In the National Geographic channel’s “The Power of Miracles” episode of “The Story of God with Morgan Freeman,” Freeman delves into the concept of miracles and the role they play in different cultures and religions around the world. Throughout the episode, Freeman explores the various stories and accounts of miracles that have been passed down through traditional cultures and religions. These stories often involve healing, protection, and other seemingly miraculous events.
One of the main focuses of the episode is the stories of miracle in Christianity. Freeman visits the site of a Catholic pilgrimage in Lourdes, France, where thousands of people travel each year to pray for healing. Freeman also visits the site of a Marian apparition in Medjugorje, Bosnia, where six children reported seeing the Virgin Mary in 1981. Freeman also meets with people who believe they were healed as a result of the apparition, which is still ongoing. Freeman also explores other religion’s records of miracles like the Jewish Kabbalah, and the Islamic Hadith.
While some people may be skeptical of these stories, Freeman makes it clear that they hold great significance for the people who believe in them. For many, these stories of miracles provide hope, inspiration, and a sense of connection to something greater than themselves. Freeman ultimately concludes that miracles are about the power of belief, and that the belief in something larger than ourselves can have a profound impact on our lives.
Watching this episode is a miracle for me. I explored so many beautiful places, cultures and religions. It’s a must watch for people with an interest in the intersection of faith and science, and in the power of belief to shape our lives.
When fall has given way to winter and snow covers the ground while lights twinkle from house to house, you know Christmas is coming. Decorated Christmas trees are everywhere you look. Presents crowd for space under the tree and families come together for a turkey feast. Christmas is one of the most important Christian and cultural holidays of the year, but what is the true meaning of Christmas? Is it the gifts? Is it the annual economic boost?
The Christmas season, especially in the West, is a mix of pre-Christian, Christian, and secular traditions. What’s interesting is the etymology of the word Christmas. It literally means Christian Mass. It’s a shortened form of Christ’s Mass.
Christmas is a time of spiritual reflection on the important foundations of the Christian faith. It’s also a celebration. It’s when Christians celebrate God’s love for the world through the birth of the Christ child: Jesus. The Bible tells of his birth hundreds of years before, fulfilling prophecies.
Christmas is one of the most important Christian and cultural holidays of the year, but what is the true meaning of Christmas? For Christians, the true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of the Savior, Jesus Christ.
Jesus was born in order to pay the price for the things we have done wrong: sin. God sent his only son to be the atonement for all our sins so that we would not be separated from God. Without Jesus, we would all die for our sins. We inherited our sinful nature from the first human beings God created, Adam and Eve. While being fully God and yet fully man, Jesus came into the world as an infant to save us all.
Most Christmas traditions vary in significance and symbolic meaning. For example, we exchange gifts because God sent us the most precious gift: his only Son. Also, three Wisemen visited Jesus and brought gifts as well. A poem titled A Visit from St. Nicholas penned in 1822 popularized the tradition of exchanging gifts too.
Although people worldwide celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25th, it was likely that he was born on a different month and date. The church in the 4th century chose December 25th as it coordinated with the Solstice on the Roman Calendar.
For Christians, the true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of the Savior, Jesus Christ. We know that through belief in Christ we are daughters and sons of God. Heaven will one day be our home. Perhaps this will help you look at the Christmas season differently this year. A chance to truly take in the wonder and awe of the season.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen.
The Serenity Prayer is well known by both believers and non-believers. The famous prayer asks for God’s help achieving something that most people desire but few can achieve: peace and happiness in life. Unlike many prayers that ask for peace or happiness, the Serenity Prayer does not simply ask that God hand a person peace wholesale. Instead, the prayer lays out specific steps that will help a person achieve serenity in their life and asks God to help them gather the strength to live by those smaller goals. The Serenity Prayer does not so much ask for a gift as much as it asks God to help a person create or earn their own peace.
