Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Middle Way is not 'lukewarm'

One objection I hear over and over again is that the Middle Way is wrong because it is 'lukewarm'.  People cite the following scripture as rejecting the Middle Way:
"I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.  So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth." (Revelation 3:15-16)
What an unfortunate scripture.  The King James translators were gracious in this translation -- the greek word more accurately translates into 'vomit' instead of 'spew'.  I wonder, though.  Does this "proof text" mean what people think it means? is it really talking about "middle ground" or rather, indifference?

The Middle Way I subscribe to is by no means indifferent.  It's hard work and it's decisive: One must decisively establish what one believes, and be confident enough in it so as to not be bothered by others' beliefs.  This is not lukewarm.

If you are an independent voter, and carefully vote based upon issues and what you feel to be right, does this mean you are indifferent? lukewarm?

I believe the Middle Way is to objectively seek the truth in things, recognizing that truth has many dimensions.  That a myth is not literally true does not mean it does not contain moral truth.

The Middle Way is also one of love, of harmony, of listening to other viewpoints and being willing to share what we have in common.  Because we have gifts differing, each one of us has a slightly different view of life.  While some things are provably true or false, many other things are subject to our opinions and thus are not really debatable in a meaningful way.  Can we not find a middle ground to share what we feel? 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Father's Day Thoughts

So I am up visiting Dad, and he's tired of LDS who refuse to accept evolution. so he is writing a white paper on why and how evolution is compatible with belief. He'll be 93 in September... while i may disagree with his politics, i think he's pretty cool in his NOMish ways.

so i put him onto wayfaringfool blog. he says, "who wrote all this crap?"

"do you like it?", I ask.

"this guy still believes in god"

"uh, read more carefully..."

"oh, ok, maybe he has some points..."

"oh, gee thanks dad."

about four times today he kept asking, "what was that website again..."

happy father's day, dad.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Finding Truth in All

I know that many people in specific religions privilege the sacred text of their religion as being divine, over and above all others.

For many Christians, the Bible is the Word of God, inerrant and perfect, ever word of which is imperative.  For Muslims, the Qur'an represents God's final recitation to his Prophet Mohammed, praise be unto him.  For Jews, the Torah/Law takes absolute precedence, follows by the writings of the prophets, the sacred histories, and the oral traditional commentaries of the Law known as the Talmud.  Sikhs favor the Adi Granth, the inspired writings and hyms/chants of the Gurus.  Hindus base their religion on the Veda, with the Upanishads providing additional insight.  Buddhists favor the Pali canon, Taoists the Daozang, and Zoroastrians the Avesta.  I might add the Confucians who have the confucian classics, and Mormons who have their standard works, including the Book of Mormon.  Mormons likewise open canon to ongoing revelation.  Catholics add the apocrypha to the bible, but leave canon open to at least the pronouncements ex cathedra of the Holy See. 

Every one of these texts are revered by a minority of the world's population.  One has to wonder how a single god could have been so partial as to favor only one of these texts as being true.  And if he wasn't partial, how he could be so inconsistent so as to give conflicting guidance to so many. 

One has to wonder.

Perhaps Paul was on to something in his letter to Timothy
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: (2 Timothy 3:16)
Of course, when Paul wrote this, 'Scripture' was only the Septuagint, the greek old testament, used by early christians for their interpretation of the meaning the prophesies of Jesus Christ found therein.  But Paul used the term 'inspiration', not 'dictation', or 'recitation'.  Inspiration is a feeling, not a coherent thought, a feeling around something within the mind (intellect) and heart (emotion) of the prophet receiving inspiration.  Scripture is not precise; as inspiration, it's symbolic, mythical, and perhaps mystically beyond words; and the words conveyed are somewhat short of the inspiration.  As well, 'inspiration' often gets filtered by the bias and knowledge of the prophet receiving inspiration.

In the Mormon tradition, Joseph Smith explained 'revelation' as follows:
Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.
Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground.
(Doctrine & Covenants 8:2-3)
If prophetic insight can be explained by 'inspiration', then the wide variety of differences can be explained by the fact that different people within different cultures interpreted 'inspiration' differently.  If each tradition witnesses something of the divine through the lens of their own cultural minds and feelings, then each religion points, in a way, but to discern what the Truth is behind these inspirational writings, one must look beyond the words, combining the writings of multiple traditions, to find the common thread that points more accurately to ultimate truth.

