“Expanding on Love: The Practice of Giving and Receiving” by Rebecca Wheaton

August 15, 2021

May the reflections of my heart and the meditations of my soul be acceptable to this community and to the Holy Spirit. Thank you to Seekers for honoring and respecting that everyone here has an important role to play and voice to share. Please know that my relationship with Christ is very much alive in me. I came to Seekers Church from a Presbyterian-Methodist-Quaker and ultimately Tibetan Buddhist background. I always felt that Buddhism answered many questions and posed new horizons not met through previous Christian education. In addition to my devotion for the Buddha as a teacher, I have always felt that his teachings brought me closer to Jesus. As a healer, I want to know how Jesus healed and how his relationship with God was so open and vast. There have been a few times in my life when through the power of prayer, I have experienced the Holy Spirit enter my body, transmuting any sense of self-cherishing for a few moments. I believe Jesus lived and breathed selflessness. Both Christ and Buddha embody selflessness and perfect love, they are both my teachers and am sure they would have gotten along as brothers had their paths crossed in real time.

The title of my sermon is: Expanding on love & the practice of giving and receiving. There are two meditations in this sermon. The first is that our inherent nature is always good and saturated by love. The second is a reflection on Jesus’ ability to heal through taking on negativity and offering pure love.

So, let us start by releasing and relaxing our mind. As you take the next 5 deep breaths, please see the inside of your body as a wide, open sky. If any thoughts travel into your sky-like mind, simply label it as a cloud, a bird, a thought… and let it go. Focus on the sky, open, vast and blue. Your sky-like mind is a perfect container for love. Do you see? The foundation of your mind is perfect, like the sky.

Why do we find it so challenging to enter into wide abundant love and peace when it is readily available to us? We possess an innate ability to connect to this Universal openness and love as it is the very nature of our mind stream. Let us consider what stops us from being with our innate openness and love the way we seek to. My Buddhist teacher, Sogyal Rinpoche writes about “four faults” that inhibit us from understanding our God-like nature or Rigpa (Unborn Natural Awareness): 1) Our Nature of Mind is too close, like our own face we cannot see it without a mirror, 2) It is too profound, like the great outer space, it is unfathomable how deep or wide it is, 3) it is too easy, by letting go of any and all judgements and relaxing in silence we may very easily know it 4) it is too wonderful to fathom that we are indeed such vastly immense beings of peace and beauty.

A few months ago when I signed up to preach, I was both inspired by the subject of the Holy Trinity as well as feeling moved to share about how the Holy Spirit was showing up for me at that particular moment. With so much divisiveness around COVID & the vaccine coupled with the ongoing racial, ethnic & gender-based violence and discrimination here in the US and the political instability in Nicaragua were driving my mind to a crisis point and that afternoon I found myself calling out for help!  The voice that came said:

“What is the bottom line here? Remember what you know and fill your mind with gratitude and clarity of heart! In this space of natural great peace, there is only great love.”

As I continued to contemplate the phrase “bottom line”, I participated in a gratitude walk with a coworker, a regular practice we do at staff meetings. On these walks, we usually share about the blessings in our lives surrounding family, nature, friends and work.  I said to my friend Lakeeyata: “I am grateful for my teachers. They have opened my mind to the wisdom of Space within which all is contained. I am grateful to know that this invisible aspect of our daily life is the source from which everything arises. I am grateful for the cognizance and compassion that pervades that space, making it possible to honor each other and practice kindness.  This great peace and great love is in us right now; it pervades all that we are and the entire phenomenal world. The openness of Space reminds me of the Holy Spirit, the Cognizant Nature like the Holy Father of knowing and the Compassionate Energy like the manifestation of Christ that came to help us know God…a Holy Trinity. To meditate like this fills my heart with contentment.” She and I both entered into deep peace together at that moment.

The bottom line here is that we embody perfection. We have a God-like nature. It is from this perspective that we can confess our misdeeds, and grapple with the clouds that obstruct a pure view of what we truly are. If we can accept that our original nature is always good, then whatever mediation we practice or skillful act we accomplish will come from a place of pure heart and mind. 

Now we turn to the life of Jesus. Jesus as seeker, Jesus as prophet, Jesus as healer.

My father was a preacher and devotee of the prophets and Prophetic Word. One central theme that I always recall him mentioning about the prophets and their work was that:  “The prophets were embodiments of living truth who listened directly to God and never followed traditional patterns of thinking.” He would speak of prophets from Biblical times and the prophets of modern day as if they were coexisting together throughout history. That they were all arising or “flowering” from the same source and for the same purpose just at different times. His emphatic pushing me to see Jesus as a real person, which is also the “Good News” in Buddhism, that we are all capable of great love and healing, was perhaps his contribution to turning me into a faithful and devout Buddhist! The main thread of Jesus as a prophet and a healer that I want to emphasize today was his mastery of taking on all defects, sins, confusion and sickness of others onto himself and radiating, exuding sustenance and healing.

