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Asking the clergy: How is optimism expressed in your religion?

Life is full of sorrows and disappointments, but also great happiness. This week's clergy discuss whether you should see that metaphorical glass as half-empty or half-full.

Rabbi Leibel Baumgarten, Chabad Lubavitch of the Hamptons:

In Judaism our whole survival is based on optimism. When we get up in the morning, the first thing every single Jew does is acknowledge and thank G-d for returning back their soul in their body. Which means everything that happens is divine providence, and that, as our teachers taught us, we have to look on everything in a positive way. If you are not optimistic, you could have all the money in the world and it's not going to help you out. Our organization is called Chabad Lubavitch, and any time you meet a Chabad Lubavitch person, you will always find a smile, because they are always optimistic. Every single morning in the prayers, we say, "serve G-d with happiness," which is from the Psalms. We were taught from this verse to look on every person with a positive attitude, and I preach, every week, unconditional love. If you live that way, of course there will be ups and downs in life, but you will do your best to cope with it. Being optimistic is a mitzvah, as our sages tell us. It's a very big mitzvah to be happy and optimistic. And that's why we survive.

Erik Larson, brother and teacher, The Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual Organization, Great Neck:

We believe in ourselves as eternal peaceful beings, or souls. In our practice of meditation we try to reconnect with that natural original state, which gives us a lot of positive energy. One way of describing ourselves would be, "I am eternal, I am peaceful, I am loving." It becomes a consciousness. Another aspect for optimism is that we practice Raja yoga meditation, which is a way of linking the thoughts of self, the soul, to God, the supreme soul. As we have that linkage and that feeling, the power, energy and confirmation of that relationship fills us with the positive qualities of peace, love, happiness and joy. There's that feeling that we are not alone, that we are always connected and supported and that is translated into a positive and optimistic outlook on life. Keeping a relationship with God during the day, and in all of our thinking, clarifies and strengthens the actions we take and there is a knowing that all will be fine. That awareness or lens on life creates a great anticipation for the good to happen. We also look at everybody as being a spiritual being, a child of God and that everybody is doing his or her best, and so that kind of frees us from any anger or upset.


The Rev. Dr. Linda Anderson, community minister with the Stony Brook Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and leader of the Stony Brook Buddhist Sangha:

The Four Nobel Truths are foundational teachings of the Buddha. The first observes that there is suffering in life. That might not seem optimistic at all. Yet the Buddha went on to say that there are causes for suffering and a way to lessen it, if not end it. That way is called the Noble Eightfold Path and it speaks of our understanding of life, the ways we think, speak and act, the ways we make our living and the ways we practice in order to be mindful. The Path is open to anyone who practices it and the possibility exists that anyone might truly wake up and lessen or end, not only his/her own suffering, but that of others as well. We are interdependent beings in an ever-changing world. Buddhist teachings are optimistic about what is possible. Further, Buddhist teachings say we can be happy in this life when we can accept and even embrace the reality of where we are. My teacher, Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, into whose community I have been ordained, says that happiness is possible in any given moment when we can be fully present in the moment. After all, the present is all we have. The past has gone and the future is yet to come. If we will not be carried away by regrets about the past or worries about the future, we can be happy in the here and now. That's optimistic.

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