Monday, March 30, 2015


And there are some who love him well,
yet know not it is he they love;
he tends the holy fire within
and draws them to the heights above.
                   -- Marguerite Pollard.

There is something mean and nasty and very ugly about much of Christianity today---especially in parts of the United States. Conservative evangelical Christianity is getting more and more conservative and more and more troublesome. And more and more nasty and dangerous.

I am a minister of religion, but not a Christian one. My church---Unitarian Universalist ---is a very progressive one which for the most part left Christianity some time ago. So, the conservative Christians’ knives are out for me already. (Bring it on.) Still, I am well-equipped to speak out on the Bible. I was raised as a Baptist and I was taught a lot about the Bible in that church, and I also studied theology under the auspices of an independent Catholic church. I have also debated bishops and archbishops in high-profile public debates, and I came off well in those debates. Even many of the Christians thought so, not that I changed their minds.

Recently, the state of Indiana passed a law that will enable the providers of goods and services not to serve LGBTs. This law is triumphantly called the Religious Restoration Freedom Act. I am told that the state of Georgia is considering passing a similar law. It would. These laws may well be unconstitutional as many similar ones have been held to be so in the past. What concerns me is the religious faith that leads Christian legislators to pass these kinds of laws---a faith that is supported by many in American conservative Christian communities. Over 20 American states have already enacted a Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Now, where I live---Australia---a law of this kind would never be passed. We are perhaps the most secular country in the world, and most Australians have little or no time for organized religions at all. (A good thing too, in my view.) That being said, we are by no means the fair and tolerant country we like to think we are, for in recent years our federal governments have treated asylum seekers, refugees and ‘boat people’ most shamefully. We have lost our way on that matter and on many others, so we hardly have the high moral ground these days on matters pertaining to basic human rights and freedoms.

Back to the topic. Have any of the people who sponsor and vote for these laws ever read their Bibles? Surely they must be familiar with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. It’s about meeting and attending to the needs of one’s neighbor wherever he or she may be, and whoever they may be. These conservative Christians whom I abhor are like the Jewish priest in that story of Jesus. They choose to pass by on the other side. Their piety and self-righteousness---they risibly call it ‘religious freedom’---get in the way of their Christian charity.

Have these conservative Christians heard of another story of Jesus---the one about the ‘Anonymous Christ’? Well, in the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel we this Christ, and we read that the spirit or personality of Jesus---the friend of sinners, the champion of the poor, the disadvantaged and the marginalized, and the healer of the sick---can be experienced even today as a living presence, for he comes to us, and visits us, in our home and in our community. We encounter this spirit or personality of Jesus in our interactions with others. According to this story, everyone we meet, everyone we serve, is in the image of Jesus, a personification of the divine. The Anonymous Christ, as it is known, comes to us in so many ways, and we fail to recognize that Jesus’ incarnation continues all the time, in us and in other people. We read about the Anonymous Christ in Matthew 25:34-40 in the context of the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats:

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

The message of this parable is lost on conservative Christians. They are so damn good at judging others yet they fail to realize that the Bible says they will be judged on how well they have looked after their fellow humans---as respects the provision of such things as food, water and clothes, and attending to the needs of the homeless, the sick, and those in prison. Then there's the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples on the night of his betrayal. He even washed the feet of Judas, the very man who betrayed him. You see, Jesus made no distinctions. Conservative Christians do.

Jesus’ followers were originally known as ‘people of the way’. Jesus, in his vision of the Anonymous Christ, offers us a vision and a challenge. The call to follow is not a call to worship Jesus. He never sought nor wanted that. No, the Way of Jesus is a call to follow Jesus’ path, to live as he lived, and to serve others as he did.

Now, this is my point. Many Buddhists I know, even many atheists and other secularists, live lives that are so much more nobly and deeply and closely molded after that of Jesus than those fundamentalist and evangelical Christians who claim, ever so proudly, to have been washed in the saving Blood of the Lamb---a perverse and pernicious corruption and distortion of true Christianity if ever there was one---and who have forsaken the true human Jesus of the Gospels (who never used any language of sacrifice, bloodshed, propitiation or expiation) and who have substituted for him a Christ of dogmatism, metaphysics and pagan philosophy. I repeat, many people, who would not identify as Christians, are real followers of the way of Jesus.

