"Such Simple Beauty"
- At the Desert Retreat House -
One of the perils of writing a daily blog article is that I am often compelled to use “big words.” It’s hard to talk about abstract and complex concepts like “God,” or faith,” or “spirituality” without using abstract and complex words to help to get some handle on what these ideas may possibly mean.
Yesterday as I read over some past articles I had written over the last few years I realized how often I used the word, “love,” and rightly so, because “love” is at the core of the spiritual path. “God” is “Love,” and the summary of the basic teaching of the Judaeo-Christian tradition is: Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.
But here again, the problem is that the word “love” is another one of those big and abstract words – hard to pin down, hard to get a handle on it.
After all, “love” has so many different meanings and connotations: We say that we love a spouse, or love a boyfriend, we love a buddy, or we love those kids we teach, we love our dogs, or we love a certain flavor of ice cream. We may also say that we love the poor and the needy, some may also say that they love their church; and just exactly what does it mean to talk about our “love” for “God”?
I have noticed that Buddhists rarely (never) use the word “love” when talking about the spiritual path. Instead Buddhists talk about “compassion” as the core direction of the spiritual path, or more simply, they talk about the simple practice of everyday “kindness.”
The word, “kindness” isn’t quite as slippery as the word “love- it’s way easier for me to understand, easier for me to conceptualize what it means to be “kind” as opposed to the much bigger word, “love.”
Any word or deed I may utter or perform in order to promote the good of another is an act of kindness- no matter how big, no matter how small or simple.
A word of thanks to the waiter who did a good job, a word of encouragement to the co- worker who didn’t get an expected promotion, taking a few extra minutes to sit down with a child who feels bewildered by a homework assignment —all acts of kindness, so simple, the kind of stuff any one of us can do at any time and in any place.
Interestingly enough, the word “kindness” shows up in all the literature of all the major world religions. The Talmud declares that acts of kindness are equal in weight to all the commandments. Saint Paul clarifies Jesus’ teaching about love by declaring, love is patient and love is kind and in another place he explains that kindness is one of the fruits of the spirit. The Koran says Allah is kind and loves kindness. And of course, in Buddhism, loving-kindness is a necessary virtue for walking the spiritual path.
As I think about it, it’s probably much easier for me to understand how I might live my life trying to be kinder in my ordinary routine rather than to ponder how I might “love my neighbor as myself,” let alone how I might “love God with all my heart.”
The Dalai Lama puts it this way:
My religion is kindness.
Pretty simple, isn’t it? But, maybe that’s all we really need to know as we walk our “way” through the wilderness of life.