Vida Doce

29.07.2011

Tenha felicidade bastante para fazê-la doce.
Dificuldades para fazê-la forte.
Tristeza para fazê-la humana.
E esperança suficiente para fazê-la feliz.
As pessoas mais felizes não têm as melhores coisas.
Elas sabem fazer o melhor das oportunidades
que aparecem em seus caminhos.
A felicidade aparece para aqueles que choram.
Para aqueles que se machucam.
Para aqueles que buscam e tentam sempre.
E para aqueles que reconhecem a importância das pessoas
que passam por suas vidas.

CLARICE LISPECTOR, “O Sonho”

Church Fathers on the Demands of the Crisis

27.07.2011

The Fathers of the Church are a group of remarkable bishops who have shaped the early Church. Their teachings, meditations, and theological insights are the basis for the centuries of Christian thought that followed.

Their influence persists today, but it is often unacknowledged and overlooked. They are not read enough — except for Augustine, and even him is sometimes read in second hand. So I propose three quotes that remind us of the demands that this financial crisis places on those who have much and live in abundance. Basil of Caesarea, a Greek father, and Ambrose of Milan, a Latin father, said the following in the 4th century. The two first paragraphs are from Basil. The third one is from Ambrose. Little has changed.

What keeps you from giving now? Isn’t the poor person there? Aren’t your own warehouses full? Isn’t the reward promised? The command is clear: the hungry person is dying now, the naked person is freezing now, the person in debt is beaten now — and you want to wait until tomorrow? “I’m not doing any harm”, you say. “I just want to keep what I own, that’s all.” You own! You are like someone who sits down in a theater and keeps everyone else away, saying that what is there for everyone’s use is your own [...]. If everyone took only what they needed and gave the rest to those in need, there would be no such thing as rich and poor. After all, didn’t you come into life naked, and won’t you return naked to the earth?

The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry person; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to the person who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the person with no shoes; the money which you put in the bank belongs to the poor. You do wrong to everyone you could help, but fail to help.

The large rooms of which you are so proud are in fact your shame. They are big enough to hold crowds — and also big enough to shut out the voices of the poor [...]. There is your sister or brother, naked, crying! And you stand confused over the choice of an attractive floor covering.

Give Me Your Hand

12.07.2011

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don't let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

RAINER MARIA RILKE, “Go to the Limits of Your Longing”

The Person at the Centre

08.07.2011

Paul Williams’s The Unexpected Way: On Converting from Buddhism to Catholicism is an enthralling book. As a Catholic fascinated by Buddhism, but also perplexed by some of its claims and teachings, I was very interested in this account of conversion. Paul was a leading Tibetan Buddhist (a Buddhist community that is part of the larger school known as Mahāyāna). He taught Indian and Tibetan philosophy at the University of Bristol — he still does. He is a former director of the Centre for Buddhist Studies at the same institution and a former president of the UK Association for Buddhist Studies.

The volume chronicles the thoughts that led him to Christianity and he is able to articulate some aspects (about Buddhist and Catholic thought) in illuminating form. He is now a lay member of the Dominican Order, which makes sense given his interest in study. This is one of the most concise and insightful passages in the book, considering the Buddhist concept of rebirth and the vital value of each person and each life to Christinity:

[I]f the Buddhist position is correct, then unless we attain a state (such as nirvāṇa) where in some way or another our rebirth will not matter, our death in this life is actually, really, the death of us. Death will be the end for us. Traditionally, at least on the day to day level, Buddhists tend to obscure this fact in their choice of language by referring to “my rebirth”, and “concern for one’s future lives”. But actually any rebirth (say, as a cockroach in South America) would not be oneself, and there is a serious question therefore as to why one should care at all about “one’s” future rebirths. Of course, one Buddhist response would be to say that it is an example of the very egoism one is trying to escape to be concerned whether the rebirth will be oneself or not. But I am not sure that helps much. We tend to forget that the original direction of Buddhism was towards the overriding urgency of the need to escape from the cycle of rebirth. Rebirth, in Buddhism and in other early Indian systems of liberation, was seen as horrific. To point out that “my” rebirth involves among other things the destruction of everything that counts as me would have been seen simply as emphasising how horrible rebirth is, and the need to escape from it through spiritual liberation, nirvāṇa.