Jesus met human differences and distinctions, and even evil, on God’s terms---not on Satan’s. He loved everybody equally. It is very sad that so many of those who claim to love and serve him today have rejected the heart of his teachings.

The Christian minister and author Dr Norman Vincent Peale [pictured right] is the man I loved. He has been dead for over 20 years but he is hated---yes, hated---by conservative Christians today. The irony is he himself was a conservative evangelical, even though he rarely used the language and thought-forms of conservative evangelicalism. Here’s one of the reasons why Dr Peale is hated by conservative Christians. When asked about homosexuality---he was in his mid-80s at the time---this is what Peale said:

The God that I believe in is very big. He’s above all these little human distinctions. He loves everybody equally; it doesn’t make any difference who they are, what they’ve done, He loves them.

That is the God of the Bible. Sadly, it is not the God of far too many conservative Christians these days.

Bring it on.

Monday, March 23, 2015


Mindfulness is increasingly being utilized as a therapeutic modality for soldiers returning home from combat.

However, new research from the University of Miami suggests that mindfulness may be just as useful, if not more useful, before soldiers are deployed to conflict zones. Staying focused in the present moment, along with cognitive resilience, is what mindfulness is all about, and that is an essential skill for all of us including soldiers.

‘Soldiers are experts at standing at attention,’ Miami neuroscientist Dr Amishi Jha [pictured left], the study's lead author, said in a statement. ‘However, maintaining a mind at attention under the intense physical, emotional and cognitive demands they face, is a more difficult task.’

In the study 75 soldiers stationed in Hawaii, who were all 8 to 10 months away from being deployed to Afghanistan, underwent a mindfulness training ('MT') program after which their attention and cognitive performance were tested using the Sustained Attention to Response Task ('SART'), a test that measures attentional lapses and mind-wandering. The data showed MT during pre-deployment, completed in just 8 hours over the course of 8 weeks, to be effective in preventing mind-wandering and attentional lapses.

While previous studies by the same researchers showed 24 hours of mindfulness training to lead to improvements in mood and cognitive function, the new study is the first to suggest that a much shorter training period could still yield significant improvements.

‘With the continued deployment of our soldiers to face complex threats around the world, these results are a critical addition to our ever-evolving readiness and resiliency toolkit,’ Deputy Commanding General of the US Army in Europe Major General Walter Piatt said in a statement. ‘Ensuring our men and women are both mentally and physically prepared is essential to mission success,’ he said. ‘This study provides important information to help us do that.’

Resource: Jha A P, Morrison A B, Dainer-Best J, Parker S, Rostrup N, and Stanley E A. ‘Minds “At Attention”: Mindfulness Training Curbs Attentional Lapses in Military Cohorts.’ PLOS ONE. Published: February 11, 2015. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0116889.


IMPORTANT NOTICE: See the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on this blogspot is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blogspot. For immediate advice or support call Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) go online via

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


Do you believe in an afterlife? Heaven and hell? Or perhaps reincarnation?

Now, I don’t believe in any of those things in the conventional sense, but I do know this to be true---life is without end. As I see it, it’s not a case of whether or not there is life ‘after’ death. It’s a case of---there is only life. Life has no beginning and it has no end. We are ‘in,’ that is, immersed in eternal life now. What is life? Life consists of things living out their livingness from one moment to the next. Forms of life come and go. They wax and wane, and so will we---well, at least the forms of our present self-expression. Life is constant change. It is forever changing its manner and forms of expression, but life never ceases to be---not even for one instant.

I am a liberal minister to people of all faiths---and none. Whenever I am asked to conduct a funeral I almost always include in my oration or invocations the following lines taken from Sir Edwin Arnold’s beautiful version of the Bhagavad-Gita (dubbed The Song Celestial’):

Never the spirit was born; the spirit shall cease to be never;
Never was time it was not; End and Beginning are dreams!
Birthless and deathless and changeless remaineth the spirit for ever.

