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Dealing With Dharma

 In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider; God has made the one as well as the other, so that mortals may not find out anything that will come after them. Ecclesiastes 7:14

The literal meaning of the Sanskrit word, dharma (dar’-mah), is “the law.” It does not mean the law in a dogmatic sense, however. We can break human laws. We can run from the upholders of the law. Through legislation, we can change the law. Dharma refers to a law that we cannot break, run from, or change. Dharma is the law of the moment. It refers to what is, right now. I can choose to be happy, sad, angry, or any of the infinite range of human emotions over the way things are in this moment, but it will not change the dharma – it will not change the situation of the moment. The only control I have over dharma is my response to it.

When we talk about living in the moment, we refer to a state of mind where we are not reliving past experiences, nor are we looking ahead with worry or anticipation over something that may or may not occur in the future. Living in the moment is about being fully present to whatever is occurring in my life right now. Indeed, the current moment is the only one we can actually experience,  even though our attention is usually elsewhere. Remaining in the moment is a perpetual challenge, particularly in the West where our distractions are many.

Dharma is a familiar term in Buddhism and Hinduism. The concept of dharma is not foreign to Christianity, either, but over the past few centuries we have tended to look past it. We (mistakenly) believe ourselves less “victimized” by dharma since we have developed ways to better shelter ourselves from the extremes of the climate and make our lives more comfortable. As more of us have made ourselves safer and more secure from certain of life’s disasters, we have convinced ourselves that there is little that we cannot avoid experiencing, even and especially the present moment. Floods, tornados, hurricanes, forest fires, theft, tsunamis and the like prove differently. We cannot shield ourselves from broken hearts, the loss of loved ones, or the steady decay of our bodies. Our ability to shelter ourselves from some things leads us to believe we can avoid all unpleasantness. Dharma says differently.

In order to deal successfully with dharma we must focus ourselves on the current moment, without dragging any baggage from the past or future. The way things are in this moment is the way things are in this moment, and nothing we do will change that. Changing the moment is beyond our control. Changing our response to the moment, however, is completely under our control, as is making changes in our lives that may help align future moments better with our desires. We are, at best, co-creators of our future moments. That is how we deal with dharma. It is expressed well in the Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

            To change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

The author of the Old Testament wisdom book of Ecclesiastes also speaks of the dharma by  encouraging us to consider that God makes both good days and challenging days, the purpose of which is to keep us from knowing what comes next. As we learn to accept each day and each moment as it presents itself to us and still be thankful, it matters little what comes next. We know there are always blessings and challenges in every moment and getting upset about what is only makes the difficult times that much more difficult. Challenges, like blessings, pass.

Dealing with the dharma is about harmonizing ourselves with reality. It does not mean we accept sub-standard or undesirable conditions, however. It does not mean we cease seeking to better the lives of ourselves and others. It only means we strive to enter each moment deeply and fully, without adding to or subtracting from it. Each moment is sufficient in and of itself. It is about maintaining a sense of equanimity through life’s ups and downs. Every moment passes, for better or for worse. It requires trust that what is is from God, and the knowledge that if it is from God, it will all work together for good. In order to deal with dharma, we must accept – perhaps even enjoy – what we experience moment to moment.

This is the 26th in the series of Life Notes titled, Praying With One Eye Open.

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Life Notes

How Did I Miss That?

Part 12: The Kingdom of Heaven is Near

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe the good news.”

Mark 1:14-15

I do not know how I missed it, but somewhere in my childhood, and reinforced throughout my life, was the concept that heaven and hell were faraway places where we would go after we die. Heaven was somewhere above, and hell was somewhere below. Heaven was a paradise where we would be reunited with long-lost relatives, and hell was a place of eternal punishment where we would go if we did not live a life on earth worthy of heaven.

I believe the church I grew up in perpetuated these images and many churches today do the same. In spite of insisting we are saved by grace, as the apostle Paul proclaimed, there is still an element of needing to earn our salvation present in too many religious discussions. The threat of hell is ever near for those who do not give enough money to the right causes, live an acceptable lifestyle, vote for certain candidates, or regularly attend the right kind of church. Thankfully, many churches recognize an inclusive God. If God is the God of any of us, God is the God of all and is not limited by our imperfect, individual perceptions. But I digress…

The first recorded words of Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, and repeated throughout the Gospels, are that the kingdom of God – heaven – is near. We consistently overlook that reality. For all the speculation about possible states of being after we die, we completely ignore that heaven and hell are present realities in our world right now, today, this moment, and in this place! Speculation about the future comes at the expense of the blessings of the now. Eternity stretches out in all directions from wherever we are at a point in time, and from that point we can experience heaven, or we can experience hell. The choice is ours because we are co-creators with God of the world we experience.