The first half of the Serenity Prayer is the most commonly quoted section of the prayer. The prayer has inspired millions of people, Christians and non-Christians alike. This beautiful prayer, however, is so often quoted that its wisdom can be lost. Here is a breakdown of the wisdom of the Serenity Prayer.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change… Everyone has things in their life they wish that they could change, whether it is something as small as the traffic and congestion that fills a person’s daily commute or something as serious as a loved one’s diagnosis with terminal cancer. When faced with something we wish we could change, we often fight it. We rage against the congested traffic and fall prey to road rage. We deny the terrible news of a deadly diagnosis and stick our heads in the sand. We hide from the truth. We hate it. We curse it. We do the spiritual equivalent of punching a brick wall and expecting the wall to come down instead of our knuckles to bruise and split and break. In our hearts we know that there is nothing we can do to change some facts of life. People will die. Tragedies will happen. The inevitability of those facts does not make them less horrible, but it does mean that there is nothing we can do about it.
The first two lines of the Serenity Prayer ask for perhaps one of the hardest things of all: the strength to both accept that some things are out of our control and come to peace with that fact rather than drowning in useless, toxic rage.
Courage to change the things I can… People love to complain. Think about it. How often do our coworkers start the week not with a smile and story about something pleasant they did over the weekend but a moan, groan or curse about the first day of the work week? When starting a conversation, do we share our joy? Unfortunately, we are much more likely to start a conversation by complaining about something, even something as small as the weather. Complaints seem to be our go-to form of communication, but how often do people really try to change what they claim so grievously offends, inconveniences or angers them?
In the age of social media and the internet, it is easier than ever to jump on the bandwagon and complain about an event, person, policy or organization. Ironically, many of the loudest virtual voices have never done a thing to help the causes they claim matter so much. It is easy to complain, especially from behind the protection of a screen name and keyboard. It is not easy to actually enact change. It is not easy to go up to someone we respect and say “I disagree.” It is not easy to face down someone who is screaming with hate and say, civilly and respectfully, “You are wrong and here is why.” Truly creating change does not happen from behind a screen or around a water cooler. It takes time, effort, energy and, yes, risk.
The penultimate line of the first stanza of the Serenity Prayer asks God to help us find the inner strength and deep well of bravery we all possess and turn that willpower and courage toward bringing about the changes that matter to us.
And the wisdom to know the difference. Discernment is one of the most difficult skills to master especially when it comes to dealing with our ability to influence the world around us. We often have an overinflated sense of our own power to enact change. On some subconscious level, we truly believe that we can make other people see our point of view if we just have one more conversation with them, explain our position one more time or, sometimes, yell loudly enough. This, of course, is ridiculous. People do not change their minds when others shout at them or call them names. Even those who try to change events or others’ opinions with civil, respectful behavior often find themselves frustrated as things refuse to change. This is because the things they want to influence are not within their ability to alter. Discerning what we can change and what we simply wish we could change is not easy. The Serenity Prayer recognizes that very human refusal to admit defeat and accept that something is out of our hands. As such, the prayer asks for God’s help discerning what we can truly control and what we merely wish we could influence.
Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time We all know someone who is never really present in the moment. They may be worrying constantly about tomorrow or forever daydreaming about the next great thing that they believe will happen in their life. They never take the time to enjoy the moment they are standing in or to revel in the life they live. Their focus is always on something else. Unfortunately, when we are focused on something in the far off future or distant past, whether good or bad, we let life pass us by. Whether we want to admit it or not, most of life is composed of the little moments that so many of us ignore. When we are worrying about the big presentation we have at work later in the week, we are not paying attention to our spouse who is longing for some emotional connection. When we are consumed with excitement for our cruise next month, we miss the friend who was looking to simply catch up over lunch. The Serenity Prayer reminds us that those little moments—the butterfly perched on the flowers by the office door, the smile of our child when she sees that daddy’s home, the smell of fresh baked cookies–get lost so easily even though those little moments are the ones that make up most of our lives and make our lives worth living.
