Category Archives: religion

To Seek or not to Seek…?

Here is a dichotomy in my mind…

I can remain calm , through acceptance, self denial, and simplicity.  This will include being satisfied with what is, and refusing to desire so to avoid suffering.

 

Or I can live this life seeking for meaning through prayer, reflection, reading, and studying.  Being unsatisfied and wanting more in life, but feeling hopeful and maintaining faith that I will find more satisfaction .

I can let life continue to be without necessarily trying to “find ” God , or live by trying to discover who and what God is and hoping that a divine intervention will come.

What would be the correct path? I can decide to remain calm and accept life as it is, meditating and simply being.  I can do  this by being aware of the present moment.  Living in the here and now.  I can also remain calm by refraining from desiring and wanting.  Happiness would then be wanting what I already have.  Being a minimalist.  Believing that less in more.  Letting things pass through me… letting go…. without resistance… without judgment.  And experiencing peace.

But I am suddenly aware of the injustice of life.  I am aware of wars… hunger… terrorism …. and famine.  I then become more sensitive to the “evils” that poison this world.   I  start feeling anger…. frustration…. and disgust.   And then  I am motivated again to fight for justice and peace.

Which means I cannot just be. I have to move and do something.  So the question remains: Should I seek justice and peace?  Or should I simply be and accept?  Should I turn the other cheek, or fight for equality and justice? Should I remain calm, let go and let God…  or should I stand up and take action?

Blessed are the poor in spirit… but also are the ones who fight for justice.  Blessed are the meek, the ones who mourn,  and the peace makers… but also the ones who reveal the hypocrites, give to the poor, and speak the truth.

Maybe there is a time for everything.  A time to fight, and a time to make peace.   A time to speak, and a time to remain silent.

Perhaps we are called to act and not act according to the circumstances.  According to the needs at the moment.  But who decides?

Maybe it does not have to be a dichotomy, but a more fluid, mixed approach of seeking and not seeking according to our calling.

 

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Religiously Correct

I sometimes have been tempted to be “religiously correct”.  By this I mean that, in spite of my continuous spiritual growth and evolving journey in life, I sometimes tend to regress and think in a traditional, exclusive, and religious way like I used to.  Of course, there are a lot teachings and customs in the Christian faith I grew up with that are still a huge part in my spiritual life, not because others have taught me to believe them, but because I genuinely believe them to be true.  But I wanted to share a list of old beliefs I learned from childhood which I accepted without question until recently, which now I consider “religiously correct”:

“I shouldn’t be angry  at life… or at God.”   I have always been taught that we should not  be angry at life or God because He knows everything and loves us, and that life is a gift.  This is true, but it does not dismiss the fact that this life can sometimes be painful. Besides, acknowledging the pain is also healthy.  God also at times seem unfair and distant.  I tend to feel fearful in expressing my true feelings to God.  But if I don’t, I would not have a close relationship with Him.  Thankfully I have learned in my spiritual journey that we have the right to be angry at God.  The Bible has stories such as  Israel, Job, and David whom disputed and questioned God on the injustice they experienced.  Even Jesus once said “Why have you forsaken me?”, citing Psalmist, while slowly dying on the cross.  So, yes, being angry at life and God is natural, even healthy, because expressing this honest feeling to the Omnipresent Being is better than having no relationship with  Him at all.

“People who are not Christians are living in sin, and therefore, not ‘saved’.”    This is one of the most disturbing beliefs of the Christian faith.  Jesus said “Do not judge…for in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:2)  Who are we to determine who is “saved” or not? Jesus taught that many will claim to know Him but He will say to them “I never knew you…! (Matthew 7:23).  How am I to conclude that people like Gandhi, Dalai Lama, and other inspired people who lived serving others,  are burning eternally in hell unless they agreed with my faith? No, I cannot embrace this exclusiveness anymore.