I was once told by a follower of Falun Gong that one should only commit to a single path, by a single guru.  I have a strong feeling that this 'lock-in' is self-serving.  I don't accept that a single faith has all truth.  Not anymore.  I do accept that each faith has an image of truth in its scripture and teaching. 

I have journeyed through most of the great religions, perhaps because I'm just too curious, but in my journeys, I have found so much in common. I have felt great insight, being blessed by a Catholic priest, sitting in reverent devotion in a Shaivite temple, participating in great worship of all kinds.  While individual cultural traditions are not always accessible to me, there is something behind all these traditions, something that connects us, something that inspires us.

One amazing verse coming from the Book of Mormon helps me understand this:
Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written.
For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written.
For behold, I shall speak unto the Jews and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the Nephites and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the other tribes of the house of Israel, which I have led away, and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it.
(2 Nephi 29:10-13)
With this in mind, Joseph Smith, the author (proprietor, or translator, depending upon what your faith tells you) of the Book of Mormon said the following:
Seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.
(Doctrine & Covenants 88:118)
And by example, Joseph Smith was syncretic, meaning he was willing to adopt his definition of truth not just from the Bible of his original traditions, but also from the best books, including his account in the Book of Mormon, as well as his adoption of Masonic ritual and teaching into his Temple ceremonies.  While some people may find problems with his adoption (or plagiarism) of other traditions, and perhaps some of what he did was pious fraud, the reality is that his adoption of multiple traditions into a single definition of truth is an example of a method for getting to a more broad, more clear understanding of Truth in all things. 

But in the process of getting to Truth, one must set aside things that aren't true.  Just because a prophet said something in the past does not mean that it forever constitutes 'Truth'.  Paul explained this very clearly in his first epistle to the Corinthians:
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
But when that which is perfect (greek: complete, and by extension, 'more accurate') is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
Paul was one who had received the revelation of Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus.  He was one of those who knew the process of revelation, and yet he understood and taught clearly that revelation and prophesy is only 'knowledge in part' as if 'we see through a glass darkly'.  Strong orthodoxy, found in Fundamenatalist Christian churches or in the mainstream LDS church often have serious issues paring out falsehoods that have crept into the religion.  This creates a moribund, dogmatic belief structure that cannot grow as Paul suggests.

Thus, discernment of truth has to be part of the process of sorting through all faith traditions to find truth.  I wrote in an earlier blog about Truth, and to me, if something is true, provably, scientifically, and in action, then it should be adopted as True.  If something proves false, then it should be considered that part that is 'done away' as Paul said.  This concept of refining Truth very much is at the core of what I believe. 

So, I find Truth in all scripture.  It's been a passion of mine for many years as I have journeyed through the various faith traditions.  Sometimes, I've been so obsessive about it, I've been dissatisfied with english translations, and I've learned enough of the original language to try my own translation.  To me, it's getting to those nuggets of truth.  As an obsession, it may not be entirely healthy to deconstruct scripture at this level of detail.  The spiritual inspiration behind the words is not really so far from us -- it doesn't require this 'down in the weeds' study of scripture.  In fact, as Jesus pointed out to the scriptural scholars of his day,
Ye search the scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, but they are they which testify of me (the divine reality). 
So there is something I've learned in all this.  While it may be interesting to dig for this truth in each tradition, what I've really learned is that the Truth is also right back inside of me.  In the Bhagavad Gita, there is a verse that says:
To one who is enlightened, the scriptures are like a well in the middle of a pristine lake.
So, while there is truth in all scripture, all truth is also accessible within me, if I am only able to tap into my personal sense of light and truth.

And that's the journey of a lifetime.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Finding a middle way

I think many of us who were brought up in strongly traditional religions, become disaffected when we find out that our religion, its precepts, its history, and its practice are not 'true', in the sense of being factual or even enlightened.  Disaffection becomes a disease that cancors us, so when we try to participate for good reasons, we have those face palm moments where someone will teach or preach complete fiction as if it were fact.

It becomes really insidious when those in leadership position insist on the members adopting the position of false fiction, because to do otherwise would not be faith promoting.  For example, many believe that God created the earth in a relatively short period of time, but the facts show that the earth is very old, and that evolution is very much part of the process -- and of course, this puts a lie to the mythological account in Genesis.

