The WordPress Daily Prompt/Post: Tell us about the role that faith plays in your life — or doesn’t.
Religious faith in my family was eclectic: My father, at the encouragement of his second wife, became a Pentecostal; my mother was Baptist/Methodist; my mother’s mother was Methodist; my mother’s father was Jehovah Witness who eventually remarried a Mennonite; my stepfather, as I remember, of no particular religion, occasionally read his big, blue Masonic Bible, which intrigued us kids. I had a chance to sample them all (with the exception of the Mennonite), though I was more or less raised with Baptist/Methodist teachings.
One evening during my thirteenth year on earth, I was sitting on the porch of our house watching the changing colors of the sky, changing in part because of the steel mills that were the source of jobs for our city. Suddenly, the sky, with its smears of purple and blue and gold, reminded me of the biblical pictures of the portal to Heaven. From there I went on to think about Christian dogma: the creation, the Garden of Eden, the Virgin Birth, Heaven and Hell. It was then that I lost, no, rejected faith in the Christianity that I’d been taught. It was then that the Bible stories took on a more mythical character, mythical as in Roman and Greek mythology. The Book of Revelations had symbolism that horrified me, though I found the teachings of Jesus and his disciples gentle. You could say that I “unfaithed” myself based on my own philosophical bent. And I became hostile to all organized, formalized religions and adopted the “religion is the opiate of the people” position. I felt that I had been misled, tricked.
Over the next twenty-one years, my position softened to a live-and-let-live position, and my perceptions of the universe and its beginnings, no longer religion-based, acquired a more scientific tone. I declared myself agnostic, then atheist, then nothing — nothing at all. I also developed a stronger faith in myself, meaning that whatever I set as my intention would become a part of my life, and in this practice, one had to be mindful of what one was thinking. I practiced positive thinking and visualization and, for a short while, investigated Rosicrucian teachings. I developed a dogma which posited that heaven and hell were earthly manifestations, states of mind; that nothing was really destroyed and, consequently, that our soul/life force survived death; that death was a temporary state of being and that life and death formed a cycle. As I developed my life view, I called myself spiritual.
I discovered Taoism and later, Buddhism, two practices that resonated with me.
And for nearly thirty-two years now, I have practiced Buddhism. I like the fact that it is “deity-less.” Many people believe that the Buddha was a god; however, he was a teacher (buddha = awakened on). I like the moral code, the Five Precepts; that is, not to take the life of anything living, not to take anything not freely given, to abstain from sexual misconduct and sensual overindulgence, to refrain from untrue speech, and to avoid intoxication, that is, losing mindfulness. I like the concept and practice of compassion, which includes the readiness to give comfort, sympathy/empathy, concern, caring for everything that is living, regardless of species or station in life. The concept of karma answers many questions for me: Our thoughts, words, and actions have results. It explains a number of things: inequality in the world, why some are born handicapped and some gifted, why some live only a short life. “Karma underlines the importance of all individuals being responsible for their past and present actions. How can we test the karmic effect of our actions? The answer is summed up by looking at (1) the intention behind the action, (2) effects of the action on oneself, and (3) the effects on others.” Wisdom figures in strongly, not simply believing what we are told, but experiencing and understanding truth and reality. Wisdom requires an open, objective, unbigoted mind. The Buddhist path, like others, requires courage, patience, flexibility and intelligence.
I realize that some of these teachings might seem as fantastical as the teachings of others are to me.
What determines faith and belief, anyway?
Why is it that we accept some “truths” or theories and not others?
In my case, I already had some in place and then found that Buddhism was a match. But I am still learning and developing. I believe that there are many ways, many paths, and no, they don’t have to be the same. I abhor fundamentalism and zealotry of any kind and have no faith that they can accomplish anything but separation and persecution.
If tomorrow the teachings of the Buddha were to prove false or irrelevant, no, I would not return to nothing, because I have an abiding faith in myself, my heart, mind, gut and inclination to refine my existence in this world as a human being in progress.
That all said, I respect teachings that honor and elevate all life, that can look at human foibles without soul-killing judgment, that allow for mistakes and growth and grace and expression of what some call the divine — Christianity, Paganism, Atheists, whoever.
Oh, H A P P Y N E W Y E A R to everyone!