Monday, November 24, 2008

Clinging to spiritual cynicism

What does the term 'spiritual cynicism' suggest to you? Please consider it because I suspect it is a common affliction of those struggling through modernism or lost in the post-modernist correction. I have mentioned before my interest in honoring much of what was thrown out along with the bathwater in the modernist reaction to traditionalism and my view that post-modernism is useful as reflexive exercise rather than as an (in)coherent philosophy. I have discussed getting over old stereotypes, and appreciating views I may have previously been too dismissive toward, including the hang-ups expressed in the atheist vs. theist debates. I have even accepted there is much of value in traditional Abrahamic views and practices concerning the Divine, and have developed an affection for and sympathy toward the more liturgical/sacramental forms of Christianity. On the Buddhist side, ironically, I have realized that many of the lessons weaving through Buddhist thought that I have explored over the last several years, as well as my interest in practice and expression, are synchronized very well in some of the writings of the current and former Presidents of Soka Gakkai. This is particularly astounding considering that some of that organizations materials materials have at times appeared overly simplistic or smacked of selective interpretation and bias (although that can be said of all forms of Buddhism to some degree, and the question of authenticity is as much at times about 'Does it work?' as 'Who said it and when?'). I had for a long while been something of a snob towards the Soka Gakkai, but honestly after my attempts to appreciate various Buddhist traditions and practices with the heart as well as the mind, I was shocked that when I read Unlocking the Secrets of Birth and Death again this year it actually seemed really clear and astute (and this is said with nothing against other forms of Buddhism at all). As Charlie Brown might say, "Good grief."

But here's the problem - I am not convicted. I can make a cogent argument for joining an organization such as SGI* and adopting their idea of Buddhist practice and I can make a cogent argument for doing the same with a Christian group. I have been making the argument to myself for years. It is sufficient now to permit me to say I have done my due diligence in investigating the historical, philosophical, moral/ethical, social/political, practical, and metaphysical aspects of Buddhism and Christianity to enable me to confidently make a commitment to one or the other. To do, not merely say. To live, not merely think. It makes sufficient sense and there is sufficient benefit, not just for myself but for others, in fully engaging such a path. It makes sense on nearly every level. Except that I just don't buy it. Or to be more accurate, I don't fully buy it. I just don't seem to have enough - something - to make it work. I tried for a while with a Buddhist group that wasn't too far away from where I was living a few years ago, but it didn't last when I moved.

Now don't misunderstand me. I am not looking for huge spiritual consolations, or absolute certainties, or mountain-top experiences. I am not limiting myself to a narrow band of distracting or false expectations.

Maybe it's the whole purpose/meaning deal. I have a great theory of purpose which is backed up by religion and some schools of philosophy. It's not lacking in being convincing on a general level. I guess it's me. I guess I see all of this as being true for other people, being possible for other people, but not for me.

To quote Chuck once more, "I can't stand it. I just can't stand it."

For crying out loud, I'm the Charlie Brown of faith.

(Note: Yes, I am also aware of reasons some give to be cautious regarding SGI specifically, relating to concerns about how some parts of the organization have been run and the complaints of former members. But getting into that stuff is waaaay off point.)

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