Saturday, September 3, 2011

spiritual sanctuary

Is it true or is it just too much imagination --

Spiritual settings strike me as places (when they're any good) in which people can at last address the secrets of their lives and not be penalized for them. Outside a shrink's office, I can't think of another setting that offers such a possibility.

Usually, for whatever reason, the secrets remain contained and constrained by the social demands of anyone's life. No one wants others to think less of them or to portray weakness or to put on display some 'bizarre' desire, so these matters are relegated to the dark of night when whispers whisper. "Who is God?" "What (credibly) happens after death?" "What about the occasional desire to murder a spouse or children?" "What of the deep regrets that refuse to be silenced and yet find no outlet?" "What about the memories that can eat you for breakfast?"

In the newspaper office I used to work in, occasionally there would be editorial discussions about using language that nuns might find offensive. My argument was always that if there was anyone capable of understanding such language and failing to be surprised or disheartened by it, nuns would probably be a group who knew their shit. Spiritual settings posit a way to become 'good,' but becoming 'good' requires a willingness to admit that, just at the moment, I am not so 'good.'

I guess I was thinking about this because a woman sent me an email asking about when she might come here to practice meditation. I wrote back giving her the information she wanted and then lapsed into an ill-defined reverie about how 'good' people can try to be when entering a sanctuary that posits 'goodness,' but is filled with participants who are not so 'good.' A lot of people play 'good' in such settings -- not an entirely bad idea -- but when such 'goodness' is used to paper over the interesting stuff, the whispering stuff, the hidden stuff ... well, hell, what good is that? If 'goodness' is the only option, what sort of honest sanctuary -- what kind of honest goodness -- is that?

I like to think of spiritual settings as places where, at last, the well-corked genie can be let out of the bottle. Let 'er rip! That's a pretty nice offering, to the extent it may be true.

Just noodling.

1 comment:

  1. Nice try.

    Remind me of a sort of a modern day Bodhidharma's "Emptiness, not holiness."*

    I wonder if your reverie struck a chord.

    * Briefly:
    Emperor Wu of Liang (464–549) built many temples and monasteries, educated many monks, and performed other philanthropic work in the name of Buddhism hoping to relieve suffering and create good conditions. Upon his first meeting with the allegedly great Buddhist master teacher, Bodhidharma, he asked "What merit is there in my good works?" Bodhidharma replied, "None whatsoever." The Emperor then asked, "What is the Primal meaning of Holy Reality?" Bodhidharma answered, "Emptiness, not holiness." The Emperor then queried, "Who, then, is this confronting me?" "I do not know," was Bodhidharma's reply. Since the Emperor did not understand, Bodhidharma left his kingdom.


    Some historians say that this emperor laid the foundation for the spread of Buddhism in it's many forms to take root in China.

    Emperor Wu co-authored and financed the development of the ritual and liturgy known as "Emperor Liang Jeweled Repentance" a sort of pan-Buddhist purification of and prayers for the deceased ceremony. This probably influenced the Buddhist take on the Japanese O-bon ceremony.