Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Quest...

So, a few friends of mine (not just my friend over at Xanga, theladyofabundance) have dropped some ideas that a religious quest is not about finding things and that my preoccupation with the whole thing is in vain. Religion is not about the answer; rather, it's about the search. I think I'd really like to comment on that idea. Hopefully by filling out my perspective on the matter I can satisfy a few readers and also help give this blog a bit more direction instead of just random religious ponderings.

There is an old saying in Eastern traditions which goes something like this: The Tao (way) is made in the walking of it. Essentially, one is getting closer to the Divine by searching and although we are on "the way," we should not get disillusioned with thoughts of a finish line. That we are on the way is enough. We are realizing our potential by simply remaining on the path, which only gives way to more questions and more "progress" (I can't quite think of a more nuanced word) on the path.

There is no end, and I think that's part of the beauty and the allure of the entire quest. I'm learning more about myself and the world around me daily by asking questions which have no answer. By searching into the annals of Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, or whatever world religion I'm captivated by at the time, I'm humbling my ego with the further realization that I can not know the answers to the questions I am constantly asking myself.

What is left after the realization that certain knowledge of the Divine is impossible? Nothing but the certain knowledge that I can love others who are engaged in the same struggles as I am in this tumultuous world. Not only can I love them, but I have a responsibility to do so, and I need to constantly grow in that capacity. We're all in this together. There is no distinct "I" and "you," but rather we're spatially separate variations of the same struggle to find God, and that is why I press on.

My friends, religion should unite us, not divide. We need to ask these questions not to achieve enlightenment for ourselves, to reach Heaven, to find salvation, but rather we need to engage with the reality of these situations in order to better learn how to love ourselves, each other, and the world we live in. Perhaps Nirvana, Heaven, enlightenment, what have you, will be a side effect of the search and the growth of our compassion towards each other, but I think that those who engage religion in order to reach an end of eternal bliss are missing the point and thus robbing themselves of a lot of joy in this world.

It appears in my mind that this type of religion stems from, as the existentialists would put it, the facticity of death. Their motivation is that hopefully, through piety and devotion, we will be able to overcome death and find eternal life. While this thought is intriguing and enticing, I don't think that craving and clinging to life and trying to defeat death through religion is a fruitful quest in terms of joy and compassion for our neighbors. That's certainly not why I do it anymore.

I originally got into studying religion because I wanted to be a pastor. I "knew" that Jesus Christ was the one true way to heaven, but I wanted to be a knowledgeable guy in order to better lead people to Christ. When my core was shaken and my basic beliefs shifted (and that happened for a myriad of reasons), I started groping and grasping at religion in order to discover the Truth (yeah, that's a capital T). What I discovered was that that particular quest was in vain because we humans have a particular faculty of epistemology which just isn't set up for that kind of dabbling into the "noumena" (thanks for pointing that out, Kant). After I got comfortable with the idea of not knowing, I began engaging in religion with a different intent. I just wanted to learn about all the cool things people believe and why. I wanted to learn more about the human condition which drives all of us to look for more than just ourselves. I wanted to learn how to better love my neighbor. I wanted to learn how to better love myself. That, my friends, is a never-ending quest; and that, dear reader, is why I press on in the field of religion.


PeterAtLarge said...

Bravo! I for one am glad that you found in yourself an open mind and a willingness to keep on asking the questions. Imagine what a dull old pastor you'd have ended up, still "knowing the truth"!

Anonymous said...

The path is the goal. I think if you get to a place where you're spirituality is no longer evolving, you're in trouble.

Paul said...

Hello Mark. I've enjoyed reading your posts for some time now. You have an easy and honest way of expressing yourself. I appreciate your thoughtfulness.

There were many years during which I thought of myself as spiritually bereft. I haven't felt like that for a long time, though. I also once saw myself as being on a spiritual journey and took pride in my "it's the journey not the destination" view of the world. That, too, is no longer part of my mental landscape.

But I do work hard at (ok, struggle with, sometimes) overcoming so many of those ingrained habit patterns that I effortlessly but unskillfully developed out of ignorance over the course of my life. For me it's the not-so-simple task of being mindful of what I'm doing and what I'm thinking.Then I apply effort to counter those unskillful thoughts with skillful ones.

I agree that the Tao is made in the the walking of it. It has nothing to do with "religion" but about living skillfully. Now that's something to strive for.