On one of my recent trips to Japan I bought in a second-hand bookshop a wonderful anthology of Japanese poetry entitled Modern Japanese Poetry. The funny thing is that this book was published in Australia where I live. Anyway, it’s a great collection of poems. Here’s one of the poems. It’s entitled ‘A Tree,’ and it’s written by Kōra Rumiko and translated by James Kirkup. This poem expresses exactly what I am trying to say, only much more elegantly than I could ever hope to do:

In a tree, there is
a tree still not in existence,
whose crest is even now
trembling in some breeze.

In a blue sky, there is
a blue sky still not in existence,
whose horizon is now being
pierced by a swift bird.

In a body, there is
a body still not in existence,
whose altar is now being
flooded with fresh blood.

In a town, there is
a town still not in existence,
whose main square is now being
swung in my direction.

There is only life. Life cannot other than be. Indeed, life is be-ing-ness itself and we live, move and have our be-ing in that one life. There is life, but there is always more of life yet to express itself and manifest in shape and form. Life is much, much more than the sum total of the multiplicity of its present forms and modes of expression. Not only that, life is ever renewing itself from one moment to the next. In every form of life's self-expression there is always another form of life ‘still not in existence’ but in the process, albeit at or even before its very beginning, of manifesting itself in visible shape and form on this earthly plane.

Now, if some people want to believe that they will live on in consciousness and personality in some ‘place’ or ‘state’ of existence ‘above’ or ‘beyond’ this earthly plane of existence, that is their business. And if others want to believe in rebirth or reincarnation, that too is their business. 

As for me, I am very happy and content in the knowledge and understanding--as opposed to belief--that the one life that is currently expressing and manifesting itself in and as the person that is me will survive the eventual destruction of my body and mind and personality and will express itself in some new form of life. 

That is more than enough for me.

Note. The photos (other than that of the book cover) were taken by the author on trips to Japan and Tasmania, Australia.


Monday, March 16, 2015


It is said that obesity is a dying ‘weigh’ of life. Actually, obesity is no laughing matter. Obesity and good health are incompatible. It’s as simple as that.

A new study, the results of which were presented at the recent annual meeting of the Endocrine Society in San Diego, California, has revealed that mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)---a secular mindfulness meditation program developed by Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn---improves the quality of life in obese women and may decrease fasting glucose.

There are already numerous studies that have shown mindfulness to be effective in reducing stress and improving quality of life, and those who are overweight, other than for purely metabolic and endocrinological reasons, can testify to the link between stress and overeating. So, it stands to reason that the practice of mindfulness meditation and mindfulness-based programs should help with the problem---or should I say epidemic---of obesity.

In the study the MBSR group's mindfulness scores significantly increased and its perceived stress scores significantly decreased, compared to the HEC group's scores.

While sleep, depression, anxiety and overall psychological distress improved in both groups, fasting glucose dropped significantly and quality of life improved significantly in the MBSR group but not in the HEC group.

Weight, body mass index, blood pressure, lipid profile, hemoglobin A1c, fasting insulin, homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance (HOMA-IR) and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP) remained similar with MBSR.

The participants in the study were all women. However, there seems no reason in principle why the regular practice of mindfulness ought not to have more-or-less the same beneficial effects in improving the quality of life and decreasing fasting glucose in men.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


Seize the moment! How often we hear those words, yet how rarely do we heed them.

Here’s a Zen kōan that’s all about the importance of seizing the moment. It’s said to be a parable told by the Buddha:

A man travelling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, the man caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.

Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!

This is a very powerful story. Here’s this man, facing imminent and certain death---and death in a most unpleasant manner---and what does he do? He plucks and eats a strawberry. And how sweet that strawberry tasted!

