ego, emptiness

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:15 pm by Administrator

last week, I had a particularly difficult moment at work that I was unprepared for and that signaled a major change in store for me and for my team. it was definitely one of those moments that would have profoundly demoralized me, if not for meditation. but i did commit myself to meditation, to the search for a conscious awareness of my many reactions, and i observed something that was fascinating to me. i observed my ego. i experienced my ego as a separate entity within my consciousness. i observed its motions and emotions, and i perceived its agitations and thought streams. as strong as its urgency, frustration, and anger were, i felt these things as muted reverberations, as if i were watching a desperate man being interrogated from behind a one-way mirror.

as i felt my ego struggling within me and apart from me, i recognized how much it wanted to overtake my consciousness. it wanted me to act out its aggression, to emote, and to impose its emotional state on others around me. once upon a time, i might have thought of this as a necessary catharsis, an integrated sense of being. but this time, when i felt my ego clamoring to engage my senses and to have me fully, i felt an odd calm about it all. after all, i’ve seen this before. i know where it goes. so when my ego beat its hands upon the glass, its wretched shouting barely discernible through the thickness of the barrier between us, i crossed my arms in my place of stillness and decided instead to breathe. my ego wanted me to sweat, to cavort, to clamor, and to consume, but i chose instead to breathe, to enjoy my commute home, to linger in the shade of a tree, and to eat food that tasted wonderful. i chose to live the moment in front of me. strangely enough, the scene behind the plate glass window faded to black, and within minutes i could not remember what it was that my ego had so desperately wanted to say.

i have read about how yongey mingyur rinpoche overcome a panic disorder in his adolescent years with meditation, but it’s only now that i am beginning to personally understand the psychological power of meditative awareness. through the whole process of working through my work issue last week, i did not once experience real anxiety. i’ll admit that i was quite fatigued after my ego and its agitations subsided; it was a profound physical enervation that i had to sleep off. but i can honestly say that my state of mind was generally unaffected throughout the process. it is odd to say it this way, but i do feel that my experience of self-observation is becoming instinctual now. i do not simply react to what i perceive. i observe how i interpret what i perceive in real-time, and this allows me to understand how my ego translates the pressures and demands of its environment into concepts of identity. the act of observation aborts this identity formation; and thus the state of being that i come back to, time and time again, is empty. i am coming to love emptiness.

from time to time, i do tell myself what emptiness means to me. i find self-talk sometimes useful, probably because of my particular history with prayer. but now when i talk to myself, i talk only to me, the observer, and not to anything or anyone else that exists for me only as an idea.

i tell myself:

there is no monday
and there is no friday or sunday either.
there is no work day
nor is there an evening of reprieve.

today has no meaning
nor purpose for me to fulfill.
there is nothing for me to accomplish
nor any responsibility that defines me.

all that i do
i do because i breathe,
or because i eat,
drink, defecate, walk.

all of my work is what i speak
or how i listen.
it’s nothing more complicated
than this.

this moment is the gift
of the entire universe.
may i live a life worthy of it,
because it is enough.


all the little girls

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:26 pm by Administrator

I was in meditation this morning and observed myself, after many aborted attempts, settle upon an image. I did not interfere, because the movement of my thoughts felt somehow deliberate. it was a picture of my six year-old daughter crying in the middle of an empty street. time lapsed, and I saw her curl into a fetal position by the side of the road, her crying now silent, her sorrow now turned inwards. I saw her close her eyes. I sensed chaos and also apathy in the world around her. and I saw her life slip away, as she lay alone. I was not there with her. no one was.

there was a feeling that was triggered by the images, and I observed this too. because I did not identify with the feeling, the indignation and horror did not fully materialize. but there was beneath this flash of hot feeling another idea—that this young girl has lost her parents and died in silent suffering again and again, across the generations and all over the world. and I thought to myself, everything is empty, but that does not mean that all is without pain. I wish I could be to all the orphaned girls what I am to my own daughter—a person that sees their suffering and responds to it with love


crazy rich asians: the strange little story of michael teo

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:59 am by Administrator

black panther got rave reviews for being not only a great movie but also a game-changer in the discourse of race, and i understood that through and through. seeing a prosperous, technologically advanced, and visionary idea of africa up on the big screen moved me to emotion; it was important. it was a depiction of black people that starkly contrasted with the images of slavery, drug-related crime, and poverty that the american public has been fed about black americans by a racially biased entertainment industry.

