Ten Thousand Virtues is a blog about the virtues, written from an explicitly ecumenical perspective--meaning, we examine virtues from the point of view of many cultures and spiritual traditions. As someone fortunate enough to have godmothers from monotheist, polytheist, and atheist paths, I welcome everyone. Currently our caravan makes three stops per week.
I'm Rick Loftus, the leader of this wagon train. And as I explained in August 2010 in the Embarkation, I acknowledge that when you study and write publicly about virtues, you risk people’s assumption that you are setting yourself up as some kind of authority, placing yourself on some sort of pedestal. For me, it’s quite the opposite: I need to study these concepts, as part of my practice. Since I'm a writer by nature, I decided to post the visitations.
Who am I? I’m a doctor, living in California. My medical career started almost 20 years ago on the streets of New York City, as an AIDS activist. On my path I have made camp in diverse Churches. I have wafted the incense-laden thurible at Roman Catholic vigils. I have sought Refuge in the Three Jewels from a Tibetan Buddhist geshe, and revere them. I have danced in the redwoods around magical Reclaiming bonfires with fellow Earth lovers, incarnate or not.
As for so many, the past year held grievous losses for me. Feeling like the survivor of a spiritual shipwreck, washed up on a shore I didn't recognize, I set out to map the territory. I have a compass (Self-Knowledge), which like True North is more a direction by which to orient than a Shangri-La I hope to actually find and claim someday. I have a steed (Self-Possession). I have a mission, with no specific end in sight.
The appeal of the virtues, in this modern-day world of “values,” is that virtues are true destinations, not mirages. While perhaps not agreeing on anything else, students of the virtues agree the qualities have substance unto themselves. I need that solidity under my feet. The virtues seem as good a way as any to find the World again.
And so, we set off. Will it be a short excursion, or a lengthy expedition? How many virtues does the World offer us? If you asked an Islamic mullah, he would say only one: Tawhid, the sanctified all-pervasive Being that is the Divine. If you asked a Buddhist bhikkhuni, she would tell you two: Sati (Mindfulness) and Sampajanna (Self-Possession). If you asked Christian clergy, they might say three: Faith, Hope, and Charity. Ben Franklin says thirteen. The Jains say 15. The philosopher Comte-Sponville says 18. The Hindus say 22; the Jews say 48. The Basilidean Gnostics say 365.
In truth, I think there are many, many. When you factor in nuances of language and inflected meanings, it could very well be infinite. As someone who sees virtues as emanations of the Divine, how could I put a limit on them? So far, for me, it’s been like stargazing: the more I look, the more I see. The title of the blog refers to a Buddhist sutra about the number of virtues attributable to a Tathagata (One-Who-Has-Thus-Gone, One-Who-Has-Thus-Come). Tathagata is sometimes translated "Truth-Finder."
So,we set out into the undiscovered country. Like Marco Polo in the Invisible Cities, I will dispatch tales of the fantastic urbs we visit. The journey will involve a bit of linguistics, dash of comparative religion, a slew of history, oodles of Humor, a fullness of Faith. The road is wide. Join us ...