The Truth Is Where You Find It

Berkeley pastor Ron Sebring celebrates similarities between religions.

One day this summer, Ron Sebring sat down at his desk — only to find “something … seriously wrong with my computer,” he said. “After installing some Microsoft updates, as instructed, I had turned it off and then back on. When it came on, I had lost all my settings and some of the icons on the screen. … All my documents were gone.” So were Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook. As a clergyman — he’s been Northbrae Community Church‘s (941 The Alameda, Berkeley) pastor since 2000 — Sebring knew he must face this debacle philosophically.

“I went through the mental process of letting go,” he explained in the sermon he gave later that week. “When we have a loss, life still goes on. We find a way to move around it, and move on, lest it become a weight we carry with us.” He then explained that his computer crisis had resolved itself after he realized that he’d logged in improperly.

But the crisis was a crash course in equanimity: “We can discover calmness in a storm. … It is a matter of stillness, silence, receptive emptiness” that can aid anyone, he explained in that sermon, “whether they look with devotion to the Buddha mind, whether they hang on every word of the Lord Krishna, or whether, like Peter, they take their eyes away from life’s winds and waves and look again to the incarnate God within.”

Finding resonance in faiths besides his own comes naturally to Sebring, who has maintained a lifelong interest in world religions, especially their esoteric practices. His Wednesday, January 6 lecture at Northbrae on comparative spirituality will include the Kabbala, Buddhism’s eightfold path, the eight limbs of yoga, and the classical Christian path of purgation-illumination-union: “They all begin with morality,” Sebring says. “They all have a perspective on enlightened truth: Sophia, Dharma, Logos. They all reach for a unitive experience.”

He especially relishes retelling some of the stories — Zen parables, Sufi tales, and Taoist allegories — by which precepts are purveyed.

One theme that intrigues him is what Buddhism variously calls the three jewels, three treasures, and three places of refuge: “There is the Buddha, the ‘torchbearer’ who incarnates Truth. There is the Truth itself — Dharma — which becomes the teaching. There is the Sangha, or community of enlightened people.” This three-part dynamic “seems to be the necessary pattern in so many world religions — whether guru, saint, priest, torchbearer, ashram, mosque, synagogue, or church,” Sebring says.

“The recent poll from the Pew Forum for Religion and Public Life and other resources suggest that Americans are more and more mixing and matching religions. This hunger is expressed among people today as being more interested in ‘spirituality’ than organized ‘religion.'” Given that trend, says Sebring, “I feel the time has come for religious folks to dialogue with each other.” 7:30 p.m., free.


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