I’ve been looking at different spiritualities, and especially mine over the years.
What bothers me is phoniness. I don’t do well with play acting. Watching protestant TV is annoying, partly because I used to be one. It comes off as a show. The lights, the cameras, the commercials, and the production smack of entertainment. Contrast that with this example. The catholic TV channel, generally a couple of times per winter, occasionally shows a documentary. It is silent and lasts for three or four hours. It shows these monks going about their business: chanting, shoveling (I think they are in the Alps), feeding the cats, etc. It is beautiful. Their lives are simple, unpretentious, and silent, but they get everything done.
In the latest issue of Parabola, there is an article, “About Thomas Merton, A Seeker of Truth”, by Roger Lipsey. Merton said, in 1963, “The task for Zen in the West is probably a healthy reaction on the part of people exasperated for four hundred years by the inane Cartesian spirit—the reification of concepts, the idolization of reflexive consciousness, the flight from being into verbalism, mathematics and rationalization. Descartes made a fetish of the mirror which Zen shatters.” (Pages 41-42) Amen.
People want authenticity, not empty words. I believe that people leave shallow versions of the religions they grew up with for the deeper versions of other religions. In the same edition of Parabola, I saw that Huston Smith became a Sufi, a mystic Muslim. I’m willing to bet that he had been a shallow Christian previously, or perhaps an atheist or agnostic. He didn’t, in contrast, go from being a Benedictine monk to becoming a member of Al Qaeda. In the latest “Shambhala Sun” is an article about Burmese Buddhists persecuting Rohingya Muslims. Jack Kornfield relates how the Buddhists are of the devotional type, not understanding the Buddha’s teachings on compassion and thinking for oneself. American Christians, such as myself, every day abandon our churches with verbose and hypocritical members in favor of a more contemplative version of Buddhism.
I have always loved silence, stillness, simplicity, and beauty. As an Orthodox Christian, I loved the concept of hesychia. However, the reality is that I (as a female) do not have the option of ever living on Mount Athos. I can only be on the receiving end of religious oppression from the hierarchy’s demand for obedience. I simply cannot leave my brains at the door when I enter a spiritual building.
I’m not certain I am so much an “ex-Christian” as I am “ex-everything-shallow-without-integrity.”
What I love about Buddhism is how it gets to the heart of the matter: how you think and developing the self-control not to act on one’s impulses. It is definitely part of what I have been looking for my whole life and I am so grateful to have found it.