Intention and Disconnect

Intention and Disconnect

Advent 15

 

One cannot approach the concept of grace either objectively or subjectively without including the religious community.  Indeed, many do not even attempt to define the concept of grace outside of a religious and theological construct.  I have asked you to consider it a form of living but today we will discuss it not as an inevitable part of one’s spirit of living but as it relates to organized religion and its followers.  Why?  Because often the religions of the world have become stumbling blocks to grace, especially when seen through a subjective lens which is our perspective in discussing grace this week. 

 

Beyond Intractability was developed and is still maintained by the University of Colorado Conflict Information Consortium. The missions of the Consortium and, more specifically, the Beyond Intractability project reflect the convergence of two long-standing streams of work. The first is an exploitation of the unique abilities of Web-based information systems to speed the flow of conflict-related information among those working in the field and the general public. The second is an investigation of strategies for more constructively addressing intractable conflict problems — those difficult situations which lie at the frontier of the field.

 

We will begin our discussion with a quote from the Beyond Intractability website:  “At the dawn of the twenty-first century, a casual glance at world affairs would suggest that religion is at the core of much of the strife around the globe.  Often, religion is a contentious issue. Where eternal salvation is at stake, compromise can be difficult at or even sinful. Religion is also important because, as a central part of many individuals’ identity, any threat to one’s beliefs is a threat to one’s very being. This is a primary motivation for ethno-religious nationalists.  … However, the relationship between religion and conflict is, in fact, a complex one. Religiously-motivated peace builders have played important roles in addressing many conflicts around the world.

 

“Although not necessarily so, there are some aspects of religion that make it susceptible to being a latent source of conflict. All religions have their accepted dogma, or articles of belief, that followers must accept without question. This can lead to inflexibility and intolerance in the face of other beliefs. After all, if it is the word of God, how can one compromise it? At the same time, scripture and dogma are often vague and open to interpretation. Therefore, conflict can arise over whose interpretation is the correct one, a conflict that ultimately cannot be solved because there is no arbiter. The winner generally is the interpretation that attracts the most followers. However, those followers must also be motivated to action. Although, almost invariably, the majority of any faith hold moderate views, they are often more complacent, whereas extremists are motivated to bring their interpretation of God’s will to fruition.  Religious extremists can contribute to conflict escalation. They see radical measures as necessary to fulfilling God’s wishes. Fundamentalists of any religion tend to take a Manichean view of the world. If the world is a struggle between good and evil, it is hard to justify compromising with the devil. Any sign of moderation can be decried as selling out, more importantly, of abandoning God’s will.”

 

Manichean may be a word unfamiliar to you but its meaning is how many people view the world and try to live their lives.  Manichean comes from the word Mani, which is the name of an apostle who lived in Mesopotamia in the time frame of 240 ACE, who taught a universal religion based on what we now call dualism. If you believe in the Manichean idea of dualism, you tend to look at things as having two sides that are opposed. To Manicheans, life can be divided neatly between good or evil, light or dark, or love and hate.

 

In other words, in an attempt to live their doctrines of peace and love, people tend to think with a narrow field and view the world as either black or white.  Human beings are complex creatures and no one is one-dimensional.  In other words, no one person is all anything.  In our intention to live a doctrine of love and peace, we allow our subjective narrowness to trip us up.

 

To be certain, some things are either right or wrong.  You cannot murder someone halfway.  A person is either killed or alive.  However, the quality of life then comes into question and such is often what leads people to commit suicide.  Rather than offer grace, their expectations, based upon their belief system, suffocates any grace they might find.

 

So should we assume religion is the problem and not the answer?  Absolutely not!  Religions tend to connect us and remind us of that which we are deep inside.  They are, I believe, most necessary to life.  Religions offer us ways to show, recognize, and live grace.  Life is hard but grace makes it not only possible but worthwhile. 

