To be surrounded by friends is fortunate, to be surrounded by friends who are religious or spiritual and open minded is of even greater fortune. To be secure in ones faith I believe allows one to be open to the faith of others. When I see people who are closed minded or intolerant of other people’s beliefs I always think that they are very insecure in their belief. They seem as frightened of other ideas as a child who hides under a blanket, pulling it over the eyes.
Intolerant and closed minded people shut themselves off to other ideas. Someone who is confident and at peace with their belief has no need to fear other ideas, has no need to open up to examination not only the other ideas but even those personally held.
When I was younger and in the Marine Corps stationed in Hawaii I had two really close friends in the barracks I lived in. One a Mormon, one a Bahai, along with myself a Buddhist we lived in an open bay barracks with a heroine addict and dealer at one end and about 80 others indulging in various pursuits to ease the pain of life.
We, the three of us were really close to each other, every evening after our duties were finished we would each grab our bicycles and head out to various parts of the Windward side of the island of Oahu, Hawaii. We would each be headed to our various religious activities for the night. We lived with a sense of purpose and mission. Two of us were conscientious objectors, one the Mormon was not. We were very different from each other in many ways and yet we were very much a like.
When we were unable to go off base or had to remain in the barracks for one reason or another we would ‘huddle’ together and talk. We would have very lighthearted religious debates or rather deep philosophical explorations. I know that each of us felt certain that what we were doing was the correct thing. And while we perhaps wished that the others would subscribe to our individual views we also respected the commitment the others had.
In many ways we formed our own religious academy, training ourselves. We practiced explaining our beliefs even trying to ‘win’ over the others. We honed our skills in many ways. Not the least of which was just tuning out the drugs and suffering, yet wishing and praying that we somehow might be a positive example for the others. In some ways as I look back perhaps because of our focused dedication we may have seemed unapproachable, too ‘perfect’, too ‘religious’.
Part of that feeling has hopefully helped me realize that sometimes the people whom we wish to help are often afraid of our help because they feel they may not live up to some perceived expectation.
If we are uptight, or judgmental, or intolerant then we are certain to be off-putting to many people. They may think we are too ‘perfect’ and yet they also know it is a lie, for no one is perfect.
In Buddhism we practice Dhana, which is selfless giving. I say practice because I really want to emphasize that we try, we struggle with and practice not always successfully. To give something to someone is a very complicated process. Made even more complicated by the fact that we must embrace the other person as a truly respect worthy person who’s life is nothing less than equal to our own. Any hint of anything less sours the giving, taints it with potential feelings of charitable giving.
The gift has to be given freely and with no expectation of any reward or benefit. The gift must be given so freely that even if the gift is refused or even misused then no thought can be given, no regret no anger, nothing. Imagine holding the door open for someone, something that we do here in the US, especially in the South, without even thinking twice about it. Imagine holding the door for countless people, some of whom thank you, some of whom completely ignore you and most of whom cuss you out or slander you for your effort. Would you be able to continually hold the door for people without feeling the slightest bit of some emotion other than great and limitless joy at having been able to and expectation of doing it again? I know I could not, though I wish I could. And holding the door is only the smallest of effort compared to helping others to eliminate suffering.
People who are insecure in their faith are unable to place themselves in positions of possible inferiority, especially when it comes to their own ego or their own ideas of what is right or wrong. People who are intolerant certainly can not. When we are acting in those ways we have a need to be or feel superior, we depend on and defend positions of correctness and right-ness, we become righteous, self-righteous. In that position we are far less approachable than if we are welcoming, embracing and respecting.
I have an absolute conviction in my belief, a conviction that allows me to embrace and appreciate and respect other peoples conviction. And yet when someone is so resolute that they become intolerant they cause suffering and they are, I believe, living a suffering life.
The three of us, friends in the Marine Corps, because we were committed to our own beliefs but also open to other people’s conviction, welcomed and embraced and even encouraged each other. We all grew from our relationship, I learned so much from those two other guys, and even from the others in the barracks who weren’t ‘religious’, whatever that really means. I learned things that I would never have learned by surrounding myself with like minded people.
In Buddhism we have two terms used to describe friends. We say they are either good friends or bad friends. Good friends are the ones who help us grow and may at times seem like bad friends possibly. That is, someone may persecute us or hinder us in our faith or practice, and yet by their so doing we are motivated with even greater resolve to strive harder. So the person who is doing bad things then become good friends.
People who make us feel good and whom we may think are good friends may be bad friends because they may not really encourage us to grow and learn, they may not challenge us.
So, the determining factor as to whether someone is a good friend or a bad friend is not in the other person but in our action in response to that other person. In a fashion actually the other person in neutral, it is up to us if they are good or bad.
Written while flying from Charlotte to Denver