Friday, 9 November 2018

2 Precepts


Last night, just before waking, I had a very vivid dream.

I was in a residential compound, similar to a monastery or a school or a university campus.The weather was fine and people stood or sat around in groups here and there, but not where I was walking, which was along a properly surfaced road — the kind you get in such places, with just room for one or two car-widths, so vehicles can come through slowly.

The road surface ended with untidy edges at the foot of low banks where oak trees grew, lining the track, their roots forming a gnarled network in the mossy earth, pocketed with places where small rodents had made homes or the earth merely collapsed into hollows.

On the edge of the bank, catching the sunlight, I spotted a pound coin, and stopped to pick it up. As I bent down, I noticed that tucked unobtrusively into the uneven ground, partly hidden by leaves, there was a whole stash of coin keepers. 

Like these:

I picked them all up! Then I noticed another such collection a few yards further on — and a third one a few yard after that.

I concluded they had been left there on purpose for three different people to find, and that the solitary pound coin had been left as a sign.

On top of the second and third stash I saw a spectacles case, and also a couple of hard pouches — similar to the exterior case of an old-fashioned travel alarm clock. 

I concluded (don't ask me why, you know what dreams are like) that in these pouches were drugs, and these stashes were left by drug dealers as part of their trading.

I wanted the money but I was frightened of being intercepted by drug dealers, who I thought could be violent and unscrupulous.

So I filled my hands and my pockets with as many of the coin keepers as I could hold, and began to hurry on my way. I thought the hollows in the ground could be concealing more, but I also thought it more prudent to get clear away with what I'd found than to hang about where I could be found and risk losing what I had already gathered. 

As I moved away from the place, I started to reflect on my decisions — and carried my reflections on into waking up.

I felt worried that the money was not mine to take, and that taking someone else's stuff would be bad karma. I considered taking what I'd found to the police — and maybe taking the suspect pouches I thought had drugs in as well — to report possible drug trading. But I didn't want to, in case the police took the money away from me and I never got it back.

Then I began to wonder if it was in fact okay to take what was merely left lying around on the ground in a public place, under the oak trees like a squirrel gathering acorns — the natural gleaning of an animal.

I also wondered if ill-gotten gains were in any case morally forfeit, and all right to take away.

I thought about Judgement Day and what the consequences of my actions might have been — perhaps someone who had left money for a drugs dealer would have been brutally attacked and tortured when the dealer found no money, and it would be all my fault. Maybe they would be killed, and what I had done would contribute to that.

I thought about the eighth Commandment, "Thou shalt not steal", and debated with myself whether taking something I'd found lying at the roadside was — or was not — stealing.

My final reflection, as I broke the surface into full consciousness, was of the corresponding precept from the world of Buddhism: "Do not take what is not given."

I was glad to wake up, and leave behind the money and the anxiety and the moral dilemmas of the dream. But it left me thinking about the two precepts — "Thou shalt not steal" and "Do not take what is not given" — and turning over in my mind the crucial difference between them, as made clear in my dream.

To steal something, I think, means to sneak away something that you know belongs to another person. It implies active theft. It retains the possibility that if something is everybody's, or is just lying about, or belongs to nobody in particular, it's fair game; lucky me if I find it.

The Buddhist precept is quite different. It implies waiting until life by some means or other offers something clearly intended for you, before helping yourself to it. 

Putting the two together gives, I think, a more nuanced and helpful insight into possible moral approaches to property, than just the Jewish one by itself.

Something that's consistently puzzled me in the Christian faith community is the tendency to regard other faiths with hostility and suspicion. It depends a bit what branch of the Church you're in — in general the Catholic end is more tolerant and open-minded about this than the low Protestant (Evangelical) end. But there is a pronounced tendency to regard spiritual wisdom in a very competitive light — if it's Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Taoist or (especially) New Age, it's inadmissible and deeply suspect.


Surely, either something is true or not, wise or not, helpful or not.

My own take on the religions of the world is that they each offer their unique insights and perspectives, and that we are enriched by them all. They don't seem to me to be in competition. For example, we have the teaching at the heart of the Christian faith of the act of healing reconciliation achieved by the cross of Jesus. As the Koran puts it, Jesus is "the healer of man and nature". No other religion says anything of the kind. And then there is the Christian teaching about God's grace, which may have equivalence in other paths, but is essentially also unique to Christianity — but on the other hand I have learned a lot from all the others (especially Buddhism and Taoism) that my own religion seems to have completely missed out.