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace No one likes to focus on the difficulties that come with life. For all that people love to complain, no one really wants to have a troubled life. We want to be able to win the competition of “who had the worst day,” but we do not actually want to be miserable. We want to have our cake and eat it, too. Unfortunately, this is not possible. Hardships will come up in life, but they are so much more important than a way to win the misery Olympics that so often take place at family dinners or around the water cooler.
“Nothing worth doing was every easy.” This cliché phrase has been both revered for its truth and reviled for its unpleasant reality, but there is no denying its accuracy. Finding love is difficult, and marriages are hard work. Few relationships, however, come close to being as fulfilling as a loving marriage. Parenting is a lifetime of staring at the ceiling at night wondering if we are screwing up our kids irreversibly. That does not mean that it is not the most important job on earth. Almost anything that will bring us true lasting happiness and peace instead of transient pleasure comes with difficulty and trial. In moments when we want to walk away, the Serenity Prayer reminds us that those struggles will be worth it in the end.
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it The world is not perfect. Anyone who would say otherwise is naïve, blind or has their head buried so deep in the sand that their hair is poking through the grass on the other side of the globe. The advent of 24 hour news and the internet has driven home the imperfection of the world in all its gruesome, filthy, nightmarish detail. The worst of humanity is regularly on display as both natural and human made disasters dominate the news and religious extremism and terrorism are documented with sickly loving detail. Given that the horrors of the world are regularly shoved down our throats, is it any wonder that many people would prefer to hide under the covers and pretend that everything is just hunky dory?
Hiding from reality, however, does nothing to change what is actually happening in the world. Distorting facts and figures to feed a popular narrative robs those actually hurt of any chance of enacting real change. The key to dealing with this world is to accept it as it is, both the good and the bad. It is wrong to pretend away the suffering of others, but it is not right to rub the worst of human depravity in the face of someone who is counting their own blessings. The Serenity Prayer makes it clear that we need to deal with reality, not wishful fantasy. To do that, we need to celebrate the highs and spread the good as far and as wide as we can. We need to mourn the lows and fight fiercely to correct what wrongs we can. We cannot change reality when we do not even know what is real.
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will Trust is one of the key components of the Christian faith. Christians must trust that God has a plan for their lives. They must trust that everything, even terrible things, happen for a reason. Painful though it may be, they must trust that their loved ones who die are going to a better place. Trust, however, does not always come easily. Christians who are mourning a lost parent, spouse, friend or, worst of all, a child, may find themselves raging against God and questioning everything they ever believed.
While hardship and trial sometimes brings a person’s faith to its knees, the hottest fires sometimes forge the strongest faith. Those people who come out of trials with both a faith core of steel and a deepened trust in God are often those who manage to accept, somehow, that God is in control even when everything around them is going to hell in a handbasket. Even when life is easy-breezy and good, however, it is not always easy for us to trust in God and surrender. We want to take control. We want to be in charge. The Serenity Prayer reminds us, though, that what we can influence is so much smaller than what God can determine. Whether we like it or not, we are being dragged in the direction God wants us to go, so we may as well stop fighting, go with the flow and trust that He has our best interests at heart.
So that I may be happy in this life Everyone wants to be happy. We know that this life is too short, and we want to enjoy every minute of it. We want to spend our days smiling and laughing. We want to feel both joy and excitement and treasure every moment. The desire to be happy is one of the most natural desires of humanity. Our very biological drive to survive is based on our need to be happy. Our bodies are hardwired to use a biological reward-based system to keep us alive. When we do something that helps us survive, we are rewarded with a surge of dopamine, a feel-good chemical. These hormonal surges come when we eat, sleep, talk with other human beings and have sex. These processes are necessary for the continuation of the human species. Staying happy in this life, however, is not just about fulfilling biological urges. We are hardwired to do more than survive. Dopamine floods our brains when we truly live. Singing, dancing, creating and exploring new things all trigger dopamine. The Serenity Prayer helps remind us that, despite what some fire-and-brimstone sermons say, aiming to be happy in this life is nothing to be ashamed of as long as we do not trade morality for transient pleasure. This, however, rarely happens when we do what is hardwired to be one of our greatest natural sources of happiness: connecting with and helping others.