crazy rich asians has sort of been hailed as a similar moment for asian americans. now that i’ve watched the movie, i get that—kind of. yes, it is a movie featuring an attractive and almost exclusively asian cast that is targeting the american public. asians aren’t nerding out or doing kung fu in this movie; they’re loving, kissing, and squabbling in all the ways that white people do in their versions of romantic comedy. it’s not perfect as a banner of the asian american experience (only one character is actually asian american, and the movie could theoretically pass as a chinese movie about singapore in which they happen to speak a lot of english), but a lot of woke reviewers out there are pointing out that it’s probably not a bad start—and asian-american actors and actresses will take it, assuming that its commercial success opens up better and more diverse roles for asian-ams in hollywood.

the movie was watchable and frequently fun. but of course i’m not going to talk much about the merits of constance wu’s performance (quite good) and the real pleasure of seeing michelle yeoh torture her future daughter-in-law with choice moments of utter indelicacy. i’m going to talk about something else entirely. because when it comes to judging the importance of the film, one cannot overlook the significance of a little sub-plot that i’d like to call “the strange little story of michael teo”.

running in parallel to the fairy tale story of “crazy rich asians” is a curious side-story/sub-plot that spans the full length of the movie and oddly shares none of the awkward comedy of the central plot. it is the story of astrid, a flawless paragon of a woman who is 1) kind beyond reproach, 2) fashionable beyond critique, 3) wealthy beyond imagination, and 4) basically in her own league. she happens to be married to a guy named michael teo, who is not of a wealthy background and is struggling to get his own start-up off the ground. we’re given enough context to recognize that the astrid-michael angle isn’t an arbitrary tangent from the main storyline; michael’s background as a “commoner” and nick young’s obvious admiration for astrid suggest that michael and astrid are intended to be a point of reference for the leading couple. perhaps michael, a plebe who married into the powerful Young clan, could turn out to be a possible ally for rachel, the protagonist who is also struggling intensely with her outsider status?

this context as well as the surprising seriousness of astrid’s and michael’s scenes suggest that their relationship is meant to provide a bit of anti-fairy tale realism to counterweigh (and inform) the theatrical romance evolving between nick and rachel. all is not peachy keen in the relationship shared by michael and astrid. (SPOILER) it is eventually revealed that michael is cheating on his perfect wife, and at the end of the movie, astrid summarily ends their relationship with a series of poignant lines—which comprise her character-defining moment of the film. these are also the lines that end up defining the unfortunate michael teo—entertainment media’s ongoing stereotype of the quintessential asian-american man.

now let me say that michael is asian man version 2.0. the media was all over the hunky men in this movie, and why wouldn’t they be? every asian guy in this movie was fit to be an underwear model, and michael teo was no exception. but every asian male character in this movie was also paper-thin, whether it was nick (a naive and well-intentioned rich boy) or oliver (an effeminate and keenly fashion-conscious best friend to a girl in need) or ken jeong (self-deprecating asian comedian). in this parade of familiar stereotypes, michael teo also plays his very specific role—as the real face of the asian-american man, when the jokes peel off and the fireworks of romance fade away. michael teo is the guy who cheats on his perfect wife because he’s insecure about her beauty and success; and rightfully so, he gets a tongue-lashing from his keenly perceptive soon-to-be ex-wife, who judges him a coward and calls him out for not knowing what it is to be a man.

