My evolving views on God, faith and spirituality

Since a few years ago, after a major life event, I’ve been on this path of reconnecting with my spirituality. I was raised Catholic, and I was very happy to rediscover Catholicism as a grown-up… It was nothing like the faith I learned when I was in elementary school. I was fortunate to be with my (now) wife through her faith journey; although she was baptized Catholic, she had not received her sacraments. So when we decided to get married, she wanted to go through the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), and I was happy to join her in that journey…

I learned so much: I learned that Catholicism is a mature faith, mature and secure enough to accept that science is compatible with its beliefs, and that God gave us intellect to explore the world. I also learned that you may not agree with everything the church says, and the church will still love you; just like in a relationship, you may not agree with everything your spouse says or does, but you still would give your life for them.

So that put me at peace with my faith, and I was blessed to be able to marry in a Catholic church and fully live my life as a Catholic again.

But this inquisitive mind wanted more…

And here’s where Eastern influences come in. Since I was in college, I’ve been practicing Aikido, sometimes called “The Art of Peace”; it’s a defensive martial art, and its name literally means “The Path of Harmony with the Universe” (Do=Path, Ai=Harmony, Ki=well, Ki means a lot of things…)

That’s when it started to get tricky. Because this whole concept of Ki, of The Universal, as Koichi Tohei calls it, sounds an awful lot like the God of Raimon Pannikar, or of Teilhard de Chardin… Shinzen Young equates Ki, or Chi, with the Holy Spirit, and with impermanence. Go figure.

As I practiced Aikido (never particularly well, sadly I have not yet been able to dedicate myself enough to earn a black belt… it could still happen!), I started noticing these moments of peace. Whether it was “flow”, when techniques happen to be perfectly executed (rare!), or whether it was a couple of words of wisdom from my Sensei, slowly but surely I started to notice that there was a more fundamental peace that emerged from practice.

And since Aikido is sometimes called “Zen in Motion”, I started learning about Zen, and reading about D.T. Suzuki, Suzuki Roshi, and Father Robert Kennedy Roshi (yes, Jesuit priest and Zen Master… cool guy!)

This led me to learn more about Buddhism in general, to listen to Dharma podcasts from the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, CA, and to read “The Joy of Living” by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche.

All very intellectually stimulating, but still a parallel path from my Catholic faith. So over the past two years, I find myself going to Catholic mass on Sundays, listening to Buddhist podcasts during the week in my commute, and generally trying to follow the precepts and meditating whenever I find the time.

Now I’m trying to put this whole puzzle back together. I am not a theologist, and much more brilliant minds have tried to explain this whole Thing with capital T. But here are my conclusions so far (illuminated in particular by Shinzen Young’s “The Science of Enlightenment”):

1) God is an emergent property of the Universe. It is not a guy with a beard.

1a) So when we pray to God, or the Saints, or the Virgin Mary, we are really praying to each other, to ourselves. We are all, collectively, every particle and vibrating string in the universe, God.

2) Based on the findings of quantum physics, it seems reasonable to believe that consciousness creates matter and energy. It “wills it” into existence by putting its attention on it. Before focusing conscious attention on a particle, it only exists as a probability field. Weird, but true (check it out).

3) The separation between self and others is an illusion. This means that our individual conscious selves are actually one universal field of single consciousness, or One Universal Consciousness (OUC) for short…

5) The universe creates itself and gives itself consciousness in an ongoing path towards oneness. Once we reach that point, I guess we are back to the Big Crunch, and we start all over again.

5) OUC=God. Our consciousness is really the God that we pray to. And it wants to go back to oneness, hence it is a God of love, of unity with all beings.

6) So what about enlightenment? Enlightenment means simply being able to perceive these universal truths about oneness directly, without intellectual processing.

This is as far as I’ve gotten so far. This is the first time I try to articulate all this, so it’s probably not very coherent, but my engineering mind wants to understand and organize.

May all beings be happy and free from suffering. May God/Us/OUC bless us all, help us realize oneness.

Our Father / The Dharma

I write this with the utmost respect for my Catholic tradition. Thank you God, for letting us experience Buddhism on this Earth.

Once you think about it for a while, you realize that we are all praying to the same God, and that our Christian tradition just makes connecting to The Universal more personal, more accessible. But the moral imperatives are the same, and I think what we believe is less important than how we act.

