We, the human species are by nature gregarious; social creatures. We live in communities. I also believe that is why we are religious; or at least have a tendency towards it. I believe we are all religionists of one flavour or another.
Maybe I shouldn't use the word “religion”. It can cause some confusion. 'Religion' often implies a necessary belief in God or gods. It doesn't need to. I would count Atheism as a 'religion' for the purposes of this discussion. Maybe a better term we should use is Belief-System. Yes, we'll save the term 'religion' for the disease of religiosity...
Because we are gregarious and because we must live amongst our fellow man – and with ourselves – I think this is the reason we all have and follow some sort of Belief-System. Some of us can happily name and identify which Belief-System we belong to and follow. Some of us cannot. Some of us think we can but in reality don't know.
Our ability to acknowledge which one Belief-System we belong to has no bearing of the fact that we all do. There are many of us who follow a Belief-System that has no official recognized status, or even some who follow an unnamed, poor, and damaging Belief-System. But the fact is we follow one or some.
Which, ultimately, brings us to an important question. What should we expect our Belief-System to do for us? What purpose should it serve and what purpose does it serve?
"Western philosophy, having little connection with everyday living, is (to this observer, at least) comparatively egocentric and impractical, with much Arguing and Theorizing, and much bounding back and forth across the intellectual landscape.What should we expect our Belief-Systems to do?
"Western philosophy has become the domain of pipe-smoking, tweed-suited college professors (who may profess it but not necessarily practice it) and hypercerebral students who, for all their intelligence, often seem to have a hard time washing their clothes or repairing the lawn mower.
"In the East generally... philosophy has always been considered of no value unless it can be, and is, applied in one's daily life.
"Out of the "Hundred Schools" of Chinese philosophy, only two - Confucianism and Taoism - have survived. They have lasted through thousands of years because they have proven the most Useful."
Benjamin Hoff, "The Te of Piglet"
It's funny because this was the final question I came to during my 25 year 'travels' as a spiritual sojourner. An unfortunate event triggered this journey for me and began my searching for answers. - And boy did I find answers! - But that wasn't what made this journey so difficult and so challenging. Unbeknown to me, it wasn't answers that I should have been searching for, but questions. The challenge was that the questions, over the years, kept changing.
I'm one to believe there's nothing new under the sun. I'm not going to present the things I learned as ideas I came up with or created or invented, but rather as concepts I discovered and stumbled upon. Men thousands of years ago – much more educated and wiser than I'll ever be – have summoned some of the concepts and thoughts that I desperately struggle with up in a single word. No, there is nothing new under the sun, least of all what I write here.
So, what should we expect and demand of our Belief-Systems? What should we demand of our religions? And when they fail to provide these expectations and demands are we ready and willing to eject them either wholesale or partially?
(It was late February 2012 when I had to submit my written thesis for my Black Belt examination in Taekwon-do. It was entitled “Solace & Compassion” and it was at that point when the purpose of most (all?) Belief-Systems solidified to me).
I should think our Belief-Systems and our religions should provide us three things and enjoy the byproduct of a fourth.
1) It should not provide us truth. It should provide us with the methods and tools to acquire, accept, and manage truth.
2) It should provide us with direction and guidance to Solace; inner peace (be it physical, mental, spiritual, or all three).
3) It should teach, foster, and help nurture Compassion for others. (We should be watchful that it doesn't pretend and offer a counterfeit compassion; pity).
A byproduct of these three points is community. And as gregarious creatures by nature – like or not – we live in communities. Families, friends, social circles, clubs, gangs, churches, unions, the list goes on. Not all communities are good; we must live in them never-the-less. But we can make good communities.
It is important to understand these three points and how they are intertwined with one another. Without Solace one is divided and conflicted. Without some degree of Solace caring for others is a near impossibility. To a certain degree, Compassion becomes the fruit of Solace. But yet so too can the opposite be true. Genuinely helping another – even a single kind act – can bring peace of mind and a sense of balance and harmony.