now let’s be a little cognizant of societal context. black women and asian men are the two most sexually undermined cohorts in hollywood cinema. when they do have their romantic moments on the big screen, asian men are mixed-race (i.e. russell wong in joy luck club and henry golding in crazy rich asians) or strangely asexual (i.e. jet li in romeo must die). one might think that i’m blowing the astrid-michael sub-plot out of proportion, but i’m not so sure. i might argue that it “works” in the movie because it’s familiar and even resonant with the sensibilities of the american audience. we like our asian females elegant and sad like astrid, even as we like our asian men outwardly pristine but inwardly and pervasively weak. and it is in fact the weakness of the asian men that amplifies the exotic appeal of their female counterparts; if they’re so under-appreciated by their own men, perhaps asian women might be better served by the attentions of men in audience of other races?

in his final scene, michael teo is undressed before an international audience—and not in a way that highlights his washboard abs and his sculpted pecs. he gets exposed in a manner that seems as familiar as it is strangely disturbing. in contemporary storytelling, the empowerment of asian women is demonstrated by the shattering of an asian man’s fragile ego; and to see this play-acted in front of an american audience was admittedly difficult for me. i guess i’ll take the handsome half-asian lead man with the big muscles, in exchange for the sordid suggestion of asian-american male insecurity. but is that any different from all the decades of trading romance scenes for kick-ass kung fu action? it’s the kind of ambivalent trade-off i’ve gotten used to—as an ethnic side story to the main plot of american culture


the meaning of prayer

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:01 pm by Administrator

I slept very poorly last night. the questions and objections of yesterday fed my ruminating mind, and I could not be still. I wanted to confront God. I wanted to rediscover God. I wanted to step away from what I was; but I also wanted to find a wholeness rooted in what I have come from.

this morning, I remembered something important—that whatever it was that I once believed is what delivered me into this present time. it was my idea of the Christian God that propelled me into this exploration of the mysteries of meditation. it was as if the hand of God pushed me away from the context I was once comfortable with—a theological, biblical, communal context—and into this uncomfortable place, so that I would be forced to change. and there was, amidst all of this, a memory of something I once told myself and perhaps thought of as the voice of God, during a time of deep crisis. you’re right where you need to be. it is similar to something that I recently heard Eckhart tolle say: that the present moment gives us precisely what we require.

and so, I thought again of the prostitute who washed the feet of Jesus.

why the prostitute entered the house and washed the feet of Jesus remains a profound mystery to me. the more I think about it, the less I understand it. everything that she had learned about God and about His law from the scriptures should have terrified her. nowhere in the Jewish teachings was there the idea of a prophet or man of God who would have accepted her offering. she was unclean. she was out of place. the teachers of the law would have demanded her ritual purification; surely she should have expected to be exposed or even punished for entering the presence of a holy man with such impunity. at the least, she risked humiliation; perhaps even her life was at stake, given the history of unworthy men who faced God. and yet, she came to Jesus, touched his body, and related to him as woman to a man, plainly and with devotion, asking for nothing.

I could understand it if she was dying of a disease or losing a loved one; if this were so, then we could see Christ as her last and best hope. many people approached Jesus in this way, shamelessly and without fear of the consequences because of the desperation of their circumstances. but it was not so with the prostitute. she asked for nothing of him. and so the stakes of this encounter seem unreasonably high. she risked her dignity and perhaps even her life for something seemingly unimportant, perhaps even trivial to those in attendance. why would a woman with so much to lose commit herself to an action so brazen, when she had so little to gain?

like I’ve written previously, I think that what sets this story apart from almost every other recorded encounter with Jesus is the inexplicable connection that the two main characters share, a connection entirely missed or misperceived by everyone else in the room. I call this connection awareness. somehow, in spite of everything she had been taught about God, she recognized who Jesus was when she saw him from afar. her awareness of him led her to respond to him in a unique and transcendent way that Jesus in turn received not only as a blessing but also as a sign of her enlightenment. “your faith has made you well,” he says. these words are so poignant for me because they imply that it was not by an action of Jesus that she was restored or made whole; it was her awareness of his divinity that evidenced a wholeness she had already come into.

