Zen Talk: Spill The Cup of Your Life So That the Beauty Runs Out

We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled.
The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over
and let the beautiful stuff out.
– Ray Bradbury

Now, I know that Ray Bradbury is no Zen Master, but this quote had a nice Zen-y essence, and I thought it would be appropriate to share it on Zen Talk day. Plus, I really like it.

We can each imagine ourselves as a vessel – a cup, if you will – and over the course of our lifetimes, we are constantly being filled with things: ideas, both good and bad, friendships and relationships, notions, concepts, experiences, sites, sounds, smells, tastes and everything else you can imagine.

Some of those things are good and some are bad. Some need to be shared and others do not – or at least, sharing them in just the right way is what’s important.

This quote reminds us to tip ourselves over – to spill out all of the things that have filled us up in the most beautiful way possible, whether to influence others for the better, to teach them things from our lives and experiences or just to inspire them or fill them with awe. Coming from such a talented writer as Ray Bradbury, I can see how this quote made sense to him. He was a man who tipped himself often and let much beauty come out.

What do you think of this quote?

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Zen Talk: Truth, Happiness and the Future

“Arise, do not be negligent; practice the principle of good conduct. One who acts on truth is happy in this world and beyond.”

These wise words of the Buddha are gracefully simple and straightforward. Be good! What that means, some of us might be less sure, as words like “truth” tend to get muddled in the confusing world of religious belief and the “truth” that is declared.

If you can manage to operate your life by basing your actions on truth, though, then more power to you.

How would you seek to understand what is truth? How do you practice the principle of good conduct in your daily life?

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Zen Talk: Buddha Speaks of the Wisdom of Age

“The splendid chariots of kings wear out; so does the body age. Thus do good people teach each other.”

This reminds me of the biblical book, Proverbs, which is designed “for learning about wisdom and instruction…to teach shrewdness to the simple;…let the wise also hear and gain in learning and the discerning acquire skill.”

No, they’re not the same thing but the idea is that we should benefit from the knowledge and experience of others rather than seek to gather all knowledge first hand. “Good people teach each other.” Yes, they do, and thank goodness for that because if I had to figure everything important out on my own, whew would that stink.

I learn from my mistakes very well because they suck so bad I wouldn’t want to make the same mistakes twice. It’s even more beneficial when I learn from the mistakes of others. Not that I want other people making mistakes, of course, but it is great when people mess up, share what they learned with you and then – and here’s the most important part(s) – you internalize what they’ve said, recognize the comparable situation when it arises and avoid making the same mistake.

Bingo! Welcome to Buddha quotes and Proverbs.

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Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 104-112 Provides Us With Some Familiar Things and Reminds Us that Everyone Can Have His Reward with God


Immediately in verse 105 I’m pleased by the distinction of “those without faith among the people of the Book.” I think that it complements something that we run in circles around week after week: that not all Jews (or Christians for that matter) are enemies of God. Only the ones who don’t believe in Him/have faith/etc.

Grace in Islam or a Bad Translation?

The concept of grace in this verse also interests me. Grace, at least in Christianity, implies that someone is saved by the grace of God, if you will, which is to say that as far as humans are concerned it’s a very fanciful (I dare say, almost whimsical) thing on God’s part: almost Job-ian (and not the Job portrayed in the Quran but the Job that we see in the biblical book of Job which has different lessons). Perhaps my translation is crummy, or as Kay suggested last week I need to be looking at multiple translations, but putting aside my preconceived notions regarding the concept of grace, I think it might be important to understand how this idea manifests and works itself out in Islam.

Allah’s Prophets and the Right to Upgrade Technology

Verse 106 acknowledges that Allah is entitled to do away with prophecies of the past or replace them with better ones. How could He not have that right!?

First of all, He’s Allah. That alone should give him sufficient right (something He says). Second of all, I look at this from a technology perspective. Just because dial-up internet was the latest and greatest thing when it happened two decades ago doesn’t mean that we should stick with it because it was the harbinger of the internet age and a time of rapid and mass transformation for everything technological. When cable modems came out, you better believe I upgraded and the rest of you probably did too. Why stick with what’s old and outdated when there’s something fresh and new that carries a better message (that’s an email reference, not necessarily a religious one 😉 ).

In any case, what I’m saying is not to accept cavalierly the replacement of Judaism and Christianity and those religions’ respective (and primarily overlapping) prophets with Islam and Mohammed. What I’m suggesting is that internal to the text and Islam, we better believe that Allah has the right to give us the latest and greatest rather than to leave us with last week’s technology…or prophet. I mean, if we let Cisco tell us when to let go of the past, then we better let God.

A Warm, Fuzzy Feeling: Be Good and It’s All Good

We seem to have covered the many themes found in the middle verses of this passage before so instead of me not adding anything constructive, I’ll move onto the end, knowing that some of the participants in this project will enlighten me as to anything I may have neglected in those verses.