I belong to Jesus; I am his property, he is my Master. That's non-negotiable. But as I go along, I find the religions of the world all shed light on my path and help me find my way. 

That Buddhist precept, "You shall not take what is not given," is, in my opinion, immensely helpful in establishing a moral approach to personal property; and we do not have any such precept in the Christian church.


Fiona said...

Thank you for these wise words, Pen. You are, at least in my experience, rare among Christians in your willingness to regard other faiths in this way, and I so much appreciate your stance and your openness about it. As you say, many other religions, and those who practise them, can shed infinitely valuable light on our path as we make our journey through life. It's lovely to see your smiling face, and that shade of green is gorgeous on you!


Elin said...

I strongly believe that we are all god's children created in his image. Like a good parent god loves us all, yes, even the most despicable humans on the planet. No exceptions. This is my core. That is why I can never support the death penalty for example. This is why I pray for those I don't think that many pray for. They may have thrown away all that was given to them by god in this world but they are not entirely lost. I, as a human, may not be able to see anything that I can find redeeming in a person but I never lose faith that god does. If they want god, god will be there for them.

Because of this, I like you can see things in other religions that speak to me. The verse of light in the Quran is beautiful: I have read writings by Sufis and Jewish mystics which are very inspiring. I do not want to dismiss the Eastern religions but I have so far found less within these religions which inspire me but I am not ruling it out. I have met many Christians who find comfort in Buddhism but most of what I read feels "dead" to me, it doesn't inspire at all unfortunately. I don't have a problem with this in me or in others though, we all reflect different images of god if we allow ourselves. That is the core I think, if we are reflecting god's image, no matter who we are or what we believe we are fulfilling the purpose we were born to fill.

Now I go OT but I started to think about a discussion about forgiveness that I had once. A woman who had been through some tough things was very offended by the idea that god forgives. "How can a righteous god forgive my rapist?" One woman sat there and was quiet for a long time before she said: "Maybe god does so you don't have to?". I think that while we are able to forgive a lot of things, it is a comforting thought that for those things that we cannot make ourselves forgive maybe good in his compassion with all of his children steps in and allow us to not have to do the impossible. While hate is not a great feeling, at some points it may be the only thing that gives a person the will to go on in life.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Fiona — Thank you!
My husband says often, "All truth is God's truth", and that feels right to me.

Hi Elin — I had to look up the Verse of Light; I had never come across it. How beautiful!
I love your story about God forgiving for us — like God closes the distance separating us from other people with his own grace.

Suzan said...

I love that you seek and search and are so accepting. We can be so easily blinkered by our views to the detriment of ourselves and others. I think that faith is like a diamond; multifaceted but leading to one point that is God. We can learn from others without destroying the gift that Jesus paid for us.

I know that in Queensland there is a charge for taking things you might find and it is called stealing by finding.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Suzan — "stealing by finding" — I had never heard of that!
I like your analogy of the diamond, because it allows for the two-way flow between us and God — the one point behind the many facets, and the refracting light within the whole and radiating outwards.Faith is indeed like that.

Jenna said...

Personally, as a believer in the Way, I stick to the Scriptures for life advice, counsel, and direction. We're not to mix, after all; Israel got in a whole raft of trouble time and time again for consulting and adopting their neighbors' ways of doing things--even to the point of adopting ritual sex to worship the Almighty! The Northern Kingdom got the immediate boot, and the Southern Kingdom later on--though they came back in time enough to bring Yahshua--who some refer to by the Greco-Roman "Jesus"--to the scene...but it wasn't long until they, again, were driven from the Land.

When we find things, we are to make an effort to locate the owner. We can have custody over it, but if the owner comes, we give the thing back happily. If it's money, you can keep the interest you earned on it. The emphasis on community, though, has to take precedence over even your need for whatever it was you found. If it's your enemy's ox, you have to return it. If two of you have a dispute over a thing, the one that is found to be bringing a false witness (ie saying something is yours when it's not or saying you didn't find such and such thing) pays double--the item or ox or whatever PLUS the value again. That pretty much kept people pretty honest about found things. Cases were brought before elders who had spiritual discernment and knew how to hear from YHWH.

And of course, our popular ditty "finders keepers, losers weepers" runs exactly counter to that teaching.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hmm. I don't always stick to the Scriptures. I wear polyester cotton. I eat prawns and bacon. I am a pacifist. I'm not in favour of stoning people to death or of slavery. I am not in favour of ritual sex in worship as the example you give of the perils of mixing with others — but then neither am I in favour of polygamy or masses of concubines or the domination of women by men and the silencing and subjugation of women (all of which can be fully supported from the scriptures). I go to the Scriptures for inspiration, but I prefer John Wesley's recipe of "Scripture, Tradition, Experience and Reason", when it comes to finding the path the light shines on.

