Thursday, October 28, 2010

Neither Fish Nor Fowl

For each of us, a religion or any other form of spiritual practice really serves as an allegory, an approximation of our deepest spiritual truth, offering ideas and practices that aid us in our pursuit of happiness. I know of virtually no one, though, who can say that their religion perfectly represents what they believe. I've known devout Christians who quietly but vehemently sense that reincarnation is a fact of existence. I've known Hindus for whom Catholic rituals resonate profoundly. In fact, if you find anybody who subscribes heart and soul to every aspect of their chosen religion, it's likely you've found somebody with a rather serious mental defect. (No Sarah Palin jokes, please.)

While most of us have practices that lean toward one of the major faith systems, it seems to me that in the final measure, each of us has an entirely individual structure of beliefs that can resemble, but never be identical to, another person's.

I'm now 54, and for fully 30 years now, my spiritual practice has been most closely represented by Buddhism. I respond most positively to Buddhist philosophy because of its intellectual precision, its cool detachment, and its belief in following the evidence of logic and experience. In its better moments, Buddhism can be one of the most tolerant of belief systems, though it, too, can have its parochial moments, especially when it comes to individual schools within the Buddhist world passing judgement on one another.

Yet for all of that, when asked to name my religious membership, I take pause and have to acknowledge that I can't really say that I'm a Buddhist. I miss membership in the club because of a single belief that most definitely violates the rules for authentication as a Buddhist.

Strictly speaking, Buddhists simply do not believe in a deity called God, thinking that such beliefs are largely irrelevant to the the pursuit of enlightenment. That is, in fact, one of the central appeals of Buddhism, that it is free of the heavy-handedness found in most deity-based religions. The inherent atheism of Buddhism is the Achilles heel for me, the final membership requirement that just eludes me. 

Because in my heart of hearts, an intuition tells me that underlying our experience is some kind of central Truth that universally present for all of us. This energy feels to me quite concrete,with an inherent intelligence and humor about it. It's not that I adhere to any kid of cult of personality when it comes to deity——I certainly don't think of God as some kind of uber-personality that dwells in someplace called heaven. But for all of that, the supernormal energy I sense is something that communicates with me when I choose to ask and listen, and it's distinct enough for me to feel a kind of "I-thou" relationship to it.

Uneasy about this lingering belief, I sometimes pretend that it's "buddha-nature" I'm sensing here. To no avail; something that feels a lot like God continues to lurk around the corner, like a drug dealer trying to tempt school children. At the end of the day,  it appears I'm a Missouri-Synod Buddhist.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Citizens of 4F, Oct. 20, 2010

Grey-haired Martha sits at nearly the same latitude each morning on the 4F bus into downtown Minneapolis. Sometimes it's the left, and sometimes the right, but always she is very nearly one-third of the distance back from the front of the bus.

Each morning she reads the same magazine: TV Digest. Until I noticed this, I wasn't even aware that the magazine was still published anymore. Now it's an oversized publication, like People or Newsweek, not the small Readers-Digest size that I remember from years ago. I'm kind of amazed that it's still in print anymore, though if any magazine has a chance to survive in our culture, it would be one devoted to television, I suppose.

I'm also impressed that Martha finds enough new to read there each morning. Other than the schedule logs themselves, the editorial content of TV Digest looks to be pretty sparse. Is Martha just boning up on the evening TV schedules each and every day? Or does the magazine now have enough editorial content to offer 4 hours or so of reading each week?

Martha begins each morning sitting adjacent to the window, but as the bus begins to fill up, by about Franklin Avenue, she moves to an aisle seat. This has the impact of making it hard for anyone to sit next to her, and so it seems like a slightly mean-spirited thing to do, like those people who place their briefcases or backpacks on the seat next to themselves, effectively denying the seat to folks who might wind up standing. I don't like thinking that this is the kind of person she is.

So I settle on a more charitable explanation. She moves to the aisle seat so that, if another person comes and takes the window seat, she won't have to disturb them when her bus stop comes on the south edge of downtown and she arises to exit.

I'm not entirely convinced, though. It's the TV Digest that spoils it for me.