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THE BACKGROUND

I guess I will outline my spiritual journey by describing the sort of theology I was raised in and how it was inadequate to produce peace, joy, or any empathy for my fellow human beings. I have never attended the church in this link, but its statement of beliefs is identical with what I learned from age 8 until I left for college around age 17:

http://www.peoplesbaptistonline.com/DesktopDefault.aspx?tabid=35#whatwebelieve

 

I am now over 50 years old – so this story will take up some space. These two items are perhaps the most objectionable:

 

8. The Fall of Man

We believe the Scriptures teach that man was created by a direct act of God and not from any previously existing form of life; and that all men are descended from the historical Adam and Eve, first parents of the entire human race. By voluntary transgression man fell from his sinless state, in consequence of which all men are now sinners by nature and by choice, utterly devoid of the holiness required by God’s law, positively inclined to evil, and therefore under just condemnation to eternal judgment and everlasting existence separated from God without defense or excuse. (Genesis 1:27; Isaiah 53:6; Romans 3:23; 5:12-19).

 

9. Salvation

We believe the Scriptures teach that Christ died for the whole world and that salvation of sinners is divinely initiated, wholly of grace, and accomplished only through the mediatorial work of the Son of God. It is wholly apart from works and is upon the sole condition of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and never without genuine repentance. In order to be saved the sinner must be born again, personally receiving Christ as Savior, being regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit through faith in God’s Word and becoming the recipient of a new nature. The great gospel blessing which Christ secures to such as believe in Him is justification, that judicial act of God accompanied by the pardon of sin and the imputation of divine righteousness, not because of any works of righteousness on our part, but solely through faith in the Redeemer’s blood. The believer who has exercised personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is completely justified and in possession of eternal life which is eternally secure. (John 1:11,12; 3:3-6; 16; 10:28-29; Acts 13:39; Romans 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:9,10; Ephesians 2:8-10; 1 Timothy 2:5,6; Hebrews 4:2; 1 Peter 1:18-23; 2 Peter 1:4; 2:1).

 

I have not had an easy time in life, starting with junior high school where I was teased everyday and made to feel like I had nothing to live for. Although I was “saved” and baptized at age 12, this experience did nothing to save me from the cruel environment in which I found myself, and my own limitations (shy and introverted).

 

I had many doubts about my ability to function in this world. In High School, while other friends of mine already had paying jobs, I could not conceive of being able to do one. I have always been prone to worry, self doubt and have a lack of basic trust when it comes to my fellow human beings. Some of this is probably genetic and some of it comes from hearing probably thousands of sermons based upon the above theology, and how I bought into it because my parents bought into it. Until I was about 15 or so, I never even really started questioning it. Then I became aware of other religions. I began to realize that I was only given one interpretation of life, told it was absolute, told I must believe it or I am not only going to hell, but I am going to have a very bad life here as well. In this worldview I tried to believe, there is nothing worthwhile here on earth except “salvation”. That this is the only important thing you must do. That makes sense in a way. If it is heaven or hell for eternity and your life is at best 100 years long- this “decision for Christ” becomes the most important priority. Of course it also simultaneously values and devalues life. Life is really not important; the afterlife is the only thing that is important. Life is supremely important because you can know God by making this “decision for Christ”.

 

It is also totally self-centered, it is completely isolationist. Your fellow humans are objects, not people, who are either “saved” or “lost”. The basic view is that this world is controlled by Satan and people are born “totally depraved.” At one time I thought the rapture was going to happen. I was very frightened when my parents were late coming back when I was a child. I suppose this indicates that I never felt very secure in my “salvation” experience. All it really consisted of was praying “I am a sinner, please save me God.”

 

This how I see it now, and this is insane.

 

On with the story - I put the Bible and Church away for many years. I hated being forced to go to church. After college I got married. Then in the early 1990s when I had a divorce and became very depressed. I had to move back with my parents since I had no viable career that I could support myself with (remember, life isn’t very important). I had a very tough time getting training and trying to find a decent job. My college degree was in fine art. I developed some skills in drawing and painting, which helped me escape the reality of feeling like a total outcast. I never really planned for a future (the rapture could be any day, why plan?).

Even today, I still have this very otherworldly view. It has morphed into a different direction, but it is still there.

