Philosophy of Religion

For me, today, religion is more a technique than a belief system.  Religion is a set of tools to use to perfect the self.  My interfaith background has led me to this idea, and the practices I have gone through.

When I was young, and I think that this is appropriate for young people, I learned a lot of belief systems.  I had a real delight in ideas, truth, and doctrines.  Now, my concern is how the ideas I have learned work in my reformation process.  From this point of view, religion is the tools I use in this.

I recently experienced Vedanta meditation (philosophical Hindu practice).  Very briefly, very basically.  But having studied Vedanta in graduate school, I had an idea where the teacher was going during the meditation.  I have used the techniques he taught us on my own to good effect.  However, I have certain doctrinal disagreements with the theology behind Vedanta.  My main concern is with the idea of an embodied God.  As a Christian, my God is Jesus.  Yet in Vedanta, the Ultimate is pure Consciousness, Peace, Infinite and impersonal.  I believe that these qualities apply to Jesus–all except the impersonal aspect of the Ultimate.  There are other areas of intersection.  My Swedenborgian beliefs teach that self is ultimately an illusion, as does Vedanta.  The only Self is God, which fits  with Vedanta, if we call God Brahman.  Then I bump up against Jesus as embodied Deity.  These questions are in Hinduism, too, as there is a devotional aspect to Hinduism in the worship of Gods like Shiva, Vishnu, or Shakti.  Devotional Hinduism sometimes criticizes Vedanta, too.  However, when I forget about these doctrinal issues, the meditation works quite well in calming my mind and elevating my consciousness, and relieving my base inclinations.  As a technique, as a tool for reformation, Vedanta works.  Works better than just Swedenborgian rationalism.

In another area of my spirituality, I find certain articulations in Taoism working better, again, than my Swedenborgian rationalism.  Swedenborg has a difficult concept called “proprium.”  Proprium means, basically, self-generated self.  Self-generated feelings and actions are the source of all evil.  Relief from self comes when we are moved by God’s Spirit.  Then, activity flows freely.  Explaining this and understanding it with linear language is difficult and inefficient.  I find that the Taoist metaphors of “the uncarved block,” “the way of water,” “the breath of the valley spirit” work well to illustrate how the Holy Spirit moves self without self-generated deeds.  Also, Taoist paradoxes work well, such as “action without action,” or “effortless doing,” what they call “wu-wei.”

When I was younger, I used to say I was sometimes Buddhist, sometimes Christian, sometimes Hindu, sometimes Jewish, depending on how I felt in the moment.  That was a kind of way of showing off my interfaith education.  Now, however, I find that all those doctrines I learned can help me in my spiritual growth.  I don’t have the arrogance to claim that I really am Buddhist sometimes, for instance.  But sometimes, Buddhism does work better in my life work of spirituality.  But it works as a tool, not as a concept.  So that is now how I view religion: in terms of a tool that will make me better, and of better service to the world I inhabit.

I kind of think that if people did view religion as a tool, and not as an exclusive world-view, there would be more religious harmony in the world; less fighting; better people.  I am aware that many people today don’t have a place in their life for religion.  But maybe that is because too often, religion is thought to be a belief system, and not a tool in the process of reforming the life.  In my experience, religion works!

Advertisements

The Clear Mirror of the Mind

There is a Buddhist saying that goes, “My mind is a clear mirror, I must keep it free of dust.”  That line was taken a step further with the words, “I have no mind, where can the dust gather?”  That latter line is a very high, esoteric Buddhist teaching.  It is not appropriate for me at this stage of my development.  I have a mind.  And I have lately been watching it.  I’m discovering the value of keeping the mirror of my mind clear.

It’s easy to allow petty grievances and resentments to fill our mind.  We can dwell on bad experiences, arguments in the past we are carrying on in the present, reasons to think ill of our neighbor, even think ill of our friends and intimates.  But lately, I’ve been trying to interrupt these movements of the mind.  I am realizing that my mind is a clear mirror that must be kept free of dust.  It is just as easy to fill the mind with pleasant thoughts, with happy truths, with friendly ideas.

The present is all we have.  I am realizing that I want to live in a pleasant present, not one filled with uncomfortable thoughts.  I think of that Yes lyric, “There’ll be no mutant enemy we shall certify.”  Do I have enemies?  Not in my living room.  Not when my partner and I are out on a date.  Why rehearse past grievances or past enmities in the present?  There are those words, “Be as prudent as serpents but as gentle as doves.”  While I need to protect myself against enemies, I don’t need to replay in my mind their past actions against me.  In fact, the less I think about my own issues, the better I feel.  When my mind and my actions are on how I can make the world around me better, or manifest goodness in my present, I find I feel better.  One miserable day I had an unpleasant morning, lost some money at the casino, and was feeling bad about myself.  On my way home, I stopped at a convenience store.  A man there asked me for some money to buy a coffee.  I never give out money, but I went into the convenience store with the man and gave the clerk the money for his coffee.  The clerk thanked me, the man thanked me twice, and I felt good about losing another dollar for this man.  Losing a hundred dollars at the casino just made me mad, while losing another dollar for the coffee redeemed the day.  It is my choice whether I will dwell on the money I lost at the casino and get mad, or dwell on the dollar I gave the man for coffee and feel good.  And so in all the other affairs of my life.  Having a mind like a clear mirror free of dust isn’t a bad way to go through life.  It’s a good present.