Some of these Church leaders insist that there is "no middle way": either you fully beleive and accept doctrine as taught, or you are not a member of the church.  Others, who become disaffected, will claim there is no middle way, for to continue to participate in a religion you know is false is to be "Intellectually dishonest".

So, is it really true that there is no Middle Way?  I think there is.

Confucius' key philosophy on how to live a rich and full life was based on something he called "the Middle Way". This is represented in one character "Zhong" (中) which means "the Middle", "Middle Way", or "the Center". The book by Confucius on this topic typically has the english title "Doctrine of the Mean", where "Mean" is used in its sense of being the average of things -- this isn't what Confucius was saying.

The Middle Way of confucius is a balanced, centered life. The explicit statement, coming from the first chapter is as follows (my translation):
The mandate of heaven is called “Nature” (性 xing),
Following nature is called “the Way” (道 Dao),
Cultivating the way is called “Learning”. (教 Jiao)

The Way cannot be departed from for a moment
If you could depart from it, it would not be ‘the Way’.
When one sets aside extremes, e.g. joy, anger, sorry, and pleasure; this is called ‘The Middle Way’ (中 zhong).
In the Middle Way, when one can express emotion yet remain centered, this is called “Harmony” (和 he).
The Middle Way is the root of all things under heaven.
Harmony is the realization of the Way.
When the Middle Way is actualized with Harmony, All things thrive.
To be on the Middle Way as applied to being in a religion: the True Believing aspect of our faith is one of absolutes, of extremes: If you are not with me, you are against me. It's either all true, or all fraud. Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect. "I KNOW" the church is the only true church on the face of the earth... etc.

Once a True Believing member realizes that there are profound problems with the historical and current truth claims of the church, it is highly likely that the True Believer goes to the other extreme of emotion: hatred. So one emotional extreme morphs into another: joy in the gospel that everything is wonderful turns into rabid hatred of the church. These two extremes are not on the Way as Confucius would point out. He suggests that instead of starting from a position of one pole, it's better to center your life -- to calm the mind of emotion, and find the pivot point of the Way: the Middle/Zhong. From this position of the Middle, Confucius is saying that it's ok to send out emotion, but you remain anchored in the Middle Way.

In this sense, to be on the "Middle Way" is to be balanced in one's view of the church: to be in harmony with the Spirit of the Gospel, while recognizing that the physical manifestation of that spirit is subject to a lot of human error. It is to be open minded and not strident in one's beliefs, to accept the value in both the church as well as other belief systems, while being true to one's authentic self and the truth.

There are so many writings in asian culture about this concept. Buddhism, Taoism, Japanese culture and tradition are all based upon an idea that detachment from extreme emotion allows one to be authentic in one's emotions. It's a deep paradox. Wuwei of the Taoist, Buddhiyogaad of the Hindu, Dharma of the Buddhist -- while being a bit different in extended meaning, all start from a position of detachment in order to connect.

I am truly suggesting that the Middle Way is more enlightened and divine than a position of extreme and Blind Faith in the Church and it fundamentalist-styled teachings; or, on the other hand, divorcing oneself entirely from the church in anger. I'm also saying that by adopting Confucius' Middle Way, you can better see the truth in the church, and not react to its problems through another extreme emotion: hostility. The Middle Way is to be balanced, to be centered: what the Bhagavad Gita calls "Yoga": the unity of mind and spirit.

This "Middle Way" is not a movement or an organization -- it is not anything organized at all -- it is an individual approach to life that finds the center, the pivot point of the Way, and then joyfully expresses thought and feeling from the authenticity of the center of one's soul.

Laotzu says, "名可名,非常名" - "The names that we can name are by no means constant names", meaning that labels are insufficient to accurately and completely define a thing. If we struggle for a name of something, like the "Middle Way", it's because the concept is much broader than the words imply. Confucius Middle Way is a state of sattori -- peaceful enlightenment, where emotions are at rest, and being at rest, one is free to be authentic in one's emotions and expressions. It may be better to say, "I am centered", which better implies this state of harmony (和).

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How we connect, spiritually

If you have ever watched a flock of birds prepare to migrate, they start chaotically, but eventually, they begin to operate with one mind.  Hence the addage: birds of a feather, flock together. 