Jesus was proclaiming that his body and blood were real food and drink. That to consume these elements would lead to salvation. To eat his flesh and drink his blood, substances blessed by the Holy Spirit, promised total mental and spiritual freedom. Similarly on the cross he said “I have died (offering this body and flesh) so that others may be freed and cleansed of their sins.” Here I am inspired to think 2 things: Firstly, what perfect compassion! Taking in the sins of others and allowing their consumption of his body to purify all sins! The second thought I have is: He may be able to do that but not me!  Normally we practice holding onto that which helps us feel secure, safe and comfortable and try to let go of any negativity in ourselves or our environment. Usually our focus is to take in all the good into us and dispel all the bad. This mindset is the basic building block of the ego. Maintaining aversion for that which does not bring me satisfaction and doing all I can to bind myself to the joys and pleasures I desire. Even in the realm of modern-day meditation practices, we are often taught to breathe in all that is positive and breathe out all that is negative.

My friends, Jesus, the prophet, the healer, did the opposite. He practiced bringing all suffering onto himself and offered to others perfect healing. Can we practice this kind of exchange? Can we consciously pull in the dark, murky, stickiness of the world and let go of all the wealth, light, beauty and riches that we possess for the benefit of all mankind? We might ask: Why should I take in negativity (take on the sins of the world) and give away my happiness to others? What will happen to ME if I take in such darkness and aggression? Won’t I be harmed? The Buddhist teachings on this point are extremely clear: the only thing that can ever be harmed in this kind of exchange is the one thing tying us again and again to the chains of suffering: our ego-centered grasping and attachment. Jesus’ ability to heal arose from a non-conceptual, non-dual space of pure knowing, perfect faith, utter devotion and connection to the Holy Source and immense compassion and love for all people. Now, I am going to make a suggestion that is not new but is perhaps a bit controversial because interfaith dialogue is never easy but I suggest that it can lead to a richer relationship with Christ if we let it. Christ had mastered an ancient Buddhist practice called Tonglen: The exchange of taking in malevolent energy and exuding light and healing through the breath.

There are innumerable theories about where Jesus went and what influences there were in his life during the famous “Lost Years” between the ages of 12-30. What other wise and holy people could he have been studying and practicing with that could have catapulted him from an inquisitive and knowledgeable 12-year-old boy to the prophet that cured the lame and removed the sins of the world?

One theory is that Jesus was exposed to the teachings of Buddhism and that his philosophy came from combining elements of Buddhism with Judaism. While that may be very hard to believe when considering the teachings of the modern Christian Church there is some evidence to support it. For example, historians know Buddhism was being taught in Judea around the time of Christ and that it has been newly introduced there. Also, ancient sculptures, artifacts and other relics of Buddha found in regions of Northern Pakistan from the time of Christ points to the potential spread of Buddhism close to the Middle East. Other types of artifacts such as coins and pottery suggest there was ample travel and sharing of goods and inevitably ideas, between the Middle East and into India at that time.

What could have been some of the practices that were introduced to Jesus if he had come into contact with Buddha’s disciples? The common ground amongst Buddhists and Christians is silent meditation and radical compassion.  I would entertain that if and when Jesus learned of a healing practice such as Tonglen, with an active intention to support the dissolution of ego-clinging, he must have been overjoyed. The basis of Tonglen is to first recall that we have a fundamentally awakened nature that is always good. Second, we draw into ourselves whatever chaotic, sick, dreadful circumstances that are plaguing the life of someone close to us or even someone we have never met, this includes all animals and any external or internal environments. Then we breathe out to that same being all satisfaction, love, understanding and wish for their suffering and aliment to be completely dissolved. Doesn’t that sound like what Jesus was doing?

Let us take a few minutes to practice Tonglen together.

Please pray with me: Dear God, may we all recognize that our inherent nature is open and loving; that it is always good. Please bring someone to mind who is close to you and that needs your help right at this moment. This person could be yourself. Now imagine that as you inhale, all their discomfort and pain of any kind leave them and be absorbed into you. This heavy energy strikes your ego-centered clinging in the center of your heart. As you exhale, any and all love, joy and positive circumstances exude out from you and touch that person, filling them with great relief, joy and health!

As we continue to breathe, let yourself imagine what Jesus felt as he masterfully practiced the taking on of all pain and injustice and filling the world with the love of God. Continue to repeat this breathing a few more times and then trust that whomever was the beneficiary of your love received it and that all your aspirations for them will be accomplished.

God lives in us. Their nature is our nature, we can trust that and move forward as we prepare each day and as we get ready to transition from this life. Jesus knew that we are far more divine than we can accept. Please take this good news that you are both perfect and also have a lot of work left to do and spread your bounty to others as widely and often as possible. AMEN

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