Saturday, December 03, 2005

Vertical Church of the Perpetual Bob Scrapped

When I first began writing One Cosmos Under God, I thought I might have to invent a new religion in order to convey my ideas about spirituality. This would have meant becoming a guru, corralling a bunch of fawning disciples, or "bobbleheads", soliciting constant love offerings (i.e., cash) from my flock, and deputizing Petey to be my official spokesperson.

However, as I immersed myself in Higher Things, I happily discovered that all of the available "big box" religions are perfectly capable of taking you just as far as you want to go in the realm of Spirit. These things aren't necessarily advertised to the masses. Rather, you have to go deep into your tradition, way past the mere Words department, so that you may forego the pastorized milk in favor of drinking directly from the sacred cow.

Christianity is a case in point. If you're anything like me, then it is likely that you internalized a dysfunctional version of Christianity as a child, warping your ability to see it as anything other than a bunch of quaint fairy tales for the slack-jawed masses. From my earliest exposure to Christianity in Sunday school as a child, I had some real problems with it--not because of Christianity, but because of the people presenting it. Something is wrong if religion is conveyed by an adult to a six year-old in such a way that the child thinks to himself, "Geez, what an idiot. Does he really believe this stuff?" It is fair to say that I struggled with some version of this smug and misguided six year-old attitude for the subsequent thirty years or so, which is what undoubtedly prompted me to initially seek metaphysical nourishment elsewhere, in eastern religions. I'm sure this is a common pattern.

As I say in my book, I see spiritual reality as a sort of invisible topology with innumerable "springs" dotting the landscape and bubbling forth vertically from another dimension. Fortunately for me, in the course of writing my book, I stumbled upon one of these springs that allowed me to appreciate the great beauty, power and truth of Christianity. I look at the different religions--real religions--as analogous to, say, telescopes or microscopes in the realm of science. Just as the scientist uses a microscope to enlarge invisible entities so that they may be seen, we "look through" the great religions in order to see another kind of invisible reality that normally cannot be detected. I used to think that you only practiced a religion if you believed in God. Now I understand that you practice a religion in order to know God.

If you are using your religion as a successful macroscope, then it will awaken hidden layers of the soul, which in turn will provide you with the means necessary to see more deeply into the Divine. As this happens, you will experience a compelling influx of new ideas, capacities, sentiments, and aspirations that cannot be explained in any other way. Religions are full of "secret" knowledge that is inaccessible to those who do not take the time to practice one.

In order to allow the things above to be reflected in the things below, you must create a mirror that is clean and stable: "The perfect man employs his mind as a mirror; it grasps nothing; it refuses nothing; it receives, but does not keep" (Chuang Tzu). Effort is required, but effort alone is insufficient. And it is an unusual kind of effort, because it is actually more like a "non-effort." That is, one must first learn to silence the mind and unknow one's thoughts. There is a reversal of figure and ground, so that silence becomes the context out of which thoughts arise and pass away. Effortless silence is anterior to spiritual knowing, but it is a concentrated and expectant silence, a foreknowledge of as yet undiscovered things.

Thankfully, the cosmos is not a closed circle, but an open circle with an entrance and exit. An unknown Christian friend says that the key to reconciling personal effort and spiritual reality is to master concentration without effort and transform work into play. This is why I say that my eight month old is my new spiritual advisor. With single-minded playfulness, he busies himself along that vast shoreline where the infinite sea washes up to the edge of our finite shore, where this world ends and another begins. There is no other moment than this one, and never has been. It just gets deeper.


Gagdad Bob said...

Bob, I normally agree with you, but that's a little offensive that you were thinking about starting your own religion. A bit narcissistic, wouldn't you say?

Gagdad Bob said...

Bob, get ahold of yourself. It was a joke! We have no desire to turn ourslelves into some kind of new-age guru. Doing so simply provides people with a mirror so that they may bask in the reflected glory of their own projected narcissism. We won't have it. We're regular folks. We put our halos on one at a time, just like everybody else.

Gagdad Bob said...

Oh, I get it. You're more humble than the rest of us! So now you're like Jesus, washing the feet of your readers? Very clever.

Petey said...

Stop it you two! If you want to argue between yourselves, take it outside!

jwm said...

For many years I had a visceral hostility to Christianity. I never understood the quid pro quo of Jesus' dying having anything to do with my or anyone's sins. Nonetheless, my exposure to AA and the 12 steps taught me to pray. Furthermore, It taught me that God isn't Santa Claus. You don't pray for a job or a wife, or a pony, or a car. You pray for the knowlegdge of God's will and the power to carry it out. I took up the habit.
My beliefs changed very very slowly. Over many years and much praying the hostility I felt toward Christianity has melted away. But a stranger thing has happened. When I met my wife, in 1999 I was of the opinion that all religions were pretty much the same. My wife is a Buddhist. I decided during our engagement that I would take up Buddhism after we were married. I tried. I hated Buddhism. The theology seemed empty, the rituals tedious, and every time I looked at the "object of worship" I choked on the old commandment about worshiping graven images. I had to quit. I am still searching for my own religious niche.
I recall one of the recent ID vs Evolution pissin' matches over at LGF. There was a time when I would have come out swinging at the ID (read religiousuperstionhoaxer) proponents. I would have gleefully jumped on any argument that made belief in God look foolish, and fought with caplocks against anyone who disagreed.
As I said- things change. I was amazed to read the battle on LGF and find my heart (not my intellect) was firmly on the side of the ID (read Believers) proponents.
Similarly, I have been reading the Gospels lately. (I'm about halfway through John, now.) I've read them before. Somehow, as I go through the text in my old King James version, I am picking up what I would call a resonance of truth that somehow I missed in past readings. Curiouser and curiouser. Still reaching.


Gagdad Bob said...


I didn't say that all religions are equal, only that they provide different views. Some are clearly better than others, and One is best of all. Just remember that religion points to something that is not religion. It sounds like you are receiving some hints and insights about the unnameable not-religion at the heart of religion that can only be received through religion.

gumshoe1 said...

seems i stumbled in on you in a private sorry.

thought you might enjoy this anyway:

"On the Seashore",
by Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)

On the seashore of endless worlds children meet.
The infinite sky is motionless overhead and the restless water is
boisterous. On the seashore of endless worlds the children meet with shouts and dances.
They build their houses with sand, and they play with empty shells. With withered leaves they weave their boats and smilingly float them on the vast deep. Children have their play on the seashore of worlds.
They know not how to swim, they know not how to cast nets. Pearl-fishers dive for pearls, merchants sail in their ships, while children gather pebbles and scatter them again.
They seek not for hidden treasures, they know not how to cast nets.
The sea surges up with laughter,
and pale gleams the smile of the sea-beach. Death-dealing waves sing meaningless ballads to the children,
even like a mother while rocking her baby's cradle. The sea plays with
children, and pale gleams the smile of the sea-beach.
On the seashore of endless worlds children meet. Tempest roams in the
pathless sky, ships are wrecked in the trackless water, death is
abroad and children play. On the seashore of endless worlds is the great meeting of children.

(apologies for the formatting...original is posted here...):
1863-Saturday-Verse-Tagore.html is also
a blog you might enjoy,
in your endless slack,
your bobness.

LiquidLifeHacker said...

*wondering if Bob sets an imaginary plate at his dinner table for Petey* LOL

JWM, I enjoyed reading your comment here about how you are reading and re-reading God's word, because I have to do more of that myself. When I spend more time hearing and reading that is where I find comfort and I know that I must put more and more of my heart into it and never stop the seeking because it is in the seeking that there is suprise after suprise of wonderful discovery!

Deuteronomy 4:29 But if from thence thou shalt seek the LORD thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul

Gagdad Bob said...

The Tagore is perfect. I am reminded of a Van Morrison song based on a poem entitled "Song of Being a Child." (Many of Morrison's greatest works are about the natural mysticism of childhood.)

When the child was a child it
Wanted the stream to be a river and the river a torrent
And this puddle, the sea
When the child was a child, it didn't know
It was a child
Everything for it was filled with life and all life was one
Saw the horizon without trying to reach it
Couldn't rush itself
And think on command
Was often terribly bored
And couldn't wait
When the child was a child
Had no habits
And didn't put on a face when being photographed
When the child was a child

Gagdad Bob said...

This might be the appropriate place to quote a relevent but obscure passage from One Cosmos Under God. I think I finally understand what it means:

Too old, older than Abraham,
Too young, young as a babe's I AM.
The whole Truth.
Nothing but the Truth.
So ham, me God.
We'll meet again.
Up ahead, 'round the bend.
The circle unbroken, by and by.
A Divine child, a godsend,
A touch of infanity,
A bloomin' yes.

gumshoe1 said...

