Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Extinguishing the Flames
There is a famous sermon of the Buddha called ‘The Fire Sermon’:
‘Thus I heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was living at Gaya, at Gayasisa, together with a thousand bhikkhus [monastics]. There he addressed the bhikkhus.
"Bhikkhus, all is burning. And what is the all that is burning?
"The eye is burning, forms are burning, eye-consciousness is burning, eye-contact is burning, also whatever is felt as pleasant or painful or neither-painful-nor-pleasant that arises with eye-contact for its indispensable condition, that too is burning. Burning with what? Burning with the fire of lust, with the fire of hate, with the fire of delusion. I say it is burning with birth, aging and death, with sorrows, with lamentations, with pains, with griefs, with despairs.”’
Following the standard pattern of Buddhist Discourses the Buddha then repeats this analysis for the ear, the sense of touch, the sense of smell, the sense of taste, and the appearances of our mind.
Because of my Buddhist background I thought about this sermon when reading the recent postings by a number of Quakers about how fire should be our metaphor and our ideal; that we should ‘burn down the Meeting Houses’ or that we should become ‘incendiary’ in our relationship to the world. From the perspective of the above analysis the world is already in flames; the flames of greed, anger, grief, hatred, sorrows, and despair. From this perspective it is not more fire that we need, for the world is already consumed in flames. What is needed is a way of putting out the fire.
My suggestion is that becoming incendiary is simply acquiescing to the ways of the world. It is a dead end; it will leave us only with ashes and regrets.
But there is a way out. There is an alternative. That alternative is silence and stillness; both outer and inner. In the gathered silence of a Quaker Meeting, in the stillness found on First Day, we embody a different way from that of the world, and open a different path that people can live. But there is more: it is my view that gathered silence has a greater, and more long lasting, effect on the world than the most dramatic of confrontative demonstrations. This is because we are all connected; so one moment of silence and stillness is a moment of silence and stillness for all. It is the way to put out the fires not only for ourselves but for all living beings.
I understand the desire to directly confront injustice, but an incendiary approach will only feed the flames which give rise to these kinds of situations. Why? Because confrontation teaches others that confrontation is the means whereby one reaches one’s ends. And if others who have different ends than we would like, even destructive or malevolent ends, and they use incendiary means to achieve those ends, we have only ourselves to blame if we have used the same means.
Silence and stillness are not a means to an end; they are the end and the means combined. And it is in silence and stillness that we offer the world the greatest gift we can offer: the extinguishing of the flames of sorrow.
Thy Friend Jim