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Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

Trinities

I’ll start off the debate on trinities in various religions with a very simple (sceptical) observation:

I very much doubt it makes sense to pretend the various trinities in various religions can be equated. Father-Son-Holy Spirit is the Christian trinity and it says something about the relationship between the divine and each individual, as well as about how God relates to man. The son is said to have died for us, while the Father stayed immaculate, or something. The Holy Spirit is the one way in which God can communicate with normal human beings like us – and I would say it might (with a stretch) be equated with our Buddhi: that which mediates between the divine (Atman) and our ordinary personalities (kama-manas).

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sort of perplexing

The following passage seems to go against basic Buddhist thought- at least what i have heard- that there is no “self ” outside of the 5 skandhas, and what we experience as “self”  is nothing other than a coalescence of the stuff’s of the five skandhas, perhaps mixed with a bit of avidya. but here is a passage that seems to be saying otherwise, which seems to imply that there is something “other,” which actually maintains from life to life- another no -no, i thought, in buddhist philosophy. What do you think?

“According to tantric theory, the residence of the mind is not the brain, but the heart. The mind is said to reside in the indestructable drop at the heart chakra. There are two types of indestructable drop, on coarse, and one subtle.  The coarse drop is a coalescence of cells from the semen of father and ovum from mother, and the subtle drop is a coalescence of subtle levels of consciousness and subtle physical energies. The course drop is said to be “indestructible” because it endures throughout one’s life, from the moment of conception untill the final moment  of physical death. The subtle  drop is “indestructible” because it endures throughout all of one’s lives, from beginningless time and into the future, untill the time of enlightenment, at which point one’s body is transformed into the perfect body of a buddha.”

Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, by John Powers. page 295/6

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I’m getting into the sociology of modernity, for my bachelors paper. Anthony Giddens is one of the primary sociologists in that field. He wrote:

The problem for us – those who wish to see a cosmopolitan world prosper – is to reconcile commitment and skepticism.

(From Conversations with Anthony Giddens: Making Sense of Modernity, p. 132)

This is relevant to our discussion of religion versus spirituality, because spirituality often doesn’t have commitment at all. Spirituality is deeply skeptical towards any and all authority. Spirituality only implies a commitment to ones own spiritual growth, and perhaps to the development of quality relationships with other people, perhaps the world.

Religion on the other hand implies commitment to a specific tradition, perhaps a church. Religion in a Christian sense implies community building. Communities can be stifling in their judgement of certain behaviors, but they give a home as well.

Theosophy is somewhere between the two. Our lodges are meant as places for community building, but as Chris mentioned, sometimes they aren’t so open to outsiders. In fact, community usually implies a firm marking of ‘insiders’ versus ‘outsiders’. It does take work to become one of the insiders. Sects invest a lot in getting people to feel welcome and only show their ugly side when people are trying to leave. The TS does not make that mistake, but I do think it’s one of the duties of lodges to make newcomers feel welcome – which does mean that they should make a commitment to at least initiate a conversation.

How does skepticism fit into all this? It’s part of our modern lives that we mistrust all kinds of things we are in fact dependent on. The government is consistently mistrusted in the US, yet it obviously has responsibilities people depend on. The same goes for banks. They give people loan’s, and people trust in their own ability to pay them. They trust in the banks to be reasonable. That system got a big blow recently and the international stock markets are in turmoil because the trust is gone. When the trust is gone, there is less reason to invest – to commit.

Commitment builds trust. A relationship where both partners commit fully is one in which there is also likely to be trust. But it’s a gamble. The relationship doesn’t start out with trust on both sides. It starts out with a bit of trust – a bit of commitment – the dating system. At some point the jump to full commitment has to be made, in order for the relationship to succeed. But that is still a gamble: what if I commit and the other person is actually cheating on me?

Spirituality in its radical sense distrusts organizations to such an extent that there is no way people will make a long term commitment to a religious or spiritual organization at all. Many organizations therefor offer courses and retreats that only require a temporary commitment. Yet, like in any relationship, a spiritual organisation will give more back, if you do commit.

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Religion has a bad name in alternative circles. It’s associated with the Christian church and all it’s crimes (real and perceived). Religion is associated with dogma, stifling rules that don’t fit our day to day lives and worse of all: authority. A preacher to tell me what to do in my personal life? Never!

In my religion classes at Leiden University very different definitions of religion are taught. I’ll use a famous one by Clifford Geertz to sum up the point:

“Religion is (1) a system of symbols which acts to (2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.”

[Geertz wrote in 1966, just before political correct formulations would have replaced ‘men’ by ‘people’.]

The basic point here is that religion is that which gives direction to our lives, helps us establish priorities (consciously or unconsciously) and helps us understand our lives – in such a way that our worldview and priorities seem uniquely realistic.

That definition actually includes spirituality. We have symbols: Ying & Yang, the Buddha and the Tibetan flag (1). We have ideas about the universe we live in which often include: holism, karma, alternative health, aura’s etc. (3). These ideas about life and the universe seem real to us (4) and therefore the lifestyle that comes with them does too (2, 5).

The obsession with the difference between religion and spirituality comes, I think, from the bad reputation the Christian churches has with many of us. Religion has often been defined as ‘organised religion’.

Spirituality – taking place in yoga classrooms, alternative bookstores and retreats – is not organized in the same clear way. One can be spiritual within any religious system. The main thing is that one hasn’t settled for dogma’s, thinks for oneself and keeps ones own spiritual and ethical growth as a top priority (2).

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