I wholeheartedly believe how we view, accept, and acquire truth heavily influences both our Solace and Compassion. If we are set in our ways and in what we hold to be true, regardless of what our experiences show us or how reality is, we will repeatedly come into conflict with those “facts” of reality. If we cannot or will not change to accommodate new or corrected truths then it becomes increasingly more difficult to live at peace with the world and the people around us. A Belief-System or religion that teaches us specific and erroneous truths rather than how to find truths can only undermine us.
I find it interesting those people who seem to feel the need to argue and defend the truth (often their truth). Truth needs no defending. It simply is. It should be self-revealing and obvious.
I call this 'Dharma'. This is not Dharma in the Buddhist sense of the three gems or the three treasures. This is not the Buddhist teachings that indoctrinates one into Buddhism. This 'Dharma' is simply the self-evidential truth, but more specifically our openness to being aware of it and accepting it. It is a reflection of ourselves more than the truth in question.
Dharma is not truth itself, but one's understanding of and methods of acquiring, accepting, and managing the truth...
...and Solace and Compassion are entangled by Dharma.
This is what I call ”The Dharma Entanglement”. This is the goal and purpose of a Belief-System I have come to believe and pursue.
Below is a map, a flowchart of sorts, showing the paths and conclusions I have come to and discovered. Although it shows the various paths and conclusions I have encountered it is extremely generalized and extremely summerized. Yes, it will look like I am painting with a very broad brush. It may even appear judgmental, but please understand, years were spent (wasted?) following (not studying) these numerous and meandering paths. It is by no means meant to be a universal truth, but only one I have experienced. (I had been extremely hesitant in using this Excel-chart. It is far too 'mathematical'; far too black and white. It frightens and concerns me that it gives the wrong message that this entire process is little more than an equation, which it is anything but. Each and every point on this chart could easily be a lengthy post onto its own, and in fact, some of them are).
(The chart itself is a link to the Excel-chart proper and this chart has numerous links to various topics and articles).
When I had began this blogsite, The Woven, the idea was to explore and hopefully discover the commonalities between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. But like I mentioned earlier, the challenge was not in the answers I discovered, but that the questions kept changing. What it ended up becoming was an exploration of Atheism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, Buddhism, and Gnosticism.
The Mu Portal
Although there could be many possible paths to the Dharma Entanglement, ultimately I believe “Mu” is a necessary gateway to escape the shackles of Religiosity and enjoy the emancipation of Spirituality. (Only then can Spiritual Solace be realized, cultivated, and nurtured).
Mu is Japanese for “not” often used as a prefix, but can stand alone, simply as 'not'. It can mean to “unask the question", suggesting that the problem does not lie within the answer (there is no correct answer), but within the question itself. The problem needs to be approached from another point of view.
I have found many monotheists (as well as many Atheists) lack a healthy sense of Doubt, and suffer from an addiction to Certainty. And when we fall victim to the Certainty Addiction everything becomes a matter of knowing and fact and proving one's beliefs. Faith dies. Truth takes a back seat to being Right. Thus enters the hidden and silent inner conflict. Combine this addiction with inner conflict and the monotheist's concept (fear) of Damnation and their Solace's destruction is complete.
”Mu” (regardless of which avenue one arrives here or even by which name one recognizes it as) is the ability of simply 'letting go' and be at peace with not-knowing. (And shortly we will discuss the value Gnosticism can provide to approaching this gateway and better understanding of it through symbolism). Allowing a Faithful Doubt (rather than a Doubtful Faith) and living at peace with its mystery. Something many religious people (especially institutional religions) struggle with.
I think this gateway is critical to one's spiritual journey. Without it, it is simply stagnation. Growth becomes impossible. The entrapment of religiosity remains unbroken.
