Faith, Religion and CultureI've been obsessed with the coverage of the election--to the point that I have no life outside of working and going home to catch up on what's happened. However, in the maze that is the CNN/MSNBC/Salon/Huffington coverage, I recently witnessed a clip of a 'pastor' opening up for McCain over the weekend. He was praying that 'God' would intervene; that in fact, 'god's reputation' was on the line and he had to show up and out do these other people's gods, and I quote, "like hindu, buddha, allah". Well, unfortunately only one of these is actually a named God, the other is an umbrella term for a religion that has a pantheon of gods and the other is the name of a great teacher who said that god was unnecessary to a mind that had reached equanimity and enlightenment.
It got me to thinking about my own ecumenical religious history: raised as a fundamentalist Christian, then went through a Native American phase, read Buddhist philosophy for many years, tried my hand at Sufism, and eventually landed here--a Sikh (which makes sense in the end, yes? Sikh is just another name for Seeker of Truth.).
But more than just reviewing my personal religious history, I began to reflect on the notion of devotion and the intellect and how it's played out in the two religions I'm most familiar with (outside my own sikhism): Christianity and Buddhism. Buddhism is often described as non-theistic. There really isn't a 'god' in this tradition; however, there is an aspect of faith that arises, but only after years of practice and disciplining the mind. That is, devotion is considered an advanced practice, only pursued after years of working with the mind and its thoughts. Once you've attained a certain discipline over the mind, THEN you pursue visualization practices that incorporate the gods and goddesses of the Buddhist pantheon. But more importantly, you cultivate a faith in yourself. Devotion is the end of the journey, not the beginning.
For my part, I always struggled with Christianity because it required an absolute measure of faith without having any disciplines or practices to cultivate said faith. I couldn't make the leap. Christianity demands absolute devotion from the beginning. There's very little real estate for doubt or questioning or room for points of view, especially in the twisted version of Christianity being pedaled today. No room for the intellect, for reason, for thoughtfully agreeing to disagree. Because of this, I always preferred the christian contemplative writers: Thomas Merton, C.S. Lewis, Simone Weil, and others. They seemed to have navigated this notion of devotion as well as cultivated a practice, a discipline that brought them to the necessary faith as an end to their devotion--not the beginning.
The culture of Christianity today, especially as its represented by the Republican minority (silent majority is no longer your purview conservatives!), has become a twisted and perverted notion of what I know is true religion: devotion that expresses itself as compassion.
As for my religious identity today, it too requires a great deal of devotion, but that devotion is married to a practice that balances the body and the mind, calls for self-reflection and surrender, and devotes itself to principles of meditation, service, and right livelihood. Again, devotion as a bi-product of discipline.
Perhaps this is the key to maturity in one's faith: Devotion is the end-game not the beginning. Faith is acquired not manufactured. And Truth is practiced, in the beginning, in the middle and in the end.