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 Zen is Like a Maserati - by Myoan Grace Shireson - blog post

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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Zen is Like a Maserati - by Myoan Grace Shireson - blog post   Sat Oct 06, 2012 8:55 pm

Zen is like a Maserati: Sleek, beautiful, expensive, and high maintenance
Posted on: Oct 6th, 2012

By Myoan Grace Schireson - from the Sweeping Zen Website. www.sweepingzen.com

At the national Soto Zen Buddhist Association meeting yesterday, Dale Wright, a Buddhist scholar from Occidental College, provided us with a broad outline of how Soto Zen was developing in the West. While some of us at Sweeping Zen have been discussing just how Zen has broken down ethically and morally, we have not been as focused on how beautiful, sleek, attractive and head-turning Zen practice can be—just like a Maserati. Actually, the attractiveness of Zen, and its spiritual depth brought us to this party—an online discussion and study of Zen. Yesterday, we heard and discussed just how beautiful Zen practice can be if we treat it as the Maserati that it is, and take the appropriate cautions when driving this great vehicle. I would like to share over the next few articles the eleven benefits and the five cautions about the beauty and the drawbacks for driving this Maserati vehicle as Dale Wright instructed.

1. Zen meditation is a religious practice that above all yields mindfulness, fearlessness, energy, courage, self-discipline, resilience, insight, creativity, focus, and self-reflection as character strengths. All of these qualities can be used to live a more fulfilled life. If we can pay more attention to the reality of our life, we can begin to engage with our actual activities with more wisdom. If we do not know what is going on in any given moment, how can we address the situation? Our ideas and habit patterns will definitely arise and continue to create karma if we do not know what we are doing.

It is possible for us to know where we are in any given situation, but we must factor in our subjectivity, our habit patterns, our old wounds and our emotions. Being more aware, we may choose to examine what is arising, and we may choose to not react because of these unpleasant arisings in our own mind. Our training depends on BECOMING AWARE; it does not depend on our reaching a state where we have become detached from our mind, from other people or from our fantasies. We need to notice everything.

In choosing a teacher, this is an important and appealing characteristic. I remember how happy I was when my own teacher, Sojun Mel Weitsman Roshi, approached my difficult- to catch-mare, Missy. I was tentative with Missy; she would turn her rear end towards me and threaten to kick me when I approached her with a rope to catch her up for saddling. She never actually kicked me, but I became fearful of her and somewhat hesitant. So I approached her before each ride tentatively, and she like some of my other issues, was getting the better of me. I carefully and responsibly explained all of this to Sojun Roshi. However, with a rope in his hand, he walked straight up to Missy, and he put the rope around her neck. I watched him walk up to Missy in his usual solid, straightforward, and unadorned way. This was the same way he approached the altar or led a ceremony; this was the same way he talked to me. I realized that his Zen teaching, his direct, unwavering, grounded and courageous mind would help me approach my own life in that same straight forward manner. At times was awake, courageous, and direct in the moment, and I felt I could learn to do that too.

2. The second strength of Zen, is that it values the actual practice aspect of meditation entirely seriously. You cannot just think about practicing meditation; reading about Zen is not the same as doing zazen meditation. You need to DO zazen. Doing zazen is like jogging. You can read about jogging and study jogging method, philosophy of running and stories of great runners, but this will not give you the cardiovascular benefits of running. Zen teaching and teachers all offer opportunities for their students to deepen their practice. This means, whether you are lay or priest, empowered or egalitarian, the practice of zazen is the basic teaching, the basic meal through which all Zen students are nourished.

Many spiritual practices offer practice—chanting, bowing, devotion and etc. But Zen engages body, mind and spirit as a primary way to develop spiritual insight. We have an exercise, zazen, that is the essence of our way. While some of us may find the use of traditional forms helpful for approaching this essence, others may not. But, we as Zen people all have a touchstone. Whatever happens in these Sweeping Zen discussions; we all meet in the boundless field of zazen. In speaking to each other, in sharing our passions on Sweeping Zen, we need to remember to return to that field of boundless awareness and kindness, while trying to be honest with each other.

