Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Tao: Each Winding Path Still Leads to God

If you have lurked around this blog much at all, then you already know that I am rather long-winded when discussing religion, spirituality, dogma, personal truth... Yet I can never seem to say enough about it.

I could probably stand to write less about the tenets of faith that do not resonate with me, and say more about those that do. This is an honest attempt at doing just that. To my friends of my former faith, I must seem to have "gone off the deep end". In some ways, perhaps I have. I have had quite a lot of different experiences since I made my final exit from my "native religion".

Things have become much less concrete in my own mind. Some tell me that that is a dangerous way to go about this thing we call "morality". Some have even invoked the sentiment of children's hymns, which refer to the foolishness of "building a house upon sand".... I can't find words in those instances to help them understand that their is no allegory for my beliefs in their catechism. In fact, I bite my tongue at the urge to comment on the rigidity of their belief system, and how like a tomb I found the edifices "built upon the rock". Living water laps at the sands of time, and we all would do well to ponder our impermanence in this world. I feel like humanity would experience much more compassion, empathy, gratitude, love... perhaps even with an urgency that would allow them to shrug off formality and tradition, which, in that mansion on the mount, only seem to steer us to expend our energy perpetually cleaning away the cobwebs from the seldom used chambers of our hearts.

 It wasn't as much a conscious choice as many suspect, this process of leaving my inherited religious tradition behind. It grew, much like many other proverbial seeds, from the fertile desire of my heart to understand God. I wanted to understand God, so I could understand my purpose. And hopefully, that understanding would lead to an understanding of myself. I committed myself to "Truth", thinking that this must be the most concrete evidence of God. I reasoned (yet whimsically) that a trail of lowercase truth must lead to God, but if not God (I acknowledged that I didn't actually know if it was true that God could be found), then absolute Truth must lie at the end of this path.... I soon found that paths of lowercase truths spiral—fractal-like—from an epicenter, which is the observer himself. That is to say, truth is found everywhere. If it is a path, it is not designed with a single destination. It is not a path to the gates of heaven. But, as I would begin to understand many years later, that doesn't mean that every truth doesn't lead to the throne of God.

I wandered on many paths paved of little truths, and they seemed to be taking me in circles. Gradually, though, I began to see that I was expanding out from my central, familiar, territory of spirituality. I was taking longer and longer treks into the unknown world around me. When I finally began to trust that these paths were not leading me to certain doom, I began to trust myself to explore them more deeply. It took a lot for me to shake off the idea that if the path was not "Straight and narrow", then it was certainly not "The" path.

Eventually, I found myself on paths that took me so far from my initial concept of God, that I could look back on it, and with a wider perspective, it seemed so infinitesimally small that I had to wonder to myself how I ever thought God could be contained in such a space, when clearly there was more to understand about creation than I could ever begin to fathom. Feeling rather small myself, I would give up on the aspiration to know God, and I would come home like a prodigal son, begging for bread and water at the altars I was most familiar with.

I didn't necessarily consider my interest in other philosophies to be entailed in my search for God, I was simply fascinated by the variety of cultures around the world. I was probably about 16 when I started learning about Zen Buddhism. But it would be another decade before I really began to understand even the most basic tenets of a Zen lifestyle. Along with an interest in asian culture came all the cliche accessories: I got into zen gardens, feng shui, yoga... I have to say, making these things a "hobby" actually stunted my understanding of their nature for a long time. If I had studied them with the understanding that dedicated practitioners find fulfillment in them, I might have been open to more of the effects from the beginning. But I treated them as quaint, and I was almost embarrassed for people to know that I was into "asian culture". It made me feel insecure. Especially the looks I would get when I would flip coins to come up with answers to any number of questions or quandaries... "you don't believe God answers your prayers, but you believe that he controls the coins to give you... a pattern?"

Fast forward several years. I had rejected dogmatic religion completely, "emancipated" myself from the culture of Mormonism, endured all the self-inflicted loss and hardship that anyone might endure when removing themselves from such a "lifestyle". I was bitter, and I had given up on God altogether. Like a trail of dominoes, my life had toppled and tumbled in all directions. I found myself ready to die alone, quite literally, in the cold. I thought about how I had gotten there, and could not deny that it was my own stubbornness that had led me to that place. But I also could not deny that to deny that stubbornness would have been to betray my own sense of what was right. I didn't feel regret. I mostly just felt sorry for myself. I was ready to die as a martyr for my own cause. I visited the edge of death, and came away with an undeniable knowledge that God was still out there. I could no longer identify as an Atheist, and yet this God experience was unlike any form or philosophy I had ever heard of before. I came away from my near-death experience believing in the Bible (the truth truly is stranger than fiction!), and yet my belief was that the truths in it were found in the most unlikely passages.... I became my own walking contradiction. I was "born again", but in a way that I had never heard of before... It was very confusing, because none of this had anything to do with a return to some previous truth. It was all brand new knowledge, not just a better understanding of something I had been taught before....

