Impermanence as Universal Condition

One should pay no heed to the faults of others, what they have done and not done. Rather should one consider the things that one has oneself done and not done.
~Dhammapada (v.50)

1
Two things are clear as we journey through the world:
Life is short and death is certain.

2
Despite this sure knowledge, most of us waste our years in distraction, delusion, and denial.

3
Behold the plucked flower wither and fade!
Who can deny that life is short and death certain?

4
Behold the fallen leaf turn brittle and crumble to dust!
Who can deny that life is short and death certain?

5
Behold a mother’s sorrow in the crushed sparrow’s egg!
Who can deny that life is short and death certain?

6
The flower and leaf and sparrow each possess power enough to dispel the darkness of our delusion, if only we would allow them.

7
For most of us it takes something too painful to ignore: the unjust condemnation of a righteous person; the death of someone whose life we value more than our own; imprisonment in a mercilessly infirm mind or body; a life without purpose or meaning; a Universe void of intelligent, technological, biological civilizations.

8
The ancient words hold true across the Universe:
Sic transit gloria mundi!

9
The ancient words hold true across the Universe:
Vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas!

10
Though all things pass away, one thing alone remains.
Qui potest capere capiat.

~BT Waldbillig
December 8, 2017

Family as Universal Manifestation of the Mystery of Life

The American theologian Richard John Neuhaus once famously declared, “We are born to die.” Naturally, he did not mean that a human being comes into this world for the sake of leaving it. Rather, each of us is born along a path that will one day end. Every year as I celebrate the anniversary of my own birth, I also prepare for the anniversary of my grandmother’s death, which falls on Thanksgiving this year. Symbolically, it’s the inverse of the Easter story: My rising to life is followed upon by her going down to the netherworld in this annual cycle. She was the world to me and I have lived in a state of mourning for the past 25 years.

As I wrote somewhere, it seems likely that when we encounter intelligent, technological, biological beings from elsewhere in the Universe, we will discover two important facts. Even if they are far more ancient, evolved, and technologically advanced, they will have had, in the course of their collective existence, something of an experience of what we call religion, though it may well be that they relate to it not as religion, strictly speaking, but as a cultural memory or an evolutionary passage. Just as importantly, such beings will understand something of what we call family, since only beings that form closely knit, cooperative, interdependent, mutually supporting units would be able to build civilizations capable of advanced technology and long-term survival across adverse circumstances. Perhaps, as with us, they will find in family a reason to survive, a reason to endure difficulties, a reason for self-sacrifice, a reason to make sure that the life they receive continues on.

There’s no reason to regard my birthday, November 20, as a day of importance, though surely it changed the lives of my parents. Likewise, there’s no reason to think that November 23, the anniversary of Grandma Carol’s death, has any special meaning, though she was the most beautiful person in the world to me.

While we may be inclined to regard as insignificant something like a birthday or the anniversary of a loved one’s death, maybe they have a cosmic significance that’s hard to perceive from where we stand in the Universe. Maybe the life we honor and the life we mourn are not nearly as unimportant as we’re tempted to think.

Perhaps elsewhere in the Universe there are beings on a rocky planet orbiting a star who give thanks for the life they have been given — unlikely though it is that any of us should exist at all. Surely those beings also rejoice in the ancestors who no longer dwell among the living, yet whose life continues in the Universe by means of their descendants.

If the purpose of life is the continuation of life, then Family is the means by which that most important of tasks is accomplished. Somewhere I wrote that for our kind life comes into being, is nurtured, is protected, grows, and spreads by means of a community — and that community is the Family.

We might even go so far as to say that the Family is a sort of Universal manifestation of the mystery of life.

~BT Waldbillig
November 19, 2017

Breaking the Bonds of Fear

Et haec scribimus vobis ut gaudium nostrum sit plenum. Et haec est adnuntiatio quam audivimus ab eo et adnuntiamus vobis quoniam Deus lux est et tenebrae in eo non sunt ullae.
~First Letter of John 1:4-5

“And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”

In our day we must come to terms with new realities that no man or woman across the entirety of human history ever imagined. Beyond even our greatest dreaming are the marvels that arise in this very moment, first in the silence of our hearts and at last beginning to appear before our very eyes. When the impossible reveals itself as the truth and the carefully constructed ways of the world are shown to be folly — when the solid ground beneath our feet disappears launching us into a dark abyss — some among us consent to the slavery of fear, not understanding that the demons they think they see are simply reflections of their own faces as in the surface of a lake or in a mirror.

