…Spiritual opening is not a withdrawal to some imagined realm or safe cave. It is not a pulling away, but a touching of all the experience of life with wisdom and with a heart of kindness, without any separation. Jack Kornfield
When I call myself a nontheistic thinker, I mark the term in a broader definition than most people. First, nontheism does not take a stand on whether or not higher power(s) created the world. When the debates on science and religion arrive, I tend to think in terms of the individual mind…one thought at a time.
Who am I? What am I thinking? Do my thoughts cause harm to myself and others? Do my actions or deeds create the likelihood of a positive or negative outcome?
Beyond meditation and positive action, my nontheistic view also worries little about past or future lives. Many buddhists speak about negative or positive karma as the reason for everything, but I don’t care to focus on what cannot change the current circumstance. Karma means “to do.” That’s enough for me.
There is a practice in Tibetan Buddhism called Ngondro. Within this practice, I pray to Vajrasattva to remove obscurations from infinite lifetimes before this one. I obviously have an issue concentrating on lifetimes I do not realize, particularly as a person who focuses on the moment instead of past lives.
It is not that I don’t have a view that past lives occur; there seems to be personal evidence I have experienced, albeit subjective. Nevertheless, I practice Vajrasattva for the current moment. I and others have done the worst deeds in this lifetime that, if other previous lifetimes exist, it would not really matter. Horrible things have happened: the holocaust; decimation of Indigenous populations across the globe; other genocides in Rwanda and African countries; U.S. infiltration on foreign countries with a high population of oil; murders in the United States; rapes across the earth; female genital mutilation; the mistreatment of women; destruction of the environment; and poverty we have done nothing to alleviate.
I am not part of all these crimes against humanity and the earth, but I pay taxes that produce many crimes. Also, I know people personally who have experienced the worst suffering in the world. Do I look to the past or look to the present moment of suffering? Either way, there is ultimate suffering and frustration in this world. Therefore, I pray that all beings experiencing the ill effects of present karma or bad situations be free from suffering, but my Buddhist path goes one step further. I not only pray for the victim but also for the perpetrator. Many people prefer the enemy to die, while I ask for a second, third, or fourth chance to provide the enemy with an opportunity to forgive themselves, ask forgiveness from others, and change. (I do not mean the enemy should be walking the streets continuing his or her actions but be placed in prison or rehabilitation programs.)
Beyond mediation, this recent paragraph of ultimate forgiveness aligns with the Jesus movement. How many times does Jesus forgive the sick and oppressed? How many times does he provide an opportunity for even a thief—the guilty man on the cross or even the tax collector Zacchaeus—to change? Forgiveness means we continue to walk toward the progress of human nature instead of condemn it at every turn. We may never enter a better world like a Kingdom of Heaven or a Pure Land in Buddhism, but we have the finest moments NOW to turn this world around one human being at a time.
I am not a murderer. I do not do much of anything except sit in a Starbucks drinking my upper middle class iced coffee, while people in other countries work a small wage to make my seat a happy place. I sit on a leather seat; yes, an animal or two was butchered for my safety and pleasure inside the nice walls of a coffee shop. What is happening NOW around me? When I think from this situation, past regrets dissolve and I have an open world to unravel for the betterment of human kind. I can touch the leather seat here and feel its smoothness. I can think about the cattle industry and connect emotionally not only to the ranchers but also the animals. Suddenly, my heart opens to every condition before me. We never were independent human beings. Interdependence surpasses ego.
I rarely think, “Thank, Zeus, I am human!” This precious human birth or rebirth passes by us quickly before we recognize the limitations.
I recently watched a video by Sam Berns, a 17-year old student suffering from Progeria, a disease causing a person to age quickly. At seventeen, he looks like he is seventy. He is already dead, but the video captures his place in the world. He focuses on his friends and family. He plays in the band and finds the best solutions to play a drum that weighs the same as he. He even views comic books as meaningful time to spend on this rare earth. In other words, he makes joy in many moments of his life without living by the wounds of his disease.
We are all diseased in one form, but why are we waiting for heaven or a pure land to take away the pain? Isn’t there a pure reason why we have this moment even if it means sitting down on the grass and watching the ants build their hill of protection?
Let’s wake up to this present moment and make the world a better place. Let’s not wait until the so-called afterlife or rebirth to channel the kingdom of heaven.
Is the kingdom of heaven near us? Yes, but we must manifest its myth or relevance right now in this lifetime!