Sunday, August 12, 2007

Is Religion Necessary?

I woke this morning to find myself trying to formulate a question for Thanissaro Bhikkhu, who leads his monthly session with our sangha this afternoon. Than Geoff, as I persist in calling him--I haven't been able to adjust to the more correct Ajaan Geoff (the abbot, rather than the monk) but nor have others in our group, and frankly it does not seem to concern him--Than Geoff asks first for questions after our hour-long sit, and this issue has been on my mind for some time now. I guess I'd put it as a request or an invitation more than a question, and it would go something like this:

Please talk a little about the threshold between meditation as mind-training practice and meditation as religious practice. At what point, if any, does it become desirable or necessary to step beyond the not-exclusively religious benefits of focus, concentration and mindfulness and into commitment to religion?

I do realize that this question arises from my own deep skepticism about religion. No need, here, to return to that old whine about having it thrust down my throat as a child. That's the emotional part. But I also have an intellectual predisposition toward disbelief. My mind will simply not reach into some imagined realm of continued existence beyond this life. And sadly, perhaps, the concept of an almighty and all-loving God who takes an interest in human affairs seems almost laughable to me in view of the realities of life here on the planet Earth and in the context of so unimaginably vast and unknowable a universe.

And while Buddhism seems to me admirable in not requiring faith in "God," in emphasizing the role of individual responsibility for one's life, and in teaching laudable human values, it leaves me asking myself why it would need to be practiced as a religion.

Was there a threshold of this kind, I want to ask Than Geoff, that you personally had to cross? And, if you did, did it take the form of some "Road to Damascus" moment? Or how did it happen for you?

I wonder if my curiosity derives from looking for such a moment for myself? And if it's the intellect that stands in the way of my ever finding it?


Mikael said...

Buddhism does require faith; a faith that inner peace is possible. And re legio, to rebind to (faith here too) one's unconditioned Buddha nature is at least one description of the dharma.

And yet it's also a form of self-help, a psychology, a praxis, and a discipline.

And it's also a philosophy, a world view that posits unity, life beyond death, etc. etc. (some might call this religious too) which has amongst at least some practitioners a well codified system of logic and in others illogic.

May we all awaken and be free

khengsiong said...

Meditation does not require faith, but Buddhism does. (Kind of agree with Mikael.)

It can be the faith in the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha; or it can be the faith in your own Buddha Nature.

And then there is the call for virtue, generosity, dispassion etc.

Without these supporting factors, one can still meditate, but will hit the wall sooner or later.

juvy Lyn said...

Whether we are in whatever religion or denomination, it really requires faith. Faith in the highest being that we really haven't seen but rather feel in our innermost being.