Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Universal Religion?

One of my favorite forums for online philosophical discussion is the NonDualPhil (NDP) Yahoo Group. This morning I found an intriguing post about the commonality of all religion. The original source material is a booklet written by Dr. Frank Morales in 2005, entitled Does Hinduism Teach That All Religions Are The Same? A Philosophical Critique of Radical Universalism. "Radical Universalism" here is the belief -- common in Hindu/Indian spiritual groups -- that all religions are equivalent, like different paths to the same mountaintop.

The NDP post quotes Manju Gupta's approving review of Morales' essay, published online a few days ago as Hinduism: The universal religion. Here's the response that I posted to NDP today:

> Manju Gupta wrote...
> It is this radical universalism that promotes acceptance of all
> religions as same in order to lead us to unity behind our
> religious strivings—it is immaterial what religion one follows
> or whether one goes to a church, mosque or a temple.

This type of thinking is better than nothing... but why only a church, mosque, or temple? Why not a supermarket, casino, or whorehouse? It's hardly "radical universalism" if praying in a mosque is considered more True and Holy than, say, a round of miniature golf.

It's why I personally don't relate to much of this Indian-style teaching: the failure to note the Truth of ordinary, everyday life.

> One needs to have full faith in the religion that one has
> adopted to reach the highest truth.

The implication is that our just-now experience is somehow inferior (since it's not the "highest" truth, which must be "reached" through so-called religion). Why hold that idea?


nathan said...

Well, there is "Truth in everyday life" and there is "truth in everyday life". Metaphorically, there is nonduality and awareness and God or whatever in a supermarket, but there is also the National Enquirer, that is telling you that Jesus is hanging out with Space Aliens who will teach you how to use the universal power of The Secret Law of Attraction to manifest threesomes with supermodels.

In my own opinion, I think part of the reason the Indian traditions go ga-ga over this truth stems from them having such closeness to yoga--a lot of the visionaries are cultivating states and "psychic powers" all day long, when that's sort of overkill. Come on, you are a guru living off donations, you have some spare time to sit around and get blissed out. Those things can without doubt help us realize the non-dual is always present or however you want to phrase it--if you can do that "astral projection" crap or whatever you can also turn all that mental power into just being in the moment, moment-to-moment, or however you want to phrase it as opposed to getting lost in it--but when you have a tradition that focuses on cultivating those powerful abilities, you tend to get some bleed-through into the texts and teachings.

That, and "radical universalism" also just isn't true. Are the Southern Baptist megachurches with parking lots full of shiny new HELOC-financed SUVs cultivating* that truth while they sit and wait for JC to show up "in the moment"? By definition everything is in the moment, but from a practical perspective, do you earnest believe they've cultivated the discovery of that moment? But then again, you could say the same for about three out of five of the people sitting in major retreat centers

*I'm using the word cultivate because it's like tending a plant. you don't make a plant grow, it just does, but you can obviously do things to make it more or less likely to grow.

Stuart said...

Nathan said: "radical universalism" also just isn't true.

Many thanks for contributing your voice here, Nathan.

For sure, different religions promote different ideas and opinions. Then again, there's something about our just-now experience that's not dependent on ideas and opinion, something that transcends "same" or "different."

You and I probably share the opinion that "correct practice" is cultivating attentiveness to each moment... rather than hoping for some future salvation (like "enlightenment" or "heaven" or "Jesus' 2nd coming"). Still, maybe that's just a shared opinion.

I like to look at beliefs as I'd look at medicines, or tools. It's not like insulin (or a chainsaw) is true/false or good/bad. It's helpful to particular people in particular situations, but not in others.

For my own situation, practicing with fundamentalist Christians would be horrifying. Yet I try to remember that these beliefs that are so unappealing to me... not only give comfort to millions of others, but inspire great acts of charity. When a Katrina hits, I believe that fundamentalist Christians end up donating a lot more than meditating Buddhists.

I can follow the practices that appeal to me personally. I can try to articulate my perspective to others... because sometimes the "medicine" that's worked for me might be helpful to others. I never know for sure.

nathan said...

That's all sound, and I don't like to beat up on the fundies that much... there are even fundies tuned into nonduality in their own fashion, and without doubt they do a lot of service to their communities. That, and there are plenty of folks who I wouldn't wish meditating on, because it sucks sometimes.

There are some things you can only describe as a "spiritual experience" or "psychedelic experience" or far-out or whatever, but as we've said they're no more or less "enlightened" than, e.g., sneezing... they're just more interesting, and I think that's how people get stuck. You see it in Christians, New Agers, (usually Western) Buddhists, etc. It's surprising that even though they way they occur is pretty predictable and follows a pattern across traditions, people still think it's special. Some schools, like some Sri Lankan and some Thai Theravedins, and Tantra in Hinduism and Vajrayana, use the cultivation of the "psychic powers" and far-out experiences as the basis from which they get in touch with non-duality: you'd never hear them going ga-ga over some "experience", since it's at best just a confirmation and everyday for them.

Stuart said...

there are even fundies tuned into nonduality in their own fashion

Sometimes I have a sense or insight that the universe is always in perfect balance and harmony. And I realize that people who believe "God takes care of everything" arrive at a similar perspective.

and there are plenty of folks who I wouldn't wish meditating on

Also... I realize that meditating is an inner process. I may be sitting with the intention of simple awareness moment to moment, and the person next to me may striving to get some special experience. Even though our practice looks identical on the outside, our direction has little in common.

they're no more or less "enlightened" than, e.g., sneezing... they're just more interesting, and I think that's how people get stuck.

For me, the benefit of working with a Zen teacher isn't so much that he helped me get special experiences. It's that after I got such an experience, he helped me see it as a "passing cloud," and return to the truth and function of ordinary, everyday mind.