Now, suppose the thing you found was a starved and beaten dog — or, if you were in Korea, a net of dogs tied up ready to be dipped into boiling water and skinned alive. You think one should make an effort to find the owner and ensure it was returned to him? I'd have to disagree. Or suppose what you found was a semi-automatic rifle all loaded and good to go, and it belonged to a crazed maniac who lived next door to a school. Are you saying one should search diligently for the owner to return it? Again, I'd have to disagree.

And as soon as I disagree I have ceased to abide by your principle of sticking diligently to the counsel of the scriptures. As for enemies — I have no enemies. As Paul wrote, "Our enemy is not flesh and blood". Yet the Old Testament speaks continually of flesh and blood enemies; so we discern a need to use our reason and experience, our knowledge of the world as it really is, to find a wise course. The Genesis creation accounts, for example (which differ from each other) are luminous with astonishing insight into how the world came about — but they are best understood alongside the scientific information we now have.

Even if we do stick to the Bible we can discover within it different strands of thought — those that originated with Abraham and those that originated with Zoroaster; and we can trace the debate between them clear through the Old Testament into the New. Then in the New we find Peter pulled hither and thither and in conflict with Paul, and not every text agrees with every other. The Bible, in my view shows us the emerging of the household of faith to which we belong, but we run into difficulties when we rely on it as an instruction manual or our only source of wisdom.

I am not drawn to the we-are-right-and-everyone-else-is-wrong approach. After all, the Bible itself teaches "What does the Lord require of thee but to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God," and that feels right to me.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I do agree with you Pen, and I have come to believe the different faiths all point to the same thing - love. If we can all treat others as our conscience ( aka Holy Spirit?) tells us we might all live more peaceably. Religion seems to be dependent on which part of the world one happens to have been born into, whereas faith and love eternal are surely open to all.
I can’t help but think that literal interpretations of the Bible can lead to strident actions which, ironically, seem to be anything but good news. Hence so many wars etc - I need not go on. And I for one would never begrudge a homeless person a found apple or two, or a discarded blanket if they were lucky. One might even say ‘ God provides...’
I realise I’m niave in my knowledge of scripture and world religions and that this is probably incredibly idealistic, but it helps me to see things simply.
Wishing you all a peaceful weekend x deb

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Deb — for me, the Bible is a living book. I think I'd go so far as to say it has never been finished; it is still being written in our lives. I do agree with you that God is love, and like you I see a pointing towards this central beautiful truth in the religions of the world. I do also turn to the Bible for specifics of how to live; for example in learning and teaching about healing or about prayer, I look carefully at how Jesus and his apostles went about healing, and read what Jesus said and Paul wrote about prayer. And I love the Old Testament too, and find it an unending treasury to resource my own personal pilgrimage through life.
I would never say that, for me, the Bible is just a book among books, and I am very clear that I am a Christian and I belong to Jesus. The boundaries of my soul are guarded by his Name. As the book of Proverbs says, "The Name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and they are safe." I believe that.
I think if one lives this holistically, then a spaciousness of soul comes about which feels unthreatened by the spiritual paths others follow, and can learn from them.

Anonymous said...

“ The boundaries of my soul are guarded by his Name”
That’s such a comforting thought Pen and I appreciate the time you take to respond to my ramblings. Perhaps I should delve back into my Bible again. I find it, all at once, so very beautiful, challenging, contradictory and sometimes quite bewildering. I love the language of The King James Version and the immediacy of the modern ones - but it does leave me spinning with how to interpret it all! I love the idea of it being a living and unfinished book; much as we are I guess. Perhaps that’s why it’s evolving and so complex ;)
Deb x

Pen Wilcock said...

You might not find this helpful, and I am certainly not wanting to spam you, but I have written two books of Bible studies ('100 Stand-Alone Bible Studies', and '100 More Stand-Alone Bible Studies') that can be used either for group work of for an individual looking for some simple and straightforward help in exploring the teaching of the Bible on key elements of the Christian faith. Just a thought — I'm not wanting to embarrass you or put pressure on you. If you feel interested in exploring further, just now I still have a couple of copies of the 2nd book, because it was only published in September and the publisher give me a few freebies. If you comment again with your full name and street address, I could send you one (and of course I would not publish your comment) x

Pen Wilcock said...

