Monday, June 28, 2010

Meister Eckhart and faith

"If anyone does not understand this discourse, let him not worry about it, for if he does not find this truth in himself he cannot understand what I have said, for it is a discovered truth that comes immediately from the heart of God That we all may so live as to experience it eternally, may God help us. Amen." 

This is from To Be Quit of God, by Meister Eckhart. I got it from Not of this World: A Treasury of Christian Mystacism, which is an excellent source for this sort of material. This is very much faith in the Buddhist sense, where faith is an experience and a discovery, not a belief in dogma.

Not of This World: A Treasury of Christian Mysticism (Treasures of the World's Religions)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Jung and the right side of the brain

Carl Jung, was one of the first to attempt to relate psychology to religion. Jung was raised as a Protestant but rejected that in favour of the older forms of Christianity based more on symbolism, metaphor, and myth. In Jung's opinion, the Protestant reformation was a mistake because it got rid of the most valuable part of Christianity and over emphasized the theological approach. To be fair, though, it also got rid of the bad part of the symbolic side of things - the superstitious misunderstanding of the symbolic meaning. But Jung's point is that they threw out the baby with the bath water. One way to understand this is that the symbolic practices engaged parts of the brain that are not engaged by practices based on logical and linguistics. Often people talk about right brain and left brain activities. In this case leaving out the symbolic would meaning leaving out the right side of your brain. In actuality it is more complex than simply dividing the brain in half, but the point is well taken. If we look at the different types of spiritual practices we can see that they engage different parts of the brain, but subjectively they produce states that are in some way similar. In my opinion, spirituality can be experienced through different brain areas and therefore engaging more of the brain will lead to a more complete spirituality, for Buddhists, Christians, or any other spiritual tradition
Answer to Job: (From Vol. 11, Collected Works) (Jung Extracts) (v. 11)
Man and His SymbolsThe Earth Has a Soul: C.G. Jung on Nature, Technology & Modern LifePsychology and Religion (The Terry Lectures Series)Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 9, Pt. 1)Jung on MythologyModern Man in Search of a Soul (Harvest Book)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Metaphor and meaning

Different schools of Buddhism use ways of describing things that are completely unacceptable to other schools and some well known masters seem to contradict themselves by using different ways of explaining the same thing to different audiences (Tich Nat Han is a good example). Buddhism has a lot of tolerance for this built in because of the Buddha's attitude toward fixed dogma. The Buddha's own metaphor for this is to describe teachings as rafts - as long a raft gets you across the river it really doesn't matter what sort of raft it was. Metaphors work by mapping the meaning of something onto something else that we are already familiar with. But people have different experiences so while one metaphor works for you it might not work for another person. Therefore, finding the right metaphor is important and it is acceptable in Buddhism for a skilled teacher to choose metaphors to suit his or her audience.

I also think it is useful to contemplate metaphors that do not work for us or that seem to contradict each other. For me, this practice weakens the literal meaning of the metaphors and strengthens the meaning. This is the practice that I use to approach the relationship between Buddhism and Christianity. However, just as it is wrong to force metaphors on others it is also wrong to force practices on others. Practices should suite the current needs of the individual. For some Christians and Buddhists, this practice could be harmful, or at least irritating. This is because it messes with metaphors that are working for them. So if someone feels strongly that these two religions cannot be mixed and that one is better than the other, they probably need that right now, possibly that raft will take them to the other shore, in which case it is OK.

Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday LifeThe Heart of the Buddha's Teaching

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Of the most powerful prayer, and of the highest work of all

"The most powerful prayer, and almost the strongest of all to obtain everything, and the most honorable of all works, is that which proceeds from an empty spirit. The emptier the spirit the more is the prayer and the work mighty, worthy, profitable, praiseworthy, and perfect. The empty spirit can do everything
What is an empty spirit?
An empty spirit is one that is confused by nothing, attached to nothing, has not attached its best to any fixed way of acting, and has no concern whatever in anything for its own gain, for it is all sunk deep down into God's dearest will and has forsaken its own."

This is from Meister Eckhart (page 4 in the book below). It sounds very Buddhist - emptiness and non attachment. It also shows, in this framework, how to understand the concept of God's will. It is about acting out of emptiness and non attachment.

Meister Eckhart: Selections from His Essential Writings (HarperCollins Spiritual Classics)