There must be a great many paths to mental Solace; clarity of mind. I can only speak of my own experiences. For me it came through Guk-gi (“Self-Control”) and Jung-Joong-Dong (”stillness in motion” meditation), both from Traditional Taekwon-do's Jungshin Sooyang (“Moral Culture” - the base and underlying philosophy and principal behind Traditional Taekwon-do).
Physical Solace, is really little more than keeping your body healthy and balanced. I have began this process by certain dietary changes, being attended to by an acupuncturist and Traditional Chinese Medicine Doctor, and being physically active (In my case, practicing Taekwon-do). I take a daily dose of Bee Pollen to help build and maintain my immune system and I have recently chosen to give up alcohol (Aug. 20/12).
These three forms of Solace are a potentially long process and I do not want to give the idea that I am anywhere but at the beginning of this process. But one thing is clear. At least I have a 'map', so to speak – a direction.
"Holistic Solace, Soter, Salus"
I believe these three ideas of finding peace or a balance within oneself can be cumulative into something truly marvelous. I'm at a loss as to what it may be called. Holistic Solace; Soter; Salus (Salvation? Enlightenment?) It needs to be explored as to what it is, but it is part of this Dharma Entanglement; intrinsically tied into Dharma and Compassion. Clearly this "Holistic Solace/Soter/Salus" needs to be better fleshed out. As of this moment, I'll have to leave that concept for another time.
Of the seven 'faiths' I have been looking at - Atheism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, Buddhism, and – Gnosticism, must be the most peculiar of the lot.
There are hidden pearls of wisdom within it. There are also aspects of it present within many other Belief-Systems. It might at times be best viewed as fragmented. What complicates this further is that there was never a single group that we can refer to as 'the Gnostics' (capital 'G'). They were numerous, varied, and diverse. They existed in different times, different cultures, and different religions. It's surprising that we even use an umbrella term like Gnosticism for this entire group. But rather than focus on the underlying definition and traits that unify these varied groups, I prefer to focus on the bits and pieces worth extracting and keeping; those pearls of wisdom that we would do well to pay heed to, and have helped me on my way.
One strong feature in Gnosticism is their understanding of myth (mythos). It would seem at times deliberately opposed to historicity and purposely to combat literalism.
I particularly found values in Valentinus' gnosticism, a Christian Gnosticism. In his reinterpretation of the Genesis story of the Garden of Eden, we find a story through metaphor of an inner struggle to escape the oppressive slavery of Religion and suggestions of Religiosity's petty and insecure god.
The Garden of Eden is not paradise, but the Cage of Religiosity. The Serpent is not Satan, but Sophia - God the Mother - the Holy Spirit - showing the path (or the way) to the Mu Portal. The Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge is not Death, but to pass through the Mu Portal (freedom from Religiosity - emancipation), and only then can the Fruit of the Tree of Life be attained (The Fruit of the Tree of Life being the Cosmic Christ (Christ the Revealer rather than the Redeemer), Sophia, and Abba (literally "Daddy" in Hebrew, as opposed to the God of Eden, Yahweh/T'ien), all understood as metaphor, not literal history.
And it is here that we find an example of Gnosticism's strongest points.
But allow me to jump to a slight tangent for a moment:
T'ien, Yahweh, & Sophia
The Confucianist's concept of a Heavenly Power shared a certain resemblance to the Old Testament image of God. The Confucianists called it T'ien - “Sky”, “heaven”, “Supreme Ruler”. T'ien was seen as masculine and often ferocious. It needed to be appeased with sacrifices and rituals. It took sides. It granted authority. It transferred authority and sovereignty directly to the Emperor, the Son of Heaven.
T'ien was said to grant material prosperity as rewards (thus the Confucianist equation of wealth with goodness).
T'ien was considered something to fear rather than love, hence the emphasis on unquestioning obedience and loyalty and the absence of terms such as Compassion.
The Taoists on the other hand, saw Heavenly Power as both masculine and feminine, as symbolized by the Taoist's Yin-Yang symbol.