as the meaning of meditation is to understand self apart from preoccupation, it is the meaning of prayer to perceive God apart from all the identities ascribed to God, whether in truth or in falsehood. the power of the prostitute’s life is that she demonstrated a kind of prayer that her more educated and refined contemporaries were unable to exhibit despite their knowledge of the scriptures. in fact, one could argue that it was her exclusion from knowledge and power of this kind that allowed her the freedom to experience God apart from the systems and principles invented by man to define Him. prayer made it possible for the prostitute to see God at work in her society, and this is the miracle of the story, when one considers that most who met Christ failed to recognize Him and in fact participated in His persecution.

there was a moment this morning when I felt God—whether my egoic representation of God or something of God Herself—urge me to consider that the purpose of prayer is to enable true awareness of God. as the centuries pass and the ideas of the scriptures become less and less accessible, the importance of prayer becomes even more pronounced. I felt God urging me to remember that in those times when I had an intimate experience of Christ, I changed in the way that I perceived Him. in those moments of awareness of God, I understood how my theologies and philosophies had constrained my understanding of the living God, who is not an idea. this morning I felt God pressing me to remember that it is God who gave me meditation, because it is God who wants me to experience Her anew, because it is God who understands my suffering, and because it is God who wants me to be free of that pain. through the eyes of the prostitute, I remember now that God is one who is greatly misunderstood, and the words written about Him tell a story that cannot match the truth of what He is. She pushes gently to be understood for what She is; and so she offers to me the experience of prayer. I need not relinquish all I have learned. I can hold the ideas, interpretations, and misconceptions in my hand; i can recognize them for what they are. and, most wonderfully, I can choose to enter a space in which God is revealed, in spite of all these


elementary objections

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:14 pm by Administrator

I had a moment this morning when I felt a flash of anger and saw what it was. it was grief about losing something that has been so precious to me for my entire life. and this grief is manifesting itself in so many questions that I have had for many years. there have been no convincing answers to these questions. over the years, I have dismissed them as elementary objections. but they are not objections. they are sincere questions about a jealous god.

why did God let man kill and eat the animals he created, after the Fall? what did the animals do to deserve this?

why did God wipe out all of mankind save for Noah? if it was out of righteous anger, then does this action prove that God’s anger can exceed his capacity for forgiveness and compassion? and thus is God’s promise the only thing that restrains him from repeating this violence against mankind?

why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart so as to punish the Egyptians more profoundly? why kill their firstborn, including children, babies, and the firstborn of the animals? is God glorified when the full measure of his cruelty is revealed?

why were the Israelites commanded to wipe out the Canaanites that they encountered, including the babies, the young children, and the livestock? does God delight in the killing of infants and children?

why was such an onerous law mandated for the Israelites, only to be revoked almost in its entirety after the coming of Christ? was the Law actually intended to produce moral action? in the end, was anything in the Law intrinsically important to God? was the Law a misinterpretation of God’s expectations of mankind?

why did Jesus have to die for mankind? if it was to take on sin and God’s punishment of that sin, then what does the satisfaction of God’s wrath say about his idea of justice? is God truly content to overlook the sin of an evil man simply because he exhausted his wrath in the torture and murder of an innocent man?

if belief in Christ is the only path to salvation, then are we to believe that God had no interest in the salvation of the majority of the world’s population prior to the era of European hegemony and colonization? and then is it not justifiable to conquer, colonize, and torture the heathen if this is what is ultimately required to bring them to a life-saving faith in Christ? were the Crusades not justified? isn’t the conversion of souls by any means not merely defensible but entirely mandated, given the stakes?

how can any Christian of the dispensationalist paradigm justify any life occupation that it is not clearly and utterly devoted to the spreading of the Gospel to unreached peoples of the world? how can any American Evangelical who is not wholly devoted to this mission not invite judgment upon himself, by virtue of what he believes?

and for that matter, in the context of the worldview described by the saints, how can any lifestyle but that of a celibate full-time minister be justified, either by the conscience or at Final Judgment?

why do the biblical writers speak out against gay people? why do they not indict the owners of slaves? why do they relegate women to non-leadership roles in the church and in society? are women truly less than men in the eyes of God?