 

I do not accept the doctrine that people are born “sinners.” I don’t accept the view of the Fall of man except as a possible metaphor or mythology. It does not contribute to the betterment of myself or my life, or anyone’s life. HOW CAN IT? How can a “saved” person look at a person of another religion and think of them as anything other than an object to be worked on? To go “soul winning” and then praise the lord because you were able to persuade someone they are a “sinner”? How can you truly love your neighbor as yourself and look and most of the world as being lost? This truly troubles me.

 

Yet, there is the very fascinating figure of Jesus. He must be separated from the twisted theology that has developed through the centuries about him. I still find value in some of the things he said and did. I do think he loved people and saw past the prejudices of his time. I also know he lived in a very different time and culture.

 

I have decided that I am not willing to ditch Christianity in its entirety. I was a few years ago, but now I am rethinking it.

 

THE SEARCH

 

I must have a particularly deep and almost obsessive desire to understand religion and religious concepts. I don’t give myself credit for being especially intelligent, but in comparison with people who just seem to accept concepts without examining their implications, I am on a different level.

 

I started a massive search effort around 1992, when I left the Baptist Church for good. To my dismay , nothing had changed and they still had the views of women as being inferior that I had seen before. The same tiresome guilt that we were not doing enough to “witness”. Witnessing was never possible for me because (1) I am too shy and too much a private person(2) I am not so sure myself. The same tiresome creationist stuff. I found it repulsive and irrelevant. I was concerned with keeping my mind in order, which had become disordered.

 

I decided there were other forms of Christianity out there and that I should look around. I attended a Unitarian Church about 2 years , left that and went into the Episcopal Church. I stayed there 5 years. In the meantime I visited a Russian Orthodox Church and a Presbyterian Church. I decided that I really liked a liturgical church service and I thought that this was what I had been missing. Later I realized that the Bible was still behind it all and I couldn’t deal with that. The same theology dressed up and made pretty; made into a beautiful performance.

 

After this period I then embarked on a study of Spinoza’s philosophy and then (1998) I went into an approximately 10 year study of the teachings of J. Krishnamurti. I probably read 50 books of his talks and I bought about 70 VCR tapes/DVDs of his discussions. Then I felt I had reached as much of an understanding as possible of what he was saying and ended that chapter. I discovered the teachings of Nisargadatta Maharaj and read him, and the writings of some of his students for awhile. They gave me a sense of freedom I had really never felt before. A sense that there is a core of something indefinable in being human that cannot simply be labeled “sin nature.” All this investigation directly led me to become Buddhist in 2008. I went to a couple sessions with a Zen nun and then got into Tibetan Buddhism. I did the refuge ceremony with two Rinpoches, who bestowed a Dharma name on me, “Pema Nyingje” which means “Lotus of Compassion.”. I felt blessed. Something I had not felt in a long time. Each person got a different name, and everyone gasped when mine was translated. Compassion is probably the most highly regarded quality in Buddhism http://viewonbuddhism.org/resources/compassion_dalai_lama.html.

 

Since then I have attended some of the practices at the Dharma Center on a more or less regular basis. I just did all of this myself. It is not a small matter to switch religions.

 

I have a lot to learn about Tibetan Buddhism. It is very foreign. Yet, I am strangely drawn to it. I don’t honestly even know why. I know that I like the mystic approach. I hope they don’t get too technical with these matters, with too many concepts and too many beliefs that you MUST accept, or I will jump ship. But for now, I like the imagery, I like the emphasis they have on compassion and taming the mind. I like that they say everyone already has the Buddha nature and the innate capacity or quality of enlightenment.

 

I realize the mystic attitude is present in Christianity, but one does not get to hear Meister Eckert in your average church. Where the mystic attitude is present, such as in Catholicism (both east and west) it is wonderful, but with the original sin theology still attached, it becomes problematic.

 

I find myself wanting the black and white approach, because I was raised with it, but at the same time I know it does not reflect reality.

 

I have had a very tough time recently with unemployment. I seem to have had difficulty with my career, employment throughout my life. It seems to be some kind of karmic pattern. During the struggle it suddenly came to mind that possibly I don’t have to discard all of my Christian background, since Buddhism and Christianity teach many of the same core ethics. Some in the early church even accepted reincarnation. I don’t really know where to go from here with that idea.