Thanks Deb — got your address safely, and will put a book in the post to you on Monday. x

Jenna said...

See? This is what is confounding to me. The Scriptures are the way to be aligned with how we are created to be. And if one's doctor were to cite a study in which pork products were suddenly demonized by medical "science" people in droves would adopt it. With the information available now about how pigs store toxins in their flesh instead of releasing them, how do you know that your health is not a product of prawns and bacon? And if stoning was a strong deterrent and also dependent on the testimony of two agreeing witnesses, how exactly do you know that your form of social behavior is better? (In actual fact, very few stonings ever actually occurred.)(AND the reason yonder maiden caught in the act wasn't prosecuted was that a) the man had not similarly been brought to Yahshua; and b) the first stones belonged to the witnesses--who in this instance knew they were lying and so didn't want to suffer the fate of the so-accused.) I don't expect you to post this comment, Pen, but perhaps before you say "I'm a Christian" and really long before you would say you are a minister of the gospel (as James points out, more accountable), you might consider the whole truth of Scripture. Paul--who did NOT in fact have a New Testament AND who was the person in the whole of the known world who had studied Torah to the nth degree--said that ALL scripture was profitable for doctrine, reproof, rebuke, and instruction. He had the opportunity at that point to sequester some of it at that point: "Hey Tim, don't worry about pages 211 to 598. Those don't apply." But he did not. Blessings--Jenna

Pen Wilcock said...

Jenna, you don't have to read this blog.

Pen Wilcock said...

Let me go through the points you raise one by one.

"The Scriptures are the way to be aligned with how we are created to be."
I think so too. But I don't share your methods of applying the scriptures. That, in my view, doesn't diminish the value and power of the scriptures.Of course I might be wrong. So might you.

Your remarks about pigs.
Yes, if medical doctors warned people to avoid pork they probably would.
"How do I know that your health is not a product of prawns and bacon?" I'm not clear what you mean. Are you under the impression that I am in poor health? I come from a family with a history of psychiatric and neurological challenges. Compared with most members of that family, my health is a cause for optimism. In recent years I have made some nutritional adjustments with helpful effects — I cut out dairy, wheat and sugar, tea, coffee and alcohol. Without these, the problems I did have vanished. Pork products have produced no ill effects that I can discern. Nor prawns. Nothing in the Bible warned me to avoid the foods that proved problematic. I don't feel disappointed about this, because that's not the way I read the Bible.

Your remarks about stonings.
"If stoning was a strong deterrent and also dependent on the testimony of two agreeing witnesses, how exactly do you know that your form of social behavior is better?"
Well, as a divorced woman married to a divorced man, given all that the scriptures have to say on this topic, taken in aggregate, I personally do feel quite strongly that I would prefer society minus the stonings. You may feel, of course, that society would be improved if I were put to death, and who am I to disagree with you? Perhaps it would. I'd still prefer a more humane end.

Your remarks about my personal faith and witness.
"Perhaps before you say "I'm a Christian" and really long before you would say you are a minister of the gospel (as James points out, more accountable), you might consider the whole truth of Scripture."
Yes. I do. That's my point. The whole truth, not bits of it separately applied.
But, what are you saying? That in your opinion I am not a Christian? That in your opinion my salvation is void and I am going to hell? Because I disagree with you?
As to my saying I am a minister of the gospel, what do you mean? I am not a pastor, I no longer have ordained status, I am a Local Preacher in the Methodist Church. I accept that church's discipline and understanding of the scriptures. I wholly concur with John Wesley's teaching that the scriptures contain all that is necessary for our salvation.
I'm not quite sure why you seem to have formed the impression that I think Paul had a New Testament, but let that lie. You must have misunderstood something I said.

I am puzzled why you end your remarks with "Blessings". Did you think that, after hinting that I am not a Christian (and therefore by your interpretation of the scriptures presumably going to hell), after suggesting that my work as a minister of the gospel (in the sense of being a preacher and writer) is inadequate and sham, that "Blessings" will do anything to make me feel blessed?

I do not agree with your stance on the Bible, and I do not believe that our difference of approach invalidates either your Christian belief or mine. Over the years I have received, I hope patiently and with courtesy, a number of your opinion pieces here, but I would much prefer not to be browbeaten on my own blog. For almost ten years this has been a place of peace, and I would prefer to keep it so. Since your views are clearly firmly fixed, I'd have thought you might prefer to spend time on one of the many sites more in harmony with the outlook you hold.