 

Quoting David Smock, the Beyond Intractability website offers one solution to consider in finding grace amid all this conflict and discord.  “Religion is inherently conflictual, but this is not necessarily so. Therefore, in part, the solution is to promote a heightened awareness of the positive peace building and reconciliatory role religion has played in many conflict situations. More generally, fighting ignorance can go a long way. Interfaith dialogue would be beneficial at all levels of religious hierarchies and across all segments of religious communities. Where silence and misunderstanding are all too common, learning about other religions would be a powerful step forward. Being educated about other religions does not mean conversion but may facilitate understanding and respect for other faiths.”

 

We all have intentions and the faith-based communities of the world are no different.  However, when need to give closer attention to our efforts and revitalize them every day.  Grace might very well be the key to world peace and it certainly makes each of our lives better.  Rather than being the problem, grace is the answer.

 

 

 

 

Then and Now

Then and Now

Pentecost 130

Probably the simplest reason the mythologies of the past are still stories that are retold today is that mankind has changed very little.  We certainly live in different conditions, most of us.  While there are some cultures that remain much as they were hundreds of centuries ago, much of the world lives with modern conveniences such as electricity, which provides comfortable environments that include heating and cooling.  We now prepare out foods with fancy gas or electric stoves and ovens and even those who cook their food over a grill do so with intricate barbecue systems.  The mixing of milled grains with water and then cooked over a hot stone as bread once first prepared has become gourmet fire-baked pizza.  The smoking of meats to preserve them has led to worldwide grill master competitions.  And yet, our basic human condition remains unchanged.  We still feel pain and joy, are overly concerned with appearances, become angry and jealous, and fail to realize our blessings when we receive them.

The Ramayana is one of two Hindu epic mythologies and it contains approximately fifty thousand lines of verse written in Sanskrit.  It is thought to be the compilation of both written and oral traditions gathered by the poet Valmiki somewhere around 200 BCE.  The central character is the seventh avatar of the god Vishnu, Rama.  I listed these avatars two days ago and, if you remember, there are a total of nine.  While the legends in each of the seven books of the Ramayana are about Rama and his earthly life, the core narrative is about Rama’s love for Sita, a very beautiful and virtuous princess.

Rama might have been the earthly presence of the god Vishnu but he had some very human characteristics.  His purpose is virtue and yet, he was flawed.  Like many who find themselves attached to the dream mate, their ideal here on earth, Rama suffered from jealousy.  Jealousy is much more about the person who has it than the object which has caused it.  It says that the jealous person has little confidence in their own worth.  Rama’s jealousy, as does most, is illustrated by many serious suspicions.

Rama is also more concerned with appearances than happiness – his or Sita’s.  Many arguments ensued and resulted in the couple being banished to a forest where Sita is captured while Rama is on a hunt.  Here the story introduces a much-loved character in Hindu mythology, Hanuman.  Hanuman is called the monkey general and is both trickster and magician.  Sita had been captured by a demon so Rama enlists the aid of Hanuman to find her.  The army of monkeys throw themselves across the sea to form a bridge which results in Rama being able to rescue Sita.

Once home, Rama hears rumors that Sita was unfaithful to him during her captivity.  Concerned about his image, he sends her into exile.  It is while in exile that Sita supposedly meets the author of the Ramayana, Valmiki.  Unknown to him, though, Sita is pregnant and while in exile delivers twin boys.  Years pass and Sita remains in exile.  One day Rama has a chance encounter (or is it?) with the boys and recognizes them as his sons.  He allows Sita to return from exile but, in her misery, she calls upon Mother Earth to take her.  The ground opened beneath her and she threw herself in.  It is only then that Rama realizes his own doing in killing his beloved and jumps in after her.  They are reunited in heaven and have an eternal happily ever after.

The tale of Rama may seem very disconnected from our living but it really is not.  We may not have a monkey general to aid us but we certainly are surrounded by tricksters who would lead us astray if we let them.  Mankind still suffers from pangs of jealousy and concern about appearance.  While the field of plastic surgery was once all about restoring misconfigurations of physical growth and repairing after injuries, it has become a cottage industry based upon vanity and appearance.  More plastic surgery is done in the name of vanity and from jealousy than for any other reason.