“Behaviors such as drinking alcohol, smoking, and tattooing are sinful.”  I have witnessed the damaging results of drunkenness and smoking cigarettes in my family. Many close families have been affected by the disease of alcoholism and I recently lost someone to lung cancer caused by heavy smoking.  So it is easy for me to agree with those who automatically link these behaviors to spiritual shortcomings and sin.  However, I have learned that true spiritual growth relies on what my genuine attitude about life is and how I treat others.  I can be completely sober, never touch a cigarette, and have a clear skin, and still practice adultery, gossip, lie, manipulate, be greedy, and discriminate others, which is broadly done by many Christians. Jesus himself said that  what truly defiles man comes from within (Mark 7:15).  So no matter how much junk I put in my body, or how much ink I use to decorate my body, what comes from  my heart is what defines how I truly am.

“If it somehow involves Jesus and his teachings, then it must be good.”  Whenever someone preaches or talks about how God inspired them, I tend to show admiration and trust because it is commonly an expected response. I used to listen to people “of faith” without a filter, simply because they admired and worshiped Jesus.  I thought “Surely Jesus is backing them up for their arduous commitment to Him…!”  Not necessarily.  There are thousands of churches and denominations that claim to be the true church, but are actually based on self-service and worldly ambitions.  Ever wondered why the Christian church is so divided?  John wrote in the book of Revelation about Jesus preaching to various ancient churches that were short from being righteous (Revelations 2-3).  So if people claim to have a message from God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, or any of the so-called “saints”, my suggestion is not to believe them.  Do your own research and follow your guts.

“All we need is prayer.”  Saying that I will pray for those in need and even myself is  usually the first thing that comes to mind.  I tend to tell people in need, “I will keep you in my prayers”  Again, this is a nice thing to say because it is religiously correct.  Well, this is easy for those who are doing the prayer, but not for the ones having the need.  I am not implying that we should have no faith and simply rely on our own strength. But prayer should not be the only thing we do.  I agree that actions speak louder than words.  To me, prayer is not what I have been taught.  Prayer to me is like reflecting, meditating, thanking, and doing all the things that helps us to be more connected with our true self and our creator, not simply requesting for things.  So reflecting on life is not sufficient for good things to happen, we should also put into practice what we pray  or reflect on.  The book of James in the Bible beautifully describes how faith and work should go hand in hand (James 2:17).

The following beliefs continue to be a strong part of my spiritual journey, which I do not think are religiously correct, but rather  teachings we should all follow as fellow human beings to maintain peace and genuine love and care regardless of religious background.

Deny yourself and be humble.  This is one of the traditional teachings I still long to accomplish  on a daily basis.   It is the initial step we should take to begin our journey towards spiritual maturity. We should be like children, “born again”, and begin a new life of simplicity, selflessness, and God-centeredness. (Luke 9:23, John 3:3, Matthew 5:3-5)

Love our neighbors as ourselves.  This is a simple teaching to understand, but not to practice, which is probably  why it is seldom done.  Jesus identified himself with those in need, and wanted us to do the same.  Loving ourselves more than others is easy, but loving others the same way as the self is true Salvation. And not only loving those who are easy to love.  Jesus said that if we love only those who love us, what is so special about that?  We should be perfect as God is perfect, not because it sounds good, but because I honestly believe it is the way to spiritual purity.  (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 5:43, 47, Galatians 5:14)

Forgive and don’t hold grudges. Letting go of hurts and resentments will surely free us from any bondage that keeps us from growing spiritually.  I still believe strongly in this. My personal life has taught me how liberating it is to truly forget past hurts and simply live.   (Matthew 18:22)

Fight for righteousness, justice, and peace.    These are strong teachings most people believe in, including myself.  Fighting  for what is right in today’s world should be one of our priorities. There is too much injustice, wars, famine, and suffering for us to cross our arms and simply pray for what we wish for.  No, we should act and fight for what is right.  Jesus taught this and it is our obligation to follow this commandment.  (Deuteronomy 16:20, Matthew 5:6, 9)

Following certain teachings simply because they are popular or because they sound religious does not necessarily make them right.  I had to learn this in my life.  It was not easy breaking away from traditions and customs that people taught me all of my life.  It is not easy being unpopular, discriminated, and singled out because of my decision to be genuine and truthful to myself.  But I rather be honest and continue to grow spiritually, than to continue to be “religiously correct.”


“Am I Dying…?”

This question was asked to me by my uncle who is suffering from lung cancer that has spread to his brain. He has been given days to live.

I did not know what to say. Should I tell him what I have heard? Should I try to change the subject? Should I lie? I froze.

