Saturday, June 21, 2008

Searching for . . . Something

As is probably evident by the name of this blog, I've been looking for something for a long time. Answers, meaning, hope, peace, whatever. I've been all over the world, from Siberia (don't go there) to the cathedrals of Europe, to the ancient Mayan temples of the Yucatan. Everywhere I went, I met people who thought that they had all the answers. Along the way, I got my Masters in Divinity, which basically just taught me to question everything more and harder than I already did. Mind you, this didn't make me all that popular with people I dated, worked with, or otherwise met in day to day life ("You actually believe that sh*t?" is not a good way to begin a conversation, I discovered!)

At this point in my life, I am ordained in a denomination with which I often have a love / hate relationship. I love that they're willing to take a stand for minority rights to the point which drives the mainstream nuts (gay marriage, racial reconciliation, anti-war protests, and so forth). At the same time, the churches I've worked in and now attend often seem so disorganized, confused, and, well, random (if you accept people who have differing opinions, you get people who have all kinds of opinions - it's a double edge sword) that it seems like nothing productive ever gets done.

So I took a vacation and decided that now was a good time to fully immerse myself in my long-time interest in Buddhism. Working as a chaplain actually gave me a great cover to do so, since the hospital is more concerned with me showing up on time and visiting patients than where I spent my Sunday mornings! So first I went to a Zen center in Nashville, but found that not only was there no one available to answer questions - they did not have a leader, or roshi - they mostly just sat around complaining about their previous religious experiences in local churches, temples, and synagogues. Not good.

From there, last week in fact, I went to the Tibetan Buddhist center. I chose Tibetan Buddhism because I've been following the unrest there, have been reading books (Dalai Lama, Pema Chodron, Chogyam Trungpa, etc.) and were impressed by their ideas. This group has a leader and is connected to a larger organization with ties to Tibet (and they have a bookstore!), so I could ask questions and get some answers. They recommended a book written by their leaders, two brothers who fled their monastery in Tibet when the Chinese invaded. I've been reading it all week, and, well, here's where the problems come in.

When you've been raised and educated to turn a critical eye towards claims of the supernatural, be it the parting of the Red Sea to the Virgin Birth, you end up being very skeptical towards EVERY claim that smacks of the unreal. This morning I turned on the television and saw that there was a show about UFOs over Puerto Rico. Nope, not buying that for an instant. Pictures are too fuzzy and there's no physical evidence. Nothing scientific, in other words.

It's the same with religious claims. Last night I read the following:

"When great masters like Buddha Shakyamuni and Guru Padmasambhava realized the emptiness of all phenomena, they were able to do things like sit and walk in the sky and leave their hand prints and footprints in solid rock. Anyone who has the same realization of the true nature can do these things" (Opening to Our Primordial Nature, pg 91).

Now I realize that Tibetan Buddhism inherited a huge amount of mythological input from Hinduism and tribal religions in the region. But for a 21st century person (me) to just accept this stuff outright is extremely difficult - if not impossible. And it really left an odd taste in my mouth, the way going to church on Christmas Eve felt right after I had read a collection of essays pointing out potential errors in the story of the Virgin Birth. Everything sounded right up until then . . . and then you realize that what you thought you knew has disappeared like smoke. At some point, you come to the conclusion that just about everything is a metaphor for something else. The hard part is getting to that "something else."

On the plus side, knowing what you don't believe in is almost as good as knowing what you do believe in. Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." Well, maybe the unexamined faith is not worth having, either. If that's the case, then I'm moving in the right direction.

By the way, I've added a new link to the side bar. It's Dharma Punx - Noah Levine's website. Basically he was an angry punk rocker who rebelled against the unfulfilled promises of the '60s - as we all have to one extent or another. After the usual drugs, sex, rock and roll and violence (and a prison record to boot), he discovered Zen and is now an instructor in LA. And he does all this without giving up his punk rocker desire to burn down the BS in the world. I can respect that. Hopefully, One Ring or someone will get me his books for my birthday (next month. I'm pretty difficult to buy for, so I have restrictions placed on my purchases during the month of June. Plus money's tight!).

Sorry for the length and rambling nature of this post. Seems there's a lot on my mind today. Well, time to get cleaned up and head off to do some errands.


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