The mythology of ancient culture still has relevance today and that is why we read the stories and delight in their movie and television portrayals.  In his “Myths to Live By”, Joseph Campbell wrote: “The old differences separating one system from another now are becoming less and less important, less and less easy to define. And what, on the contrary, is become more and more important is that we should learn to see through all the differences to the common themes that have been there all the while.”

There are over eighty-eight thousand chromosomes in the human body.  According to the National Institutes of health, “In the nucleus of each cell, the DNA molecule is packaged into thread-like structures called chromosomes. Each chromosome is made up of DNA tightly coiled many times around proteins called histones that support its structure.”   These chromosomes contain our history, our present, and our future.  They also contain chromosomes that portray our ethnicity, the physical characteristics that define whether we are Caucasian, African, Oriental, Hispanic, South Pacific Islander, or American Indian.  Hair type and color, eye shape and color, and skin hue as well as nose configurations and height are often the most obvious of these characteristics.  Yet, out of all those eighty-eight thousand chromosomes, only less than two thousand determine those ethnic markers.

Wars have been fought based upon those less than two thousand ethnic markers.  Hitler condemned over six million people to death based upon his assumption of what someone of the Jewish faith looked like.  He determined what physical characteristics would lead to a superior race of Caucasians and he named it after the name given to all Europeans and invaders.  He misappropriated an American Indian symbol and made it symbolic of greed, jealousy, envy, and death.  Like Rama, he turned his back on his own because Hitler was, in fact, of Jewish heritage and ethnicity.  And like Rama, history says Hitler also took his own life, flaws overriding any virtue that might once have been.

Today leaders of the Taliban are doing the same thing.  Their followers are blindly going wherever told without conscious thought on their own.  They hide behind religion without living that religion.  Their motivation is greed and power and they sacrifice any and everyone except themselves.  They sit in a Mount Olympus of their own ego while orchestrating the demise of others.  They are not leaders following a divine spirit but greedy, villains who, one day, will find their own deaths written and carried out.  Hopefully, few others will perish before that mythology concludes.

Joseph Campbell himself passed away before his most famous book was published.  He did leave us with some great advice about how to write some new mythologies instead of simply living the old ones over, making the same mistakes over and over.  “It doesn’t help to try to change [an imposed system] to accord with your system of thought. The momentum of history behind it is too great for anything really significant to evolve from that kind of action. The thing to do is learn to live in your period of history as a human being. That’s something else, and it can be done.”  Both then and now, the answer was and is to live as a human being…with humanity and compassion for all.

Offering, Bribe, or Excuse?

Offering, Bribe, or Excuse?

Pentecost 125

Most children and all teachers soon become aware of the need to give a reason instead of an excuse.  Although sometimes used as synonyms, there is a difference between the two words.  Stating a reason for an action implies a sense of purpose.  Giving an excuse means one is attempting to avoid consequences.

Someone asked why I had not spent time discussing the sacrifices almost all mythologies included.  The reason is that I think we can find meaning and learn from even the most fantastical and ancient of mythologies.  The sacrifices were almost always a means of people showing their interest and, to be quite honest, if someone has taken the time to read my blog, they have already shown some interest.

Today people are asked to attend their religious services instead of doing something else.  There are plays and/or concerts to attend, television programs to view, footballs to go crazy over in attendance or by watching at home with your own private tailgating party.  Today, the sacrifice of time is perhaps the most difficult sacrifice of all.  In some instances the pilgrimages of olden times which could take almost half a year to complete were better attended than the local church service which takes less than thirty minutes driving time and an hour of attendance.

In 1725, The Reverence Frederick Lewis Donaldson gave a sermon during a service in Westminster Abbey in England.  He described what he called the “Seven Social Sins” as “wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice, politics without principle.”  I agree with Rev Donaldson’s assessment, especially the “worship without sacrifice” line item.  I believe that there is a difference between having a belief and putting that belief into action which is the purpose of worship.

Sacrifice has indeed been considered universally to be a facet of religion.  It is closely aligned with a great many mythologies of mankind.  Such offerings included literal objects such as food or animals or figurative as in the cultures and spiritualities we studied last Advent, cultures that use representational objects, statues, or even water that has been blessed.  These sacrifices are mentioned in all three Abrahamic religions and were intricately woven throughout Asian myths and history.

