08 Jun 2007 |
Posted by Lama Surya Das | 4 Comments.
I’m getting tired of hearing from Christopher Hitchens in the media, and his fervid and all-too-familiar religion-bashing. I happen to like the guy, and also very much appreciate such diverse opinions–he is brilliant, after all, and has some valid points, which is why I bother to read him–-but overall he goes way too far and keeps grinding the same ax ad nauseum. God Is Not Great is a fine book title but a weak thesis. Rest assured that I myself have plenty of similar criticism about religions, including my own; but doesn’t he know that there are hundreds of millions (and have been billions) of very spiritual people, as well as intensely religious ones, who need little or no deity in order to pursue a spiritual path and live and embody a beautiful, wise and loving spiritual life, both within and outside the formal traditional religious denominations? Moreover, there are plenty of theists who have a much more subtle and sophisticated understanding of the divine, of prayer, and of reality than that which he lumps all deists together with.
There is a difference that can be made between religion (organized, for the most part) and spirituality itself, which is the heart of it all; and moreover, spirituality has no Crusades, Inquisitions, book burnings, isms and schisms, and so forth. Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and their skeptical post-modern atheist ilk seem far too extreme to convert true believers or even to sway the moderate middle; their dogmatic arguments are more often than not one-sided monologues lacking in balance. Although their points of view and critical analyses and reflections are certainly not without merit, and deserving of serious consideration, one might also notice that scientific-minded ultra-rationalists are not without their presuppositions, blind spots, superstitions and beliefs, not unlike those very people of faith whom they roundly criticize. Hitchens himself seems to evince little or no expertise on the subject of Eastern spirituality and practice, although he did live in Rashneeshвs ashram for a little while–in order to write about it–an extreme example of a place to study in India, if there ever was one. I have read things about the Dalai Lama and Richard Gere from Hitchens that I personally know to be inaccurate.
I have been reading the new biography, Einstein by Walter Isaacson, and thinking about the need for us to reconcile science and religion in our postmodern technological information age. Einstein was a deeply spiritual man whose personal beliefs went far beyond any old fashioned patriarchal creator-God, and was one who evinced genuine mystical insight and spent his last decades searching for a true Unified Field Theory. He believed that “Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion of the future. It transcends a personal God, avoids dogma and theology; it covers both the natural and the spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity.” The Dalai Lama of Tibet himself is involved regularly in scientific research, especially regarding neuroscience and the effects of meditation, and has said repeatedly that if science proves certain beliefs of Buddhism as erroneous Buddhism will have to adapt to that new knowledge.
Religion is meant as a uniting force rather than a divisive one. I believe that what we really need today, along with a lively broad and deep public conversation about religion and politics, is a century of dialogue and enhanced spiritual and geopolitical literacy, not another one of extreme views, prejudice, bloodshed, conquest economic or ideological, fanaticism and short-term thinking. A new generation seeks for and deserves common ground, beyond the old partisanships, borders, and territories. As Mahatma Gandhi said: “Those who think that religion and politics are two separate fields donвt know much about either religion or politics.” No man is an island, as the poet says. We are all in this together we rise or fall, sink or swim together.
We could all benefit from stretching beyond our own individual tightly held opinions and beliefs toward learning and reflecting more deeply about what we know to be so and what we hold dear. When we begin to think and know more about any subject, we see how little we do know, how much we donвt know, and our opinions usually begin to lighten up and shift, sometimes quite a great deal. This is where true higher education, true wisdom, comes in-–learning how to learn and to think for ourselves, and to develop insight and self-realization– not just being satisfied with mere information and vocational training or our current knowledge and limited opinions. Instead, it is my hope that each of us can live an authentically fulfilling spiritual life, making a conscientious effort to further inquire and develop life wisdom, the wisdom of seeing things as they are — not by looking up at the sky through the straw of narrow opinions and finding it constricting.
Everyone talks about changing the world, but who is willing and able to actually work on changing themselves? Long ago the greatest Chinese sage Lao Tsu, author of the renowened classic Tao Te Ching, said that to know others and to know the world is knowledge, but to know oneself is wisdom. This is I believe what is needed today.