3. A third point is that Zen Mind is not localized to a specific cognitive skill or a specific area of development. Developing awareness will shine light on many skills and abilities. If you want to create art, it may energize your art. If you are a school teacher, your awareness will inform your relationships to your students. If you are a bus driver, Zen meditation may shine light on your relationship to your vehicle and your route. As a writer, Zen may help to free your voice or inspire the content.

While some may think that attaining Zen teacher status is the aim of Zen training, that is deluded thinking and grasping. We need to re-examine that belief. The luminous beauty of Zen can be poured into activism, art, parenting, work-in-the-world and marital relationships. We need to see that mindful attention to the altar is the same attention we need to give each other. We should not become rigid and form-bound in our practice. If we attempt to save our attention for only following zendo rituals; we need to let the practice pour into our own personal lives. We can see Zen meditation activating an energy system in our body-mind equipment, and once that energy increases, it radiates throughout our body-mind. This energy radiation can light up all of our interests and our relationships.

Some of the difficulty and abuses we have been experiencing and discussing regarding our relationship to teachers comes from not recognizing just how we all express this luminosity in our own lives. Zen teachers have failed to emphasize just how important the shining radiance of each individual. Each of us is the Zen master of our own actual life. We need to find the way to cultivate Zen energy just as ourselves—as our own practice field of awareness. In this way, as we honor our own wisdom, we can be guided by our own practice. No one can be more brilliant at living our lives than we are. So let’s do just that—let’s become genius at manifesting our true self. This is far more difficult than it sounds; we need to weed out the habits and neurotic patterns we usually call “I” to let the fully alive and boundless self come forth.

4. The fourth brilliant quality of Zen is the focus on the present, on the here and now. Zen does not offer an afterlife or a special God that protects us from our everyday anxiety and suffering. There is nowhere else to go and it is only through our exquisite attention to the here and now that we find our paradise. The focus on the present is something that should help us to cope with difficulties that arise in our practice. If we are not striving for some special state of mind, and if we are not practicing with a gaining mind, we can use the focus on the present as our anchor. When we are feeling dissonance in our relationship and difficult states of mind, we need to stay present. We need to use our here and now awareness to stay connected to the difficulties that are arising in our practice and our practice place.

I wonder if some of the difficulties we experience facing teacher abuse and betrayal is our desire to avoid conflict in the present moment. Many of us came to Zen to find peace; that particular craving may take us away from the present moment when it is full of conflict. It appears to me that many Buddhists and Zen Buddhists are conflict averse. This means that there are aspects of the present moment that we do not accept. Clearly, we need to tend to this aspect of training.

The challenges of Zen

1. Dale Wright also spoke about our challenges. The first challenge to driving the Maserati, is understanding the harms that can happen at high speed with this gorgeous vehicle. We are actually taking our Maserati out on new roads and pathways in the West. Our speedy and sleek new Maserati has not yet been road tested here with our conditions and our traffic rules. As we have discussed in many instances, (see Christopher Hammacher’s Zen has no Morals!), an untrained driver can cause terrible damage and harm. Morality is not Zen’s strong suit even if it is a beautiful practice in many ways. Morality may have been embedded in the Confucian culture of our Asian ancestors, but Zen in the West needs to slow down and go to morality school. Like a gorgeous Maserati racing through the countryside, the local police need to remind the Great Vehicle of the laws and customs of our culture. Since Zen has not specialized in morality, Wright suggested that our Judaeo Christian and feminist values may assist in the acculturation of Zen in the West.

Zen’s lack of a developed moral code benefits from clearly emphasizing Bodhisattva practices to teachers and students. Above all, do no harm. Do no harm to students through psychological abuse of authority. Do no harm through intimidation, through lack of regard for individual needs and through selfish or sloppy boundaries. All of these issues need to be stated explicitly to protect students and community.