Chinese emperors often made sacrifices on the winter solstice representing their subjects and sacrifice is an integral part of the Zoroastrian fire ritual.  Sacrifice is a focal point of Hindu tradition since life and the world both represent sacrifice, a sacrifice illustrated by the continual process of life and rebirth.  Correct and continual ritual sacrifices are thought to ensure life.

G. K. Chesterton took sacrifice out of the temples, mosques, and churches and placed it in our everyday lives. “Every act of will is an act of self-limitation. To desire action is to desire limitation. In that sense, every act is an act of self-sacrifice. When you choose anything, you reject everything else.” Self-sacrifice is a touchy subject is our modern world where the emphasis is on “me” and less on community and the world.  How we live and what we do, though, illustrate what we are willing to sacrifice.  What may seem like a valid excuse to you when you say “I just did not have time!” becomes just another excuse to the person who interprets your comment as “You were not worth my time.”

Lao Tsu is noted for his disciplines and teachings which, to some, have become more spiritual tenets than life teachings.  (And yes, I’d love to hear if you believe those two things are the same or different!)  He famously offered this bit of wisdom:  “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”  In other words, if we do not make the sacrifice of time to consider and make necessary changes, we will not flourish and nothing will really change.

A current philosopher, noted for his marketing strategies that have become quotes about living, Zig Ziglar puts things in basic analogies.  “Motivation and bathing are not permanent.  That’s why we need both every day.”  We need to sacrifice our busy lives in order to gain motivation and wisdom to further those lives.  We also need to value that which we have and care for it in order to have it flourish.  Change is the essence of life and we must be willing to sacrifice without excuse and make an offering of our time, our energies, and our abilities.  We must surrender today to gain tomorrow. We must surrender who we are in order to become who we might be.  It is the ultimate sacrifice with the ultimate prize.

Mystery or Miracle?

Mystery or Miracle?

Pentecost 120

It was in medieval Europe that mythologies began to appear as tableaux, living pictures or drama of the stories of mankind.  Originally these tableaux, or living pictures, were a group of actors posed so as to illustrate the story.  There was no dialogue; there were no songs.  The “tableau vivant” was, in modern terms, a 3-D representation of how an artist might have drawn a scene about the story.  Much like the window displays in large stores, the living actors posed as mannequins and presented one aspect of a well-known legend or myth.

In the fifth century ACE these tableaux began to find their way into religious services, often accompanied with a chant or antiphonal hymn.  These later were embellished with dialogue and action.  Referred to as mystery plays, taking their name from the Latin word “misterium” which translates as “occupation”, these plays grew in popularity.  Another form known as “miracle plays” focused on the redemption of the lead character and his transforming his/her life based upon their beliefs.  Many commonly held facets of religion had their beginning in these miracle and/or mystery plays rather than actual scriptural texts.

A similar issue was apparent in Chines mythology.  Separating fact from fiction, history from mythology, mortals and immortals is a task many have engaged in for centuries.  The Chinese myths considered their deities who possessed supernatural powers to still be human.  Thus, Pangu whom we discussed yesterday is known as the First Man.  The most important gods still followed and worshipped today are considered to be the first Chinese emperors, Three August Ones and the Han dynasty warrior Huangdi, also known as the God of War, being just two examples.  Some Daoists believe their founder Lao Tse or Laozi to be a god and the “Dao” refers to the knowledge given to man.

Demons were also present in Chinese mythology.  Known as the “gui”, they are the “second soul” which is separated from the higher soul or “hun” at death.  Hindu mythology is like a finely woven tapestry in which all the threads are interconnected.  China also had its own Aryan invasion and Hindu mythology developed throughout this time.  As is the case with all mythology, it also seeks to explain in narrative form religious and philosophical comprehension of the universe in which we live.

The symbolism of medieval cathedrals begins at the front door and often, even that has symbolism with its design and placement.  The same is true of Hindu temples.  What is we applied that same thought to our actions in life?  What if we did only those things that would lead to our being better?

Remember, mystery originally meant occupation and a miracle was the highest accomplishment possible in life.  If you look up the etymology of the word “mystery”, much will be learned about its usage in medieval times.  In the fourteenth century the word gained popularity in theological circles as a religious truth which was derived from divine revelations.  Its usage during that period came from the French word, “mistere” which meant secret or hidden meaning.  The French word came from the Greek word “mysterion” which translated as a secret rite or doctrine.  The Greek word originally was “mystes”, one who is initiated, and the earlier “myein” which meant to close or shut.  The English word “mute” comes from this word.

However, that is not the entire story of the word mystery.  The Greek words came from an even older Latin word, “ministerium” or the older “misterium”.  “Ministerium” was an updated form of “misterium” which meant occupation.  “Ministerium meant one’s service in an occupation or a ministry one performed and both date back to an older word, “maistrie”, or mastery.  So our mystery of life has a direct connection, much like the threads of Hindu mythology to one’s mastery of life, also known as a miracle.

For some today is the first day of the new week.  For others it is a holy day.  For many it is a day for relaxing, and for some, a day full of college football.  Regardless of whether today is a special day for you or just an ordinary day, it is a day that has mystery.  We are living this hour without an absolute knowledge of what three hours from now will bring.  We will go through our daily chores, our normal occupation of living.  The question we might ask ourselves is this:  How will what we do make us masters of our own life?  What can we do today to create a miracle for ourselves and others?    Will today be just another ordinary day or will we today write a new story, a new mythology of our being?  Mystery, miracle, or mundane – the choice is yours.

A Mother’s Love

A Mother’s Love

Pentecost 115

You are a creator and so, you are a mother.  Before we go any further, let me assure you that this post is for you – whether you are a female or a male, have children or are childless, and even whether you are a person who delights in children or despises them.  You are a mother, regardless of your gender.  Just as many of the Creation mythologies feature a male deity as well as those with a female deity, you also are a creator.  You are the mother of your own life.

Yesterday we discussed the birth of Brahma from a lotus seed which grew from the navel of Prajamati.  One of the delightful things about mythologies is their whimsical nature.  Unfortunately, we sometimes get so caught up in the fanciful nature of them, we forget or fail to see their teachings.  None of us originated from a lotus flower and yet, there are correlations in that symbolism with our own beginnings.

Scientifically speaking, it could be said that we all also spring from a tiny seed.  I’m not going to go into the biology and physiology of human birth but I do find it interesting that cultures with no knowledge of such arrived at creation stories so similar to the science of reality.  We all are connected to the mother at our birth through our navel, a stem, if you will, connecting our roots to the life we will live, the potential of that life which hopefully will blossom throughout our lives.

The Indian guru Rajneesh once said: “The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.”  I think the same should be said of us all before we begin to really create the live we live.  We do that creation when we awake each day.

The Brahma deity in Indian mythology goes on to create the universe.  At times, he is stumped and cannot see beyond what he has already created and those periods are considered darkness in the mythology.  Brahma tosses the darkness away but it returns and this is how, according to the myth, night came to be.  I like nighttime.  I like looking at the celestial bodies in the nighttime sky.  I like the respite the nighttime brings.  I think it serves an important function, both in providing us rest but also in giving us time to think.  Night for me is not a dark being that brings about disappointment but then, I am not Brahma.

I once read that for every Indian, and remember that it has often been the most heavily populated country in the world, there is a creation mythology.  Many of these revolve around Brahma and they are imaginative in how he created the universe.  In some he mates with his daughter who is named Dawn and in others he simply creates on his own.  Again, we need to not get caught up in any morality we might feel but should concentrate  on the symbolism of the dawn of the day bringing about a new day, a new life to live, new chances for we ourselves to create life for that twenty-four period.

There is an old Spanish proverb which states: “An ounce of mother is worth a pound of clergy.”  I believe there is such truth in that statement – with all due respect to my clergy friends.  The thing is that we each are the mother of thoughts, of actions, or creations.  We may not be artists or wordsmiths but we make a living, a life.  Perhaps you think you are not creative.  You might collect refuse or repair electrical lines but that is also making something anew.  The religious teachings that arise from the mythologies of the world’s cultures have merit but it is how we live them that really counts, really makes a difference.

