Charity to Soothe the Soul

Bring water to the thirsty, meet the fugitive with bread,
O inhabitants of the land of Tema.
Isaiah 21:14

Dear members and friends of the Swedenborgian Church,

After nine years of ascetic cultivation, Buddha (Siddhārtha Gautama) realized that enlightenment is not gained by enduring extreme conditions and pains of the body. Thus, he cleaned himself and ate fully to regain his health. Then, he sat under the legendary Bodhi tree. After passing the last temptation, he finally gained enlightenment and acknowledged the famous Four Noble Truths. Interestingly, the very first Noble Truth is: Life is suffering and pain. Here, suffering or pain is the common translation of the Sanskrit word Dukkha. Dukkha can also be translated as “unsatisfactoriness” or “stress.” The second Noble Truth, Samudāya, explains that “thirst” or “desire” is the cause of suffering. In other words, our daily life is filled with many egocentric wishes, desires, and wants that are often not fulfilled for a variety of reasons. However, even if all our egocentric wishes, desires and wants were to be fulfilled, it does not give satisfaction to our heart, but only creates deeper thirst. The first and second Noble Truths of Buddha reflect the acknowledgement of a deeper human nature that cannot be satisfied with anything of the mundane world. According to Buddha, the only way out of this pain-filled reality is to cleanse one’s mind and body through the Eight Right Ways, which would eventually enable one’s self to be compassionate to all living beings.

In Matthew, Jesus teaches the famous prayer that is known as the Lord’s Prayer. In it is the line, “And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil (6:13).” Here, the word “evil” is a translation of the Greek word poneros. Yet, in ancient Greek, poneros could also be translated as “full of labours,” “annoyances,” or “hardship.” The base word of poneros is pono, meaning “great trouble,” “intense desire,” or “pain,” which itself originates from penes, meaning “poor.” Peno, another root word, means “to toil for daily subsistence.” In a summery, what Jesus acknowledges as “evil” may not be “the evil one” who is believed to be the prince of hell, but “the painful reality of living that is fully loaded with annoyances and hardship.” The only way out of this painful reality of living, according to Jesus, is to acknowledge the will of heavenly Father and live according to it, which is nothing but to live a life of unconditional love for all living beings.

Life is full of pain. Not by anyone’s choice, but by the unavoidable predicament that as humans, we are unaware of our true identity as spirits, and thus confused about what is primarily important to our true selves. This means that even when a person seeks mundane achievements to satisfy one’s mind, since that mind is a spirit, it can only be satisfied by acts of charity free from egocentric wishes, desires and wants.

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee