Mindfulness

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First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Kent H. Little
January 06, 2019
Scripture: Matthew 6:25-34
Sermon: “Mindfulness”

My initial interest in Buddha and Buddhism came shortly after I had finished seminary as I attended a lecture at a church in Wichita, KS. I heard a member of the church there speak of a retreat he had been on with the Buddhist Monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. This member and the pastor of the church at the time mentioned the teacher’s writings and books. Thay, as his students call him, writes simply but his teachings and writings at first read seem simplistic almost juvenile, that is until one begins to actually attempt to put them into practice on a daily basis, then they are much deeper and much more difficult to practice let alone master.

As I read his books, Going Home, Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, and Living Buddha, Living Christ, as well as Being Peace I could see the way he blended the teachings of Buddhism with Christianity and the links between the two. They were linked not only in wisdom and word but in style as well. There are some theories that suggest perhaps during the years of Jesus’ life we know nothing about, he traveled to Asia and learned about other religions from teachers and mystics.

It would be later in my journey with this stream of thought I would encounter another instrumental on my journey. In the small south-central Kansas town where we lived a new doctor was welcomed into the community. She was from India originally and as you can imagine in small rural town America, the rumor she was Hindu arrived before she did. After she had been there for some time her parents came to visit from India and her father invited me over to her house one afternoon for tea. We met and talked of all kinds of things, life in India, life in small town U.S.A., we talked of religion and practice. As I was leaving Bebe held up a finger and said, “Just a moment.” He disappeared into a hallway and came back holding a well-worn book. It was small, I compared it to one of those Gideon New Testaments many of us received when we were young. It was his personal Gita, the Hindu Scriptures, obviously in its small state it was not the whole of the Gita, but a portion of it. He said to me, “Take this with you and read it, then we will get together and you can tell me what you think.”

I took it home and, in a few days, I had it read through. I got online and did some research about Hinduism and the Gita and discovered it was written around 800 B.C.E. I learned as well that the Buddha was originally Hindu and he left in search of deeper understanding and enlightenment. I called Bebe and we set a time to have tea once again. I returned his Gita to him and he asked, “So, what did you think.” I told him I enjoyed it very much and found it very interesting. I said to him I was struck by the parallel sayings I found with Christianity, and that I was struck because the Gita was written some 800 years before Jesus arrived on the scene. I remember he smiled and looked at me intently and said, “That surprised you?” I said, “Yes, a little.” He said, “It doesn’t surprise me.” I replied, “Say more.” He looked deeply at me and said, “You believe Jesus was God’s son?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “So do I.” He went on, “I also believe Krishna was God’s son.” And then he smiled and again a gestured with his hand, “Same root.”

That statement resonated so much with me, still does, I carry that image with me to this day, standing in the kitchen of my friends home with her father, I can still see the morning light through the windows, still smell the Chai, still see his smiling face, and hear his voice… “Same root.”…truth is truth no matter where you find it. It was a bit like someone switched on a light for me. A realization, a connection, and awareness of our common humankind and search for something deeper and larger than we are; a journey in common.

For me, as I think of that experience and this new sermon series it was about being aware, mindful if you will, of that moment. Not a looking ahead in terms of what it might hold in the future and not a looking back wondering why I had not thought of this before… but a peace that dwelt in that moment.

Thich Nhat Hanh writes in Living Buddha, Living Christ of mindfulness when he says, “In Buddhism, our effort is to practice mindfulness in each moment – to know what is going on within and around us.” He goes on to say, “Most of the time, we are lost int eh past or carried away by future projects and concerns. When we are mindful, touching deeply the present moment, we can see and listen deeply, and the fruits are always understanding, acceptance, love, and the desire to relieve suffering and bring joy.”

As I consider this first Sunday in our conversation about the connections between the teachings of Jesus and Buddha, I tend to find Mindfulness as the foundation of what we are doing. It is one of the reasons I placed it first in the series. In the Eight-Fold Path of Buddhism, which we will be following through this series, Right Mindfulness, Intention, Action, Speech, Livelihood, View, Meditation, and Effort… I don’t know that Buddhism would necessarily place Right Mindfulness at the root of the other seven or not, but I certainly believe there is something to that consideration. Without this depth of being away, the other elements of the path, to me, seem impoverished. To be aware within and without… all that is going on around us…is crucial to the practice of Buddhism, and I would argue Christianity… and to be aware of those things without the distraction of the past or the future, in other words, aware right here, right now… in this moment is key to understanding who we are and to what we are called in our lives of faith and practice.