Now, this is a parable. It has an ‘inner’ meaning, so to speak. The strawberry represents the present moment which before we know it becomes the past. The tiger above the man is birth, and the tiger below is the man’s imminent death—and our death as well. And what of the mice some of which are black and the others white? As I see it, they represent our days on this planet. Some days are good (‘white’) while others are, well, terrible (‘black’). Remember the words of Omar Khayyám [pictured below]? ‘Tis all a Chequer-board of nights and days.' Black or white, the mice symbolise the passage of our days while we are here on earth. Sooner or later the mice will gnaw through the vine of our life's breath and then ... death. Yes, life is damn short, even if many of us are living longer than in years past. Here are some more lines from Omar Khayyám:

Oh, threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!
One thing at least is certain — This Life flies;
One thing is certain and the rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.
Mindfulness is living with awareness, and being fully and consciously present, from one moment to the next. Life is all the more precious by reason of the fact that we will ultimately lose it. ‘Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it every, every minute?’, asks the dead Emily in Thornton Wilder’s wonderful play Our Town. Sadly, most of us don’t. Most of us live mindlessly. We don’t really live. We don’t even exist---we subsist. In the words of Thoreau, we ‘lead lives of quiet desperation,’ and go the grave not having ever known the joy of living with choiceless awareness of the present moment.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating hedonism. Not at all. I am simply asserting that living mindfully is better than the alternative. Facing certain and imminent death our hero in the parable continues to live mindfully. He looks. He observes. He tastes. In similar circumstances I suspect that most of us would not even see the strawberry, and if we did few of us would have any interest in eating it. ‘How can I think of eating at a time like this?’, I hear myself saying.

Seize the moment ... before it’s too late.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015


‘I can sleep anywhere but in bed,’ quipped the great Groucho Marx [pictured left] who suffered from insomnia most of his adult life. Indeed, despite his quip, Groucho had trouble sleeping anywhere, and not just in bed. He even wrote a book about beds entitled---yes, you guessed it, Beds. Now, had Groucho known about mindfulness he might not have been up half the night.

New research just published in JAMA Internal Medicine shows that mindfulness can help the involuntarily sleep deprived to get their much needed sleep. The study---a randomized clinical trial using real-world interventions with real people---found that the use of a standardized mindful awareness practices (‘MAP’) intervention resulted in improvements in sleep quality at immediate post-intervention which were superior to a highly structured sleep hygiene education (‘SHE’) intervention.

In the study adults 55 and older with at least moderate problems sleeping were randomly assigned to 1 of 2 groups. One group received a 6-week SHE program. The other group participated in community-based MAP taught by a certified instructor. They also received sleep hygiene instruction.

The MAP group met 2 hours per week for 6 weeks. As stated in the NIH clinical trials database, those in this group were guided through in-class meditation practices and were assigned daily meditation homework. Active program components included sitting and walking somatosensory-focused meditation, audio-guided body scan meditation, and loving kindness meditation.’ The SHE group also met twice a week for 6 weeks. They met as a group so as to provide equal support, attention, time and expectation of benefit. They were taught knowledge of sleep biology, identifying characteristics of healthy and unhealthy sleep, sleep problems, and self-monitoring of sleep behaviour.

While both groups showed improvements in sleep by the end of the study, the MAP group did significantly better in reporting reductions in sleep problems and also showed significant improvements in secondary health outcomes of insomnia symptoms, depression symptoms, fatigue interference, and fatigue severity.

The study also shows that the positive effects in sleep quality appear to carry over into reducing sleep-related daytime impairment.

Of course, as another great American comedian of yesteryear pointed out---the man was W C Fields---the best cure for insomnia is to get a lot of sleep.

Resource: Black D S, O’Reilly G A, Olmstead R, Breen E C, and Irwin M R. ‘Mindfulness Meditation and Improvement in Sleep Quality and Daytime Impairment Among Older Adults With Sleep Disturbances: A Randomized Clinical Trial.’ JAMA Intern Med. Published online February 16, 2015. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8081.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: See the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on this blog is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blog. For immediate advice or support call Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) go online via

Monday, March 2, 2015


‘All things in moderation,’ so the saying goes. Like all so-called truisms this one is not at all true in some respects. For example, even moderation as respects the doing of things that are inherently dangerous or otherwise unsafe is definitely not a good thing.