The wisdom of the world
Is the madness of delusion

Too easily we forget that love is more powerful than armies, bombs, and war machines, that love is a greater remedy than censures, punishments, and poisons for even the most terrifying of afflictions that might befall us. When I look to the future, I see no reason for fear. In fact, I am heartened and inspired by what I see in humankind. We who are so small and insignificant in this Universe are truly capable of great and wondrous things. Too often we forget who and what we really are, but the day is coming and is already here when we will encounter those who know us better than we know ourselves. To them, we are little less than gods and more valuable than all the riches of every world in the Universe.

Somewhere I wrote:
The human heart is a mystery worth contemplating. Fragile is the heart, bruised and pierced quite easily. It is the very essence of human weakness. And yet, because of that heart our kind is capable of near-infinite love, compassion, and healing. We can forgive anything, even the unforgivable. We can love anyone, even the unlovable.


Until we recognize the goodness, value, and beauty that exist in each one of us, we will never perceive them in those who visit us, as the heavenly strangers visited Abraham long ago in the desert. For the great spiritual Patriarch there was not even a moment to waste on fear, doubt, suspicion, and selfishness. Abraham perceived with penetrating vision the urgency of the mystery before him. One of the most important principles of the Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — is the inviolable obligation to welcome the strange visitors who make themselves known to us. Now, this is risky business as you and I cannot see the future. Burdened by this blindness, we allow our minds to fixate on the nightmares that terrify us, like a little child who sees a monster in every shadow. As a Buddhist teacher or a good psychotherapist might say, we start to believe the storylines in our heads, forgetting that thoughts are just thoughts, like so many clouds in the sky that disappear as quickly as we see them.

Tonight, you and I do well to follow the example of Abraham. Though they seemed men like any other men, the beings Abraham looked upon and loved were, in truth, visitors from the heavens, beings beloved of God.

~BT Waldbillig
November 15, 2017

Salus et Vita

Qui signa invenimus
Sicut et signa offerimus

We are surrounded by wonders beyond our greatest dreaming, if only we could — at least for some brief, passing moment — set aside the fear we feel before the vastness of the Universe and the hopelessness we know when we stare the terror of mortality in the face.

Not long ago I saw in a dream the darkness that dwells in the heart of the every man, myself included. This darkness grew and spread until it began to rip the very stars from the heavens and snuff out the Sun and the Moon, emptying the Universe of all that is living and beautiful. Though only one man, insignificant and small before the immense and endless darkness, I refused to submit to it. While this choice seemed futile as the darkness fell upon me to annihilate its final victim,  my refusal to submit was no longer the futile choice of one man. Instead, it was the battle cry of many generations, mere men and women who made of themselves fearless warriors. They were as terrifying to their enemies as they were beautiful to one another, and together we became invincible.

It’s only in the reality of our frailty, weakness, inadequacy, and brief time in this world that we see ourselves as we truly are: Alone no one among us is immortal, invincible, or all-wise, but when we come together and unite we are strong enough to survive and grow and hope and love in even the most unlikely and impossible of circumstances.

Haec dies
Spes nostra
Nunc nobis
Salus et vita

Our world might not have endured to see this day. Our kind might have perished in the darkness that lingers before the bright shining dawn. And yet: We Are Here

[Regarding dreams: I’ve found that the meaning I extract from my dreams changes and evolves, especially in the case of recurring dreams. Sometimes the benefit of experience or reflection sheds light on aspects that were obscured previously. His dictis, dreams are just dreams. They are entirely and only what we make of them.]

~BT Waldbillig
September 5, 2017

By Means of a Mongrel Dog

Throughout human history, some few of our kind have claimed to encounter beings from beyond what is commonly understood as our world. Some of these men and women believe that strange beings come to them in their dreams and they call them visitors, angels, gods, messengers, demons, spirits, or even friends. Ancient cave art bears witness to this, as do many ancient spiritual texts, some of which are still read today and even regarded with honor by hundreds of millions of people around world.

I myself have no personal experience in such matters, but I am left to wonder. In their dreams and visions, humans always regard the visitor with awe or fear or reverence or astonishment or bewilderment. In some future time, when we communicate with or even encounter other beings like us from some distant part of the Universe, it’s likely that we will know the same feelings our ancestors felt when they reported their visions and dreams. But is it possible that such beings — if they are real and not merely dreams — might also regard us with awe or fear or astonishment or reverence or bewilderment? Might they feel small, just as we feel small before the vastness of the Universe? Would they marvel at the mystery of life manifested strangely and wondrously in alien beings, just as we would?