There is an old proverb not really associated with any culture that states: “A mother is a verb, not a noun.”  I think that same might be said of life.  I think the variety of mythologies about Brahma and how he created the universe are delightful in their applications to our being creators.  Sometimes we create with a hug and other times with actions.  We all create and by doing so, we become mothers to our creations.  By doing this, we all make and spread a mother’s love.  We alone are the artists of our lives.

East Meets West

East Meets West

Pentecost 113

Many philosophers throughout the ages have, in their own way, stated that the belief in one god or many is the first sign of insanity.  This position was also held in India.  Dharmakirti, for example, in the 7th century wrote in Pramanavarttikam:  “Believing that the Veda are standard (holy or divine), believing in a Creator for the world, Bathing in holy waters for gaining punya, having pride (vanity) about one’s job function, Performing penance to absolve sins, Are the five symptoms of having lost one’s sanity.”

As mankind began to explore the planet on which it lived and the ancient myths about falling off the ends of the map became debunked with the sailing of tall ships to exotic locations, the centuries’ old Indian culture became intertwined with Western traditions.  This is also reflected in India’s mythologies even before we have recorded history of such colonization.  What one culture revered in India, another disclaimed.  Rather than build on the old, India began a new story.  No small wonder that many of its mythologies and spiritualities and religions involve reincarnation.

American sociologist Yvette Rosser describes the contrasts of India often taught in public history books with in education systems:  “The presentation of South Asians is a standard pedagogic approach which runs quickly from the “Cradle of Civilization”—contrasting the Indus Valley with Egypt and Mesopotamia—on past the Aryans, who were somehow our ancestors— to the poverty stricken, superstitious, polytheistic, caste ridden Hindu way of life … and then somehow magically culminates with a eulogy of Mahatma Gandhi. A typical textbook trope presents the standard Ancient India Meets the Age of Expansion Approach with a color photo of the Taj Mahal. There may be a side bar on ahimsa or a chart of connecting circles graphically explaining samsara and reincarnation, or illustrations of the four stages of life or the Four Noble Truths. Amid the dearth of real information there may be found an entire page dedicated to a deity such as Indra or Varuna, who admittedly are rather obscure vis-à-vis the beliefs of most modern Hindus.”

Like its mythology, India is not a country to describe with a few words.  For every belief within Indian mythology, there is another story disclaiming it.  The two main religions which have developed from these stories are Hinduism and Buddhism.  Their followers have made these the third and fourth largest religions in the world.  There is no one Indian culture, though, and to attempt to pretend there is would be foolish.  There are the basic patterns, however, which have remained constant within the living of mankind, the same concepts we need today.

One of the Sloka or couplets from the Atharva Veda, a Veda being ancient Sanskrit writings dating back four thousand years to 3000 BCE or even earlier, describes what is perhaps the only basic theme throughout all Indian mythology:  “We are the birds of the same nest, We may wear different skins, We may speak different languages, We may believe in different religions, We may belong to different cultures, Yet we share the same home – OUR EARTH. Born on the same planet; Covered by the same skies; Gazing at the same stars; Breathing the same air. We must learn to happily progress together Or miserably perish together, For man can live individually, But can survive only collectively.”

Yesterday we celebrated life and mourned the deaths of those taken during the tragic events of September 11, 2001.  We discussed the impact of those events on us all and the need to move from feeling like victims to gaining control of our own living.  We discussed the impact we can and should make, the positive change for the betterment of all living things.  I hope as we move forward even deeper into Indian mythology you remember that these are not just really old imaginings but the very thread that binds us all.  Yesterday we grieved.  Today is the time for living.  Today I celebrate you and the truth found in what the Veda proclaims:  “For man can live individually, but can only survive collectively.”

A Thing of Great Beauty

A Thing of Great Beauty

Pentecost 111

In Norse mythology we found ourselves almost in a comic book with their gods and goddesses reminiscent of action heroes.  With Celtic mythology, it was as if we had walked through a tome of literature with their wood nymphs and magical spirits reflecting the basis for the stories and movies of the “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit”.  Greek and Roman mythology proudly proclaimed with great statues their mythologies, some of which still stand today as do columns from their great temples.