And eternally happy with Him forever and ever in the next. Christians know that there is more than just this world. There is another world that is free of the horrors and tragedies that plague this world. Our current world is painfully imperfect, but that does not make it devoid of beauty. God’s hand is everywhere in the world, and hope can be found in even the darkest and most dangerous of times. The beauty and good of this world, however, pale in comparison to what is waiting in the next world with Jesus Christ Himself. When we pursue happiness and peace in this life, we must be sure not to get so caught up in earthly pleasures that we take our eyes off the ultimate prize: eternal life with Christ in the next life. The Serenity Prayer helps us focus on what we need to do to achieve happiness and peace in this life, but the final two lines of the prayer make sure to remind us that there is more, much more, than just this life. It reminds us to keep the next life in mind even as we strive to enjoy this one and to change this world for the better.
The Serenity Prayer is well known by both believers and non-believers. It offers simple, but effective methods to truly begin to feel peace in this life, but it also reminds us of what is waiting for us in the next life. It asks God not to fix our lives for us but to lend us the strength to correct them for ourselves. It offers inspiration and advice in equal measure and reminds the faithful that with God anything is possible.
Many years ago, I have read an article about Zen Buddhism Master XuYun’s conversation about Christianity and Buddhism with previous presidents of Nationalist Party Mr. Jiang Jie Shi (蔣介石). Master XuYun said Jesus Christ learned buddhism in Indian, he reached enlightenment, and then went back to found Christianity. Even though I knew Master XuYun was a truly holy and virtuous, I was quite doubtful about his opinion.
However when I watched the documentary file below, I was quite convinced. At any rate, the unity and cooperation of these two religions could do a great contribution to peace in the world.
This BBC 4 documentary examines the question “Did Jesus Die?”. It looks at a bunch of ideas around this question until minute 25, where this examination of ideas takes a very logical and grounded turn with surprising conclusions that demonstrates that the three wise men were Buddhist monks who found Jesus and came back for him around puberty. After being trained in a Buddhist Monastery he spread the Buddhist philosophy, survived the crucifixion, and escaped to Kashmir, Afghanistan where he died an old man at the age of 80.
There are some good reasons to believe that Nietzsche was interested in Eastern philosophy during his lifetime. In the Antichrist he states:
“Buddhism, I repeat, is a hundred times more austere, more honest, more objective. It no longer has to justify its pains, its susceptibility to suffering, by interpreting these things in terms of sin—it simply says, as it simply thinks, ‘I suffer’”
Nietzsche, The Antichrist, 23
Buddhism, as a pessimistic and decadent religion for Nietzsche resembles Christianity but it seems that he had far more admiration for Buddhism. He inherited most of his understanding of Buddhism from Schopenhauer, who considered his own pessimistic philosophy a European relative of Buddhism.
Schopenhauer, in his research into Indian philosophy, appears to have attained the most comprehensive understanding among nineteenth century German thinkers of a system of Asian thought.
Although Nietzsche did read about Buddhism, it was usually second-hand and westernised, he was predisposed to react to Buddhism in terms of his close reading of Schopenhauer. Many Buddhists have since disputed Schopenhauer’s comprehension of their religion.
Influenced by Schopenhauer, Nietzsche criticised both Christianity and Buddhism as forms of nihilism, where the will to nonentity prevails over the will to life. However, he soon feared the rise of pessimism in Europe would culminate in the triumph of the weary and passive nihilism.
It is important to know that Nietzsche was not a nihilist as some suggest, stating that the modern man would have to create his own values through a Revaluation of All Values, leading to the Ubermensch, affirming the world and saying yes to existence, the pinnacle of self-overcoming.
