Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Ways of Being

For over a year, I've been reading off and on "Awakening the Buddha Within." While it's a good book with a lot of great ideas as the author takes you through the whole Eightfold Path and how to incorporate that into your life, there's also a lot of names and concepts that I'm not familiar with. I finally finished it and I'm relieved. Even though I love a lot of what Buddhism teaches, I'm also aware that it's not my natural culture, not "my tribe." That's important to me, thus why I could probably never become a Buddhist.

At a church service in Vancouver BC in January, I told the congregation as part of the service that we should not be threatened by any idea that didn't originate within our faith tradition, or even within the Christian tradition. For too long, I've heard many Christians put down Buddhism without realizing that they were speaking from a place of complete ignorance and/or fear. Especially in evangelical churches, where they criticize meditation as "an idle mind is the devil's workshop!" Really? Have they actually tried meditation?

I have my theories on why some people are threatened by the idea of meditation or the idea that a person can get spiritual knowledge from within, rather than from an authority figure. Obedience is too often used as a way to cow people into following a religion, so if you meditate or search within and hesitate to "obey" or believe everything you're taught, of course these people would see meditation or going within as a threat. It is a threat to their desire for power and authority over you. So, once I learned that Buddhism wasn't synonymous with Satanism, I learned to incorporate some of it's ideas into my own spiritual practice.

In another post, I wrote that I thought Jesus and Buddha were spiritual brothers separated by a half-millennium. I meant to expand on that. We seem to forget that Jesus was Jewish and I personally believe that he had no intention of creating a new religion. He wanted to bring Judaism back in line with the spirit of the law, when the pharisees were obsessed with following the letter of the law and doing some rather inhumane things as a result. Jesus' followers created a new religion and what they created was an EXTROVERTED religion that was all about converting other people, often at the point of the sword or with torture. Today, evangelical Christians are fanatical about "saving souls for Christ" to the point of almost insensitive blind ignorance. Many of these people who seek to convert others don't even bother to get to know what makes another person tick, how they see the world, what they experienced in life. Nope, these evangelicals are so obsessed with saving souls that they are often quick to condemn others if they disagree. Even sadder, many of these evangelicals, if you talk to them, are mentally vacant and unable to answer deeper questions of faith. Many of them had hit rock bottom and found salvation, so they think that their way back to God's presence is the one size fits all formula for everyone to follow.

I'll give you a personal example. There's a friend of mine within the Community of Christ (which is not an evangelical church, even though some members have an evangelical-mindset). He's in his mid-40s. He had a wild past. Really wild. Then he came to know Christ around age 29-30 and changed his life. Whenever we talk about religion, even though we are members of the same church, because I don't agree with some of his views, he has always viewed me as being deceived by Satan. He takes a judgmental attitude that I don't know Christ because my views are so different from how he sees things. It's frustrating talking spirituality with him when he always discounts my spiritual experiences because they don't match the spirituality he has experienced.

Here's the thing about me...I've never been a wild person. I wasn't really rebellious. Ever since childhood, I always related to the loyal son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. I even thought of myself as being similar to Nephi. I've been brought up in the Community of Christ all my life, and even though I had what I call an "atheist period" as a young man, it was more a rebellion against the hypocrisy and lies of the evangelical view of Christianity than a rebellion against God. God never abandoned me, even when I wanted nothing to do with God or religion. I know this because I had the most profound coincidences during this time, which proved to me that God is real. When I began my reconciliation with faith, it was with an understanding that I could live true to my own experiences and not be subjected to other people's viewpoints. Never again would I live my spirituality based on another person's testimony of what's true or not.

It's frustrating that those who didn't find God until they were 30 or later have the audacity to preach to me about God and Jesus. I was praying to God since Kindergarten that there would be no nuclear war. I've had spiritual discussions with friends since as long as I can remember (Kindergarten or 1st grade). I've always been a spiritual person, so I don't take too kindly the judgmental attitudes of hypocritical evangelical types who think they know better than me because they happen to be more obedient to authority figures than I am. When I follow my inner guidance, I never go wrong. I am where I'm meant to be. And I'm glad God is the judge of our lives and not these sanctimonious evangelical types who love to judge who's worthy or not, based on if it matches their understanding.

My main critique of what I've read in "Awakening the Buddha Within" is that while Buddhism tends to be an INTROVERTED religion, the danger is that the practitioner becomes too self-indulgent. The author writes about his experience of spending three years in a completely silent meditative monastery. The people who do that aren't allowed to speak for three years! Who has three years to remove themselves from the world? Maybe people who have trustfunds or are rich or have no debts and no obligations. It seems very self-indulgent to me. The author also talks about having twelve one-hour meditations per day. Again, as I read about it, I keep thinking, how can one work or maintain relationships if they commit to that? What about engagement with the world? We are here, this planet is for us to shape and mold to the vision we carry within our human bodies. Our task is to bring heaven on earth, slowly but surely. It's frustrating and challenging, sure. But what good is it to lock oneself in a silence-only monastery for three years? That seems very selfish and self-indulgent to me, and I consider that to be the flaw of Buddhism.

Because I like Hegel's Dialectic and seeking "the middle way", I think a good spiritual practice is to blend the best of extroverted Christianity and introverted Buddhism. We should seek to know ourselves first and to know ourselves and motives deeply. We need to live the principles before we can teach it to others. But we shouldn't focus completely on ourselves and our own spiritual growth. We are obligated to help direct others towards a more spiritual mindset. It's challenging, because we have to make sure our egos aren't involved, where we want others to join our church just because it makes us look good, or that we fool ourselves into thinking that "the more souls we save, the greater likelihood I'll have of sitting next to God" or some such b.s.

For me, I see my task as promoting a more spiritual culture (instead of the materialistic one our capitalistic society encourages) and whenever I see hypocrisy raise its ugly head, I feel compelled to speak out. Anytime we see a Christian acting in a way that betrays the values of Jesus, we should speak out and condemn the behavior. We need to take ownership of Jesus instead of letting the corporate capitalists co-opt him for their own self-serving agendas (such as the likes of Dr. Dobson, Pat Robertson, Fred Phelps, and their ilk). It is our obligation and duty to remind people that Jesus was not the sanctimonious, judgmental evangelical that some of the people who claim to follow him are. If we're too busy saying our mantras in day long meditation, what good is it for our planet? Thus, we need a healthy balance between the two extremes. That's my faith in a nutshell.

I wish my friend would understand that, but in all the attempts at explaning it to him, he's still of the viewpoint that the only way you can be "right with God" is if your beliefs match his, which will never happen. His life experiences and mine are so different. Besides that, I hate conformity and the thought of everyone belonging to the same religion would creep me out like you wouldn't believe. I love that there are Buddhists and Mormons in this world. I would not want to live in a world in which everyone was a sanctimonious, evangelical Christian trying to prove to one another that they are more in line with God than the other person. I'd prefer to experience life than to argue which egotistical belief is more right than another. It's pretty much a given that EVERYONE believes that their beliefs is right and others are wrong, so what's the point? Live your faith and let others live their own faith, and trust that God set up our worldly system in the most logical and fair manner possible.


Margie's Musings said...

I like some of these ideas Nicholas. I especially like the idea of making the world a better place for everyone. That was the gospel of Jesus and what he taught. The Peace Colloquy this year is all about "Signal Communities". That is so "right" to me that I am taking half a dozen friends with me in October when I attend.

d/b/c/m said...

i like the part about the mix of introvert and extrovert. i have noticed before that when i've been so into meditative practices and enlightenment, i seem more annoyed with anything or anyone that disrupts that peace, which seems contradictory to the point. there needs be social and personal balance in all things.