All I can really say about verse 112 is that I like it. It’s another one of those like 2:62 type verses that says that everyone has the ability – regardless of religious affiliation – to have his reward with God. Do two things: surrender to God with all your heart and (this I see as supremely important) do good. That’s it – give your heart to God and do good. And in English I love looking at the etymological relationship between those two words (God and good).

Summary and Welcome Newcomers

That’s it for this week. Please feel free to share any thoughts, add anything, make any corrections, etc.

I’ve noticed more Quran Read-A-Long readers as of late, and so I just want to welcome you all and let you know that this is a place where we can read the Quran together, a few verses at a time, and try to learn a little something with each other, regardless of our religions, about this amazing book and about Islam. So, don’t be shy – feel free to leave your comments and thoughts and let us know what you know.

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The Cow 104-112

104. Say not (to the Prophet), O believers: “Have regard for us (ra’ina),” but “look at us (unzurna),” and obey him in what he says. Painful is the nemesis for disbelievers. 105. Those without faith among the people of the Book, and those who worship idols, do not wish that good should come to you from your Lord. But God chooses whom He likes for His grace; and the bounty of God is infinite. 106. When We cancel a message (sent to an earlier prophet) or throw it into oblivion, We replace it with one better or one similar. Do you not know that God has power over all things? 107. Do you not know that God’s is the kingdom of the heavens and the earth, and that there is none to save and protect you apart from God? 108. Do you too, O believers, wish to question your Apostle as Moses was in the past? But he who takes unbelief in exchange for belief only strays from the right path. 109. How many of the followers of the Books having once known the truth desire in their hearts, out of envy, to turn you into infidels again even after the truth has become clear to them! But you forbear and overlook till God fulfils His plan; and God has power over all things. 110. Fulfil your devotional obligations and pay the zakat. And what you send ahead of good you will find with God, for He sees all that you do. 111. And they say: “None will go to Paradise but the Jews and the Christians,” but this is only wishful thinking. Say: “Bring the proof if you are truthful.” 112. Only he who surrenders to God with all his heart and also does good, will find his reward with his Lord, and will have no fear or regret.

An Open Letter to Sarah Palin about Her Fundamentalist Christian Beliefs

Before you is a letter from someone I know and respect whose work is all about helping fundamentalist Christians who have chosen to leave their abusive and delusional religions do so in a safe and psychologically sound way. As the author of this letter has written, “Marlene Winell is a Bay Area psychologist who specializes in recovery from fundamentalist religion. She is author of Leaving the Fold:  A guide for former fundamentalists and others leaving their religion. She is the daughter of Assemblies of God missionaries. A longer article about Sarah Palin’s religion is on Dr. Winell’s website:  http://www.marlenewinell.net.”

Please feel free to leave any comments at the bottom of this letter and reproduce the letter in its entirety elsewhere on the internet (so long as you provide Dr. Winell as the author). If you would like to read an interview that I once conducted with Dr. Winell, please click HERE.

An open letter to Sarah Palin, from Marlene Winell, Ph.D.

Dear Sarah,

As a former fundamentalist, I’d like to call you on what you are doing.

This is not about disrespecting your private beliefs.  But you have a huge conflict of interest here by running for office and you can’t have it both ways (see Jesus’ words in John 2:15).

You have not been honest about the most important thing about you:  the fact that you are a born-again, literal Bible-believing, fundamentalist Christian.   Voters need to know you are not merely a “Christian” – a follower of Christ’s teachings.

Most people who have never been entrenched in the subculture of fundamentalist Christianity may not understand what this really means, but I do. Like you, I was raised in the Assemblies of God and I was a zealous part of the Jesus Movement.  Like you, my life was consumed with seeking God’s will for my life and awaiting the imminent return of Jesus.  It’s clear to me that you want to do the Lord’s will; you’ve said and done things like a true believer would. You are on a mission from God. If that is not true, then I challenge you to deny it.

Former fundamentalists like me know that your worldview is so encompassing, authoritarian, and powerful that it defines who you think you are, the way you view the world, history, other people, the future, and your place in the world.  It defines you far more than hockey mom, wife, woman, hunter, governor, or VP candidate.

You believe that every bit of the Bible is God’s perfect word.  You have a supernatural view of reality where Satan is a real entity and where good and evil beings are engaged in “spiritual warfare” (Ephesians 6:12).   Like Queen Esther, you believe that God has “called” and “anointed” you to lead America.  This is why you have accepted blessing for office through the “laying on of hands” and prayer to protect you from witchcraft.

So what does this mean for governing?  What could Americans expect with you at the helm?