The foundation of his critique of Buddhism is his characterisation of Nirvana as a nothingness and as a form of nihilism. However, this does not best describe the Buddhist path.
There are Four Noble Truths in Buddhism. The first one is the acknowledgement of duhkha or “suffering”, an inseparable characteristic in the realm of Samsara, which suggests that human beings, at the time of death, are reborn to a realm determined by their karma. It is the cycle of aimless drifting, wandering or mundane existence.
If we stop here, we can see why Nietzsche considers it nihilistic. However, this is but one of the noble truths. The second one is the origin of this suffering which comes from craving, desire or attachment and the third one states that there is an end to suffering, by letting go of this craving. This leads to the final noble truth, which is the path that gives way to renouncement of craving and the cessation of suffering, following the Noble Eightfold Path, which liberates one from Samsara, the painful cycle of rebirth – achieving Nirvana, the cessation of all afflictions, actions, rebirths and suffering that are a consequence of afflictions and actions.
Nirvana refers to the realisation of the “non-self” and “emptiness”, marking the end of rebirth by stilling the fires that keep the process of rebirth going. This is what Nietzsche thought of as a longing for nothingness. However, it is not a longing for nothingness, it is simply the end of Samsara. Thus, different from Schopenhauer’s pessimism, Buddhism starts pessimistic but ends with the positive experience of Nirvana.
It is not an escape from the world, one begins with the suffering inherent in life, one is to overcome pleasure and pain, before beginning a mindful examination of one’s self and reality as perceived by the self. Upon this examination, one realises that there is no self, but only the combination of mental and physical states (skandhas).
This realisation of non-self is also misunderstood. It is not a destruction of a self, but rather a rejection of the existence of a self. Buddhists believe that the concept of “emptiness” means that all things are empty of inherent existence, there is no such thing as inherent existence, everything arises mutually. Thus, negation in the East does not have the same pessimistic connotation that it has in the West.
Perhaps the most serious misreading we find in Nietzsche’s account of Buddhism was his inability to recognise that the Buddhist doctrine of emptiness was an initiatory stage leading to a reawakening.
Throughout Nietzsche’s books and notes, he refers to different aspects of Eastern philosophy on more than four hundred occasions, and in several of these he claims to be interested in it.
Although Nietzsche considers Eastern philosophy as nihilistic, he does indicate its profundity. It seems that he studied this material closely and appreciated it greatly, this is important to note. And even if Nietzsche despised sacred texts, he upholds the beauty and grandeur of them as literary documents.
Nietzsche’s interest in studying Buddhism seems to be seeing it as a psychological symptom, as well as a historically embedded phenomena. Having chosen Buddhism to comment on might be in line with his idea of having the courage to engage with worthy adversaries. He states:
He (the Buddha) does not advocate any conflict with unbelievers; his teaching is antagonistic to nothing so much as to revenge, aversion ressentiment. And in all this he was right, for it is precisely these passions which, in view of his main purpose, are unhealthful.
Nietzsche, The Antichrist, 20
Here he agrees on the Buddha’s doctrine, which is opposed to the feelings of revenge, antipathy and ressentiment. And in Thus Spoke Zarathustra he said:
“For that man be delivered from revenge, that is for me the bridge to the highest hope, and a rainbow after long storms”
Nietzsche’s conceptions of the Eternal Recurrence and Samsara, Zarathustraand Bodhisattva (a person who is able to reach Nirvana but delays doing so through compassion for suffering beings), the Transvaluation of All Values and Nirvana, are all examples of similarities.
In his analysis of the self, Nietzsche contended:
“the subject is only a fiction: the ego of which one speaks when one censures egoism does not exist at all”. This is remarkably similar to the Buddha’s doctrine of non-existence of the self.
