This upcoming Sunday is Trinity Sunday, and all the lectionary readings offer great cross-faith connections. (For the entire list of lectionary readings for May 27, click here.) We decided to focus on the passage from Romans today. Here are the verses we’ll explore.
8:12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh–
8:13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
The idea that one should elevate Spirit over flesh is a near-constant theme across religions traditions. One might even argue that this is the entire purpose of religion! The Eastern traditions, in particular, regularly talk about moving beyond the flesh to achieve Nirvana/Enlightenment/wisdom even if the articulation varies a bit from the Bible. In those traditions, moving beyond the flesh involves finding equanimity regardless of your specific circumstances — good, bad, or otherwise. But here are a few passages that speak fairly directly to the separation of the physical and the spiritual — with a the clear preference for the spiritual.
Tao Te Ching
The Tao Te Ching is a Chinese text that dates to the 4th century BCE, if not earlier. It often speaks to the importance of humility and the value of non-action in following the “Tao” or the “Way.” As sacred texts/writings go, it’s super-short — 81 chapters that each fit on a single page. Here are two chapters that seem connected to the lectionary reading from Romans. Chapter 52 contains a lot of interesting concepts, but I like the feminine imagery which seems to parallel, in some ways, the Christian view of God as Father. (Both chapters are taken from John Mabry’s translation, published by Apocryphile Press in 1994.)
Too many colors tax people’s vision.
Too many sounds deaden people’s hearing.
Too many flavors spoil people’s taste.
Thrill-seeking leads people to do crazy things.
The pursuit of wealth just gets in people’s way.
Therefore, the Sage provides for her needs, not her desires.
She renounces the latter, and chooses the former.
The World has an origin
Which we may regard as the Mother of the Universe.
Knowing the Mother, we can also come to know her children.
Knowing the children, return and hold fast to the Mother.
Doing this, you will not meet with danger your whole life long.
Close your mouth
Go easy on the senses
And life will not be so hard.
If you spend your life filling your senses
And rushing around “doing” things
You will be beyond hope.
To concern yourself with the beautiful and the small is true wisdom.
To foster gentleness is true strength.
Choose to do what is wise and return to wisdom.
Then you will avoid life’s troubles.
This is called practicing consistency.
This important text, a relatively short excerpt from the sweeping Indian epic The Mahabarata, contains lots of jewels about living connected to wisdom. Here are a few verses spoken by Lord Krishna as he converses with the human warrior, Arjuna. (Both of these excerpts are taken from the Laurie L. Patton translation, published by Penguin Classics in 2008)
Chapter 2: 55-56
Son of Pritha, when a person renounces all the desires in the mind, that one is said to be content in the self, by the self, and firm in wisdom.
The person whose mind is free from anxiety about sorrows, and free from greed for pleasures, with rage, passion and fear gone, whose thoughts are firm, that one is said to be a sage.
Chapter 16: 21, 23, 24
[All of chapter 16 is somewhat relevant, but I’ve chosen just a couple of verses for this post.]
This is the threefold gate of hell, which destroys the self. Therefore, one should let go of the threefold group of greed, anger, and desire.
The one who lets go of the rule of Vedic law and exists according to his own desires, reaches neither fulfilment nor happiness nor the highest way.
Thus, following Vedic law, which focuses on that to be done and not to be done, and knowing Vedic law, you should perform action here in this world.
The Buddhist texts are voluminous, and teachings are lengthy and somewhat repetitive; I could easily fill up pages and pages with Buddhist sayings that are relevant to “spirit” over “flesh.” Here is a tiny sampling of the Buddha’s ideas on the topic.
Dhammapada, Yamakavagga (The Pairs), Verse 20
Although he recite few sacred texts, if he puts the Dhamma [teachings] into practice, forsaking lust, hatred, and delusion, with true wisdom and emancipated mind, clinging to nothing in this or any other world — he, indeed, partakes of the blessings of holy life.
Dhammapada, Panditavagga (The Wise Men), Verse 84
He is truly virtuous, wise, and righteous, who neither for his own sake nor for the sake of another (does any wrong), who does not crave for sons, wealth, or kingdom, and does not desire his own success by unjust means.
Majjhima Nikaya, Culasihanada Sutta (Chapter 11) (published by Wisdom Publications, 1995, p.i68, #17.) Click here to read the entire Sutta.
[Note: Bhikkhus are ordained, male monastic monks]
“Bhikkhus, when ignorance is abandoned and true knowledge has arisen in a bhikkhu, then with the fading away of ignorance and the arising of true knowledge he no longer clings to sensual pleasures, no longer clings to views, no longer clings to rules and observances, no longer clings to a doctrine of self. When he does not cling, he is not agitated. When he is not agitated, he personally attains Nibbana [Nirvana]. He understands: ‘Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more coming to any state of being.'”
Majjhima Nikaya, Potaliya Sutta (Chapter 54) (published by Wisdom Publications, 2005, p.200, #16.) Click here to read the entire Sutta.
[Note: the first part of this teaching offers metaphor after metaphor about the dangers of sensual pleasures. I have chosen just one example.]
“Householder, suppose a vulture, a heron, or a hawk seized a piece of meat and flew away, and then other vultures, herons, and hawks pursued it and pecked and clawed it. What do you think, householder? If that first vulture, heron, or hawk does not quickly let go of that piece of meat, wouldn’t it thereby incur death or deadly suffering?”
“Yes, venerable sir.”
“So, too householder, a noble disciples considers thus: ‘Sensual pleasures have been compared to a piece of meat by the Blessed One; they provide much suffering and much despair, while the danger in them is still more.’ Having seen this thus as it really is with proper wisdom…clinging to the carnal things of the world utterly ceases without remainder.”
Giving up — or letting go of — worldly desires and possessions to make way for Spirit is a great idea. In fact, it’s such a great idea that we find it peppered across sacred texts and ancient traditions. Maybe someday, we humans will figure out how to actually accomplish it!
Multifaith Mashup provides passages from the writings/sacred texts of other faith traditions that match an excerpt from the Biblical lections offered in the Revised Common Lectionary. Multifaith Mashup is published on Tuesdays and focuses on the lectionary readings for the upcoming Sunday. Questions? Contact us at email@example.com.