I could have used logic and say “We are all going to die…” Or I could have minimized it and said “Don’t worry… you are fine…” Or perhaps I could have denied it and say “No, you are not .” Others would have probably used religion by talking about God and the “plan of salvation.” Would this be ok? Do I have the authority to talk to a dying person about what to do to go to heaven, when I have my own faults?  My own doubts?

Death is such an awful thing to accept.  It is difficult to finally face the reality that one day a loved one and all of us are going to cease to exist on this earth.

Cancer is a monster.  It is a way for the cells to replicate faster than it can get rid of, ultimately killing the whole body. It is a way for the body to slowly commit suicide.  Scary.  If I had a completely objective mind, the thought of cancer would be simply a medical condition that just happens. But since I have feelings, goals, intentions, wills, and hopes, thinking about this makes be very uncomfortable.

Is it possible to accept death without any fear?  I have learned that we all have a fear of death from birth.  As babies we cry when hungry, cold, bored, or in pain.  All of these experiences, if not taken care of, will ultimately lead to death.  When we are adolescents, we crave for acceptance and identity, something that will lead to feeling abandonment, isolation , and ultimately death if not addressed.  As adults, we want to marry, earn a career, have possessions, and have a purpose in life,  which will bring us to depression and anxiety if not accomplished because it means that we will be closer to having or being nothing, which is related to death.

If we are going to die anyways, why do we fear is so much?  It happens to everybody.  Why do we always try to ignore it and pretend it is not going to happen?   Is it the fear of the unknown?  Should we learn to accept it as we learn to accept failures, discomfort and pain?  Analyzing about why we fear death does not help me to alleviate the fear.

We have the concept of eternity.  We long to live forever.  Does this mean that we can actually live forever?

I don’t have the answers.  I am not sure if anyone does.  All I know is that one day we will all have to confront our end.  I hope that before that happens, I will be able to do what I enjoy the most and gives me purpose in life:  spend time with my children, paint, go to the beach, learn to play the guitar, visit other countries like Italy and Japan, and much more.  Today is the day to do these things.

However,  I also try to remind myself that I don’t want to be here simply to meet my own selfish desires.  I want to also be other people’s blessings.  I want to help others feel loved and important.  I should not only strive for the things I want for myself.  I want to also be part of a whole.

I recently read the quote “To be happy is not to have what I want.. but to want what I have”.  Great words of inspiration!   Being content with what I already have should be my life’s purpose.  That is why I also long for simplicity.

Maybe being content with my current life will help me to accept death more.  Maybe being happy with what I have accomplished and how I have blessed others should give me peace of mind.  Perhaps wanting to continue to help others in need should be my ongoing journey until it all ends.  Maybe death is like graduation.  A stage in life where I look back and acknowledge my losses and triumphs, always thinking that it is all about helping my fellow human beings.

What did I actually say to my uncle you may be asking?  I looked at those big green eyes staring at me…. thought for a few seconds and said “I don’t know for sure… all I know is that you are still here with us today…you have accomplished a lot in your life…  and we are happy to have you right now…. because we love you.”


Until We Wake Up

Moving along in this life, sometimes can be painful.  I just heard two bad news: one of my uncles just passed away and the other was given two days to live.  They are both distant family members, but the realization that death can happen any moment is frightening.  I hurried and went to visit the one who is still alive; lung cancer which has spread to his head, causing a stroke.  He was conscious and alert, but physically weak.  I never had a close relationship with him.  I never did with any of my uncles.  I haven’t even had a close relationship with my own father.   I happened to call my father on my way to visiting my uncle just to check on him.  Papi (which is how I call my Dad) sounded content and healthy.  He had a mini heart attack about two months ago, which was also startling.  He has been better since then.  But having an ocean between where he lives and where I live makes the pain even bigger.

When I arrived at the hospital where my uncle is, I had a casual conversation with him.  I started to contemplate on this life.  Why do we have to go through so much pain? I reflect like this often, but especially during the time that a loved one is about to leave us.  What is going on through my uncle’s head?  What would he be thinking? We talked about the weather, the news, movies, the past, etc.  He seems ok.  But to think that maybe in one or two days he will be permanently gone puzzles me. It is not the same hearing about other people dying, and meeting your uncle probably two days before he dies.