How this works is very subtle, varies in mechanism from species to species, but in all cases, there is a subtle nonverbal communication between them whereby the individual bird connects nonconsciously with the flock.  And, because the mechanism and signals are species specific, only birds of the same species recognize and are comfortable with these signals.

Humans are no different.

There is within us and birds another mind, located and driven by the brain's limbic system, that is capable of communicating and connecting with others at an emotional level, without our conscious mind's awareness.  I am going to call this other mind "our spiritual mind", because it really is about something our conscious mind cannot do.  It's like having a full-time companion with you.
So, when we interact with others, sometimes we 'connect', meaning that we really do communicate together, and other times we don't. When we connect, the reasons for connection are not obvious to us. What's really at play is that our spiritual, limbic mind is actually having a non-verbal conversation with the spiritual, limbic mind of the other person. 
How does this happen?

Within the limbic mind is the amygdala, the seat of our emotions.  Our eyes, ears, and olifactory are connected to our minds in two distinct neural pathways: one connected to our cerebrum--the seat of our conscious mind, and the other to our limbic system, the seat of our spiritual mind.  As well, our facial muscles are dually controlled by parallel pathways to both our conscious and nonconscious processing centers.  The center of primal emotion, our amygdala, uniquely manages our hypothalmus, the master control center of our body's internal systems.

Our conscious minds are connected with our limbic, non-conscious minds through our senses (sharing sensory input through dual paths), through our memories, and through our emotions.  Through these three means, our two minds can 'talk' to each other, but not really in 'thoughts'.  Ideas may present themselves, and emotions tell us that something going on with the other person is right or wrong by your own emotions. 
But our limbic minds do more than just express feelings within our brains.  Because the limbic system is connected to our face, eyes, and to our entire endocrine system through the hypothalmus connection to the pituitary gland, it communicates outward our innermost feelings.  In effect, when we feel stress, our body rhythms change, we sweat, we emit odors, we express emotions in our face -- the vast majority of which cannot be controlled by the conscious mind.  Our internal feelings about the other person and things we're talking about are being expressed to the other person through our very subtle signs.  And the other person is not consciously recognizing these subtle signs, but his or her own limbic mind is.  In other words, no matter what we might try to hide, we are going to reveal our emotions to the other person, and vice versa.  Our limbic minds, operating completely independently from our consciousness, will betray us, if we are not authentic and connected within ourselves.

The key to this communication is recognizing our own feelings, and to be centered in our emotions.  We might say the amygdala has a set of positive emotions: love, certainty/the feeling of knowing, and joy.  It also has a set of negative emotions: hate, cognitive dissonance, anger, sorrow.  Emotional intensity is often very closely matched with both sides: great love often turns to virulent hate when a person feels betrayed.  While it is not feasible to be emotionless, Confucius advised for us to be 'centered' in our emotions, to find the peace in the center, and from there, authentically emote as indicated.  When we are feeling strong emotion, and it is driving us to a place we don't want to go, then it's time to sit back, meditate, center the mind and heart, and then choose more cautiously the emotion that fits the situation.  While this may seem hard, through training and meditiation, it's possible.

So, when we connect with another person, we can choose to be authentic, to know our own feelings, and to express them as appropriate to the situation.  As well, we need to listen to our own emotions in the conversation.  Our limbic mind may be telling us that there is something amiss in this person, and if we follow the subtleties of feeling as our gut indicates in a conversation, real connection between people is possible.

The Wenzi text says there are three types of listening: one, listening with the ears, which is just hearing what is being said without understanding.  Two, listening with the mind, which is understanding what is being said, but does not fully embrace it.  Three, listening with the spirit, which is to really feel what the other person is feeling.  How do we do this? by recognizing that our 'spirit' is really our non-conscious mind, that is communicating with the other person, and by centering our mind, really allowing our spirit to tell us what the other person is feeling.

When we connect spiritually, we feel something amazing.  We feel a comfort with the other person, we feel happiness, and we feel love.  These are the primal positive emotions of the amygdala, the core of our emotional being.  And when we feel these things, our brains, our senses, our hearts are capable of truly understanding and being 'one' with another person. 

As I look at the flock, and the unity with which the flock seems to have a 'spirit' together, so also, when humans spiritually connect, they are one.