Category Archives: Buddhism

Richard Rohr Prophecy, Part 3

Christians are usually sincere and well-intentioned people until you get to any issues of ego, control, power, money, pleasure, and security.  Then they tend to be like everyone else.  We often give only a bogus version of the gospel, a fast-food religion, without any deep transformation of the self; and the result has been the spiritual disaster of Christian countries that tend to be so consumer-oriented, proud, warlike, racist, class conscious, and addictive as everybody else and often even more so, I’m afraid.  (Richard Rohr, posted in “Mindful Christianity” on Facebook.)

Here Rohr alludes to addiction that often besets Christian countries, making people in these countries, “tend to be like everyone else.”  His teachings emphasize the addictive dimension of faith, a malady that leads him to encourage meditation as part of spiritual practice. He sees meditation as a means by which one can quieten that “monkey mind” that is often present in all spiritual practice, leaving one’s quest for spiritual depth to consist largely of a lot of thoughts bouncing around in one’s skull.  The core issue is addiction to thinking and even if “spirituality” characterizes one’s thinking it does not mean that this “rhapsody of words” (Shakespeare)  is anything but rhetoric disguised as spiritual truth

Rhetorical spiritual truth, i.e. “the letter of the law,” is upon closer scrutiny merely a means of avoiding the spiritual truth that is hidden in the literal grasp of the holy writ.  Meditation facilitates the opening of space between the rhetoric and the Essential, allowing that Essential dimension to begin seeping through into our consciousness and therefore into our day to day life.  It “quietens the mind” and allows that “still small voice of God” to filter through a lifetime of accumulated cognitive detritus. However, when one is addicted to his “cognitive detritus” and it happens to have the label “spiritual,” it is very challenging to understand and admit that it is merely detritus, an obsession with the superficial dimension of teachings without allowing experience of the Essential meaning.  This is the circumstance Jesus discovered in his life time with the religious establishment, leading him to say some rather “uncharitable” things to the Pharisees because he realized that they were so often merely, “straining at a gnat, and swallowing a camel.”

Another dimension of this problem is addressed in the Eastern teaching, “the word is not the thing,” succinctly captured with the Buddhist observation, “The finger pointing to the moon is not the moon.”  Just because we use words like, “God” or “Holy Spirit” or “the Bible” etc. does not mean they have any real value other than that of the aforementioned detritus.  These words are mere “pointers” and their value is found when we allow them to lead us into the Essential dimension.  French philosopher Gabriel Marcel, a devoted Christian, recognized this when he noted, “Words have value when they ‘open up’ into a region beyond themselves.” When the word is but a thing, it is only an object and is not allowed to open up.  This closely parallels the dilemma of “letter of the law” believers who are unable to “open up” as they take even themselves literally, not recognizing that they are but an expression of a mysterious and ineffable presence.  Their bondage to the “letter of the law” reveals the bondage of their life, a bondage that spiritual teachings seek to free them from.  But for this truth to begin sinking through to them they would have to admit, “I have eyes to see, but see not; ears to hear, but hear not.”

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The Finger Pointing to the Moon is not the Moon!!!

I recently posted on one of my other blogs about a favorite subject of mine, a closed-referential system also called epistemic closure or confirmation bias.  I focus on this issue because it is personally relevant given my youth in a very close-minded community and religious culture.  And my knowledge about this matter is so personal that without a doubt I am revealing that my “escape” from the close-mindedness is not complete and probably never will be.  In fact, it is impossible to cease to think outside of a context and that context is always larger than one is aware of.  We do not have an “objective” existence and if we ever accomplish that stance we will have become God and personally, I’ve already told friends that if I ever give evidence that I think I have accomplished that, “Just come and shoot me!”  I often like to use the term “god-complex” for those who are so rigid in their belief system that the uncertainty necessary for faith is not permitted to visit them.

My focus for the moment is the way in which religious thought can become self-contained so that it is self-referential, leading always to group-think and the aforementioned epistemic closure.  In a spiritual context like this “god-talk” is nothing but idle chatter even though the “chatting” might be done with great solemnity and fervor.  The “god-talk” I have in mind can be thought of as social grooming, amounting to nothing more than “car-talk” or banter about the local sports team.  Social grooming is very important and even has value in a religious setting though not when it is an end in itself. “God-talk” might be thought of in the spiritual context I come from as the exchange of common-place notions like, “Jesus Saves” or “Praise the Lord” or “Isn’t God wonderful” or “Hallelujah” and all of these terms have value.  But their value has meaning only when they are used in a group dialogue in which they are explored in terms of personal experience and not as mere grist for a social mill.  When reduced to this grist, they have the value only of “sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.”

The core issue here is epistemological, the word is not the thing or as the Buddhists put it, “The finger pointing to the moon is not the moon.”   But our culture has misled us, teaching us that “the word is the thing,” that it is the “thing in itself” and not the pointer that the Buddhists would have us learn.  This view of the world gives us the impression that the world is one dimensional, that there is no immaterial dimension to life, and that our everyone is empowered to claim objectivity.  But the problem with this “objectivity” is that it encourages everyone to claim the right to this objectivity which puts on our table at this present moment two diametrically opposing views of how the world should be seen.  One view is conservative and at its root is a firm belief that “the way things are” is valid and need to be maintained, that “walls” need to be built around it to keep out the ever-encroaching peril of the other view.  This other view, the liberal view, does not see reality as static but as a dynamic flow that permits us to have only a viewpoint, not an objective grasp of “the way things are.”

The “immaterial” dimension of life, i.e. the “spiritual”, could humble each of these perspectives and permit the finding of common ground.  The conservative and the liberal energy is necessary in any political body but when each side is dug in at the heels conflict cannot be resolved and catastrophe can take place.  But by using the term “spiritual” I have just opened a can of worms as the word means something which is not spiritual in the least but a means of social control and even tyranny.

TO BE CONTINUED

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