With today’s post, I intend to publish some of my thoughts regarding ultimate beliefs. Having been a clergyman since 1961, my present attitudes and beliefs may be of some surprise and interest.
Of late in my reading and reflecting, I am coming to the realization that in our quest for meaning we may well have been looking in the wrong direction. It is not that order and significance cannot be found when we observe the natural world to discover what makes it tick. Neither is it that truth cannot be discerned in philosophy and/or theology. Nor is it that beauty and goodness cannot be seen splashed across the pages of poets and playwrights or discovered between the lines of novels and essays. Rather, all those sources of meaning are external to us. It is as though we are sentenced to an endless search for the real somewhere beyond us. We are like the poor peasant in the parable who goes off in search of the treasure only to return home exhausted at never finding what he longed for, then finally to discover it buried beneath his own hearth.
As I am coming to see it, the meaning, order, significance, truth, beauty and goodness for which we search is really of our own conception and construction. It is not that we decide to run around imposing layers of significance upon reality, rather we do no deciding, we can do nothing other than find meaning wherever we look. The course of evolution has brought us to this stage of development. The human brain has evolved to have a self-reflective capacity that allows the individual to survive by being able to “stand outside” itself discerning self and not-self. This binary capacity is what allows a newborn to “realize” that there is a not-self source of nurture toward which he can instinctively nuzzle. This same capacity will develop into the discovery that it is her own hand she is putting into her mouth. Later an autonomous two-year old will insist “me do it” as this ability works its way to mature individuality. It is this binary capacity that insists on there being order and significance wherever we look.t is ironic that we speak about the human brain being a vastly complex computer when we could as easily, even preferably, understand the computer to be a primitive brain. The brain, after all, predates Babbitt’s machine to say nothing of the science descendant from Turing, by millennia.
Because of this “hard wired” (Thomas Moore to the contrary notwithstanding) binary capacity or facility, we necessarily perceive all reality as a duality. Everything is a self/not-self, black/white, right/wrong, here/not-here, now/then. By experience we learn to make finer distinctions so that either/or, both/and, not quite, and almost emerge as realities. At the earliest stages of our evolution, this binary perspective allowed us to live in a hostile world. Later evolutionary refinement allows us to add meaning and purpose to our survival.
There does remain a resistance to forming a brittle dualism. At some point, we intuit that there may well be a unitary reality within and beyond the perceived dualism. Into this resistance steps the human cultural phenomena we call religions. It appears that as far back into human experience as we have evidence, we humans have wanted to know and participate in the non-dualism, the unity that we suspect eludes us. So we have discovered, fashioned and devised forms, functions and behaviors that allow us to attain a unitive consciousness. Within each of those cultural expressions, there have probably been those who perceived the longing, the drive for unitive consciousness to be just what it is and to want to introduce others to its liberating reality. There were also probably countless others who could never get beyond their dualism and lived out their lives in the fractured reality of subject/object. Adherents of scientism and religious fundamentalism are all among the latter. Among the few who found ways to introduce others to the reality of unitive consciousness were those we know as founders of the great religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Baha’i.
It is in this paradigm that I understand Jesus. For me, he was not a god or God or Son of God in any literal sense. In fact, for me there is no god/God, no Being, above, beyond; there is no creator of reality. That to me is an absurd notion that cannot be entertained at the same time one understands contemporary physics and cosmology. For me, Jesus was an enormously insightful teacher of and participant in the reality of unitive consciousness. When he invites listeners to participate in the Kingdom of Heaven, which he says in “within/among” us or “at hand,” he is not talking about some future state of being but about recognizing/realizing another reality in the now. His invitation is not that of a priest or prophet but of a sage or wisdom teacher. His invitation is to enter a non-dual reality where equality is the status of all and mutual care is the behavior appropriate in all circumstances. One can follow him in participation in his Way (of seeing and walking) only by praxis, not by creedal affirmation or belief. This praxis consists of seeing in him an archetype/symbol of the Way, living in accord with his teachings, and finding support among others similarly committed to his Way.
If this seems remarkably similar to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, it is probably because they are analogous understandings from different times and cultures. In this regard, though they come from very dissimilar times and cultures, they are quite similar.
If one must identify a religious preference, Buddhism seems to me to be the best choice. Although it has taken on supernatural dimensions from the cultures in which it developed and spread, in its most basic insights, Buddhism requires no supernatural underpinnings. It is a non-theistic philosophy, an understanding of human life that is not necessarily dualistic, which has as its ‘goal’ or purpose, the awareness of unitive consciousness. Christianity, on the other hand, is inseparable from its theistic mythology. Though one may participate in the Christian community and deconstruct it as one participates, that requires a great deal of effort to be constantly interpreting the myth as one participates in the ritual.