You cannot affirm basic human decency or capability, because according to your dogma, we are sinful, weak, and dependant on God. And so, your decisions would not be based on expert advice or even your own reasoning, but on your gut-level, intuitive interpretation of God’s will.

This would allow you to do anything and claim you were led by God.

Your thinking necessarily is black or white.  People and policies are either good or bad.  After all, Jesus said, “He who is not with me is against me” (Matt. 12:30).  Under your leadership, diplomacy and cultural nuance would be less important than not blinking.  In a spiritual war, you don’t negotiate with the devil.

Regarding social policy, as a believer in individual salvation, you would emphasize individual morality and responsibility, not a community approach with structural solutions.  You would be judgmental and controlling of personal choices regarding sex, reproduction, and library books instead of addressing global warming, torture, poverty, and war.  Your belief in eternal hell-fire, your deference to a literal Bible despite its cruelties and vengeful god, and your indoctrination to disbelieve your own compassionate instincts, are likely to leave you numb at your moral core.  You might recall the verse, “If a man will not work he shall not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10).  However, faith-based initiatives would be okay because they would use caring to evangelize.

How about science?  As it has in your governorship, your interpretation of the Bible would trump scientific scholarship and findings.  You would deny the human role in global warming because God is in control.  More importantly, you would not make the environment a priority because you do not expect the earth to last.

International affairs?  Since your subculture has identified the establishment of Israel in 1948 as the beginning of the end, you would see war, epidemics, climate change, and natural disasters, all as hopeful signs of Jesus’ return.  You would be a staunch supporter of Israel and deeply suspicious of countries like Russia identified with the antichrist in the end times literature.  (You have publicly said that you expect Jesus to return in your lifetime and that it guides you every day.)

The Christian fundamentalism that has shaped your thinking teaches that working for peace is unbiblical and wrong because peace is not humanly possible without the return of Jesus (1 Thess. 5:2,3).  Conflict, even outright war is inevitable, for Jesus came not to bring peace but a sword (Matt: 10:34-37).  Like millions of fundamentalist Christians, you may actually find joy in global crises because these things portend His return (Luke 21:28).

But all of this certainty and fantasy in today’s complex world is dangerous, Sarah.  There was a time when all of humanity thought the world was flat.  Today, the stakes for such massive error are much higher.

So we want to know, Sarah, Warrior Princess for God —  How dare you presume to take responsibility for our country and our planet when you, in your own mind, do not consider this home?   I mean home for the long haul, not just until your rescue arrives from space.  How dare you look forward to Christ’s return, leaving your public office empty like a scene from the movie, Left Behind?

What if you are completely wrong and you wreak havoc instead with your policies?  If you deny global warming, brand people and countries “evil,” support war, and neglect global issues, you can create the apocalypse you are expecting.  And as it gets worse and worse, and you look up for redemption, you just may not see it.  What then?  In that moment, you and all who have shared your delusion may have the most horrifying realization imaginable.   And it will be too late.  Too late to avoid destruction and too late to apologize to all the people who tried to turn the tide and needed you on board.

And you, John McCain, how dare you endanger all of us for the sake of your politics?  How dare you choose a partner who is all symbol and no substance, preying on the fears of millions of Americans?   Shame on both of you.

Leave this beautiful, fragile earth to us, the unbelievers in your fantasy.  It’s the only heaven we have and you have no right to make it a hell.


Marlene Winell, Ph.D.
October 21, 2008

Press Release – October 21, 2008
Contact:  mwinell@gmail.com

If you would like to read an interview that I once conducted with Dr. Winell, please click HERE.

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Enjoy some Fun with the Bible posts.

Zen Talk: The Teaching of the Enlightened

“Not to do any evils, to accomplish good, to purify one’s own mind – this is the teaching of the enlightened.”

This quote by Buddha is a nice one, but probably one of the more difficult to accomplish.

Don’t do evil. Okay, I might be able to handle that. Of course, establishing where the line for evil is is important. A devout Catholic might tell you that contraception is evil. But is it really? Setting aside that complicated line, I think I could manage to avoid evil.

Do good. Alright, similar problem, but I even think I can manage that … if I concentrate really hard, become a total bore and really think about everything. Eventually, I think doing good would become rote and possible, and then I could start introducing excitement again.

And now the tough part: Purify my mind. Uh, okay. How do I do this? Well, a lifetime of practicing and implementing the teachings of Buddhism, no doubt, but for many of us that’s easier said than done. Fortunately, there are a number of great techniques, starting with Mindfulness, that can help us begin purifying our minds.

Whether you start implementing the first, second or third directives of this quote, best of luck!

What did you think of the quote? What do you do in your life to make sure that you are abiding by these words? Is it hard?

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Kyle Stops Believing in God in South Park Episode 506, “Cartmanland”

This is an excellent South Park episode for someone like myself who loves when the show discusses religion.