Finding heaven on earth is challenging because there are so many attractive distractions that entice us to look in other directions, like possessions, positions, and power. The earth is a beautiful place with many lovely entertainments. But none of them are eternal. Finding hell on earth, however, is much easier. There are many opportunities to succumb to illness, financial straits, disabilities, loneliness, and broken hearts. When we focus on our suffering – and everyone suffers – we lose another moment in which we could experience heaven. Jesus invites us to repent (turn around) and live the good news.

The kingdom of heaven is near. The kingdom of heaven is here. How did I miss that?

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Life Notes

The Eternity of a Moment

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Luke 1:14-15

Living in the moment is a constant challenge for me. I find reliving memories of the past or dreaming about the future much more compelling. Unfortunately, neither of these activities is productive. In fact, it is downright unhealthy when the past and/or future consume us. The only place where we can act is in the now; this time is where we meet reality. I realize this may sound uncomfortably abstract, but it is actually extremely practical.

If I stand in an open field, tangents emanate on a two-dimensional plane from that point in every direction – north, south, east, west, and everywhere in between. In a truly open field, I can move in any direction I chose and, at least in theory, alter the course of each moment based on my choice of direction. That is not all, however, because we do not live in a two-dimensional world. The tangents emanating from that moment also extend out spherically above and below me. Although I may not be able to travel physically along those paths, I can send a degree of consciousness along them, again altering my momentary experiences. The key to living a moment is in exploring its many secrets.

Every moment presents us with infinite possibilities, the combination of which shape our future realities in both small and large ways. When we choose to focus on the past or future – ignoring the moment – we give up more than we can imagine. In fact, our world becomes imaginary because we cannot actually live in the past or the future. We separate ourselves from those around us. Living in the moment is a conscious choice we must make repeatedly and requires focus and attention. It is much easier for me to allow my focus and attention to wander and, when it does, it wanders back or forward in time. The now, however, is an infinitely richer, safer, and more interesting state in which to exist.

The kingdom of God is always near and available to us from any point in space and at any point in time. It is a matter of whether we choose to enter fully into the moments we are given. Only by being fully present can we experience the nearness of that kingdom. If we are lost in past regrets or day-dreaming of future possibilities, we miss the opportunity. Jesus told us many times that the kingdom of God is near. We will never experience the kingdom until we learn to be fully present to our moments. Only then, will we know and experience the good news of the kingdom.

To be (present) or not to be (present), that is (indeed) the question!

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Life Notes

 

Getting Here

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you. Luke 17:20-21

Several decades ago, I read something that recurs to me regularly. I do not remember who wrote it, but my paraphrase of this memorable line is: “If you cannot find happiness where you are standing, where do you expect to wander in search of it?” The point is that happiness originates from within. People can wander the earth in search of happiness and never find it, because they carry their discontent with them. Abraham Lincoln said, “People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.” If we are unhappy where we are at, we always have all the power required to change our level of contentment without ever leaving. There are obvious exceptions – abusive relationships, for one – but the key to success is in figuring out how to get there without having to leave here.

Jesus taught frequently about the kingdom of God, which he also referred to as the kingdom of heaven. A subtle, but important point contained in Jesus’ words about the kingdom is that he speaks of it in the present tense, not as a future state. There is a lot of confusion about the kingdom of God, and understandably so. I want to propose, however, that when Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven, that he was referring to a state of being available to us right now, right here. It may or may not be a place we go to after we die. It is, however, a state of existence available to us at any time.

In the passage from Luke, above, Jesus says, “the kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed.” There are several interesting parables about the kingdom of God/heaven in Matthew 13:10-50. In Luke 9:27, he says, “There are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” He issues a warning in Matthew 18:3, “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” In John 3:3, Jesus tells Nicodemus, “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Finally, in Mark 4:11, he says, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables.” These are not descriptions of the traditional “heaven” we were taught as children. These tell of a kingdom that is very near, as well as a kingdom accessible to all who follow Jesus – not someday, but today.

In the coming weeks, I encourage you to contemplate the kingdom of God in the present tense – as a present state of being that is always near and available to us. The challenge then becomes how to get from where we are to here?

Come home to church this Sunday. Where are you?

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