Nietzsche’s philosophy may have been much more similar to Buddhism than he might have realised. This should not be surprising, given Nietzsche’s respect for the Buddha and that Buddhism concerns itself with one of the basic problems with which Nietzsche was grappling: the structure and meaning of the human condition.
At the onset of his mental collapse, he even came to identify himself with Buddha:
“I have been Buddha in India, Dionysus in Greece.”
However, on the whole, this impression is deceptive.
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Eastern Philosophy and Nietzsche | Buddhism and Hinduism
Although Nietzsche considers Eastern philosophy as nihilistic (wrongly), he does indicate their profundity. It seems that he studied this material closely and appreciated it greatly.
Green Tara (Jetsun Drolma) statue from the Gyantse Kumbum Pagoda, Pelkor Chode Monastery, Gyantse, Tibet
H.E. Tangtong Gyalpo Bodhisattva (1361-1485)
It is through the understanding and practice of the Buddha-dharma that one becomes a holy person–a living jewel. Sainthood in Buddhism has a somewhat different meaning than that held in Christianity although both refer to people who live an exceptionally holy life, are very compassionate, and can demonstrate certain “miracles.” In Buddhism it also means one who has become enlightened—been liberated from the cycle of reincarnation and all its related suffering. The Christian saint aspires to be born in the Christian heaven, but this is not the goal of a Buddhist. A Buddhist saint is one who has escaped samsara or existence all together and gone beyond what is possible in the heavenly realms. A Buddhist saint would live in the Dharma realms or wherever he choses to be to help living beings. A saint in Buddhism is one who, like the Buddha, has become enlightened and realized his or her original nature, possessing the skills and wisdom of a Buddha. They have gained control over life and death and are thus liberated from the cycle of reincarnation. This is true happiness!
In Buddhism saints may not lead what is normally thought of as a “conventional” life. There are many examples of Buddhist saints who exhibited most unorthodox (“deliberate“) behavior. Examples of these kinds of happy, crazy saints are Han-shan and Shih-te, eccentric Ch’an (Zen) hermit-monks from Tang Dynasty, as well as Monk Ji-gong and Birdnest Roshi, but there are many others including the crazy yogis of Tibet like Padmasambhava, Virupa, Manjusrimitra, Tsang Nyon Heruka, and Tangtong Gyalpo. Saints can manifest in innumerable forms and may appear as humans or animals or live in other dimensions.
Japanese hanging scroll by Hashimoto Gaho of Han-shan and Shih-te (Kanzan and Fittoku), eccentric Ch’an (Zen) hermit-monks from Tang Dynasty, whose poetry is popular in the west.
It is important to know that one cannot fully understand what takes place on higher levels of the path. For example, those on the first Bodhisattva stage do not know about what takes place on the second Bodhisattva stage and so on up the path. Those on the second Bodhisattva stage see those on the first Bodhisattva stage as having impurities. Even those on the tenth Bodhisattva stage see those on the ninth Bodhisattva stage as having certain impurities. It is natural that the impurities and obscurations of those on the lower levels would be greater than those at the higher levels. Nevertheless, those who are kind and benefit others can guide and transform living beings no matter where they are on the path. However, ordinary beings and those at the lower levels of the path cannot possibly understand the behavior of true holy beings.
The key features of the various paths to becoming a holy being are summarized in the chart “The Way to Become a Holy Being or Saint.” It is useful to think of these paths as stages on the way to becoming a Buddha. It is interesting to note that the other world religions are also included as initial stages on the way to buddhahood in as much as they teach compassion, loving kindness, some aspects of morality, and discourage evil. Some also teach various forms of training the mind in meditation. Bodhisattvas do not only incarnate as Buddhists to help living being. The three pure precepts of Buddhism—cease evil, do good, and help others—can be practiced in many forms.
You must remember that ALL sentient beings are evolving toward the perfection of being a Buddha, whether they know it or not, and whether at the moment they may be very confused and behaving in foolish or even evil ways. This includes the minions of Mara and the demons of hell as well as the devas or gods in heaven.