To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him. (Buddha)
Unfortunately, the exercise, discipline and commitment needed to pursue such a path is so remote and so discouraged in a world in which “action” figures, “action” movies, “action” leaders and most judgements of each person are reliant on “actions”…
· Whether or not his “fixation” on action stems from Puritan roots in order to avoid the idleness that sucks in “the Devil”…or
· Whether the fixation has been grafted onto a masculine archetype that has to prove itself as worthy, valuable and relevant or
· Whether the capitalist modus operandi demands the production of goods, services and above all profits, all of them based on “ACTION” or
· Whether the fixation emerges from the tanker loads of ink spilled in the writing of history, biography, and the archives of academic research or
· Whether our psyche is so constituted that it requires action to medicate the pain of the multiple emotional emptinesses we all endure or
· Whether the human capacity to “move” our bodies, and all things near us and to dig, discover, mess in and with mud or any other substance in our early years expresses or embeds our hard wiring for action
None of these possible roots really matter unless and until we actually see a light that emerges from the Buddha quote. And, for most North Americans who wish to follow a spiritual path, and experiment with a “Christian” church, one of the core beliefs and practices, emerging from the writing of St. Paul, is evangelizing…..going out to convert others to follow Jesus. Perhaps, in the beginning, when the “spread of the gospel” was the pathway to seeding and building worshipping communities, as well as a way for the newly “converted” Paul to validate his conversion, the actions of teaching and preaching, going from place to place, were legitimate and in fact even necessary.
And as with many well-worn paths of behaviour, at least by organizations, the situations change, and the time-worn “prosletyzing” techniques start to wear thin, possibly given a different level of consciousness of the targeted people. We are all open and ready to grab onto a promise of a new and different live, and our readiness is enhanced by our current “poverty” of spirit, heart or living conditions. Those whose lives have drifted under freeway overpasses, and into the back alleys of greasy-spoon restaurants for scraps, or into gangs determined to steel, injury or even kill to regain their power and ascendancy, when offered a new hope, a new friend and a new support system, are not merely hungry but voracious in their appetite for joining the church whose representatives have found them.
Those of a more poetic, or cerebral inclination, however, while retaining a level of scepticism and perhaps cynicism, come from a different place, and are open to a different kind of encounter. Neither group is “better than the other” yet each is more amenable to a different kind of spiritual development. And yet, both paths, that of action and that of mental discipline can, if held in a healthy tension, give balance to a human life, including all aspects.
Unfortunately, to speak of mental discipline as a path to enlightenment, in a congregation whose vision includes a 10% increase in bodies in pews and a 15% increase in dollars in the coffers will be unlikely to find an audience. The relevance and thereby the importance of silence, reflection, mental practice spiritual reflection are both relegated to words like heresy and secular and worldly, perhaps even apostasy.
Putting numbers of “bums” in “pews” and “dollars” in collection “plates”, has for far too long consumed almost all of the energy in protestant churches, especially those of the fundamentalist, evangelical variety. There is a different kind of prosletyzing in what some call “high Anglican and High Roman Catholic” churches, where incense, ritual, ceremony and formal liturgy are prominent. Those who attend or who would prefer such worship services tend to regard God as King as opposed to “healer” or “shepherd” or “teacher/prophet”.
Supplementing the singing, the reading of scripture, the homilizing (as well as the baptisms, weddings and funerals,) there is quite often a church school for young children, sometimes a teen group, and often a choir. Add to this menu pot-luck suppers, sometimes roaming meals hosted by several homes (members), an occasional summer or winter “outing” and the total is a highly “active” group of people. Squeezed into the calendar is often a “Bible Study” evening during which a book of Scripture is chosen by a clergy or religious education leader. Through some combination of tranlisteration (looking at the language and its derivatives from Greek, Hebrew, or even Aramaic), historical context of the writing, theological perspective and application to contemporary life, topped with personal interpretations and insights, the process engages leaders and followers.
For the most part, private silent reflection is left to an occasional retreat in a religious and spiritual retreat centre, or to the private discipline of daily Bible readings and prayer. And yet, the kind of discipline of the mind that requires a detailed examination of one’s foundational thought, archetypes from families of origin, even belief systems passed along by parents, religious leaders and peers, to uncover and unpack the kind of dysfunctional inheritances we all have been given is left to spiritual direction or perhaps psychiatric therapy or both.
The chasm between the “eastern” mode of spiritual discipline and reflection and prayer and the western “corporatization” of the church institution is wide, prompting some questions about the relative meaning and importance of one’s spiritual life (outside of the rigorous moral observances that conform with the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) and its relationship to the spiritual community in which one worships.
The very concept of “worship” and the place it plays in transference of religious and spiritual understanding (of the mysteries beyond intellectual comprehension) of the wider relationship between the human and a God as each understands that being to be, while extremely important, is rarely the subject of open and frank conversation, debate, exploration and deliberate sharing among people dedicated to their spiritual growth and development.
Christians are very divided about the importance of a eureka “conversion” as compared with a life-long discipline that presumes and requires openness to the dynamic of individual changes in perception and in evolving circumstances, as one ages. However, on the “practice” of discipleship, there seems to be a general agreement that engagement with a worshipping community, study of scripture, moral purity, consistent financial contributions and ‘growing’ the church, while keeping it fiscally and theologically ‘sound’ hold high priority.
In decades of both worship and ministry, very few minutes or hours were ever spent in my presence on the notion of disciplining the mind, centreing the mind, spending hours, days or even weeks in silence, while reflecting on how one’s life has taken shape, and how introducing changes into one’s daily spiritual practice. In fact, there is very little difference between the way “things” happen in many churches from the way “things happen” in any other organization whether not for profit or profit-driven.
The chasm between ‘eastern’ practice and ‘western’ practice in matters of faith is at least as great as the chasm between ‘eastern’ medicine and ‘western’ medicine. And there is no doubt that both ‘western’ practices (faith and medicine) would benefit significantly from opening the rigid boundaries that keep them separate. Reasons for the resistance at least in the west to influences from the east could fill volumes.
Overcoming those resistances, likewise, will likely take generations.
Personally, a starting point that defines humans as “sinful” and therefore in desperate need of redemption, salvation, transformation through submission to a code of scripture (regardless of the specific holy book) leaves my spirit out in the “cold”…I have found that starting with the premise that in every person “there is that of God” is a far more life-giving notion leading to deeper penetration into the mysteries that such a premise helps to unlock. This starting point comes from an introduction to the Quaker faith and practice for which I am extremely grateful.
And the silence, reflection, prayer, and discipline of regular sharing of silence opens new insights, new perceptions and new possibilities in my inner life, as well as in the life I lead in the world.
My mind is much more receptive to a premise of light within, than a concept of darkness and sin that overwhelms much of the experience of many Christian churches. God’s love, care, compassion and acceptance, when compared with God’s rejection and a human-designed system of redemption under the watchful eye and hand of God, are already available to me, if only my mind is made ready to accept and receive such grace.
And, setting my own mind and heart on a path of disciplined reflection and prayer, as compared with the multi-demands of “busyness” in a conventional “Christian” church, makes more sense to me.
And this is no argument attempting to ‘win’ over another to this perspective. That is an independent choice for each person to find and take and never to be imposed, sold or bought.