Saturday, September 13, 2014

Vertical and Horizontal Healing

"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
--Matthew 22: 35-40.

Thus sayeth Jesus, whom Christians worship as "the Lord," but whom I, following the Dalai Lama, simply honor as a Buddha--a fully awakened being whom I revere as the greatest of Dharma teachers, along with Gautama Siddhartha the Buddha, Lao Tzu, and a few others. 

He is answering the challenging question from a local scribe or lawyer, "Which is the greatest commandment of the (Hebrew) Law?" and his response is simply to quote two isolated passages from the Torah--Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. His genius is to equate them: "And the second is like unto it."  In other words, loving God is inseparable from loving one's neighbor, just as loving one's neighbor is inseparable from loving oneself.  And therein, according to the Master, "hang all the law and the prophets." In other words, he is implying that Wisdom (loving God) and Compassion (loving our neighbors as ourselves) are two sides of the same coin. And all the rest is commentary. 

In Luke's version of the story, the Lawyer then challenges him with the $35 question: "Who is my neighbor??" In other words, where do we draw the boundaries of the Sacramental Community--who is in and who is out? Who is "us"--the so-called "people of God"--and who is "them"?

Jesus responds--typically--by telling an ironic story: the Parable of the Good Samaritan. But who were the Samaritans? They were the "other guys"--the folks the Israelites loved to hate (and vice versa). They lived--remarkably enough--in the area that we know today as the West Bank. 

So the Samaritans--or as we might call them today, the Palestinians--were the folks who lived on the other side of the tracks--or of the wall, as the case may be. In fact, the Disciples had just been thrown out of a Samaritan village, and were already smoldering in resentment at these lowly scum. So Jesus' parable could not have arisen at a more propitious moment--what the Buddha called "Skillful Means."

The story, of course, is quite familiar already: a traveler to Jericho is waylaid by highwaymen, robbed, and beaten. As he lies there bleeding, several of his fellow Israelites--a priest and a Levite--happen by as he moans and cries for help. Both cross the road--to the other side, to avoid him. After all, like the highwaymen themselves, scam artists were common on the remote mountain roads of the time--people who would pretend to be hurt and then rob you blind-- so the priest and the Levite were not taking any risks, and they hurried along, not looking back.  And then a Samaritan came along. In all likelihood, the battered traveler didn't even bother crying out for help--after all, he and the Samaritan were enemies--their peoples hated and despised one another as infidels.

We'll let Jesus tell the rest:

"When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, and gave them to the host, and said to him, 'Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.' Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbour to him who fell among the robbers?"

The answer, of course, is obvious. The loathed Samaritan--the guy we love to hate--was the only one of the three passersby whose compassion overrode any fear or mistrust that he might have encountered a scam artist, and who took the man in, brought him to an inn, dressed his wounds,  and even promised to reimburse the host in full for getting him home safely. 

The implications are equally obvious: to the question, "Who is my neighbor?"--that is, what are the boundaries of the Sacramental Community--Jesus was saying something radical for our time as well as his own: "Ain't no boundaries."

As we face the horrific crises of our time--anthropogenic climate destabilization, despoiling of our land, air, and water by greedy corporations, religious and ethnic hatreds coming to a boil, whether in Iraq, Ukraine, Gaza, or St. Louis, and so on, we need to keep this majestic teaching of Jesus close to our hearts--Loving God = Loving our neighbor as ourself--whoever that neighbor might be.

But how do we get there from here?  While Jesus tells us, unequivocally, what we need to do, the Buddha and the traditions he spawned on the other side of the Eurasian landmass give us a wide range of practical approaches to how to do it--how to grow ourselves, that is, into people like the Good Samaritan--people who know how to put love ahead of fear, and do what needs to be done.

It comes down, in my view, to integrating Vertical and Horizontal healing.

"Vertical Healing" refers to all the arts of "loving God"--which Hindus classify as the Way of Devotion (Bakhti Yoga), the Way of (intellectual) Contemplation (Jnana Yoga), the Way of Selfless Service (Karma Yoga) and the "Royal Way" (Raja Yoga) of direct attainment through the eightfold Yogic path--Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi (or integrative realization of Oneness).

Other traditions, of course, have other formulations of this path of self-purification, but they all strongly overlap. They all involve the vertical integration of Body, Mind, and Spirit.

"Horizontal Healing," then refers to political activism--that is, to all ongoing efforts to bring peace and justice to our communities, our nations, and our planet--including, but not limited to, agitation for human rights, labor activism, environmental advocacy, nonviolent civil disobedience, and so on.

The problem is, the practitioners of vertical and horizontal healing are mostly very different people, who are at times scornful of the other. Vertical practitioners--whether Yogins, Tai Chi masters, Catholic priests, or scholars, often get so caught up in their head trips (or body-mind integration disciplines) that they look down on those who get caught up in worldly pursuits. Similarly, social and political activists are often so driven, so obsessed, and so chronically angry at the evils of the world that they are contemptuous of anyone who wastes his or her time meditating or chanting mantras.

Yet--as Jesus knew--vertical and horizontal healing are inseparable. You cannot truly love God--in any cultural permutation of that idea--without loving your neighbor as yourself--all your neighbors, including the animals and plants on which we all depend for our survival. And we cannot truly bring peace, justice, and environmental healing to our planet without first--or simultaneously--realizing inner peace, equanimity, compassion, and joy within ourselves. As Lao Tzu put it--

What is firmly established cannot be uprooted.
What is firmly grasped cannot slip away.
It will be honoured from generation to generation.

Cultivate Virtue in yourself,
And Virtue will be real.
Cultivate it in the family,
And Virtue will abound.
Cultivate it in the village,
And Virtue will grow.
Cultivate it in the nation,
And Virtue will be abundant.
Cultivate it in the universe,
And Virtue will be everywhere...

So healing our families, communities, and planet must begin by cultivating virtue in ourselves. Here is an easy formula to remember:




Breathe, Observe, Let Go
Be well, Do good work, Keep in touch,
Learn, teach, heal, and create.