Posts Tagged ‘Augustine’

The Three Views of Existence Part 3

December 22, 2011

Our present-day understanding of religion is poor. When people discuss religion they are usually arguing about some doctrine they read in a book somewhere. Most of today’s religious institutions and organizations are led by people who have had no direct experience  of the spiritual, but who have ideas about what  it is. But you can’t get religion from a book or from speculative thought.

Here’s what real religion is: A person sets out on a path that takes him, or her, to the very edge of what can be understood with the thinking mind. At the point he can go no farther, he drops his ego and takes a leap into the unknown where he has a vision of the oneness of existence. To most people this sounds like some kind of Eastern religious trip. But I contend that Jesus took the same journey. If you read the Gospel of Thomas, one of the so-called Gnostic Gospels, it’s easy to recognize. One of the good things about the Gospel of Thomas is that it’s all sayings and aphorisms. There isn’t any mythology attached. It’s simply religious instruction. And religious instruction is mostly about how to manage safely the spiritual journey, which is incredibly dangerous.

Maybe it’s pointless to try to talk about this. To most ears, the journey I’m referring to sounds mythical rather than real. But that’s because of the time we live in, which is mundane and materialistic. In any case, for the moment, the door to the journey is closed. But it wasn’t so long ago that the door was open, and thousands, if not millions, were in pursuit. Even then, it was difficult to get people to understand. For many years, I was one of those who refused to hear of it. Futile or not, I want to try and make the point that in my mind I’ve been wanting to make for several months.

My contention is that real religion is simply the search for the truth about existence, about reality. There is one true religion, and it doesn’t have a name. It is simply the laws of existence—an existence that goes beyond physical reality. Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tse, and others are all examples of individuals who  made that journey, and then came back to tell the rest of us how to go there. In each case, only a handful of the original hearers had any real idea of what Buddha, Jesus, and Lao Tse were talking about. But they were impressed by the power of the speakers, who had been completely changed by their experiences. That’s where the big churches came from—from the mass of people who didn’t really understand what they were hearing, as well as from those who heard it second and third hand. In the first group I would include most of Jesus’ disciples; in the second, people like Paul, Augustine, Martin Luther, and so on. (I’m being critical of Christianity here, but I see Buddhism as having identical problems. One of the problems is to think that there is a “Buddhism” or a “Christianity.”)

It’s not easy to get people to understand what’s true. It’s easier to give them a jealous god who sits on his throne, sees all, and crushes his enemies. They can understand that much more easily than the idea that everything is god, that everything is mind. We all have, at the very least, an unconscious awareness of the spiritual roots of existence. That’s why the churches became so powerful. But as the churches have grown ever distant from the source, their doctrines have become more at odds with observable reality. A few centuries ago it got to be too much for the well-educated, and they began to question what they knew as religion, which was the creator god religion they’d inherited from Paul, Augustine, Martin Luther et al. Eventually they created science and philosophical materialism as a replacement. Today those two sides are duking it out, making headlines, trying to win converts. I can’t take either one of them seriously. There is that third way, which is quieter and more intelligent than either the creator god or philosophical materialism. It has the added advantage of being true. But, as I say, the door to understanding it directly is not open right now. That will change, however. Sometimes I feel that that’s all I live for—for that door to open again. When it does open, everything changes for everybody everywhere.


Cynics and Idealists

December 9, 2010

I was reading the Wikipedia entry on Dinesh D’Souza, the Indian-American (that is to say, East Indian) “conservative” author and found this:

In Letters to a Young Conservative, written as an introduction to conservative ideas for youth, D’Souza argues that it is a blend of classical liberalism and ancient virtue, in particular, “the belief that there are moral standards in the universe and that living up to them is the best way to have a full and happy life.” He also argues against what he calls the modern liberal belief that “human nature is intrinsically good…”

Am I missing something? Or does he seem to be arguing that one of the universal moral standards we’re supposed to live up to is that human nature is intrinsically evil? How can an intrinsically evil being live up to a moral standard? Actually, I’m writing this because for many years I’ve been noticing that “conservatives” tend to see humans as fundamentally evil. Apparently, D’Souza comes right on out and says so. This idea comes down to us—in the West at least—from Augustine. He created the notion of original sin, which I find—technically speaking—heresy. Many, if not most, contemporary “conservatives” see the only legitimate role of government as the protection of their private property from other human beings who they assume cannot be trusted. Indeed! I also found this on Wikipedia about D’Souza:

In his book The End of Racism he asserted that the “American slave was treated like property, which is to say, pretty well.”

It seems to me that people with ideas and attitudes like this should be easy to discredit. It’s a strange time that they’re able to get away with saying this crap. Anybody who’s been reading this blog for very long knows that I have a problem with using the words “conservative” and “liberal” for describing the country’s differing political philosophies. While washing the dishes and thinking over what I’d read about D’Souza, I decided that it would be more accurate to say “cynic” and “idealist.”

Defining My Terms #2

November 3, 2010

There’s another term I want to clarify before I begin work on some posts that I want to put up here. The term is Christianity. I make a distinction between the teachings of Christ and Christianity. The only thing they have in common is that root word, Christ. I don’t believe that we know much of what Jesus actually taught. His time was short and his teachings began undergoing heavy distortion right after his death. This happens all the time. I see it happening now to Suzuki Roshi. What we call Christianity or Christendom begins not with Jesus, but with Paul. When I read the Epistles, which I find an onerous task, it is very clear to me that Paul knows very little about true religion. He is not a seeker, but a zealot, more interested in building a movement than in truth. From what I’ve read, Paul would not have had access to what became known as the Gospels. It was only after his time that different books purporting to be the true story of Jesus came into circulation. The four “official” choices all drew from other books that were available to scribes, and they quite obviously dressed the teachings up in myth. I’m convinced that all four books were chosen because they suited, or were more acceptable, to a particular political and cultural persuasion. Another early architect of Christianity was Augustine. Before he became a “Christian,” Augustine was a speculative intellectual. After his conversion, it became his aim to make his new religion acceptable to the Roman Empire. Accordingly, he came up with concepts that are not only absent in what Jesus is purported to have taught, but are even hostile to it. The distortions and obfuscations in Christianity built up over a long period of time and go on to this day. I don’t need to detail any more of them to make my point, which is simply that when I use the word “Christianity,” I mean the movement that descends from Paul, not the teachings of Christ.

Reading Rexroth

March 19, 2009

I’ve been reading Kenneth Rexroth lately and enjoying him a great deal. In his long poem (200 pages!) The Dragon and the Unicorn I found in one small section two statements of belief that I’ve held myself for quite some time. They’re related. The first one is this:

A real religion is not
Believed in, it is practiced.

I think that’s an important idea. A lot of Christians think that all you have to do is believe in Jesus, and you’re covered—which isn’t true. You have to put the principles he taught into practice—and they’re tough ones. You can’t understand religious ideas any other way. You can’t take your understanding from a book. Books get messed with. More importantly, religion—real religion—is ineffable, and no book can contain the ineffable. It’s only there to get you started.

The second statement is:

Neither Augustine nor Karl Barth
Are religious men. They are
Emotionally unstable

I don’t know anything about Karl Barth, but I’ve had a gripe with Augustine for a long time. He wasn’t a saint; he was an intellectual. And while not the first, he was one of the biggest distorters of the teachings of Christ. He was, in part, trying to make the new religion palatable to the Empire, which has nothing at all to do with spirituality. It’s a perversion of it.