Yesterday’s meeting offered hope that Zen teachers in the West are beginning to affiliate and mentor each other with greater concern, openness and with more clarity on the moral issues and the harms. There are signs that the SZBA will create a process for hearing concerns from students who cannot resolve these issues within their teacher’s community. We are beginning to develop more exacting standards and a disciplinary process with real consequences. Both institutional process and consequences are still needed to address the harm and cultivate Zen’s moral compass. Sweeping Zen readers have been asking for the Zen teacher associations to address these harms, and we still have a lot of work to do in this dimension. But it looks like the work is beginning.
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Isan
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PostSubject: Re: Zen is Like a Maserati - by Myoan Grace Shireson - blog post   Sun Oct 07, 2012 3:13 pm

Jcbaran wrote:

Each of us is the Zen master of our own actual life. We need to find the way to cultivate Zen energy just as ourselves—as our own practice field of awareness. In this way, as we honor our own wisdom, we can be guided by our own practice. No one can be more brilliant at living our lives than we are. So let’s do just that—let’s become genius at manifesting our true self. This is far more difficult than it sounds; we need to weed out the habits and neurotic patterns we usually call “I” to let the fully alive and boundless self come forth.

Perfect! Thank you Myoan Grace Schireson.
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PostSubject: Re: Zen is Like a Maserati - by Myoan Grace Shireson - blog post   Thu Oct 11, 2012 12:29 pm

Zen is like a Maserati Part 2 is now up at Sweeping Zen:

http://sweepingzen.com/zen-is-like-a-maserati-part-2

See also Chris Hamacher's comment that includes a link to Dale Wright's paper titled:

"Satori and the Moral Dimension of Enlightenment"


Last edited by Isan on Fri Oct 12, 2012 12:08 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Zen is Like a Maserati - by Myoan Grace Shireson - blog post   Thu Oct 11, 2012 10:13 pm

So here is the full text of Part 2 from the sweepingzen website

Zen is like a Maserati, Part 2
Posted on: Oct 9th, 2012

On October 4th , scholar Dale Wright addressed the National Soto Zen Buddhist Association about the beauty, brilliance, charm and challenges of Zen practice. Wright is a scholar of Eastern religions, and he compared Zen to a Maserati because of its speed, its beautiful aesthetic, its sleek and concise style, its elegant literature and because he has a sense of humor. I have discussed the first four highlights of Zen, and the first challenge in my last post. Now I will discuss more of Zen’s delights and challenges as taught by Dale Wright.

Zen’s Highlights (continued)

5. Belief not required. Zen does not require a list of beliefs in magical kingdoms, creatures or beings. Some practitioners may take comfort in conceiving of a Bodhisattva realm, some may pray to the Buddha for help and some may consider past lives in relationship to current karma. But we are not required to believe in any of these myths. With a little luck we will also drop the myth of the enlightened guru. We need to see as myth the elevation of the magically enlightened teacher, who has somehow become other-than-human, and who can do no harm because s/he lives in the realm of the absolute.

Nor are we required to believe that we have to turn ourselves over to a teacher as part of practice. That is a belief that we have heard promoted, but it is not true. We do need to experience how we feel in the presence of the teacher, whether issues of authority arise, whether we are projecting a lost parental figure on our teacher, and whether we want to be deeply connected to our teacher as a substitute for finding our own deep direct connection to Dharma. We may also experience our own mind opening in the presence of our teacher’s spoken or unspoken Dharma. That is also worth opening, and that is why meeting with a teacher may be useful.

We can experience through our association with a teacher just how much we can trust him/her—slowly and carefully. I instruct my students to experience their own trust. Where is trust strong and where does it taper off? When my students find the edge of their trust, I instruct them to hang out there and see what happens. I do NOT advise blind beliefs, and I do NOT advise blind faith. In Zen we offer experiential faith. Have some faith initially in zazen, and then see, feel and experience what happens. Notice the arising of faith based on experience.

6. Zen does not conflict with science. Zen practice includes the freedom to experience reality and explore the physical world. It does not deny the findings of scientists; it encourages science to look for connections that will relieve suffering and promote peace of mind. Many Zen teachers offer the latest findings on psychological well being, space and matter as part of their lectures. Scientific surprises and findings—whether in physics, psychology or medicine are openly discussed and pondered in Zen centers. Openness to truth is a hallmark of Zen practice.