In the mythologies of the Far and Near East, you will be excused if you sometimes forget we are not walking through a lovely botanical garden.  More than I think any other mythologies, these emphasized all of creation and nature played a most important role in their legends and admonitions for better living.  As we will learn, it is not unusual for one object such as a flower to have multiple meanings, depending of the myth or spirituality being discussed.

The lotus flower is one such example.  Known officially as the “sacred lotus”, this aquatic plant holds a major place in the mythology of India.  Before we discuss its spiritual aspects, though, let’s discuss its physical ones for they also are something a bit magical.  The delicate white and pink flower grows on top of thick stems that look almost like stalks.  The roots of the lotus plant are firmly planted in the soil at the bottom of a fresh water pond or river.  Lotus plants usually grow to an average height of five feet, or about 150 centimeters, spreading horizontally to a little over three feet or one hundred and eighteen inches.  The leaves of the plant themselves can reach a span of over twenty-three inches or 60 centimeters while the blossoms can be up to almost eight inches in diameter or 20 centimeters.

Of greater interest to botanists is how the lotus plant seems to regulate its flower in spite of its environment. Researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia discovered lotus flowers blooming in the Adelaide Botanic Garden maintained a constant temperature of 30-35 degrees Centigrade or 86-95 degrees Fahrenheit in spite of the ambient temperature of the surrounding environment dropping to 10 degrees Centigrade or 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Nelumbo nucifera, the scientific name for the sacred lotus is also called the Indian lotus, or the Bean of India.  It plays, as mentioned before, an important role in the mythologies of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.  Hindus worship the lotus in connection to the gods Vishnu, Brahma, and Kubera as well as the goddesses Lakshmi, and Saraswati.  Vishnu is often called the “Lotus-Eyed One” and used as an example of beauty and purity.  It is said that the lotus flower booms from the navel of Vishnu and uncovers the creator god Brahma in the lotus position of yoga.  The unfolding petals of the flower are symbolic of the expansion of one’s soul and the promise of potential.  The Hindu interpret the blossoming of such a pure white flower from the mud of its roots as a spiritual promise.  Brahma and Lakshmi are the spirits associated with potency and wealth and also have the lotus as their symbol.

In Buddhism, the lotus flower is symbolic of creation and renewal as well as original purity.  It is mentioned in one of the sacred texts of the Bhagavad Gita:  “One who performs his duty without attachment, surrendering the results unto the Supreme Lord, is unaffected by sinful action, as the lotus is untouched by water.  Not surprisingly, the lotus is also connected with other Eastern spiritualities.  The Chinese scholar and student of Confucius Zhou Dunyi said: “I love the lotus because while growing from mud, it is unstained.”

The petals of a lotus blossom are said to have once numbered over a thousand and the thousand-petal lotus is a symbol of unending spiritual enlightenment.  It is more common to find an eight-petal lotus, although only five are original petals, the other three a modification from the stamen.  Considered one of the “eight auspicious signs” of Buddhism and Hinduism, the eight-petal lotus is also used in Buddhist mandalas.  [Mandalas were discussed in our Advent 2014 series and I hope you have been able to find some to view.  There are now coloring books for adults that feature mandalas and it is a most relaxing way to leave the real world and connect spiritually while relaxing and meditating.]

The eight petals of the lotus also relate to the  Nobel Eightfold path of the Good Law of Hari Krishna.

The eight petals of the white lotus correspond to the Noble Eightfold Path of the Good Law. This lotus is found at the heart of the Garbhadhatu Mandala, regarded as the womb or embryo of the world.  Many Deities of Asian Mythology are illustrated on a lotus flower.  According to some myths, everywhere the Gautama Buddha walked, lotus flowers appeared and blossomed.

Hopefully today wherever we walk we will also leave a trail of beauty.  First, though, we must open our eyes to all that is around us and see the beauty within as well as portrayed by the outer appearance.  Each of us had the muddiness of a past but with faith and good deeds, we can blossom and leave the world a better place.  We all are a thing of great beauty in our being.