We walked up the hill toward the Cathedral of Porto. The cathedral was designed like a fort in an era when the people needed to be able to defend themselves against medieval armies. Inside we listened to a tour guide explain the cathedral’s history in Spanish.
“I’ll translate for you,” I whispered to Karen. “She says that the cathedral was build in the 12th century and that it required tons of gold to build the altars.”
“How much gold?” Karen asked incredulously. “I heard her use the word kilograms.”
“I don’t know. I didn’t catch the exact amount but she says they had to exploit the native people in the colonies and this caused much suffering. This was the beginning of a world economic system where rich people exploited poor people to a degree never possible before.”
“She is not saying that,” Karen stated. “You are making that up.”
“She says that the system continues today. The rich are getting richer, the middle class is shrinking, the poor are poorer, and young people are suffering because they cannot find jobs.”
“You are making that up.”
“Instead of putting the gold in the churches, the rich people are building nice houses for themselves. Before they felt secure that Jesus would forgive them for harming native peoples and using Africans as slaves but now they don’t even worry about those things. They have devised economic forms of slavery. Most people obey; they have no choice.”
“I don’t know what to say. I think you are making a joke,” Karen said. “This cathedral is certainly beautiful, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” I said. “I was making a joke. I realize that I hold anger inside. I need to meditate and let it go. It’s silly to think about it.”
Lao tsu writes (chapter 20):
“Other people are excited,
as though they were at a parade.
I alone don’t care.
I alone am expressionless,
like an infant before it can smile.
Other people have what they need;
I alone drift about;
like someone without a home.
I am like an idiot,
my mind is so empty.”
It is interesting to hear Lao tsu describe the loneliness of the Inner Way. Some modern people have a similar problem. They feel isolated because they lack contact with like-minded people. But Lao tsu is talking about something that differs from simple loneliness.
The goal of meditation involves a kind of paradox. Living in the physical world is uncomfortable but the Inner Way also has strange features.
If you were with me, we could talk, sharing the coffee and Portuguese pastries that they serve here. We could discuss this situation. You would tell me your problems and I would listen very closely so that we could figure out what to do. Our world differs from that of Lao tsu. We face a special situation.
After the Spanish tour group left the cathedral. Karen and I stayed there to meditate and pray. I pray that you will figure out what to do on your own. I was joking about the gold in the cathedral. It does not bother me. When I meditate, I let it go. But there are many questions that cannot be answered and problems that cannot be resolved. Lao tsu celebrates being empty but it is our task to devise ways to be at peace in our modern world. By being happy, we show others that it is possible to be happy.