Here it goes, with great respect:

Our Father/
One Universal Consciousness
Who art in Heaven/
Which makes existence possible
Hallowed be Thy Name/
May we recognize it in everything
Thy Kingdom come/
May every being be enlightened
Thy Will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven/
May we all be bodhisattvas of compassion, every sentient being in the universe
Give us this day our daily bread/
May we follow the Middle Way
And forgive us our trespasses/
May we be compassionate with ourselves
As we forgive those who trespass against us/
May we be compassionate with others
Lead us not into temptation/
May we stay present, and not deluded
But deliver us from evil/
May we stay away from greed and hate
Amen/
And may we see the dharma -these universal truths- clearly in everything that surrounds us.

We are all superheroes

In movies, superheroes (or action heroes for that matter) are always saving the world with seconds to spare. And Hollywood has trained us to consider that cool and exciting.

So, in the real world, and without really noticing, we start living our life with seconds to spare.

We wake up in a rush, already late for work. We run through red lights, and try to text or email as we drive to the office.

We squeeze in an extra 30-second conversation in the hallway, on our way to another meeting.

We email while we are on the phone.

Why? Because that’s what heroes do. Have we ever seen a hero just sitting there, meditating for 20 minutes? That would not be a very popular action/adventure film.

Many movies have the “training sequence” too, where the hero spends some time with a master (preferably in a remote monastery in Asia) learning amazing martial arts techniques. However, this sequence is captured in about 3 minutes in the movie.

In real life, to be able to perform like an action hero, we need training. And it turns out that this training requires slowing down, quieting the mind, meditating and putting compassion first. And it takes years to master.

It may not feel like a fast and furious action sequence, but those are the sources of true happiness.

It’s time to stop living our life like a movie, and just live life as it truly is.

Everything else is just delusion.

Teaching the Dharma to Gordon Gekko

How do you teach the Dharma to Gordon Gekko?

A person that’s very close to me unfortunately idolizes greed, hate and delusion.

“Greed is good”, Michael Douglas’ character said in the movie “Wall Street”.

I’m not sure where one would start. But if you truly believe in the promise of liberation, then there must be a path.

I don’t think he’s a bad person; I just think that he’s unhappy because he craves more. He has no peace. He is continually angry. And I would like him to be happy.

I’m just worried that if I bring up any of this, he’ll discard it as a bunch of hippie crap.

What would Gil Fronsdal do? I think he would find a sliver of compassion, or joy, or something, and then start pulling. Like a loose thread in an old sweater.

And once there is enough thread, you can start knitting a different pattern.

Maybe it’s children, maybe it’s sports, maybe it’s just having lunch and not speaking about anything in particular. Maybe it’s just sharing the joy of the small things, without bringing up any of this spiritual stuff. That would be a start.

I am reminded of those words sometimes attributed to St. Francis of Assissi: “Preach the Gospel at all times, but only use words if necessary”.

Minimalism is hard

I’ve been following several minimalist blogs lately, and I think the message of “less stuff will make you happier” is sound. However, I still find myself right before Christmas, running around and getting presents and fretting about whether loved ones will have “enough” under the tree.

It’s hard to break old habits; at the store today, I was thinking that we have moved our music purchasing online, so giving CDs for Christmas is not a particularly practical gift. At the same time, a gift card seems so impersonal… Somehow we have to digitize our gift giving in more meaningful ways, to stop the material consumerism.

It’s not necessarily to consume less, but at least if we’re buying virtual goods, the impact on the earth is smaller… So this could be a first step.

Perhaps in the future we’ll all be sitting in tents, wearing one robe that self-cleans itself constantly, with electronic implants that let us enjoy our digital posessions with no impact to the environment.

In the meantime, we have a lot of wrapping to do…

Link

Missives from the Ice – A Catholic chaplain in the South Pole

Monsignor Steven Rosetti has been blogging from Antarctica. I love this post about impermanence:

“All of us here are working.  When you chat with people, which I do regularly as the chaplain, they say they spend their days mostly working and sleeping.  They enjoy the rugged beauty and the adventure, but they also look forward to the date they leave.  Antarctica is not home to any of us.  It is too inhospitable.  We are all passing through.

But isn’t that true for all of us?  We have an illusion that we are permanent residents of this earth, but we are not.  We are just passing through.  We would like to hold onto things, make life permanent.  But time passes quickly, and even more quickly as we age.  grandparents and parents pass on.  Then its friends and family and other loved ones.  New ones come along.  Everything changes and our day is quickly passing.”

Link

The moon cannot be stolen

I really like this koan:

Ryokan, a Zen master, lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening a thief visited the hut only to discover there was nothing to steal.

Ryokan returned and caught him. “You have come a long way to visit me,” he told the prowler, “and you should not return empty-handed. Please take my clothes as a gift.”

The thief was bewildered. He took the clothes and slunk away.

Ryoken sat naked, watching the moon. “Poor fellow,” he mused, “I wish I could have given him this beautiful moon.”