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St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi (circa 1182-1220)

St. Francis of Assisi (circa 1182-1220) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before becoming known as St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone was the son of a wealthy Italian cloth merchant, next in line to take over his father’s prosperous business.

In his youth Francis was a popular dilettante, enjoying friends and parties. In keeping with expectations for the young upper-class men of the day, he fought in the army and was taken prisoner. Suffering a serious illness, Francis apparently had some kind of powerful mystical vision.

He returned to his father, telling him he could no longer continue with the family business. Scorned by his father, Francis went to the central square in Assisi where he removed his clothing for all to see, which was his way of renouncing his life of worldly gain. Standing naked, a nearby person threw him a course blanket, which he took to wear. Francis went on to form the friars minor (fratres minores), a monastic order characterized by chastity and extreme poverty, and all of its members wore the same course cloth.

The order grew quickly. By 1219 the Franciscans swelled to over 5,000 members. His former friend and spiritual love, Lady Clare of Assisi, followed suit by likewise renouncing the world. She founded a similar but sequestered order and was eventually canonized.

Stories about St. Francis abound, telling of his love and tenderness toward animals, his writing a canticle to “brother sun, sister moon” and his insistence on complete poverty, which he affectionately personified as “Lady Poverty.” He apparently opened the Bible at random every morning and read a verse to set the tone for his actions throughout the day, believing that God directed him to the right passage. And with Papal permission he unsuccessfully tried to convert the Muslims in the Holy Land, who nonetheless were impressed by his piety.

He also endured a painful medieval eye operation using red-hot irons to remove cataracts. And he is one of the very few mystics said to have miraculously received the stigmata—physical marks of Christ’s crucifixion appearing on one’s own hands and feet.

St. Francis was buried in his native town of Assisi. He remains, perhaps, Catholicism’s most popular saint, probably because his kind of example can be easily understood by rank and file Catholics. However, it’s hard to know if his knowledge of God was a deep as, say, the contemplative St. Faustina Kowalska, who apparently saw Jesus on a near daily basis.

His feast day is October 4.

Related Posts » Divination, Jainism, Levels of Knowledge, Suffering



Karma Transfer

your karma is leaking by Robin

your karma is leaking by Robin via Flickr

Karma Transfer is the idea, found especially in Hinduism, that good and bad karma may transfer from one living being to another.

The Indologist Wendy O’Flaherty shows that, in Hindu myth, karma can be tossed about from one being to another.

In the negative sense, another being’s bad karma is like a hot potato, something to be avoided if possible. In the positive sense, purification and grace may occur as a kind of intercession (to borrow from Christian terminology) between one being and another, usually to help lessen the bonds of bad karma of one or both parties.

Karma, good and bad, is not only transferred among human beings. Karma is said to transfer among the gods themselves. Not unlike their Greek counterparts, the Hindu gods often behave in ways deemed unacceptable for human beings.

Moreover, karma can also be transferred between gods and human beings.¹

The transmission of karma among living beings is often complicated and best illustrated within the context of a mythological tale (e.g. Siva and the Pine Forest Sages, where Siva actually temps the sages’ wives to break the sages’ overpowering meditation, which was threatening the spiritual balance of the cosmos).

While some people see karma as a firm, unalterable law, this isn’t really correct. The effects of bad karma can be lessened through God’s grace and personal devotion. It’s also believed that yogis and saints take on a lion’s share of their disciples’ bad karma (again, through a kind of spiritual intercession), clearing a path toward salvation for those who otherwise would be ensnared in interrelated states of ignorance, delusion and evil.

Along these lines, the revered Hindu holy man, Sri Ramakrishna, apparently

had a vision of his subtle body…[with] a number of sores on the back.  He was puzzled by the sight, but it was made clear…profane people had caused the sores on his body. They themselves had been purified, but they had left the suffering arising from their own sins with him.²

This alleged dynamic does not necessarily mean that the guru or saint is a perfected spiritual being, although some, indeed, claim to be.

Implicit to the idea of karma transfer is the belief that, at some stage, all seekers continue to make spiritual progress by suffering for others still in a state of ignorance or bondage. Through suffering the advanced soul is said to become increasingly purified, self aware and less bound by selfish desires.

While Christ and a few gurus claim to be ‘fully realized,’ ‘selfless’ or ‘perfect,’ most religious traditions say that the rest of us ordinary people gradually reach perfection through an interactive process taking place among imperfect human beings.

In general, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and some Christians believe that spiritual perfection or liberation may be achieved on Earth. Catholics, on the other hand, uphold the ideal of perfection but as a rule do not believe that perfection is fully attainable in this world.

As suggested above, a dynamic similar to karma transfer is found in Catholic mysticism, generally framed within the context of the saints, whose prayerful intercession and alleged ‘taking the sins’ of others helps God to redeem souls and thus prepare them for everlasting heaven.

Related Posts » Kowalska (St. Maria Faustina Helena), Francis of Assisi (St.)

¹ Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, Siva: The Erotic Ascetic, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973, p. 183; and The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976, pp. 14-16, 141, 176.

² Swami Tejasananda, A Short Life of Sri Ramakrishna, Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama [Publication Department], 1990, p. 92.