"Francis of Assisi"
- in my meditation garden -
Yesterday as I read about some of the backlash to Donald Trump’s recently ludicrous comments about Mexican immigrants being rapists, it occurred to me that, if he really meant what he said, he and I are essentially walking on opposite paths as we travel this journey of life. We may live in the same country, breathe the same air, perhaps share some common national heritage, but in reality we are walking in opposite directions.
I often talk about respecting and learning from one another’s different but parallel spiritual paths; but I also believe that not all paths are spiritual paths, not all paths are parallel, leading in the direction of more abundant life, deeper truth and greater wisdom. Some paths through life lead to a dead-end, to a wasteland of loneliness, destruction and human degradation
When I look at the teaching of Jesus and study the parallel sayings of the Buddha and other wisdom teachers like him, it is pretty clear to me that, while they came from different places and lived in different times in history, they all pointed to basically the same direction and likewise guided their followers away from a path “not” to be followed on the road to more abundant life.
Jesus talked about living “in the world” but not being “of the world.” He told his followers that while we inevitably live in a culture of “empire” where the rich dominate the poor and the mighty crush the weak, we should not “conform” our lives to the values of that culture and should walk in an opposite direction: respecting the dignity of every human being, showing compassion and mercy to all, and working for a just society.
In similar fashion the Buddha talked about the three “poisons” that corrupt and destroy human beings. He pointed his followers away from the poisonous path of greed, told them to avoid the road of hatred and revenge and to keep off the path of ego – avoid living in the delusion that you are separated from or better than other beings. He pointed instead toward a path of enlightenment, an awareness that all being is interconnected, and that the way to abundant life is paved with compassion, forgiveness, simple living and caring for the needs of others.
Every day I browse the social media, talk to people online, watch the news and read the papers, and I become more and more aware of the opposite directions so many of us travel as we journey through life.
For some, greed is good, forgiveness is a sign of weakness, all foreigners are malicious, power over others is the ultimate goal in life, along with collecting and hording as much as you possibly can. Others choose mercy, self-sacrifice, forgiveness and reconciliation, simplicity of life, sharing their resources for the welfare of the common good.
The two directions could not be more opposite and they do not all lead to the same destination.
Some people set their life-compass going north and others head south, and while everyone may stray from their chosen path, no one can walk in both directions at the same time. So, we all have to make some fundamental choices about what way we want to go.
In my meditation garden a likeness of one of my favorite spiritual heroes hangs on the wall- Saint Francis of Assisi. Every day when I gaze on his image, I think of it more as a compass than a picture of somebody who lived a long while ago. The direction toward which he set the course of his life was toward the “way” of Jesus - in the direction of the path of the Buddha.
The well-known and often-quoted “Prayer of Saint Francis” is perhaps one of my all time favorite poems because it so clearly spells out not only the direction he chooses to follow but the opposite path he chooses to avoid:
Lord make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there s despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Every morning I wake up and I am faced with choices about the road to travel. I look at that “spiritual compass” Francis holds up for me hanging on my wall, and I decide once again to walk the way of peace.