Saturday, October 01, 2005

all exist in this crazy samsaric realm

Hildebrand Road has inspired me to share some ghost stories. Now I cannot promise anything freaky or bone chilling, or, I hate to say it, even remotely macabre or eerie - but I think I have a tale or two to share this weekend. Before I do, I think it only makes sense that I share my position on ghosts, angels, demons and the like.

As many of you know, I "converted" to Buddhism (took refuge for us Buddhist folk) and I have aspired to weave this into my blog every once in a while (and not as much as I'd like either!) Let me first say that it takes quite a bit of time to let it all bleed together, to blur the boundaries between the way I look at the world, and the way I want to look at the world. There were a number of reasons why I took refuge. The most obvious being that Buddhism makes the most sense to me - and in some ways I was able to put a name to an orientation to the world that I always seemed to hold.

I was raised in a predominatly secular household. My parents christened my sister and I when we were infants (mostly due to family obligations I suppose) otherwise, we spent very little time in church. I did recieve a treasury of Bible stories - and I had the same book read to me every morning in grade one before classes begun. I fondly remember that actually. I went to Vacation Bible School and some youth groups. When I was older I attended church with neighbours. I never felt at one with things. Jesus was always a little distant from me, and then there were those areas that my parents and I explored at home that clearly did not fit: magic, ghosts, reincarnation, spirit possession.

When I was a teenager my dad, of all people, encouraged me to read Shirley MacLean's Out on a Limb. This was a decidely important thing he did - I spent most of that summer journaling what I had read there and how it really made sense to me. Although Out on a Limb was not anti-Christian in the least, the questions that the book raised, and the perspective that it took about the Bible and Jesus did not fit with the traditional theology that I encounted in my community. That incongruity resulted in a good deal of bitterness towards contemporary Christianity (And what I am now able to label as Right Wing Fundamentalism).

It took me a long time to learn that Christianity encompassed much more than that. Through the writing of Bernard Lonergan, Thomas Merton, Julian of Norwich, Thomas Aquinas and even Iris Murdoch I uncovered theologies I could resonate with. Being an intellectual Christian is hard to sustain I figure. It did not sustain me (and nor did I choose to work on it).

I still feel an intense amount of tension and sometimes anger towards Christianity. I work though it - at least trying to be hyperconscious of it. Its accomplished wonderful things, and uplifts amazing people. I try not to lose sight of that. What made my transition to Buddhism all the more possible for me is that I did not have to deny the worldview that I was already steeped in. Being a Buddhist still affords acknowledging Jesus and God. I do not try and abolish it, or deny that these beings are pure fiction. I am not trying to adopt and accept a new cosmology while simultaneously working to deny another. They all fit together very nicely actually. So, when it comes to ghosts and spirits, I am in fact very open to this. God, Brahma, Jesus, Avalokitesvhara, angels and demons all exist in this crazy samsaric realm. I dare not go any farther than this - for it is certain that I have little understanding of how beings in this universe are ordered and organized.

But that is a mere taste of how I come to understand these things...


McSwain said...

Something I enjoy much here in "blogosphere" is finding the things that those of us (particularly moms)who have different religious beliefs have in common. Which is why I, a Christian, enjoy reading folks like you, a Buddhist, Susan at Friday Playdate, etc. I enjoy the dialogue & different points of view.

Pirate said...

I found you through Cheryl and hope to read more of your thoughts. Thanks.

hotboy said...

That was dead interesting! Perfect Sunday morning fare (10:30a.m.)! When you don't really believe in anything (maybe except your basic ignorance), it becomes very liberating. You can believe in everything and nothing, kind of. I do and don't believe in ghosts. You've got to have an open mind, eh? Great post though. Hotboy

Mary P. said...

If asked, I call myself a Christian, but I confess it doesn't fill my consciousness the way it did in my teens, when everything I did centred around this focal reality. There are, as you say, truly good Christians out there, and much good has come from Christian values. (Canada's health care system, for an example close to home for me, was pioneered by a devout Christian politician, Tommy Douglas, directly inspired by his faith.)

I admire Jesus immensely. He was a tremendous role model: compassionate and strong, a social radical who nurtured the outcast and challenged demeaning norms, who raged against injustice and hypocrisy.

Much evil has come from the perversion of Christian values. My firmly held belief is that, were Jesus to arrive on earth today as he did 2000 years ago, it would be the Religious Right who would crucify him - just as they did last time! The more things change...

I've read a few books on Buddhism, because it interests me, and there is much wisdom there.

Do you have a suggestion for a book on Buddhism suitable for someone with only a basic understanding of the - philosophy? religion? faith? - subject!

Heather said...

Hi Mary -

I couldnt agree more with you regarding Jesus. I am afraid he has lost his marginal/renegade identity in modern times. I think he is THE central figure...I digress..

Book recommendations (galore!!)

There are many good ones out there - these are my favorite

A good General Introduction:
The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching by Thich Nhat Hahn

Good Intro to Tibetan Buddhism
Indestructible Truth by Reginald Ray

Good Intro to Meditation:
Turning the Mind in an Ally - Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

History: Buddhism in the West:
How the Swans Came to the Lake
by Rick Fields. (This is not dull and dreary hisotry - it reads like any epic adventure)

And Buddhism in daily life
Anything by Pema Chodron. The Wisdom of No Escape being my favorite.
The Places That Scare You also really good too.

I'll look for your review shortly ;)

Stephen (aka Q) said...


This is a very interesting post. Mary P. called my attention to it, knowing that I am deeply interested in religion, and I have investigated Buddhism a little, in addition to Christianity.

I am reading Nhat Hahn's The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching at present, and I posted an excerpt from it here. The Three Pillars of Zen by Philip Kapleau Roshi is another book that I found very helpful, along with Karen Armstrong's biography of Buddha.

You've read Bernard Lonergan?! Those are deep intellectual waters!

My experience is similar to yours, to a point, but I have remained a (very liberal) Christian.

I was an evangelical for fifteen years before I suffered a crisis of faith. It took some years before I passed through the spiritual turbulance: that is, before I was confident that my faith had survived, albeit in a very different form.

If there is one thing in your post that I have reservations about, it is your apparent syncretism.

Christianity and Buddhism are not the same (as I'm sure you know). Resurrection and reincarnation are two quite different doctrines. To give a second example, Christianity holds to a linear view of history, very distinct from the endless cycles of Buddhism.

I don't know that it is wise to blur such distinctions. By allowing each faith to be totally itself, we are given two distinct vantage points from which to examine the world. Each faith offers insights that the other cannot provide.

In other words, my concern is that if we blend Christianity and Buddhism together, we are spiritually poorer than if we allow each to speak for itself.

Maybe you believe that too, or maybe you think there are advantages to emphasizing the commonalities between the two faiths. I'd be interested in knowing more detail, since you've offered us only a mere taste here.