Bodhi Dharma meditated in front of a wall for nine years

I worry because I haven’t seen Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Nor am I current in some things that count; I have not what I should have

And what counted for Bodhi Dharma? What should he have had

In his meditation during nine years in front of a wall

OK, so his culture was different

And meditation counted, counted maybe as much as

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, a Lexus, what I should have

Bodhi Dharma aspired to a Shaolin Monastery, anyway

What Bodhi Dharma should have did not count to the Shaolin Monastery

I won’t say I want a life in which having does not count at all

But I will say I want a touchstone for our culture to scrape against

A touchstone to scrape against to evaluate our culture’s metal

I sure hope that Borat Subsequent Moviefilm will not scrape as gold

But I do fear that owning a Lexus would

Various and diverse ideologies coexist in the freedom our culture prizes

Meditation, a Lexus, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm coexist, compete as treasures of our hearts

Even in Christianity, having has infiltrated, called the prosperity gospel

With Jesus a mendicant and the gospel no one can serve God and mammon

And I am no mendicant, and I have not watched Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Episodic prayer and meditation, episodic piano, and episodic happiness on a good day, I have

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!

Language Games and Interfaith

I had a striking experience with acupuncture yesterday.  Not only did the tranquility of my treatment relax my stiff muscles, it helped me with concentration, alertness, and mood–it put a spring in my step.  It accomplished all this as I lay on a table with a few needles in me, listening to meditative music with ocean waves.  My body healed itself.  Or as the Chinese doctor said, acupuncture restored the flow of ch’i in me.  The philosophy behind this treatment was to still my mind first, then my muscles would relax.

This got me to thinking.  Lying on the cot, stilling my mind and muscles, listening to quiet music made me think about life outside the doctor’s office.  The stillness, the absence of stimulation, all quieting my mind, relaxing my muscles.  Then there is the hectic pace, the over stimulation of our society, the noise.  If it is therapeutic to be in a still, quiet environment, is it still possible to live an ordinary life in society?  I saw that I would need to adjust my lifestyle, of course, and not let stress and stressors into my mind.  I thought about the tranquil Chinese music they played when I practiced T’ai Ch’i at another Chinese studio.  It would be as hard for me to listen to Chinese music, if I weren’t doing T’ai Ch’i due to its simplicity and meditative quality.  T’ai Ch’i, the acupuncture office, Chinese music are all products of a culture that values quietness, I think.

I thought about interfaith relations.  I am deeply committed to interfaith ideals and multicultural societies.  But what if being deeply immersed in a culture that values stillness and quiet is incompatible with other cultures that are more boisterous, aggressive, and confrontational?  I ask, can one be open to intercultural ideals while being committed, oneself, to a deep tradition and culture?  This is what Lyotard calls, “the heterogeneity of language games.”  What if music is more than aesthetic?  What if music embodies a cultural philosophy and ethics, like the Chinese music I heard at the T’ai Ch’i studio?  I like classical music, jazz, blues, and rock.  But these are aesthetic judgments.  These forms do not embody a western ethics or culture.  Beethoven composed in Vienna, but his music has world appeal.  But the Chinese music I heard reflects the ethics of stillness, meditative quiet, and tranquility of Chinese culture, I think.  It is akin to Palestrina’s choral music, which one could say does embody a Christian ethics.

Is it possible to live within the norms of a deeply held culture, and also hold multicultural ideals?  That would be quite a feat.  I once heard a Christian minister speak art an interfaith gathering.  She was so sensitive to interfaith values, and so anxious not to offend anyone, that she didn’t even pronounce the name, “Jesus.”  That is interfaith at its worst.  That is multiculturalism eroding one’s own norms and values.  Interfaith means different faiths living in mutual respect.  But can I live with the tranquil Chinese music and all that it represents, and also enjoy Z.Z. Top?  Or does one preclude the other?  One thing I do know, life is richer for me living in the multicultural city in which I live.  Without multiculturalism, a white man like myself wouldn’t have been able to experience Chinese healing.