7. Freedom. Zen training offers you access to freedom. My Japanese teacher, the late Fukushima Keido Roshi, taught that freedom in Japanese was the word “jiyu”—depending on the self. Upon which self do we depend? We depend on the self that is not bound up by the three poisons: desire, anger and confusion. This freedom (jiyu) does not mean freedom from responsibilities, but it means freedom to engage life with less neurotic baggage.

Once we begin practice, we should feel more free, less fearful, and more able to venture into unknown territory. We will probably feel concerned about the blatant foolishness of our internal dialogue. This is a positive sign; we have always been that foolish, others have noticed it before, and we are just becoming acquainted with that side of ourselves. Watching our inner dialogue, allowing the surfacing of foolishness that does not compel us to act foolishly, and developing compassion for the suffering within our own mind helps to release us into greater freedom in our love, work and practice.

8. A Sense of Humor and Fun. Zen’s tradition and literature welcome playfulness, humor and laughter. The literature is full of tricks and jokes of Zen masters and disciples. Seriousness and holier-than-thou speech is pushed aside by Yunmen’s “a dried [banned term] stick”—his answer to “What is the Buddha?” Likewise, “Zen is like a Maserati” is ridiculous. The more we can include our Zen life and our contemporary life together, the more Zen will become alive. Think of Jon Stewart’s “And now for your moment of Zen.”

I’ve enjoyed funny dialogue with both my teacher and my own students. In one interchange with my teacher, Sojun Roshi, I responded to his rhetorical question during a Zen lecture about why people were not grateful for having two feet. I said, “A person has two feet, but she can never have enough shoes!” He instantly retorted: “Be quiet Imelda [Marcos]!” If your Zen practice is all work and no play, see if you can change that. More serious is not necessarily more better Zen. Hakuin Zenji described laughter as being close to kensho (enlightenment experience).

Zen’s Challenges (continued)

1. Morality Matters. Zen does not focus enough on morality. This was already discussed in previous post of October 6th (Zen is like a Maserati). Comments to the post indicated the importance the practice of Buddhist precepts and how this was sometimes missing from their experience, so I am adding further material and repeating my link to Christopher Hammacher’s essay: Zen Has no Morals: http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/CriticalZen/Zen_Has_No_Morals.pdf

D.T. Suzuki was disappointed by the aggressive and self-serving stance of the Japanese Zen establishment during World War II. After the war he stated that the mind of satori is not enough. We need to cultivate the Eight Fold Path and the precepts.

Zen specifically addresses the need to cultivate our ability to tolerate suffering, but it does not offer enough specific methodology by which we can cultivate morality. How do we study the Eight Fold Path and the precepts and bring them into focus on our own lives today?

2. Politics Matter. We need to take Zen into the political dimension. We are seeing more of this activity in engaged Buddhism. When we see unfairness and politically generated suffering, we need to speak up. We cannot be quiet about poverty, war, corruption, injustice and prison crowding. As we take on this dimension, we cannot use righteous indignation, but instead, we need to engage skillful means. Zen training needs to offer instructions to help students find an appropriate voice that balances clarity, insight and skillful means so that they can express themselves in the political domain. If we are still angry and reactive, we need to wait until we can do justice to our cause with equanimity, compassion and a call to action.

3. The Intellect Matters. Zen in the West needs to encourage healthy intellectual activity. We need to able to use our minds to assess and contemplate what we are taught without interfering with the power of the meditative tools we have been given. Zazen knows how to do what it knows how to do with us. But we must use our critical thinking skills to assess how our life is unfolding, what the sangha dynamics may be, and whether the teacher is following through with honesty and appropriate behaviors.

When young people come to Zen centers we could improve our instructions on how Zen might help to paint a picture of an awakened way of life. What specific philosophy of life can we offer so that young people can develp, contribute and individuate appropriately in this culture. During the 60’s many young people took on Zen by living in Zen centers and monasteries. This is not financially sustainable for the Zen centers, and it seems to be disadvantageous for young people who postpone study and work in the world. How can we provide a broader view of how Zen can become integrated into an engaged and appropriate Buddhist way of life? Contemporary Zen teachers need to be responsible in supporting financially and morally viable paths for young people.

