Sunday, June 22, 2014

Christianity-Buddhism prattle

On a Buddhist bulletin board, I posted the following rambling response to a relative new-comer who was betwixt-and-between about Buddhism and Christianity. If nothing else, it may offer grist for those wanting to give me a kick in the ass.

Eugene -- All best wishes in your travels. It may lighten whatever your load may be to know that, whatever the spiritual persuasion, you will make mistakes. After 40+ years of Zen Buddhism, I still think of Buddhism as Mistakes R Us. Without making mistakes, no one ever learns anything.

With respect -- and no disrespect towards others -- I would like to say a little about why I distrust Christianity. This is just my life and my view ... I'm not trying to convince anyone else or to disparage what they may feel.

Christianity, the predominant religion of the United States, is based in caritas, a word sometimes too-loosely translated as "charity." Judaism, another thread in American spiritual life, is based in "the law." These are very different foundations and for that reason the term "Judeo-Christian" is more a public-relations nod to an Abrahamic god and a desire to be politically correct than it is a reference to a living reality.

Christianity is quite comforting (when it's not busy telling everyone how they are going to get left behind when the shit hits the fan). Someone/something loves you in the deepest possible way. I don't know anyone who wouldn't respond to such a premise. And to love what loves you is deeply fulfilling.
But things, of course, are not always smooth sailing and at such times, it is necessary to call on a reservoir of belief. Even when the going gets tough, still I believe in God and that belief keeps me going in some sense.

There is no spiritual practice that begins without belief and hope. Belief, because you're not entirely sure, and hope for pretty much the same reason. Perhaps it is like learning to ride a bicycle: At first, you hope and believe you too can ride because you see your friends zooming here and zooming there. Then you give it a try and, sure enough, the bumps and bruises mount up. But still, hope and belief propel the effort. And then, one day, whaddya know, you can do it -- you can ride and zoom and skid all on your own.

Though no one likes a metaphor that is too plain-Jane, still I think bike riding is a perfect match for spiritual endeavor. You hope and believe and practice and then, with luck, the dime drops.
But notice that once you have learned to ride a bike, belief and hope are no longer a necessity. Doubt has been erased. You know you can ride and ... you just ride. You don't get on your bike each day saying, "I hope I can do this. I believe I can do this." You just do this. Were you to believe you could do it, that would be secondary and vaguely foolish: Why believe something you already know?

And it is here that I am inclined to part ways with Christianity as it is generally provided. There is little or no encouragement in Christianity to actually ride the bike ... or, if the words appeal to you, to actually know who or what God is. Instead there is simply more and more encouragement to believe and hope what you allegedly don't and can't know. To my way of thinking, this is a profound unkindness.

Hope and belief are necessary components of spiritual beginnings. They are limited, but they are useful. There is no skipping over them and there is no looking down your nose at them. But it is important to listen to that small voice that may whisper when no one else is around -- when you are alone as perhaps at 3 a.m. looking at the bedroom ceiling -- "who precisely is this God who loves me and whom I love?" When no one else's answers truly answer, what will your answer be? If, in this realm, you rely on someone else's words, then you consign yourself to a life of doubt, no matter how sweet the music.

So-called meditation in Buddhism is a direct way. Not a direct way of hoping or believing, but a direct way of knowing. Meditation takes courage and patience and doubt. There may be strange events along the way, but in general, there is no one single shazzam lightning bolt. There is just practice and bumps and bruises and eventually just riding ... an exercise that may be wonderful but is no longer especially wondrous. Meditation is not the only way to reach your own best understanding and realization, but it is one good way.

Hell, I don't know -- maybe eating a chocolate bar works better. If that's what you think, then give it a whirl. The worst that could happen is just another bump or bruise.

Best wishes... and sorry for so much prattle.

1 comment:

  1. Going direct is my preference. But as well, considering the problems in the world, and how much of the universe is a hostile environment, much less how much of our planet would be unkind to our life forms, wouldn't a creator god have done a better job of it? The whole thing of needing to test our faith just sounds needy. What kind of a god is needy? Infant death mortality seems like a poor way to test faith, wasting a lot of babies there. And considering the size of the universe, and how little of it is fit for our life forms, kinda wasteful too. Wasteful and needy, this creator god sounds like a real slacker to me.

    There's a universe, and we're in it. I just can't see putting something needy and wasteful between us and that. I've got enough needy and wasteful in my own baggage. And if the needy and wasteful within me is an expression of deity, i've got to be better off without that "gift".