In his book, Without Buddha I Could not be a Christian, Paul Knitter also speaks to this notion when he writes, “Mindfulness sets the stage, and then becomes the stage, for the practice of meditation. [Because we are aware of] what is going on in our body, our feelings, our mind, and in the objects of our mind, which are the world.” And I would argue, this stage mindfulness becomes is the stage not only for meditation but all the connections of practice we will be discussing over the next many weeks.

To be mindful in the present moment is to hold all things in the here and now. Because of that, especially with Buddhism, there is no judgment, and even with those whom one disagrees there is compassion for them as it can be seen as suffering and this moment is what it is, so we embrace even that which causes us to struggle in an effort to relieve suffering and bring joy. Knitter quotes Pema Chodron another Buddhist teacher in this practice of present moment mindfulness when she writes, “Really face, don’t ignore or run from, what is going on in you or around you. Face it in all its beauty or ugly detail. Be kindly toward it, even embrace it. Hold it gently and lovingly, not necessarily because it is good as it may be, but because it is there. And then having faced whatever fact or feeling is there, having accepted and embraced it, release it. Let it go.” “Right Mindfulness, Knitter writes, prevents us from being hijacked by our emotions or opinions.”

In this sense, Right Mindfulness, is not just a being aware of all that is within and surrounding me, being mindful empowers me to know, this moment is what I have, it is all any of us have, and while the Buddha, or Buddhism may not use this word…in that is grace and it gives us the capacity and empowers us to share compassion even with the most difficult of situation or person. “Our life, the Buddha says, is shaped by our mind, for we become what we think.”

There is something of this in the teaching of Jesus we read this morning from Matthew. Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. (Worry is fueled by regret of the past and living in the unknown of the future.) Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” But strive first for the kingdom of God. (The Kingdom of God is now… it is here and now… we already live in the kingdom of God and it is within you.) Thich Nhat Hanh writes in his book, Going Home, Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, “You don’t have to die in order to enter the Kingdom of God. It is better to do it now when you are fully alive. IN fact, you can do it only when you are fully alive. The practice is to recognize that the Spirit is here, God is here, the other dimension is here, available: “Thy Kingdom Come.” In fact, the Kingdom doesn’t have to come and you do not have to go to it; it is already here. There is no coming, no going.” That is the language of Buddhism.” And I would posit it is the language of Jesus, should be the language of Christianity, the language of this teaching we read this morning. Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (In other words, I don’t believe Jesus or Buddha would say to ignore the troubles of our day, but rather to stay in this moment… mindful of this moment, because this moment is all one can affect. Knitter would say, for Buddhists, for us, if we could manage to do this depth of mindfulness…things would ultimately take care of themselves.

So, all this mindfulness, what do we do with it? How do we practice in a way that brings compassion, alleviates suffering, and promotes joy? Pay attention. Don’t be overwhelmed by the troubles of the world. Be aware. Be awake. Embrace the other, even when they seem unembraceable…Embrace the other, even when we feel unembraceable. When there are those who wish to build walls of division and bigotry, find a way in this moment to begin building a bridge of understanding and conversation. When there are those whose blustery arrogance drowned out your voice in this moment, listen more and speak less. When injustice and hypocrisy forget the least of these, use your voice to stand with those who are diminished. When power says it can do whatever it wants just because it can, use the power of love to rise up and resist an environment built on vitriol, fear, and lies. Know what is going on within you. Know what is going on surrounding you. Be Awake. Be Mindful of All. Be Compassion and Peace in the World. Here. Now. May it be so. May it be so.

Salaam, Shalom, Peace be With You.

Knitter, Paul F. (2010), Without Buddha I Could not be a Christian, One World Publications, Oxford, England
Knitter, Paul F. (2010), Without Buddha I Could not be a Christian, One World Publications, Oxford, England
Hanh, Thich Nhat ((1999), Going Home, Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, Penguin Putnam Press, New York