"My wife is a Buddhist. I decided during our engagement that I would take up Buddhism after we were married. I tried. I hated Buddhism. The theology seemed empty, the rituals tedious, and every time I looked at the "object of worship" I choked on the old commandment about worshiping graven images."

jwm -

i don't know the buddhist path your wife follows,and if i did i wouldn't presume to be qualified to evaluate it....i will quote the buddha however:

"be ye lamps unto yourselves".
"each man must work out his own salvation with diligence".

buddhism is dependent upon *understanding* rather than *belief*.

put another way,buddhism may appeal
(in some forms of its practice)
to the mind and intellect more than to the heart and emotions.

devotion to "the object of worship"
seems to have offended both spiritual aspects of your own nature.

imo,this is not the fault of the teachings of the buddha.

the buddha also said,
in contrast to many other spiritual traditions(paraphrased):

"take what i have to teach you ..
if it works for you,and you find truth in it...then keep it...
if not...THROW IT AWAY!"

there are schools in Buddhism that
practice rituals and devotional exercises and have what are,perhaps
"deities" similar to my understanding of the Catholic saints,ie personalities to be venerated and the subject of devotion...which of course usually yields up objects and statues and images,etc.

another way to view them is simply as "role models" my view it is WE who have to "do the work".

with regards to the veneration of OBJECTS,there is little doubt in my mind that the Buddha himself
would share your repugnance
for the veneration of a *thing*.

or as the author of the first
book below says(again paraphrased):

"there are many paths...some people
need the incense,and chanting and rituals,gathering in crowds,
the public events....for them,this is the way...but it is not the true way".

if you would like to have a go at buddhism from a different
tack,here,in order of usefulness
are two books i found very informative...the first is an incredibly insightful overview and introduction,imo.

the Western fascination for
the mysticism of Zen
(no minor tradition),
crumbles,imo,in the face of this man's crystaline writing.
"What the Buddha Taught"
by Walpola Rahula

the author is a member of the Therevadan school (Therevadan meaning "the Elders") is a "conservative tradition" within Buddhism, and has is base in waht was Ceylon and is now Sri Lanka.
a good portion of the work of this sect is to preserve and transmit the "original teachings" of the Buddha.

embroidery doesn't fascinate them.

Editorial Reviews:

Beneath the enormous umbrella of Buddhism, there is a diverse galaxy of customs and beliefs, but there is also a kernel of truth that every sect holds dear. Rahula Walpola, scholar and monk, discovers this foundation of Buddhism for us first through straightforward explication, never skipping over a point that has yet to be substantiated, then through translations from key scriptures. Logical and focused, these are the essentials of Buddhism; know them first, then move comfortably on to other Buddhist works.

- From Library Journal:
Rahula is a scholar monk who trained in the Theravadan tradition in Ceylon. His succinct, clear overview of Buddhist concepts has never been surpassed. It is the standard.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

by Christmas Humphreys

a Penguin book

some reviewers felt this has been surpassed in quality by more recent
overviews of Buddhism,
and one questioned the author's
involvement with Theosophy,
but his sincerity,enthusiasm and effort to be accurate were qualities mentioned in some reviews and also qualities i recall from reading it.

...this amazon reviewer echoes my sentiments with regard to the book:

"A Wonderful Book About Buddhism", April 3, 2000
Reviewer:jeremy shapiro "" (United States)

Shapiro:"This is a wonderful book about a great religion. It is clearly and beautifully written by a westerner who chose buddhism, rather than being born into it, and who founded and led the London Buddhist Society for many years. This is not a trendy, New Age version of buddhism; this is the real thing, containing the spirit of thousands of years of history in many different Asian cultures. Reading the book was an entrancing experience, combining intellectual fascination and intuitive experiences of beauty. Very little that we read or hear day to day presents us with genuinely new ideas, but Buddhism is the epitome of this; to westerners not yet familiar with it, Buddhism is really something new under the sun, a profoundly different way of looking at the world. Humphreys does an effective, uncompromising, but enjoyable job of ushering the reader through the necessary complexities so that, by the end, we really get it."

was one of the earlier books i
came across in my search,
and is a vauable one...
...but Rahula's is truly meat and potatoes(a bad buddhist metaphor,i know).

"help your brother with his raft...and lo!...
thine own has reached
the far shore".
merry christmas!


jwm said...

My wife practices Nichiren Buddhism with the Soka Gakai. They're the ones who chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.
I have no doubt that Buddhism is a true religion, and that the teachings of the Buddha are a true path to enlightenment. I have great respect for the religion. I did not mean to imply otherwise.

That is- I don't hold Buddhism at fault for not appealing to me, any more than I hold carrots at fault because I don't like them. I practised for a year. I read some of the Lotus Sutra (it's tough going). Much of the teaching I actually found of great value, but none of it touched me where I live. That's why I had to move on.