The January 2008 edition of Shambhala Sun magazine includes a story on where Buddhists and other spiritual contemplatives fit with the struggle between two extremes: religious fundamentalists and the atheists who seem to be gaining popularity lately by taking an equally extremist view in the opposite direction. Here are a couple of quick thoughts from the story:
In Mind, Matter, or God? Zen teacher Joan Sutherland Roshi talks about the pillars of Zen — great faith, great doubt and great perseverance.
“These three pillars depend on each other and have equal weight. For example, you can’t have great faith without great doubt. You can’t just take things for granted without being willing to discover what your own experience tells you. If great faith is more than important than great doubt, as it is in many spiritual traditions, then great doubt would be undermining. But if the two go hand in hand, then something quite different occurs.”
At least in my own experience, doubt simply wasn’t allowed, especially as it pertained to the core teachings. While I tried to put equal focus on faith and perseverance, it was the doubt and a rigid dogma (that left no room for interpretation or dissension) that eventually forced me to seek my own path.
Truth is, there are a number of Christian traditions that not only make room for doubt, but that also encourage it as part of the contemplative process, including the Unitarians. (The story goes on to quote Rev. Robert Hardies, senior minister of All Souls Church, a Unitarian congregation here in Washington.)
The story also included Mary Jo Meadow, a secular Carmelite who actually applauds Sam Harris (The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation) for denouncing cultural beliefs in a jealous, tyrannical and egocentric God. Her take on modern religion mirrors my own experience from years past.
“Most of what passes for religion, Meadow believes, is ‘simply a group projecting their own image onto the concept of God and worshiping themselves’ …But in Meadow’s view, contemplative religious practice transcends the egocentrism and cultural centrism — as well as the irrationality and superstition — that can infect even the most earnest quest for ‘the ultimate.'”
Radical stuff for a Catholic, huh? But there’s real truth in what Meadow has to say.