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Friday, March 6, 2009

The Global Return of the Prodigal Son? – CREDO LX

Hopefully, we are all familiar with the parable of the son who asked his father for his share of inheritance and went forth and blew it all on material joys, went broke, and finally came home, ashamed and desperate. If not, look it up!

Sociologists tell us that for humans to survive they need the basic material things of food, water, and shelter. True, but what they fail to mention is the intangible meaning in and of life. This begs the question of poverty’s symbolic connection to wisdom. In the cosmic drama of history, all the spiritual teachers demonstrated this in the stories concerning their lives. The point here is that many people reject such stories as myths or fairy tales and fail to understand that these are not intended to be taken literally but are profoundly true for our inner psyche or soul. They conceal the gift of wisdom and, even scoffers must admit, have endured for centuries to help us in time of need. As we approach the Christian story of the Nativity and the Jewish story of Hanukah, we can see clearly that both are stories involving need. Joseph and Mary welcome new Life in the simplicity of a stable surrounded by animals (nature) and angels (spiritual messengers) and the Light of a star. Hanukah celebrates the miracle of the seven days of enduring oil for Light, which saved them in their time of need and is symbolized today by the Menorah candlestick. Pagans celebrated the Winter Solstice when the Sun’s Light lengthens day by day to return life to a seemingly dead and frozen world. It still does. Take comfort, the solar system is still running on time!

Gautama Buddha, five hundred years before Jesus, was a king’s son, restricted by his father to the palatial grounds because of a prediction that he would become either a great king in turn or a great leader of souls. The restriction didn’t work! Miraculously, as a youth Buddha encountered a poor person, a sick one, and a dying one. Shocked with compassion, he escaped and went into several years of extreme privation and search for wisdom. We could add a host of others including St. Francis and, in our recent memory, Gandhi, who was influenced by our own Thoreau’s pragmatic twist to Hindu philosophy in his essay “Civil Disobedience” and his own personal practice of non-violent protest, ahimsa. Gandhi, in turn, having read Thoreau as a young Hindu in South Africa, went on to liberate all of India from the British without firing a shot, which impacted Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. Good things can happen to change the world. In the last two thousand years monks and nuns have sought out poverty as the price to pay for spiritual insight. Today, hopefully we may not have to go to such extremes, but we need to distinguish that money is not the root of all evil but “the love of money,” which is the correct quote. With it comes the trio of oogy witches: Greed, Lust, and Power, trailed, I suspect, by a small demon called Scoffing!

Turning to our own times, think also of the number of false gurus who have been hypocrites, such as Swaggart, Bakker, and even the Hindu Rajneesh, all felled by the above! And there are many others. We should not condemn them, because their subsequent suffering has helped us realize a few things. Now, in the last two months we have the pitiful and shocking revelations of Blagojevich, and Bernard Madoff’s $50,000,000,000 swindle! All this on top of the global financial meltdown, the result of greed. What profiteth a man if he gain the world and lose his soul thereby? Surely, we can see the connection to the Prodigal Son. Humanity has been given a lovely earth with wisdom concealed in plain sight within nature and our own bodies; Teachers down through the ages, who spoke in different cultures, have given us spiritual advice, and yet we have wasted so much of our planet, polluted it with plastic and toxic concoctions, and spread it down through history with corpses, the results of destructive wars, crime, diseases, and mindless torture and terrorism. No wonder people are turning to the escapism of drugs! As William James remarked, they are the poor man’s way to mysticism or an unconscious search for meaning.

So what is the solution? For me personally, at 86, it is the certainty that soon I will have to leave every thing I treasure in this world behind! But I am blessed by the wealth of intangibles I have received to carry over. Death is a great reminder. I have learned that its antonym is birth, not Life, which encircles both.

But for most of you reading this, the solution is all there and happening but perhaps unrecognized. We are waking up! We are recognizing the importance of spiritual values. Many even of the wealthy are not just giving away their money but devoting their personal lives to serve others, such as Bill Gates and his wife, Bono, numerous successful actors, Al Gore, and Obama, to name a few of the famous, but there are also countless people all over the world who are reaching out to help others and to save our planet. The real challenge may well be to stop thinking that there is only one right religion, namely mine, and see that the Teachers themselves all agreed that the Light that comes is there to light every living being and is hidden in every atom in the manifest world. It even has a name: LOVE.

As His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, puts it within all our reach: My only religion is kindness. Perhaps that is the way we prodigals can come home.


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