For some people the similarity to the Christian scriptures was immediately noticeable though sometimes I wondered if noticing similarities was a way of staying with the familiar in the face of new ideas and concepts. Whatever, it was obvious that all the passages we were given contained a wisdom which for believers could be said to be the Word of God. It was wonderful to realise the gift of wisdom that there is in the scriptures of the world's religions - a wisdom that is available to all of us. They all contained good solid advice for living a good life. More than one presenter reflected on how moving it was to have someone of another faith reflect and comment on their scripture - something that is done regularly in scriptural reasoning groups and a great way of entering into the religion of another.
Last night we heard about the immense number of Buddhist scriptures - the one hundred volumes of the Words of the Buddha and the even larger number of commentaries on this. This was quite different from the Gospels or the Torah or the Qur'an that can be contained in one book and carried around by believers to be read and studied at will. But Ani Lhamo introduced us to one of her favourite teachings ( interestingly we found that not all religions used the word scripture). It was a few verses from 'The Thirty-Seven Verses on the Practice of a Bodhisattva' and though based on the words of the Buddha it was written by Gyalse Ngulchu Thogme in the early 14th century. I love the idea of a Bodhisattva which is someone who vows to stay within the confines of rebirth until all sentient beings are saved. A great Bodhisattva is Avolektishvara whose name means 'he who hears the cries of the world' and this listening to the cries of the world and responding with love and compassion sums up the vocation of a bodhisattva.
In my reflection I couldn't get beyond the first verse given to us which was in fact verse 11. It said
'all suffering without exception arises from desiring happiness for oneself'
I couldn't help wonder about this. For Buddhists desire and grasping lead to suffering and to let go and practise detachment can bring peace of mind and serenity. This sounds lovely but I can't help thinking that suffering, particularly grief and bereavement are the flip sides of love. Is it possible to have love and commitment without grief and suffering? Is grief at a death or breakdown of a relationship not an expression of love and is it not something to be lived through. Thomas Moore, a favourite writer of mine, would say that these instances of suffering and other sufferings that come from our personalities are ways of getting in touch with our humanity, that it is these instances that develop our souls, that deepen our understanding of what it means to be human. There is a passage in the Christian scriptures in which Simeon tells Mary the Mother of Jesus that a sword shall pierce her heart. I have often thought that there comes a moment in all our lives when a sword pierces our heart, It is broken open and nothing is quite the same again. But perhaps it is in the breaking open of our heart that we develop compassion and understanding for others. Perhaps it is in the breaking open of our heart that we can make room for others, that we can live a soulful life. In this sense suffering might be a gift - not that this makes it any easier but perhaps a little bit more meaningful.