These challenges and highlights will be continued in my next post.
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PostSubject: Re: Zen is Like a Maserati - by Myoan Grace Shireson - blog post   Fri Oct 26, 2012 11:38 am

Here is the third and final part of ZILAM :-) Note the interesting thoughts about the challenges of more egalitarian groups.

http://sweepingzen.com/zen-is-like-a-maserati-part-3

Zen is like a Maserati (final section 3)

This is the third and final post on scholar Dale Wright’s address to the National Soto Zen Buddhist Association about the beauty, brilliance, charm and challenges of Zen practice. Wright, a scholar of Eastern religions, distinguished the unique highlights of Zen practice. He is a Zen practitioner, and he compared Zen to a Maserati because of its speed, its beautiful aesthetic, its sleek and concise style, its elegant literature and because he has a wonderful sense of humor. I have already discussed the first eight highlights of Zen, and the first two challenges in my last two post. Now I will discuss more of Zen’s delights and challenges taught by Dale Wright. Wright made these points; the commentary is mine.
Zen’s Highlights (continued)

9. Going beyond your teacher. Sometimes students believe that this Zen expression means that there is a quantitative or qualitative Dharma measuring scale, and you need to score higher than your teacher. Supposedly, if your teacher scores 7.5, according to this hypothesis, you would need to score around 7.6 to go beyond your teacher. Yikes, how silly would that be! How competitive would that be? How much grasping mind would be activated to go beyond your teacher in this way?

The meaning of “going beyond your teacher” is not related to surpassing your teacher’s Dharma score. The way you go beyond your teacher is to find your own way to express the Dharma as yourself. No matter what your teacher emphasized, your Dharma should sound like you. Once you have absorbed your teacher’s Dharma, you are transformed. Your understanding will come from your transformation, in your own words. While you may quote your teacher’s words, the meaning of these words has been digested. What you teach comes through your teacher’s transformation which has been digested and transformed by you; you become your own source of wisdom.

This transformational transmission, with or without formal authority, is essential to Zen’s liveliness and relevance. Each generation of Zen comes forward as itself, in contemporary language. In this way, Zen does not become frozen, and students are not required to be rigid or identical to their teachers. We don’t rely on the Buddha’s words as the only Zen “Bible.” Zen offers collected writings from each Zen teacher that are their very own, their unique expressions. But you are still asked to go beyond all of these mountains of words and use your own.

10. Zen’s aesthetic sensibility as an expression of practice. Anyone who has been in a Zen temple has experienced the beauty, the balance and the wabi-sabi qualities of the temple and its contents. Other religions and other Buddhist traditions produce beautiful art, furnishings and calligraphy. But the wabi-sabi beauty that emerges from Zen art is the direct expression of the mind of practice.
The term wabi-sabi—worn and lonely– describes the soft, patient mind developed in practice that is to be expressed in the Zen arts. Newer, shiny, proud art forms lack this quality. The judgmental mind prefers shiny to dull, new to old, fancy to plain, expensive to inexpensive, designer to mass produced. The soft and flexible mind sees the beauty in the expression of the worn and lonely. Worn and lonely objects have done their best to survive despite the way they have been used.

The refined mind sees wabi-sabi as an expression of the human dilemma. We are in the midst of fading away even as we exist. Realizing impermanence, suffering and no fixed self is our task as Buddhists. Zen creates an aesthetic that reflects the life blood of Zen practice. Zen arts, both visual and ceremonial—like tea ceremony—express balance, subtlety, and wabi-sabi. All of the Zen arts mirror and express the exquisite, intense and unique effort human life requires in the face of impermanence, suffering and no inherent self.

11. Zen’s vision is expressed through literary tradition. Many Zen students enjoy reading the vast collection of Zen literature. We meet many eccentric personalities and follow their encounters and their adventures with their students. Many of the inscrutable encounters provide precious human texture; others provide a glimpse of unfathomable wisdom. Each teacher provides a different piece of the vast sky of awakening. Sometimes students experience a genuine opening just by reading the stories of past or contemporary Zen teachers with way-seeking-mind.

