| by Jagath Asoka
To do no evil; to cultivate good; to purify one’s mind: this is the teaching of the Buddhas. —The Dhammapada
( February 07, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Recently, someone who visited my home asked me a question: “Why do you keep all these statues of various gods together?” I paused for a while before I answered: “When I look at them, they help me focus on an inner space that is gentle.” After my visitor left, I sat down in front of my statuettes and looked at them for a moment. Yes, these statuettes have that numinous effect on me. They help me find an inner space, and when I operate from this particular inner space which is not belligerent, malicious, greedy, and brutish, my thoughts and actions are somewhat compassionate, and the mansuetude that I feel is somewhat indescribable. This experience has concretized one of my long-held beliefs—as my childhood friend Lolly used to say: “All the temples and gods are within us.”
|Whether you believe in god or not, all religions have a plethora of instructions to help you live your life with a godlike composure; those who have done so have entered the exalted pantheon of humans who are revered and worshiped as gods.|
I have been collecting these statuettes of various gods and religious icons—Buddha, Jesus, Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesh, Lakshmi, Virgin Mary, and Kali—from all over the word. Looking at these statuettes has become one of my daily rituals. These images help me find the adytum of my heart: a sacred place, an inner shrine within me. It seems to me that some images and rituals spontaneously evoke this inner space, a universal numinous space which is common to all of us. Of course, in certain religions, it is sacrilegious to have the images of god, and idol worship is prohibited; the gods of others are regarded as no gods at all, but devils—and their worshipers are godless. Even the polytheistic Buddhists and Hindus, who have a sympathetic attitude toward the gods of other religions, think of their own as supreme, or at the very least, superior. When a preacher gets that tremolo in the voice and tells me what God has said, I feel that he is a faker. When people think they, or their Guru, have The Truth, they are what Nietzsche called, “epileptics of the concept”: people who have gotten an idea that has driven them insane. When I talk about religions, especially other peoples’ religions, I follow Gandhi’s advice: “Religion is like a mother; however good your friend’s mother may be, you cannot forsake your own.” Only you can criticize your mother; therefore, only the believers of a particular religion can criticize—all religions are true and imperfect—their own religion. When I talk about “religion,” I do not refer to a particular creed or dogma; I am talking about the consciousness that has been altered by the experience of the numinous feelings, which, I believe, is common to all of us. Religion also means dependence on and submission to the irrational facts of experience, which is based on our attitude.
All religions have to deal with privation and suffering, which is the constant theme in human existence. Whether the teachings, rituals, incantations, meditation, and self-mortification alleviate our suffering is based on our individual efforts; there is no undisputable panacea for all privation and suffering. Religions, which are based on an original numinous experience, myths, rituals, and symbols, are usually interpreted literarily; always have been, still are, and always will be by the masses. Even though religions have supported civilization, established moral order, given vitality, and inspired creative powers, new scientific findings are challenging the validity of these established religious systems. The result is loss of faith in established religions. A loss of faith follows uncertainty, with uncertainty disequilibrium, and with disequilibrium, disintegration. Where religion, rituals, myths, and symbols are dismissed, there is nothing to hold on to. As Nietzsche and Ibsen said, life needs life supporting illusions.
Some people feel that they have been failed by modern science on one side, and by organized religion on the other. As a result, some parents have lost their faith in religion, and do not take their children to a temple, a church, or a mosque because they do not want their children to participate in activities which they think are useless: a sign of contemporary malaise of spiritual alienation. Most people hold this familiar, modern opinion that “all these rituals, stories, and chanting” are irrelevant to the human condition today. I think most people are not aware that these “rituals, stories, and chanting” evoke the numinous feelings that are embedded in our inner system of belief. There is spiritual energy in these “rituals, stories, and chanting” that awakens us and points us to a deeper understanding of the very act of living itself. The hidden sin in Buddhism is the sin of inadvertence, not being quite awake. Religions have taught me three things: Be fully awake; live life with godlike composure on the full rush of energy (like Dionysus riding the leopard), without being torn to pieces; to participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world I must reconcile to the fact that life is a sin, even if you are the Buddha.
All parents are concerned about their children’s well-being—physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual; just like parents would take their children to swimming, basketball, tennis, and music classes, and teach children math and science, we have to give our children a chance to find their numinous feelings; if not, we are doing a great disservice to our children. It is the duty of the parents to create an atmosphere where their children get a chance to experience their innate numinous feelings, which they would not be able to express with words, but feel in the adytum of their hearts. A church, a temple, a synagogue, or a mosque is the place where our numinous feelings can be evoked spontaneously. Once our numinous feelings are evoked, we need to find the vocabulary to express and cultivate these feelings and be willing to allow ourselves to depend on and submit to the irrational facts of experience. We do this through self-knowledge, reflection upon myths, rituals, symbols, and even through dreams. The usual practice is to find a person who is on a particular spiritual path who can guide us. Even a layperson can teach children the basic tenets of any religion; however, it is more effective when taught by a person who has identified his or her entire life with the spiritual journey. Consider the position of a Buddhist monk or a Catholic priest. For example, a Buddhist monk plays a spiritual and mythological role, not a sociological and pedagogical. If the position of a Buddhist monk were a sociological or pedagogical role, he could wear a blue or black suit instead of the yellow robe—yellow was the color of renunciation. The position of the monk has been sanctified in order to hold its spiritual powers beyond mere ceremonial coercion and pedagogical instructions.
As we enter our adulthood, leaving childhood, we must follow the biblical saying: When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, and I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. In my adulthood I have chosen a comparative study of religions. I think a comparative study of religion requires equal discrimination. I use the word “discrimination” to mean distinguish, differentiate, and to use good judgment. We have a tendency to not discriminate everything and everyone—those with whom we agree and those with whom we disagree—equally; therefore, we end up looking gullible, making obtuse remarks, and contradicting our own statements. We have a tendency to accept the teachings of our own religions as facts. I have met a lot of adults, both educated and uneducated, who still interpret religion as they did when they were in kindergarten.
Whether you believe in god or not, all religions have a plethora of instructions to help you live your life with a godlike composure; those who have done so have entered the exalted pantheon of humans who are revered and worshiped as gods. I think that to do no evil, to cultivate good, and to purify one’s mind are not only the teachings of the Buddhas, but other religions as well. There is only one solution to the conflicts of this world: Individual awareness of all aspects of human psyche, and the individual turning within and resolving the individual aspects of human conflicts. To do so, we all must find our inner space, free of malice, jealousy, hatred, and hubris, where there is no room for conflict. We have to begin this journey in our childhood. So, give your child a chance to find his or her own inner space. If not, they will be lost when they become adults.