Tuesday, April 22, 2014

a sound spiritual investment strategy

In search for a perpetual motion machine, Blaise Pascal introduced an early roulette wheel to the 17th century.
-- In the realm of religion or spiritual life, Blaise Pascal's "wager" strikes me as having a kind of straight-forward earthiness that any high-school dropout could understand. True, there are any number of rebuttals and criticisms and philosophical counter-points, but as a suggestion or invitation, the wager is instantly comprehensible to refined and unrefined minds alike.

Roughly speaking, Pascal, a 17th century mathematician and philosopher, posited that a rational man should live his life as if God existed. If God did exist, the payback would be enormous, and if God did not, the sacrifice would be minimal and the ethical lifestyle would be socially acceptable and, conceivably, benevolent.

It is the format of the argument that I find canny. Whether in the realm of the spiritual or any other, isn't this a format that is universally understood? Risk and reward; investment and return; effort and payback? Individuals choose what to spend their treasure on ... and they would prefer not to get screwed as a result. Stock market, marriage, war, spiritual life -- isn't the format in play? I think it is.

It is easy enough to find spiritual persuasions that will pooh-pooh a quid-pro-quo approach to spiritual adventure, but once they stop all the delicate dancing, the individual who is theoretically the beneficiary of spiritual effort is pretty much back to square-one, however impassioned the denials: An investment in time, effort, tears, laughter, money and whatever all else has got to lead to something, doesn't it?

Some are content to build vast institutions, create socially-viable group hugs, dispense arcane wisdom in lovely settings, memorize hectares of text, conjure lineages that enfold past, present and future ... you know, the usual stuff. It may all have some wonderful effects or, equally, it can have a screaming and violated downside. But the individual -- the man or woman looking to ease things a bit -- may finally feel the lash of what is essentially bereft: Just because someone or something else is happy or at peace doesn't mean that you are.

I see nothing wrong with a sound spiritual investment strategy. Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Zoroastrian, whatever ... Pascal was on to something. But I do think that over time, if that strategy does not lose its "for," then it leaves its participants bereft. This is not something to force. It is just something that I think needs to happen. Payback and payoff may be good inspiration and good encouragement, but as long as a sound spiritual investment strategy is "for" something, then to that extent it has failed. I am not sure how or why this is so, I just think it is.

And other idsies and oddsies this morning:

-- There's nothing wrong with ego that a little practice couldn't fix.

-- Speaking well of the dead is a bit uppity when you consider that they have no way of defending themselves.

-- I don't like excusing my behavior according to the behavior of others, but there is something cozy about belonging to a recognizable group ... in this case, the suggestion that people passed into a "grumpy" realm at about age 70.

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