[...] In my essay [Altruism and Reality: Studies in the Philosophy of the Bodhicaryavatara (London: Routledge, 1997)] I range over a number of key Buddhist presuppositions that seem to me to be questionable. Thus I criticise the idea that the whole is simply a mental superimposition upon the parts. I attack the idea that the world of everyday life is a mental construct, and I argue that persons are not bundles, not constructs out of a series of evanescent mental and physical “parts”, but are rather prior to analysis into parts and presupposed in it. I criticise the idea of data like pains as conceptually prior to the person who possesses the pains, on the basis that pains necessarily involve subjects (“persons”, in the sense in which I use the term, which would include animals) and make no sense as free-floating.

The broad direction of my critique is in favour of what might be called some form of “commonsense realism”, and towards minimalising the role of subjectivity (our minds) in the construction of our world. I see the problem of solipsism (the world is no more than the product of my consciousness) as endemic in all of Buddhist thought. I also see the move towards subjectivity, reflected in a tendency towards privileging individual mental states such as sense data and feelings over “everyday objects”, as ethically and religiously problematic. I tend to favour some form of ethical objectivism. I argue that the Buddhist tendency to reduce persons to other impersonal data claimed to be more fundamental, far from making Buddhism more coherent as an ethical base, actually removes what I am now inclined to think of as a mainstay of coherent ethics. That mainstay is the primacy and irreducible uniqueness of the person.

Anyone familiar with Buddhist thought is able to see that in all of this I am attacking central presuppositions of the very direction Buddhism takes. Anyone familiar with Christian thought might also see here why I found Christianity intellectually tempting.[1]

______________________

[1] Paul Williams, The Unexpected Way: On Converting from Buddhism to Catholicism (London: T&T Clark, 2002), pp. 202-3. In some pages, he does not reach a conclusion about the importance of the mystical experiences that some Christian have had throughout the centuries. It seems clear however that he understands that such subjective experiences serve as intense articulations of shared doctrines and not as individual bases for them. One need only to read and comprehend how the Church has read, for example, Catherine of Siena’s The Dialogue to corroborate this.

Frei Fernando

05.07.2011

Relembraram-me ontem de um livro que vi há uns tempos nos escaparates: Do Eu Solitário ao Nós Solidário: Deus, o Homem e o Mundo, registo de um diálogo entre o jornalista Joaquim Franco e fr. Fernando Ventura, um leigo e um religioso. Lembrei-me desta espantosa conversa com José Manuel Pureza (Centro de Estudos Sociais - Universidade de Coimbra) aquando do lançamento de Caim de José Saramago. Fernando é um Franciscano Capuchinho e esta ordem é responsável pela melhor e mais anotada tradução da Bíblia publicada em Portugal — uma Bíblia para quem quer estudar, meditar, e mergulhar na sua riqueza. Vale a pena ouvir com atenção aqui.

Tarde Vos Amei

02.07.2011

Para o coração de F.

Tarde Vos amei, Ó Beleza tão antiga e tão nova, tarde Vos amei. Habitáveis longamente dentro de mim, e eis-me lá fora a procurar-Vos. Dispersava-me entre as formosuras que criastes. Estáveis já comigo, sem que eu estivesse convosco! Demorava-me naquilo que não existiria se não existisse por Vós. Até que rompestes minha surdez, chamando por mim com voz tão forte. Brilhastes, cintilastes, por dentro da minha cegueira. Exalastes perfume: respirei-o e desejei-Vos com todas as minhas forças. Saboreei-Vos, e agora padeço de fome, morro de sede. Tocastes-me, e, sem a Vossa paz, sei que nunca mais terei paz!

S. AGOSTINHO, Confissões

Acknowledgments

01.07.2011

As I have previously suggested, Augustine initiates a turn to the inner as the necessary way to God. This suggests further that an acknowledgment of God, say as trust in his promise, goes via the self-revelation and confession; or otherwise put, the third-person employment of acknowledgement is inextricably connected to the first-person employment. This brings out the religious sense in the fact that to acknowledge (recognise) the infinite other demands that I reveal myself in responding to that other, but also, conversely, that to acknowledge (reveal, confess) hitherto hidden aspects of myself takes place in the face of the (infinite) other. This is confirmed in Cavell’s reading of Descartes’ argument for God’s existence, which he takes to be saying that “it would not be possible for my nature to be what it is, possessing the idea of God, unless God really existed”, and we could add, if God does exist, so do I.

ESPEN DAHL, “On Acknowledgment and Cavell’s Unacknowledged Theological Voice”