayed or feel powerless when we’re overwhelmed. Let us each be grandma’s kind of person for each other.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Some Poems

Puddin' enjoying the absence of the Dogs

Rather than blog about the sadness I feel about the outbreak of festivities at the killing of Osama Bin Laden, I thought I would post a few poems instead.

~   ~   ~

As I contemplate
The cherry tree
Another blossom falls

~   ~   ~

Yellow cedar mill
The scent awakens
My father's workshop

~   ~   ~

Crane fly
Died in the hot shower
I forgot to check

~   ~   ~

Wasting time
Wasted time

~   ~   ~

Through the window
The valley
Gazes back

~   ~   ~

1.  Mind
2.  No Mind

~   ~   ~

Why are my dogs
Happy to see me?

~   ~   ~

You can find other poems at Some More PoemsAnother Batch of Poems and Poems Batch 4.

Just a reminder about the upcoming blogging on May 8.  Nate DeMontigny over at Precious Metal has organized Article Swap 2K11 and paired up volunteers to write guest blog posts.  TMC from Return to Rural will be posting here, and I'll be writing a post for Danny Fisher's blog at Rev. Danny Fisher.

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