Buddhism is a philosophy of living according to the ‘middle way’ or ‘middle path.’ The historical Buddha advocated a lifestyle that was neither unduly ascetic or unduly immoderate and indulgent. The middle way permeates all Buddhist thought. Thus, the Buddha neither affirmed the ‘self’ nor denied its existence. Instead, he advocated the need to surrender and thus eradicate the self. 

When the Zen monk Joshu was asked whether a dog had Buddha nature Josh replied, ‘Mu.’ Mu ( in Chinese) means ‘no’ but not exactly no. You see, mu is used when a question is incapable of being answered with a straight ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ that is, when both of those ‘answers’ would be erroneous or otherwise inadequate. 

The middle way seeks to afford the practitioner with an understanding of life that transcends seemingly opposite statements about existence, and with insight into life and, in particular, into the the true nature of things. Seemingly opposite statements as to such matters as belief and disbelief, existence and non-existence, self and non-self, and all other positive and negative statements and assertions) are all part and parcel of a single continuous spectrum with affirmation at one end and negation at the other. For example, both belief and disbelief in God are in fact the exercise of the one and the same function, that is, mental faculty or mindset. Truth---that is, life, reality and meaning---lies beyond both affirmation and negation. All such thinking is conditioned. It is never the truth. That is why it is written in the Zen writings:

Has a dog Buddha-nature?
This is the most serious question of all.
If you say yes or no,
You lose your own Buddha-nature.

So, what exactly is the true nature of things? It is this---all things are ‘empty,’ meaning that every thing lacks a permanent and unchanging identity. All is impermanent, inconstant, transient, identityless and conditioned. Nothing is independent of all other things. Things arise dependent on conditions and cease when those same conditions cease. That is all of life. And how does one know that to be the case? Through the practice of mindfulness. That is certainly one way of coming to both know and understand the emptiness of all things. Yes, mu is indeed the answer---and the sensible alternative to all dualistic thinking.

Here’s a delightful story that illustrates the application of the middle way to the practice of meditation and, relevantly, mindfulness which is simply the practice of the presence (both physical and psychological) of being choicelessly aware of the action of the moment from one moment to the next.

Sona, a monk who had been a very accomplished and well-known veena player, engaged in extremely strenuous meditations to achieve enlightenment. He subjected his body to tremendous pain but he was unable to achieve the desired enlightenment. The Buddha said to Sona, ‘How did you get the best sound out of your veena? Was it when the strings of the veena were very tight or when they were very loose?’ Sona replied, ‘Neither. It was when the strings had just the right tension---that is, when they were neither too taut nor too slack.’ The Buddha said, ‘So it is with meditation, indeed with all the activities of the mind.’

In mindfulness there is both bare attention and choiceless awareness. Those words ‘bare’ and ‘attention’ and extremely important. ‘Bare’ attention involves no strain; there is simply a bare registering of the facts of what is seen, heard, felt, etc. ‘Choiceless’ awareness is an awareness without judgment, analysis, interpretation, comparison, etc. It is the total awareness of an undivided and unconditioned mind with there being no judgment, condemnation or selectiveness as respects the content of one’s awareness. Instead, there is simply 'unadorned observation,' that is, you simply see and observe what is present in each experience of the moment as present, and additionally what is absent as absent---without any self-identification and without attachment to any ‘I,’ ‘me,’ or ‘mine’ on your part. 

There is a popular maxim, ‘Keep it simple,’ and that idea makes great sense. Don’t complicate your practice of mindfulness. Sit still. Relax the body, which is always the very best way to relax the mind. (That’s the law of indirectness.) Be alert, but simply alert to the bare facts of the perceived content of your awareness. Remain choicelessly aware of what is happening in and around you. Avoid strain. Practise the principle of non-resistance, for whatever we resist will persist. 

Above all, be neither too taut nor too slack. Let there be both an alert relaxation and a relaxed alertness as respects both your body and your mind.

Acknowledgment. Joshu's Dog illustration courtesy and copyright Mark T Morse and The Gateless Gate. All rights reserved.