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...The scholars found conflicting sources of Ms. Winfrey’s spirituality. It began, but definitely does not end, with the black church of her youth. In her 2003 book, “Oprah Winfrey and the Glamour of Misery,” Eva Illouz, a sociologist, quotes Ms. Winfrey as saying: “Since I was three and a half, I’ve been coming up in the church speaking. I did all of the James Weldon Johnson sermons” — Mr. Johnson being the poet whose “God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse” was published in 1927. “I used to do them for churches all over the city of Nashville,” Ms. Winfrey said..
While respecting Ms. Winfrey’s use of her Christian heritage, Dr. Illouz ultimately concluded that the talk-show host might be something of a false prophet. That is because, she said, Ms. Winfrey and her cadre of self-help experts treated suffering as something beneficial. Ms. Winfrey turned the black church’s ethos of self-reliance in the face of suffering into an exaltation of suffering itself.“By making all experiences of suffering into occasions to improve oneself,” Dr. Illouz wrote, “Oprah ends up — absurdly — making suffering into a desirable experience.”
By making belief in God their enemy, atheists deprive themselves of what spirituality is really about: a process of inner growth. There are wisdom traditions around the world that do not use the word God (e.g., Buddhism, Vedanta) or advocate religious worship in the conventional sense. Countless people have seen through the faults of organized religion and turned instead to their own spiritual journey. Hitchens and other atheists stand at the door to that journey and slam it shut, assuring all who approach that to seek God, the soul, or higher reality is a fool's errand. How do they know? It's not as if they have inquired deeply into the great saints and sages who have successfully traveled such a journey. Hitchens dismisses every spiritual person out of hand, which means that he dismisses William Blake (the source of his phrase, "mind-forged manacles," which Blake applied to modern industrial life, not religion) in the same breath that he dismisses Bible Belt preachers.By discounting the whole notion of spiritual awakening, atheists make a claim to false knowledge. They haven't walked the walk, yet somehow they know, with dead certainty, that Buddha, Socrates, Plato, Jesus, Confucius, Zoroaster, Saint Paul, Rumi, Kabir, the Prophet Muhammad, Rabindranath Tagore, and countless others aren't just wrong; they are stupid and blinkered compared to any everyday atheist today. I have my doubts. The atheists I've met went through a period of personal disillusion with religion, and on that basis alone they became atheists. Could anything be more subjective for a crowd that decries subjectivity? Could anything be more idiosyncratic for a group that claims to represent universal reason?
Almost from the very beginning of my teaching career, over twenty years ago, people have responded to me in extreme ways. I have been perceived by some to be a dangerous character, possessed of unusual charisma and spiritual energy that could seduce the weak-minded and innocent seeker to abandon all common sense, objectivity, autonomy, and self-respect and become one of his helpless minions—soul-ravaged and mind-controlled. I’ve been branded a pathological narcissist who never recovered from his childhood traumas and unhealthy relationship with his mother and as a result was using his power position as spiritually enlightened guru to dominate and control others in order to compensate for his lack of self-esteem.
On the other hand, there have been those (some of whom are now, ironically, my worst detractors) who hailed me as a spiritual hero, a 21st-century Buddha, a true revolutionary and spiritual activist whose unwillingness to compromise the standards of his own teaching, even in his most intimate and important relationships, was an expression of an unusual degree of courage and a rare commitment to the highest.
I guess it goes with the territory: to be a guru in a postmodern context one has to be either crazy or very courageous—neither of which are characteristics I find it easy to relate to. More than anything else, I’ve always aspired to be an authentic human being, and that’s why the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me, as far as I’m concerned, was a few years ago, after a teaching in North Carolina, when the gentleman who had driven me to the airport told me: “Andrew, you are a real mensch. Even if you weren’t enlightened, I’d still want to be your friend.”
Why do some of us seek for higher truths? Why is it that certain individuals are driven blindly, madly, and passionately to transcend their own limitations? Why do we, at times, feel compelled to improve ourselves, not only for our own sake but for the sake of a higher cause that we can sense yet barely see? Why is it that in those precious moments when we are most conscious and most awake, we seem to intuit a deeper sense of purpose that is infinitely bigger than our personal worlds can contain? What is that soft vibration that tugs at our hearts and beckons us to courageously leap beyond the small confines of the separate self so that we can participate in the life-process in a much deeper and more authentic way?That vibration is none other than the spiritual impulse, the impulse to evolve at the level of consciousness. It could be that same impulse that caused you to pick up this book and, no doubt, that compelled me to write it. And it’s not just a feeling that you or I might have. This impulse is something much bigger. In fact, I believe it is that very same impulse that caused something to come from nothing fourteen billion years ago, that compelled an entire material universe to miraculously emerge from complete emptiness.
Nothing is so insufferable to man as to be completely at rest, without passions, without business, without diversion, without study. He then feels his nothingness, his forlornness, his insufficiency, his dependence, his weakness, his emptiness. There will immediately arise from the depth of his heart weariness, gloom, sadness, fretfulness, vexation, despair.
As men are not able to fight against death, misery, ignorance, they have taken it into their heads, in order to be happy, not to think of them at all.
The only thing which consoles us for our miseries is diversion, and yet this is the greatest of our miseries. For it is this which principally hinders us from reflecting upon ourselves and which makes us insensibly ruin ourselves. Without this we should be in a state of weariness, and this weariness would spur us to seek a more solid means of escaping from it. But diversion amuses us, and leads us unconsciously to death.
What are our natural principles but principles of custom? In children they are those which they have received from the habits of their fathers, as hunting in animals. A different custom will cause different natural principles. This is seen in experience; and if there are some natural principles ineradicable by custom, there are also some customs opposed to nature, ineradicable by nature or by a second custom. This depends on disposition.
I, ____, take you, ____, to be my (husband/wife). I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life. I, ____, take you, ____, for my lawful (husband/wife), to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.
A monk asked Hōgen, "I, Echō, ask you, Master. What is Buddha?" Hōgen said, "You are Echō."