I think on my dog, Dante. He and I are made of the same stuff and inhabit the same world, yet at times he seems to me almost like a god. Without a word he communicates the wisdom of love more surely and powerfully than any human I’ve ever known. And when life itself seems useless, he leads me back to the joy of a world that’s full of meaning and purpose. When the mind is stuck in the past or lost in the future, Dante calls me home to the only home any of us has — the present moment. The mystery of life in the Universe is revealed to me every day not by great men or noble deeds or eloquent words — but by means of a mongrel dog.

If a creature so common and lowly as a dog has such power, imagine what you and I can bring to pass in the Universe!

Should we encounter, some day in some far off future, intelligent beings like us from a distant place in the Universe, imagine what good and wondrous things we might accomplish together — as friends and perhaps even as family.

~BT Waldbillig
April 13, 2017

Across the Universe

Life, as we experience it, arises within a community and continues by means of a community. This community is family. To family, there can be nothing more important than life.

The purpose of family is to foster conditions that favor, protect, and propagate life. Members of a family are bound to one another by the life they receive, share, and pass on.

The arising of life is not inevitable, nor is the indefinite continuation of life. Both require great energy, care, and attention.

Any creature that comes into being in this world will eventually pass out of being from this world. This truth inspires urgent attention to life as we experience it in the present moment.

So far as we understand it, biological life is not, of itself, eternal or immortal; hence biological beings are bound together by their mortality. From the understanding of mortality arise both the basest and most noble qualities of human beings.

Beings from some distant place in the Universe, to my estimation, might likewise understand themselves as sharing our condition.

Human beings, grasping the inevitability of their own mortality, transform sadness, despair, and suffering by many different means: religion, spiritual endeavors, music, art, magic, dance, storytelling, the search for wisdom, love, etc.

The sybil, the prophet, the priest, and the astrophysicist all use the means at hand to endow their experience of the world with meaning, purpose, beauty, majesty, and hope.

Even today, when human beings leave this world and its atmosphere by technological means, they describe their experience in terms not unfamiliar to ancient shamans or medieval mystics.

Hope is the virtue of a community that values life and knows how precarious it truly is.

A mother would rather suffer harm herself than see her child harmed; a father willingly and without hesitation places himself in harm’s way in order to protect his children.

Children honor those who gave them life by valuing their own lives, by passing on the gift of life they receive, and by imitating the good and noble example of those who gave them life.

Members of a family do what they are able to do in the manner they judge best, each member possessing something valuable and useful in the family’s mission.

Should we encounter beings from some distant place in the Universe, it is entirely likely that they, too, will understand something of what we call family.

Somewhere I wrote about family born of blood and family born of spirit. Just as we embrace others and call them family even when we do not share blood with them, so might we embrace beings from elsewhere in the Universe.

In this way, a spiritual family arises and grows, expanding as in an ever-widening circle and binding together those who once were strangers.

~BT Waldbillig
March 15, 2017

Reverent Wonder

There are moments in life when ordinary language cannot communicate the fullness of our experience. As I took the dog for a late night walk yesterday, we paused below the magnificent, marvelous moon and together stood and gazed in reverent wonder. Neither of us had words adequate to describe the sense of connection to the Universe that such a moment engenders.

It’s not that we humans don’t have any words at all for moments of mystery and transcendence. When we read the Vimalakirti Nirdesa from the canon of Buddhist sacred texts or listen to the Exultet chant from the Christian paschal vigil liturgy we engage the world, ourselves, and the universe in a fresh, unexpected way. That’s why even if you’re an atheist or a cynic, reading the Bible or the Koran or visiting a church or temple is still a useful experience.

We’re fortunate to have a precise scientific language to describe what we perceive and experience. Yet when we learned not long ago that Homo nalendi, an ancient and distant relative to our Homo sapiens family, treated the remains of their dead with immense deliberate care that would seem to indicate reverence and remembrance, the vocabularies of geology and anthropology fell short. Other creatures that once dwelt on this planet were capable of behaviors and attitudes that we believed quite resolutely only we ‘true’ humans could. Now we know that liquid water exists beyond the confines of the Earth. How lucky we are to have the physicists and biologists from NASA who investigate these things. Yet I have a suspicion that even the scientists and engineers at NASA and ESA understand that there is a greater mystery here for us to explore.

~BT Waldbillig
September 28, 2015