Maybe this experience is to help me get prepared for more losses in my life, .i.e. Papi.  Maybe I need to see my uncle in this condition so that I can be more accustomed to death.  Because, whether we like it or not, death is inevitable.  We have to accept it, either as a transition to another life, liberation from physical pain, unity with the unknown, or termination of existence.  We don’t like to talk about it.  We all do so many things in life to distract ourselves from this cold reality.  We occupy ourselves with selfish agendas, pretending to be immortal beings.  We like to live an illusion of eternal life.  This is probably why we create religions that promise eternal salvation after this limited life.  But at the same time, the evidence of something greater than ourselves is clear, I think.

We are simply sleeping.  We are unconscious.  We are unaware of what is actually out there, waiting for us.  But because we are not conscious of it yet, because we have no certainty of what awaits us on the other side, we prefer to pretend it is not going to happen.  But it will.  We are sleeping beings who one day, I believe, will be awakened to what is really there.  We think we are awake now, and will sleep eternally upon death.  But I think it is the other way around. We are sleeping, and will be awakened…. when the time comes.

So I said a brief prayer before I left the hospital.  My uncle then said “I will probably last another 30 years…!” I smiled and said “Amen to that!”  What else could I say?  I will probably not see him again, on this side of existence.  Maybe the next time I see him will be when it is time for me to wake up, and meet my two uncles, and anyone else who have awakened by then.  Maybe when I am awake, I will be able to see the reality of the unknown.  But until then,  all I can do is wait and believe.


As it is

  Can I possibly perceive my surrounding as it is?

What surrounds me, what I perceive in the environment, is usually interpreted in a certain way, based on my previous experience.  Therefore, I associate everything I see, hear, smell, touch, and taste in a particular, subjective way.  Can I perceive without associating, without judging, without the mental filter I usually use and perceive them “as it is”?

How about the self?  The thoughts that I have in my mind create the self, or do them? In my experience, I have learned that the self is based on subjective perceptions of the world, like the surrounding.  Other perceive me or my self as a different entity, based on their experience. I have seen my self as an individual of a particular race, gender, age, ethnicity, personality, with distinct interests, talents, biases, attitudes, etc.   And I have started to wonder, how accurate is all of this?  If I really think about it, it is all in my mind.  I have chosen to create it based on what I have learned in my 30 plus years on this earth.  I have fabricated the universe inside my mind. But…. what is really out there?

Is there an objective self?  An objective surrounding?  If I somehow accomplish to perceive the surrounding and the self as they really are, will I cease to be human?  Or will I become a new self, or the “real self”?  Some would call this “enlightenment” or “salvation”.  Saved from what?  Perhaps from the illusion I have created in my mind.

Is it possible to deny the self? Jesus taught we could and should in order to “follow Him”.  Buddha also taught that the self is an illusion. Hinduism also assumes that the world we perceive is an illusion.

Are we truly individuals? Are we somehow connected to each other but don’t know it yet?  Maybe to be united with God, Nirvana, heaven, or whatever you want to call it, is to experience the self and the surrounding “as it is”.  Without bias. Without interpretation.  Without association.  Just as it is.

Is this possible?


It’s not all good

Sadly, it is not all good.

Speaking with my wife today, it was a harsh reminder of the reason for my existence.

She has always felt she is here to help orphans.

Since she was a preteen she felt it in her heart.

Similarly I have felt that the reason for my existence is to serve the needy.

Should I perceive our individual callings as a sign from above?

Strangely we both feel we have wasted most of our lives with selfish agendas.

Simultaneously we have seen how much suffering continue  in this world.

Sickness, hunger, injustices, poverty, natural disasters…the list goes on.

Since when did we humans forget that we are all the same?

Strangely  I hear some people say “it’s all good” when it is not true.

Selfish lifestyles keep us from seeing the truth.

Sincerity and humility is what we need to practice.

Spirituality and not religion is exactly what we should endorse.

Sitting down with my wife and discuss about our calling is my next plan

So that we can finally start living the Kingdom of Heaven.

Sensitivity to the suffering is my urgent message to my readers today

Simplify our lives and Serve the needy

Surrender to the realization that it is not all good.


Is this all there is to Life?

