Thursday, April 16, 2009

Worldviews Part 1: the truth is we need help

The description of the website is a "community of seekers, skeptics, and believers" - and I have been all three of these. If you want to read my story of how I passed through the different stages of skeptic to seeker to believer, check out my testimony.

In some aspects I am still a skeptic and a seeker, which is why I love a respectful debate with anyone who wants to challenge the teachings of Biblical Christianity. I always learn something from what you have to share with me.

For instance, back in February I had neat discussion with an old friend that I had recently reconnected with via Facebook. He read my blog Thinking about how hard the truth is, and mentioned that he was currently reading "Mere Christianity" by C.S. Lewis. He said he wanted to read it because he had just read Hitchen's book "god is not Great" and thought he should "walk the open minded walk" and not just talk it. Wow, what a contrast in books! So I asked him what his current beliefs are. He replied that he has both practiced Soto Zen Buddhism and attended a Unitarian Universalist church, and he believe in Interbeing, as described by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Before I became a follower of Jesus, I was curious about Buddhism and did some reading on it. But it's been a long time since then (over 15 years ago), and I couldn't remember much. So, being the Wikipedia fanatic that I am, I looked up Soto Zen and Interbeing. Interbeing is the idea instead of God as separate entity, there is instead an inter-connectedness of all things.

Interbeing also stresses "selflessness" as in "not-self characteristic which reveals the inter-connected-ness of all things" (Wikipedia). I couldn't help but contrast this to the New Testament teaching of death to self, through identification with Jesus' death, Galations 2:20 "... I am crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me..."

The Order of Interbeing has "14 Mindfulness Teachings" which I found very interesting. To name a few: "openness","non-attachment to views", "freedom of thought" (which explains my friend's interest in reading both Mere Christianity, and god is not great); "awareness of suffering", "living happily in the present moment", "truthful and loving speech", "dealing with anger".

These are very noble teachings, and I mean that sincerely. True followers of Interbeing must be very compassionate, loving people... here is another statement from my friend: "I've been thinking lately about the idea that the idea of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is roughly equivalent to the idea of bodhicitta ("the arising of spontaneous and limitless compassion for all sentient beings" - see Wikipedia for more details)." "We understand suffering because we see that we can just as easily have a hand in it as anyone else. When we _fully_ feel compassion for each other, then we naturally _love_ our brothers and we instinctively _know_ what to do in those terrible moments. My understanding is that this is what Buddhists call Perfect Wisdom."

The Perfect Wisdom of Buddhism sounds remarkably similar the unconditional, agape love of the New Testament. Here is Truth! But my worldview says there is still something missing - in one word, "help".

Before I go into what I mean by "help", here is a quick review of the Four Aspects of Buddhist doctrine or dharma from an article by Peter Kreeft.

The First Noble Truth is that all of life is dukkha, suffering. The word means "out-of-joint-ness" or separation—something very similar to "sin," but without the personal, relational dimension: not a broken relationship but a broken consciousness.

The Second Noble Truth is that the cause of suffering is tanha, "grasping," selfish desire. We suffer because of the gap between what we want and what we have. This gap is created by our dissatisfaction, our wanting to get what we do not have or wanting to keep what we do have (e.g., life, which causes fear of death). Thus desire is the villain for Buddha, the cause of all suffering... "I want that" creates the illusion of an "I" distinct from the "that"; and this distinction is the cause of suffering.

The Third Noble Truth.... to remove the cause is to remove the effect, therefore suffering can be extinguished (nirvana) by extinguishing its cause, desire. Remove the fuel and you put out the fire.

The Fourth Noble Truth tells you how to extinguish desire: by the "Noble Eightfold Path" of ego-reduction in each of life's eight defined areas, inward and outward (e.g., "right thought:" "right associations," etc.).

So here is where I come back to the missing factor, "help".

It is so hard for humans to truly live perfect wisdom/unconditional love - we can only grasp it for seconds at a time and the rest of the time we're basically selfish creatures. Meditating certainly helps and the more time you spend meditating on perfect wisdom, or the Noble Eightfold Path, or the 14 Mindfulness teachings, the more you will be able to live out Perfect Wisdom. But it is still "work-based". You have to do the work; you have rely on yourself for the motivation, for the desire, to keep doing this and doing this.

There is the temptation to try to live the noble, self-sacrificing life in Christianity, too. Jesus is our example; we strive to live our lives by asking ourselves "What Would Jesus Do?" and then, we try to do that. But your average person (ie. me) fails that task miserably 98% of the time. So I take incredible comfort in the fact that Jesus is interceding for me in this task.

It basically comes down to this: do you believe you can be compassionate and loving by your own will, your own efforts? Or have you realized that you keep failing at it, and you need help? Jesus said "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick... I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

Here are some other challenges I've made. I love hearing responses and I'm always open to discussion.

Worldviews part 2: What about suffering?

Why Tolerance Isn't Enough

Some thoughts on Avatar and why it is so appealing

1 comment:

  1. Just wanted to say, i love your blog. You have some powerful things to say that are right-on. It's always nice to get online and read something spiritually encouraging.