The treasure chest of Zen literature should be explored to provide the human touch and the glimpse of embodied wisdom we need to connect deeply to the Zen tradition. Some Western teachers and students focus entirely on zazen. Yet it is very important to study the Dharma through the lives and teachings of our Zen ancestors. This literature provides the human connection. As we learn about “mirror neurons,” which help us relate to what others do, we understand that having a personal relationship to other people is quite beneficial in training. Connecting to a personal image is one of the reasons I wrote Zen Women: Beyond Tea Ladies, Iron Maidens, and Macho Masters. Women also need to identify personally with their ancestors. Each of us can be inspired through a personal relationship to one of our predecessors. This personal connection can give us the insight and strength to continue to practice even under great obstacles.

The Challenges of Zen (continued)

4. Working with the mystery of Enlightenment. Many of us came to Zen in search of enlightenment. There may be many small awakenings, frustrations and disappointments along the way. The process of awakening requires consistent effort and refinement. Sometimes awakening is used as a noun—as if it were an object that could be attained. To use awakening as a verb promotes a healthier understanding of Zen practice. With each breakthrough we have, there is another level of integration and understanding awaiting our effort and attention.

One way to describe the ongoing nature of the process is that first, a deep awakening occurs that transcends dualism—no subject or object, no self or other, no now or later. After that realization occurs, one still needs to allow the movement of that awakening (energy) to permeate each and every personally held habitual response. This process accords with the view of sudden and gradual enlightenment. A depth experience occurs, and each and every personal delusion that arises after this awakening, is then dropped into that deep and vast space of awareness. One either chooses to make this personal effort, to integrate the awakened view into stubborn personal delusions, or one does not attempt to pour this vast awareness onto those stubborn patterns. This may explain why some teachers may have had deep openings, and yet, because they have not made the effort to integrate this opening experience with stubborn and self-centered habits, their delusions remain sealed off.

5. Integrating the vertical and horizontal aspects of Zen (teacher and community) and integrating innovation with tradition. There is currently much discussion about teacher student relationship and the abuses of power in that relationship. There is a growing movement to establish Zen groups that have an egalitarian nature. This is, in my opinion, an interesting and healthy response for bringing medieval apprenticeship training into contemporary Western culture, especially when teacher misconduct (inappropriate psychological and sexual misconduct) has become a recurrent theme for discussion among Zen practitioners.

Understanding the Western appreciation for equality, there is a benefit to using a more democratic style. However, there is also the potential for losing clear and effective training with an egalitarian approach. Everyone has (equal) Buddha-nature, but not everyone has equal ability to practice or to teach the Dharma.

I have NEVER observed a leader-less group actually function without leadership. Often in an allegedly egalitarian/leaderless group, there are “informal leaders” taking on group maintenance, governance, and (study) content. In my opinion, sometimes these informal leaders arise because of personality strengths rather than out of Dharma understanding. Egalitarian groups, formed to avoid teacher power abuse, will face their own leadership and teaching issues. Will the Dharma be skillfully transmitted within an egalitarian setting? Will these groups be controlled by the most charismatic versus the most devoted student? Will these groups lose some of the benefits that arise when students work through their issues of authority with a teacher? How will groups combine sensitivity and strength, “the samurai with St Francis?”

Innovation will necessarily include attention to the environmental crisis and a response to the suffering in our culture. Innovation includes the feminist view and the teachings of female ancestors.

As Western Zen matures, we stand at the crossroads looking at both roads– tradition and innovation– and being pulled in two directions. I keep testing the practices of my Zen ancestral tradition to see how they affect my mind and my behavior. I continue to teach my students their techniques, especially the ones that keep me open and honest. But we all need to courageously adapt the practice into our own Western way.

Throughout the bi-annual SZBA meeting we explored our own path. Informed by Western scholarship and our own personal practice and teaching experience, we have begun to develop confidence in what we (Westerners) are doing with what our Asian ancestors have passed on. May it continue to flourish and to relieve suffering.
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