I admit it. I am the man that is double minded. I feel closer to God one day, and farther away the other. I have faith one day, and doubt the next.  I feel encouraged to pray or reflect today, and tomorrow I don’t want to hear anything about God or Jesus. I am easily influenced by circumstances. I am the man described by the book of James in the Bible which says that “because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do (Ch. 1:7-8).”

I need to be honest about who I am, I don’t want to do what I used to do in the past.  I used to pretend that I firmly believe in everything that other Christians claim to be the ultimate truth.  I used to force myself to pray in certain ways simply because it was what was expected.  It was strictly religion.  But what I do now is to be open to various interpretations.  No, I am not creating my own religion, although I may be doing exactly this without noticing it.  Neither am I agnostic, because I believe there is a God. But I am not sure who or what this God really is. Although sometimes I can feel Him very close to me.  And sometimes I do not.  I am inconsistent.  The book of Revelation  claims that Jesus says “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth (Ch. 3:15-16).” This is a strong message, stating that Jesus will reject me when I am inconsistent.  It says He wishes I am either hot or cold.  Does this mean he will accept me if I am consistently away or close to God?  I don’t believe so.  But this same chapter continues with Jesus saying that people who are lukewarm say they are “rich”.  I don’t claim this, although I sometimes fall under the erroneous presumption that I am already heading towards that right direction, failing to be “poor in spirit”, as Jesus said he prefers us to be in order to have the Kingdom of Heavens (Matthew 5).  I understand also that this chapter refers to a particular early church in Laodicea. Should I interpret it pertaining exclusively to this historical church, or also to the present lukewarm church, like myself?  Don’t know.

But I read further in this passage, and feel a strange inspiration when I come across the statement that says “  Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.  Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”  Sometimes I hear the door knocking, but I am afraid to open it.  I am afraid that when I open the door there is nothing on the other side.  I am afraid of living an illusion.  But I am also afraid of not opening the door, because I might miss the greatest opportunity ever.  You see, I have opened the door before, or so I thought, and the joy was there, but with time, it disappeared, because of my double mind.  I feel tears in my mind while reading this passage, because I don’t want to reject God/Truth/Life.  But I don’t want to fool myself with empty hopes.  If God truly loves me, then He must be rebuking me and disciplining me, like this last verse says.  This is probably why I going through a spiritual tribulation.

I am also like Thomas, the disciple who doubted until he saw the resurrected Jesus. He told Thomas that those who believe without seeing are blessed (John 20:29).  Could this mean that I am not blessed if I keep looking for evidence instead of having bling faith?  I am certainly not completely happy and content.  But at the same time, if I am content, then I will not feel motivated to seek more of God.  I may be blessed and happy to simply believe, but I will not know more of God.  I also recently understood that having faith like “a seed of mustard”,  will enable me to do great things, which also means I don’t have to have great  faith (Luke 17:6).   I am not necessarily underestimating God’s power by looking for evidence, I may actually be glorifying Him even more if I keep searching to know more about the nature of His power.

If I am wrong for being double minded,  I can accept that.  What I cannot accept is that knowing God is simply believing everything that other “believers” claim.  I want more from God.  I want to actually feel closer to God, not be content with a few doctrines that is convenient to our selfish desires and cultural norms.  I don’t want to claim to believe certain things in order to be politically correct.  My goal should not be to please others, but God. I live in a constant spiritual struggle, which many might say is the “evil” versus the “good” in my body, like Paul describes in the letter of the Romans (Ch.7:1524).  But, is my doubting an evil thing?  I cannot accept this either. My understanding of evil is to be selfish and to exclude other people.  Doing good is to be inclusive, to love others regardless.  If I claim that my faith is the right one, and everyone else who thinks differently is wrong, then this is true evil.

So what I still have firmly is the thought and belief that I must serve others to live the Kingdom of Heaven.  This I don’t doubt.  It also does not mean to expect a reward, like this world only knows to do.  But to simply and genuinely reach out and help the poor, the hungry, the needy, the sick, the homeless, the mentally ill, the handicapped, and everyone else who is considered “the least of these”.  Jesus identified himself with these people.  I still hope that, by doing this, I will know God more, in spite of my many doubts.  In spite of my double mind.  Because what I see with my physical eyes cannot be all there is to Life.