Suddenly, that pattern that I had began to see so many years before was right in front of me at all hours of the day. Little truths that spiraled out away from me, and into me, in infinite fractal beauty. Terms that I had been so fixated on before, I could now see simply as names for God in a beautiful and dynamic, living poem. Every sound in all of creation is simply the voice of God, even that which emanates from my lungs, and yours.

For so much of my life, I felt that when things were going "wrong", it was because of some failure on my part, and that I could have avoided it by being more knowledgeable, or humble, or studious. I had been told that I knew where to find "the answers", and the scriptures had been presented as some sort of Operators Manual—if only I had taken the time to read, and refer. Now I saw the scriptures in a much different light. I had been toying with the concept that "prophet" was more closely translated to "poet" than "mouthpiece of God", but now I could see the pattern plain as day. Holy scripture is that which resonates with the soul. And it resonates with the soul because it is truth. But scripture doesn't speak any more truth than each of us may share with the world from within ourselves. The patterns....
Immortalized in written word, the experiences of men and nations from millenia ago still speak to us today, because we feel and encounter the same reality as they.

I remember when I was deep into my inherited religious traditions... scripture study and memorization were a part of my daily life. When I felt that I needed a scripture for myself, and not just to meet my assigned quota of verses for Seminary, I would hold my bible (or "quad") closed between my palms, the binding resting on the table, and let of flop open. I would start reading wherever I felt an impulse to. I was perpetually astounded by the relevance I would find for whatever given quandary I was struggling with. It was as if some unseen hand had thumbed the pages in an instant so I would read exactly the verse that I did, Little miracles. "Tender mercies", we called them. Once my brother had an ear infection, and thought that reading the scriptures might help (whether to pass the time he had a baked onion steaming on his ear, or in an effort to please God into healing him... I don't know.) He utilized this method, and the verse that he came upon began "behold, the lord hath opened up mine ear..."

Indeed. I felt like my ears had been opened. Every time I heard someone quote scripture, a completely different understanding than I had been taught would somehow reverberate in my head. The pattern... it was always there. Most of the time, it was an uplifting message, and I would feel immense peace. But quite often, the words I was hearing simply did not ring true. There was something wrong with them altogether. They were contrived. They were full of fearmongering, and reeked of the devious purposes of Man. They referred to barbaric traditions that were being sold as God's good news. Human sacrifice. Justified spilling of innocent blood. Murder. I still don't prefer to hear more than a few verses of Christian doctrine, because I get sick when I hear "worthy is the lamb" "drink... the blood of Christ" etc. A man was brutally killed for his beliefs, and all around the world today, people say "there was no other way..." and then follow it up with a semblance of the act of drinking blood. I reel at the words of the hymns that are played before this ritual is carried out. It only takes a vague familiarity with the circumstances surrounding the death of Jesus to understand that these hymns are oh so obliquely acknowledging, justifying, and reverencing an act of murder by the will of the people.

It is strange that these books are more widely accepted in society than so many others which share the same truths. I found the I Ching to be one such book. And whats better, is that you get all the little moral lessons without all of the glorification of war (yes, it speaks of it, even justifies it, but it never glorifies it) and without all the accounts of favoritism by God. What the I Ching is, is the pattern. It is a collection of 64 iconic experiences in every human life "loss" "gain" "struggle" "humbling" "waiting" "peace"... etc. These are meditations whereby if one is able to find and identify their own moral character, they may act mindfully in any scenario that life might throw at them. Taoism is an exercise in impartiality. I used to look at iconic chinese depictions of the tao, and try to figure out where i should be more balanced in order to attain or maintain the path. but i never could see clearly what I needed to shoot for. I still can't most times. But I have learned a few things about Yin and Yang. They are the delusions which draw us away from a zen nature. They are also the elements of the dualistic reality we each experience. The I Ching is an ancient approximation of the flow of these two ethereal energies. Perhaps it is just coincidence, but there seems to be that same "tender mercy" aspect to random readings of this book with an element of chance. In fact, that is how it was designed to be read.

If you ever tried the "flop and read" method to scripture study, and found it meaningful and insightful beyond reasonable coincidence.... It is much the same concept with the I Ching. Only, imagine that instead of simply flopping the good book open, you roll dice to get an indication of the page number you should read. The idea is, that if God is involved in turning the pages of your bible to the particular message that you might need to hear, then he may be just as present in turning the dice to give you the page number. Do you believe that God would do this with one book and not another?
What would be the all-loving purpose of restricting his influence to one book, out of the millions upon millions throughout the world? I just can't see the arbitrary line in the sand... To me, even the lines in the sand are just grains of the supreme reality anyway. The nature of the line is the same as the nature found on both sides of it. Why do we seek God only in certain buildings, in the words of certain people, or certain books? I continue to find God *everywhere* I seek.

Thanks for Reading