Thursday, February 18, 2010

Meditation on the precepts

The five Buddhist precepts should sound quite familiar. Let's see if I remember them all:
No killing
No lying
No stealing
No sexual misconduct
No taking of intoxicating substances

Whew! So, I feel like I am such a pro with regard to these, except for the last one (if you count caffeine). But it's interesting, because they are so deceptively easy, but when you really get deeper into walking the path, you see choices that are quite interesting and create whole worlds of gray areas.

I listened to the podcast about no lying today while I was enjoying an easy, relaxed 25-minute jog. I feel like the deepest essence of my being is to be honest and open. However, certain questions arise. What if you withhold part of yourself from certain people because you know those parts could create conflict? Is this lying?

I know that I have an issue with conflict avoidance. I felt like I grew up in a miniature battle zone of my parents' creation -- rightly or wrongly, this is how I felt as a child. So now, I find it quite painful to confront someone directly in an emotionally charged situation. It really converted me strongly to the cause of peace. But peace is not genuine when it ignores differences and disagreement. It is not permanent if it tries to smooth over problems without addressing them.

Is it honest that I behave differently or speak differently around different people? I find myself matching people's ways of speaking, dialects, their vocabulary levels when I speak with different people. Is this being true to myself?

Gil gave a good example of how honesty quickly becomes a gray area. His young son was asking him what he thought of baseball, and Gil said he liked it. However, Gil was aware that he would give a different answer to an adult. He said his son loves baseball, and his answer was nuanced by that knowledge.

So when is withholding information perhaps not the same as lying? What if the information withheld would cause someone pain or discouragement? What if withholding information would save a life? For example, Rahab hid the Israeli spies and deliberately misdirected the soldiers seeking their lives, in the Old Testament (Torah). She saved their lives. Did she do so by breaking a precept or commandment? You shall not bear false witness, is the Judeo-Christian version.

I am struggling with how to share my notion of faith with my Disciple Bible class. Maybe part of the problem is I am unsure how to express my ideas. Writing them is much easier, for me, than speaking them to a potentially hostile audience. Of course, my hesitation also contains a heavy dose of the instinct for self-preservation!

I believe that the faith of those who strive to be more spiritual is genuine, regardless of whether the person bears the name of Christian or Buddhist or Jew or Hindu or Muslim. I believe that all these paths, when they are taken in love, lead to the same God, and that God embraces all these efforts to become closer to Him and grow in love. Now, I'm not going to embrace every new-age idea or sect or cult, etc., but I believe that God created us to be very diverse in the way we worship Him.

I know there are logical problems with my point of view. For one thing, Buddhists do not believe in "God." They do share many other beliefs in common with the Judeo-Christian view, but they don't emphasize dogma the way that Jews and Christians do.

Then there are Christ's own words that no one comes to the Father except through him, and so on. If you are not for me, you are against me. (But also, he said, if they are not against me, they are for me.) There are a number of places where Christ exhorts his disciples to tell others about himself and thus achieve salvation. Those who do not have faith in Jesus will go to Hell, it seems. Many Christians take these verses as permission to judge who is going to heaven, and who is not, and they are not shy about saying that people of other religions are hosed.

I believe that every time people create partitions and divisions among themselves and claim that their religion is "right" and all others "wrong" -- every time, Satan rejoices, for his purposes are being achieved. He has succeeded in distracting people from seeking God with their full hearts. Instead, they are evaluating the quality of other people's faith and judging it as lacking. In rushes pride and a host of other sins. They are saying, in essence, the pearly gates are open to me, and those who believe the way I do, but they are closed to you. What a egocentric view! Unfortunately, it is reinforced by many statements that Jesus made. He wasn't perfectly clear. I have to wonder if the early Christians were into self-preservation when they were recording the scriptures. No one will ever know.

Buddhism has a brilliant solution for all the problems involved in arguing out these points using human logic. Buddhists realize that we are not able to see the true nature of reality while captives in our human body. Paul made a similar comment when he said, "Now we see in a mirror, darkly. Then we will see face to face." Buddhists say, our beliefs are not the most important thing in our lives, because they are all warped by our egocentrism. Our actions, and our being mindfully present in each moment, trump all belief systems. All belief systems are going to be warped by our limited point of view, but we can learn to exist in a fully awakened state, and in that sense, we meet reality directly from moment to moment, in a way that is essentially inexpressible.

I know this is a mystical reply and does not satisfy those who want specific answers to all their questions, or who want a clear user's manual of life to follow.

Logically speaking, my beliefs are equally as valid as yours. We are both on equal footing, both human. My intuitive grasp of faith is just as legitimate as yours. Perhaps some beliefs can be proven empirically, here on earth, but the biggest questions are unprovable. Where do we come from, before we are born, and where do we go after death? Is there a God, and what is the nature of God?

Even those theories that have been proven scientifically are not necessarily universal. Do they apply throughout the universe? Did they apply from the beginning, and will they apply in the end? How do you prove that?

All holy scriptures were written by human beings. They were divinely inspired, but they still contain the essential flaw of the limited human perspective. Can we see what happened at the creation of the universe, or what will happen in billions of years? Do we have unlimited knowledge? Do any of us have more direct access to the divine than anyone else?

The point is this: Lots of questions. Few answers. We should all strive to be more loving and more forgiving of others who also seek, and less dogmatic.

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