When Kyle gets hemorrhoids and Cartman inherits a million dollars with which to purchase his very own amusement park, Kyle can’t believe that God would allow such a thing to happen. The question is, Why do bad things happen to good people (and good things to bad people)?

Thus, Kyle stops believing in God and renounces his Jewish faith.

As a response, Mr. and Mrs. Broflovski read the book of Job to him (a book of the Bible) – though they do not finish it. The book of Job is about lots of awful things happening to a good person, who continues worshiping God. The lesson of the story is, God can be just or unjust and we have no way of knowing why life is the way it is because the universe works in mysterious ways. Because of all that, we should never stop believing in or worshiping God.

Well, that sentiment may have held back in the day, but now that’s really frustrating and when Kyle calls the story stupid, South Park is lending credibility to a child’s natural tendency to waver in his belief when such terrible things occur.

So we get the Bible, religion and God all throughout this whole episode. There’s so much more, too. In synagogue, Kyle refers to God as Jehovah, the anglicized form of His name in the Bible. Pay attention to what he says about what’s important to him.

Did you like this episode? What did you think about the portrayal of Kyle’s religion? Do you like the book of Job? Has something ever happened in your life that caused you to question God’s existence (or maybe just hate Him)? Share with us!

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Read some Fun with the Bible posts and learn more cool things about the Bible.

Zen Talk: Parker and Stone’s Alan Watts Animation Teaches of the Middle Ground and Banishing Black and White

Before seeing these videos, I wasn’t aware of Watts or his work, but I must admit that, despite accusations by other scholars of eastern religions, Buddhism and Zen that Watts fetishized and oversimplified Zen for the sake of sharing its philosophy, I really enjoy these mini lectures and the accompanying videos.

As I said Friday, I’m going to be talking about the video I posted then; to watch this video before reading the article, click HERE.

This video begins by telling us about the presumption that there are two types of people: prickly, practical ones, and gooey, sentimental ones. The world, Watts explains, is often perceived in a polarized fashion. We see one thing as black and the other as white, one thing as good and the other as bad, one thing as prickly and the other as gooey. It’s just a fact of our thinking that we pair and perceive in opposites. But, Watts tells us, the world is not so dichotomous. No person is entirely one thing, whether prickly or gooey.

Interestingly, psychology and personality studies reveal something similar. As friends and acquaintances characterize one another, researchers have found that people are often described in opposing ways. Moreover, when individuals try to characterize themselves as one thing, they find that they can also, at times, act in an opposing manner. People are not uni-characterizable, to use a term that doesn’t exist. They are complex, acting one way in certain situations and opposite ways in others.

Using his Zen predilections, Watts makes us realize that the world is not so easily divided into blacks and whites, but must be understood as gooey prickliness, and prickly goo. Now, it is often fetishized about Zen and Buddhism that there is no belief in good and evil or other similar dichotomies, but this is untrue. However, Watts doesn’t say that this is so and we can hardly accuse him of oversimplifying what he hasn’t. Rather, he is making a point about the nature of life and people in an attempt to break down our insistence on characterizing other people along such strict lines, and insisting that we are unable to relate to them.

What did you get out of Watts’ lecture and the accompanying video? Did you like it? Do you think it oversimplifies or does it make you think? What about?

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To read about “Cherokee Hair Tampons,” and the fetishization of eastern thought, click HERE.

“Damien,” episode 108 of South Park is Rife with Theological Jokes and a Battle between Satan and Jesus

When Satan’s son, Damien, comes to South Park to wreak havoc and challenge Jesus to a boxing match with Satan – the ultimate showdown between Good and Evil – you know there’s fun to be had.

I won’t go into all the details here, but I will tell you to watch this episode if you enjoy South Park’s portrayal of religion (and we all know I do). Make sure to keep an eye out for jokes about Jesus and forgiveness, what Jesus actually said in the Bible, what it means for Jesus to be the Son of God, the Catholic priest’s familiarity with Jesus and so much more.

What did you think of this episode? Which theological jokes did you catch?

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Zen Talk: Sayings of Buddha about Pleasure

“When a person long absent from home returns safely from afar, relatives, friends and well-wishers rejoice at his return. In the same way, when one who has done good is gone from this world to the beyond, his good deeds receive him, like relatives receiving a returning loved one.”

This is from the Dhammapada, the sayings of Buddha.

Though it is not actually about travel, the opening lines reminded me (for obvious reasons) about traveling and since I am away this weekend, I thought it was appropriate. I’m off to L.A. for Labor Day Weekend (no real connection other than having Monday off really). Do you have any good plans for Labor Day Weekend?

What do you think about this saying of Buddha? Do you have a favorite Buddhist saying? Share it with us.

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