Mother Theresa provides example of world's religions working together
Ven. Ocean-of-Wisdom Sakya
In recent years we have found that religion can be divisive. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has noted that religions are supposed to exist to make our lives better, and that the world's religions need to work together to produce a better future for everyone.
Those of us who are spiritual need to look to members of not only our tradition, but also to our brothers and sisters of others, to see how we can grow ourselves.
With this spirit in mind, I offer to you how Mother Theresa has shown me how to be a better Buddhist.
Mother Teresa was a person who walked in the Sacred based on her experience of the truth she called God. And it is clear her experience of God transformed her life in such a way that she dedicated it to those in need.
In Buddhism a person who does this is considered a Bodhisattva.
A Bodhisattva is a person who commits their life (or lives depending on your perspective) to the eradication of suffering for all beings. The Bodhisattva's vow is "Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them all."
This does not mean the Bodhisattva believes they individually will be able to relieve the suffering of all beings, but it affirms their committed effort to achieve this task even though it is impossible. This is a principle of Mother Teresa's life, and Buddhists are inspired by it.
In Buddhism there are three sources of all suffering: greed, aversion (anger), and ignorance (delusion) Mother Teresa, through her activity, illustrates how to conquer these poisons noted in our tradition.
Mother Teresa practiced poverty, the antidote to greed. The juxtaposition of her life in poverty shows me how desire for things pulls us from our purpose.
The longing for and accumulation of things, especially those we don't need (which is most items), can be replaced with a life of simplicity, one in which the family member before us is more important than a TV show, or making enough money to upgrade our car or stereo.
Mother Teresa shows me how to practice compassion, the antidote for anger and aversion, by her help with the people some call "untouchable."
She saw them as Gandhiji did, as the "Children of God." Her practice reminds me, and others, to look at a homeless person and recognize they are a Child of God, a Child of the Sacred.
As well when I, we, gaze on any person, we are reminded to recognize the Sacred, the divinity, the Truth in them. In Buddhism we call it the "Buddha nature" of every being.
Mother Teresa has shown me that if I, we, are not fully possessed of this goodwill at this moment, that we can cultivate it. Through her practice she shows how meaningful and compassionate activity liberates us from ill-will.
She shows how to transform our lives by replacing ignorance with wisdom. Mother Teresa helped those who suffered, and saw only suffering.
In the Hindu, Christian or Muslim walking through the doors of her charity she did not see Hindu suffering, Christian suffering or Muslim suffering.
To her they were just human beings that had suffering, and needed a compassionate hand and a gentle shoulder.
Mother Teresa's practice teaches me to pierce through the veil of ignorance that splits suffering into "theirs" and "mine."
She recognized that every person's suffering is OUR suffering. Mother Teresa once accepted a very sick Brahmin (Hindu holy person) into her hospitality and nursed him during his final days. This very man had once tried to have her charity closed down.
After his death she respectfully returned his body to the Hindu temple for the traditional burning. No anger, no ignorance, just compassion for suffering.
Mother Teresa is no longer with us, which I believe is a loss for all people.
Let us not forget her spirit, and the demonstration she made to us of the beings we can become.
Her example can influence our life no matter what tradition we practice.
We need not let greed, anger, or ignorance hobble our striving. All people, of all traditions, can be inspired by not only her life, but also by the great exemplars found in other Sacred Traditions.
I believe it is only when people of the different sacred traditions learn and grow from each other, that there will there be a better future for everyone, and only then will the sacred traditions again inspire confidence.
May you and all beings be well and happy.
Ven. Ocean-of-Wisdom Sakya is the abbot of Middle-Way Meditation Center in Danbury.