Edited by Deva
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Hi Deva,

 

I just mentioned in your introductory thread that I can identify with a lot of what you say, and I must say that reading this has only reinforced that sentiment. While I'm only 23, my search has taken me along a similar path and thinking, and I see something of my own psychological disposition in your words.

 

I have found a draw to Christianity even though I have walked away from it at times. Some times that's just what we need to do. Yet I cannot fully cut my ties to Christianity since it runs deep within me from childhood: the myths, the stories, figures, images, still resonate with me.

 

I have a small familiarity with Krishnamurti, and have found his teachings always challenging. I find a strong connection between his own teachings and Buddhism, even though he definitely had a novel method. Perhaps too novel, that is why I prefer to study the established tradition(s) of Buddhism.

 

In my experience of Buddhism, it can be as simple or as technical as you personally would like to take it. Buddhism, even particular divisions like Tibetan Buddhism, is not monolithic but provides substance to people whatever their own disposition. The doctrine of emptiness is the central teaching of all Mahayana Buddhism, as far as I understand. Everything is meant to explore the point of intimate contact with the true self. Radiant, luminous Being is the theme of emptiness and enlightenment, and at its heart it has nothing to do with theoretical knowledge.

 

Of course this fits quite nicely with Christian mysticism, which too tells us not to make an object of reality, or to try to identify the Absolute with the phenomena of life. To me, God is the lightness of being. The light that illuminates every being coming into the world.

 

Peace to you,

Mike

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Deva, I am happy that you have found a deeper richer meaning of life. It seems you have learned difficult, but great lessons from your past. It seems that is the only thing we can do with the past. I have found that we can’t solve our problems with the mind that created them so we move on to spiritual things. The past only uses up the present, here and now, which you seem to have uncovered in your art. We are all seekers and ask the same questions. It doesn’t matter if we are Christian or Buddhist the questions are the same. We are also finders when we find the personal act of meditation/contemplation. I see you as a Buddhist dedicated to Truth and Compassion and a Christian Mystic who is living a deep spiritual life. I don’t see you as unemployed, but the lotus of compassion. You seem to be living your life to the hilt by living progressively in the spirit.

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I have found that we can’t solve our problems with the mind that created them so we move on to spiritual things. The past only uses up the present, here and now, which you seem to have uncovered in your art. We are all seekers and ask the same questions. It doesn’t matter if we are Christian or Buddhist the questions are the same. We are also finders when we find the personal act of meditation/contemplation. I see you as a Buddhist dedicated to Truth and Compassion and a Christian Mystic who is living a deep spiritual life. I don’t see you as unemployed, but the lotus of compassion. You seem to be living your life to the hilt by living progressively in the spirit.

 

Thank you, Soma. Yes, that is right, "we can't solve our problems with the mind that created them.." I suppose that I have that as a realization but I never thought to put it that way.

 

I hope that I can live into the meaning of my name.

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I have a small familiarity with Krishnamurti, and have found his teachings always challenging. I find a strong connection between his own teachings and Buddhism, even though he definitely had a novel method. Perhaps too novel, that is why I prefer to study the established tradition(s) of Buddhism.

 

In my experience of Buddhism, it can be as simple or as technical as you personally would like to take it. Buddhism, even particular divisions like Tibetan Buddhism, is not monolithic but provides substance to people whatever their own disposition. The doctrine of emptiness is the central teaching of all Mahayana Buddhism, as far as I understand. Everything is meant to explore the point of intimate contact with the true self. Radiant, luminous Being is the theme of emptiness and enlightenment, and at its heart it has nothing to do with theoretical knowledge.

 

Of course this fits quite nicely with Christian mysticism, which too tells us not to make an object of reality, or to try to identify the Absolute with the phenomena of life. To me, God is the lightness of being. The light that illuminates every being coming into the world.

 

Peace to you,

Mike

 

Thanks Mike. I think you have a good understanding of Buddhism. Yes, Krishnamurti is very close to Buddhism, but he had a particularly difficult way of communicating. I think what his teachings did was open up a way for me that belief no longer seemed like the most important thing. Intellectual assent to a series of ideas about God -- that is basically what religion was before Krishnamurti, and afterward I am thinking that is not it. He, along with Spinoza, also got me thinking about non-duality.

 

Yes, emptiness is the core nature of the universe to the Mahayana. I love to read the Diamond Sutra.

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