In the natural world however, Taoists saw it as mostly feminine in its actions, what Lao-Tsu called “The Mother of Ten Thousand Things”.
It was gentle like flowing water. It was humble and generous, like a fertile valley, feeding all who come to it. It was hidden, subtle, and mysterious. It took no sides, it wasn't tribal, and granted no authority. It could not be influenced or manipulated or appeased by sacrifices or rituals.
Like the dichotomy between the Confucianist and Taoist view of Heavenly Power, the Gnostics (Valentinus especially) revered and worshiped Sophia - the divine feminine.
Sophia - God's wisdom personified. Possibly the third aspect of the Holy Trinity itself; God the Mother.
The parallel between the Confucianist's masculine and ego-driven (insecure?) Heavenly Power, T'ien, and the Old Testament's masculine and blood-thirsty tribal God, Yahweh, is uncanny.
This projected God even carries itself forward into modern day Christianity with certain adherents' refusal to acknowledge anything but a masculine God, down to the Prosperity Gospel, Confucianist's twin image of wealth being a sign of goodness.
The Gnostic's divine feminine - Sophia - is the missing piece. Like the Taoists understanding of the feminine power active in the world around us, Sophia is the mother of all things. Gentle like flowing water, but never-the-less all-powerful like water. Even the stone cliffs are eroded away by the ocean. She is humble and non-egotistic. Generous and accepting all who come to her. She is the God of non-tribalism as she desires no sacrifices and cannot be influenced, manipulated, and needs no appeasement.
These factors, the wisdom of gnosticism, can be an equally valid path to the gateway of Mu; an escape from the bondage of Religiosity; literalism, legalism, an addiction to certainty, tribalism, and into the freedom of spirituality.
But the point here isn't to convince you of a female God. That would only lead you astray, making you fall victim to the addiction of certainty but only of a different flavour. The point is that we do not and cannot know God fully. God cannot be simply placed within a convenient box, categorized or clearly defined. If we believe we can do this, then the God we believe in is nothing more than a personal projection; an illusion. It is an act of supreme arrogance. And this applies equally to the Atheist as well. You do not and cannot know of God's non-existence. You cannot know for certain of God's theistic or atheistic natures. You can only choose to believe in it. To do anything else is arrogance.
I think in the opening verses of the Tao Te Ching, Lao-Tsu put it best, ”The Tao that can be named is not the true Tao”.
Which is why I believe and have listed Agnosticism as a potential path to Mu. Because a healthy agnosticism embraces Doubt as part of their faith. There are some “theological” issues you must be at peace with simply not knowing.
We can see the crossover Gnosticism shares with Taoism.
I know many people who would place Buddhism as Atheistic, but I think that's in error. Some Buddhists are theists of one sort or another. Some Buddhists are atheists. But ultimately I think Buddhism doesn't address the issue. It simply doesn't ask the question because it cannot honestly be answered beyond the statement, ”I believe...”
And for those who would pass through The Mu Gateway, ”belief” must not be abandoned, but must be acknowledged for only what it is. A choice but not necessarily fact. Belief but not necessarily truth.
I remember reading John Hick's God Has Many Names in 2008. He was speaking of interfaith discussions and pluralism.
He held hope for Judaism, Christianity, Islam (monotheistic religions) and Hinduism, but saw potential pitfalls and challenges with non-theistic religions like Buddhism, Taoism, other Eastern religions, and Humanism.
I think this demonstrates the problem quite well. Is the topic and goal at hand to find consensus and common ground on the issue of theism? Is it really all a Question of Theism? (Yes, I admit, many people will make it an issue of exclusively Theism), but is that the entire purpose and goal of religion and Belief-Systems? Are we really only concerned with being Right? Are we attempting once again to defend a truth which needs no defending?
Arguing and proving and defining God? Or is it only the shallow and spiritual hedonistic self-serving pursuit of Salvation or Spiritual Enlightenment?
No, I don't believe that.
Solace and Compassion. Plain and simple.