Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Two Theisms

Over half of the human beings alive today adhere to the curious religious creed of monotheism. Its “singular god“ vision - be it of the Judaic, Christian or Islamic taste - is an unusual and recent development in the timeless scheme of religiosity.

These Big 3 comprise the majority of today’s monotheistic creeds. However the world’s other major religions, along with countless indigenous and regional spiritual systems, are significantly different in character. They honor, instead, a web of myriad sacred beings, and have come to be known by the catch-all of polytheism.

While monotheism does have its tendencies toward the “mysticism of multiplicity,” it is usually hobbled in this quest. With the exception of the revelations of the rare Kabbalist, Christian mystic or Sufi, the Big 3 allow little room for direct communion with the infinite varieties of oneness in the universe, let alone curiosity about the infinite nature of our reality. They exclusively direct contemplation and prayer to the “one and only God,” Jahweh-Jehovah-Allah, and relegate the infinite varieties of life’s manifestation to being “God’s creations.”

From a marketing standpoint, the three monotheisms are masters at opinion brokering in in their sales pitch and promise. To envision the goal of a spiritual life as embodied in the powerful branded logo that is “God,” is an effective strategy. With unquestioning adherence to the God logo being mandatory for the true believer, the monotheisms have become potent means for amassing worldly power. However, they have fallen short in spiritual achievement.

Abiding beyond the realm of human experience and the natural order while exerting influence on every minute detail of life makes the monotheistic world creator an effective agent of mental and social control. So it is little wonder that the Big 3 monotheisms have effectively converted large populations in today’s nation-states and kingdoms. These types of heirarchic, sociopolitical structures are already in synchrony with the monotheistic model of central authority.

The continuance of the monotheistic creeds and cultural systems require an absent, all powerful and all knowing “great father model.” Patriarchic discipline together with more than a dollop of fear work wonders in keeping people to the prescribed path and away from pesky social innovations and natural ideals. The edict-enforced discipline of the Papacy; the persecutional fear of the Zionists, and the “God is great” zeal of the imams and ayatollahs utilize such methods of psychospiritual control.

Still, it is only human that spiritual and secular interests intersect on many planes in life. But where there is an all powerful, all knowing yet distant, creator god, the derived communal worldview becomes extractive and disconnected in character. It is extractive by its harnessing belief and devotion toward its own self-perpetuation and, by extension, in justifying the mining of the earth’s treasures and of the lifeforce energy its peoples. Such is considered permissible since Earth and humanity are believed to issue from and belong exclusively to the great father-creator god.

When human life and prosperity are bestowed by an abstracted and all powerful entity, adherents become disconnected from the natural urge to give and share. Where there is only one giver, people become “takers,” as the ex-Catholic monk Daniel Quinn so aptly termed unenlightened monotheists in his literary masterpiece, Ishmael.

When a holy writ that is honored by the Big 3 counsels to “spread thy seed over the earth and subdue the animals and plants,” people become less oriented to unconditional love and compassion toward the world and its life forms. Their worldview runs counter to the natural altruistic urge to give from the heart, which is to benefit anyone or anything as if they were a relatives or closest friends. This is because the bounty of the world is given solely to them by their god on high and is not acquired through the experience of responsible synergy with the web of life.

While the monotheisms do espouse love and empathy, their guiding scriptures are even more replete with sanctions and retributions meant as guides to proper thought and behavior. In this way, the monotheisms may well be useful for short term applications to the human condition, but they ultimately reinforce longterm problems through their slavish attention to a single personified Oneness. Their God acts on their behalf rather than empowers people toward applying good thoughts and deeds themselves.

Years ago, at a Buddhist initiation ceremony in India, the Dalai Lama got to the heart of the matter when he observed that, “there are two kinds of religion in this world: one having a creator god, and the other not recognizing a creator of this reality.” He was referring to the fundamental difference between the Western monotheistic religions and those such as Buddhism, Hinduism and indigenous systems.

The latter religions accept the universe as it is – as a timeless and formless sourceground out of which all matter, life and mind arise –without the need for a divine agent of causation. This turns out to be a much more sophisticated view of the sacred and profane, as it requires focused instrospection to understand the enormity of existence.

Non-monotheistic spiritual systems allow for and celebrate the multiplicity of sacredness embodied in the myriad forms and models of holiness that permeate earth and cosmos. Where there is an all-inclusive sense of relationship with a multiplicity of related, thinking and feeling beings, who are imbued with de facto holiness and sentience, there naturally arises an awareness and intent of compassion and caring.

Buddhism cautions about adherence to any form of worldly creator divinity. For Buddhists, the gods are not even immortal. Gods live in celestial paradises amid great splendor and enjoyments and they have exponentially longer lifespans than do humans. But unlike humans, the gods do not know of their own mortality until only a few days before they are set to die. This causes the gods great mental suffering as they stand on the brink of death and proceed into rebirth with an untutored and fearful state of mind.

Instead of holding to the dicta of a distant and fickle creator god, Buddhists celebrate the evolving enlightened mind and spiritual force of heart that are potential within each being in our phenomenal reality. And they do so in the knowledge that this reality is not all that is. Underpinning it is an indescribable sourceground of life force and mind, of which we humans, animals - all phenomena - are vital aspects and equal parts.

So, only in the sourceground of the One – in whatever way it may be envisioned - can the two types of religion ultimately find their common ground. Because, it is only at the creative font of things that true empathy and understanding, beyond the limitations of forms and concepts, can be fully realized.

Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.
- Heart Sutra –

I came into unknowing and there I found myself.
- John of the Cross -

1 comment:

Ruth Storer said...

Is the sourceground like Brahma breathes out and all manifests. Brahm breathes in and it all becomes void again? Perhaps mind or consciousness and self consciousness evolve and that universal mind decides to erase itself and start over to see what happens.This may go on and on because there is no time or it's outside of time.It takes chutzpah to erase onself, nicht?