Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Selflessness

My friend Clarissa reminded me of this story:

A man once asked if he could visit heaven and hell.

When he reached hell, he was amazed to find people seated around a huge banquet table. The finest foods were piled high on the table. “What a feast! Perhaps hell wasn’t so bad after all!” he thought.

Then he looked more closely at the diners. They were all starving. You see, each diner had been given chopsticks which were three feet long. There was no way they could carry the food to their mouths with these long chopsticks. No one could eat a bite.

What a hell indeed, to sit so close to a banquet and yet be unable to taste even a bite.

The man was then taken to heaven to observe life there.

To his surprise he saw people seated around a banquet table in exactly the same situation. Each person had been given three foot long chopsticks in heaven, too.

But here, everyone was happily eating the delicious food. The residents of heaven were using their yard long chopsticks to feed each other.

--Chinese parable, courtesy Seeds of Peace, 2002

I've also been talking lately with two young men who are exploring Buddhism. They've been explaining to me the concept of there being no self. I have to admit I was having a hard time wrapping my head around this idea, since I believe that I will always have a sense of self, of individuality, of distinctness, even as I achieve the understanding that we are all one.

But Clarissa's reminder brought me instead to the word "selflessness." This word to me means so much more than just having no self. It includes the concept of not thinking about yourself. And actually, trying to think yourself into having no self is sort of self-focused, isn't it? But not thinking about yourself to the point that you think of others first, in other words, you cease experiencing selfhood because you're so absorbed in working for what would be good for others, to me must be closer to what Buddha meant.

So today I'm thinking about putting others first, before myself. And, even as I was writing this, I got a test. A friend from church called me and said she was unable to attend a scheduled interfaith meeting today, and could I go in her stead? In the frame of mind I had while writing this, I just instantly said yes. I'm now trying not to think about all that I had to do today, and instead to realize that in feeding her, I'm feeding myself, and we're both in heaven.


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1 Comments:

At 9/20/2006 09:49:00 AM, Anonymous redforkhippie said...

I have a book by Thich Nhat Hanh called "Living Buddha, Living Christ" that is very good. It compares Christianity and Buddhism and gives a little different perspective on things. Very good read.

Frankly, I've always thought that the Sermon on the Mount read like a Zen text anyway. And Mrs. Eddy seemed to have a rather Eastern sensibility about things. When I first began wandering back into Science, we were dealing with what normally would have been a very stressful situation, but while my husband was quite spooked about it, I was utterly calm (a complete reversal of our normal dynamic!) and he commented at the time that the citations I was quoting sounded more like Zen Buddhism than Christianity.

I decided that was a rather apt description. When I'm called upon to describe Christian Science to someone who doesn't know anything about it, I say, "OK. Here's the closest I can come to cramming 700 pages of theology into a sentence: It's sort of like Zen Christianity."

Not a perfect description, but I think it kind of gives people the upshot....

 

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