why does God predestine people to eternal torment, on account of a nature or a life that was of his design? does God delight in the punishment of the people that he chooses not to call his own?

what was the point of creating the world? was it to separate the wheat from the chaff, the chosen from the unworthy? was creation an exercise in producing life of varying value, so that the life of high value could be differentiated from the life that is meaningless?

if a good god can destroy what he loves most, then what indeed is goodness, and what is the nature of evil?

why does God require the worship of human beings? why do their burnt sacrifices please him? why does their devotion satisfy his requirements? why is their obedience to him—an invisible, untouchable, and unknowable god—the true reflection of their worth? is this because God values fear, docility, and an instinct for self-preservation above all other human qualities?

in the end, is it not true that what god and mankind share is the common experience of ego? the beasts of the field and the angels of heaven have no idea of themselves other than what they recognize before them, but god desires worship, and man craves god’s favor. is the image of god actually the ego, that relentless craving for immortality, worth, and power that drives us to build societies, create laws, and punish those who threaten our rule? are we not egoic men, made in the image of an egoic god? and is the biblical god not merely egoic but truly egotistical as well, by any measure of the imagination?


the ego

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:48 pm by Administrator

when I first engaged in meditation, I was primarily focused on coming to grips with emptiness and secondarily interested in controlling (and decreasing) my level of mental activity. I have been able to accomplish both, but more importantly I’ve discovered through meditation the reality of my ego.

for most of my life, I have been my ego. I have been my fear of death, my anxiety about failure, my hope for the future, my quest for worth, my experience of unworthiness, my self-expectations, and my fantasies of self-actualization and love. all of these were not simply ideas. I’m learning now that they were identities fostered by my ego in order to preserve and to enhance it. the ego seeks above all things to have power and control, and its quest for immortality is all-consuming. when given license to do so, the ego hijacks consciousness and becomes the totality of one’s life experience. save for certain intervals in my life when I abandoned the ego, I identified deeply with my ego, to the extent that I could not understand myself apart from it.

Eckhart tolle describes this as the “egoic” self, which I think is meant to distinguish this experience from “egotism”. egoic does not necessarily connote egotism; and in fact, individuals with a very low opinion of themselves are no less egoic than those with an inflated self-opinion. it is an overriding, conceptual, and insatiable sense of identity that generates both arrogance and utter humiliation. regardless of whether one is narcissistic or self-loathing, the nature of the egoic experience is the same.

this would all have sounded very abstract to me years ago, but the experience of my ego has not been an abstract one for me. when I meditate and I observe my tremendous anxiety about things I am anticipating, I have to recognize not only that these things are not yet realized but also that these things do not really pose a threat to my well-being. invariably, however, these things do pose a distinct threat to a specific self-perception I have—an idea of myself that is at once fragile and obsessively maintained, for no clear reason. for example, I have an occasionally recurring anxiety about the way my wife spends money, despite the fact that all evidence (bank and credit card statements) has repeatedly proven that I can find no fault or excess in her spending habits. it is a matter of fact that my wife is more frugal than I. at its root, this vague anxiety about her spending is neither real nor justified; it is a reflection of a deeper fear about what is mine and what I can control. it is the projection of an ego that does not want to be dependent on another person and that prefers to be in control over others—particularly over those with whom I am most vulnerable. this is the ego. it is senseless and without understanding, and what it craves in all situations and at all times is its self-preservation, prominence in my consciousness, and power over all things that threaten its ascendancy.

I have learned that I cannot fight with my ego for the sake of gaining awareness. the ego loves a battle, as it loves all things which directly challenge and perturb it. no, the way to be free of the ego is to coexist with it, as the patient observer. when the ego is engaged in conversation, it becomes speechless. when the ego is observed, it becomes paralyzed. the ego would prefer to be outright persecuted, criticized, or undermined, and certainly the Christian religion has given me many tools to battle the ego in these ways, which has only aggrandized its purposes and pains. nowadays, unworthiness and worth seem to me very much the same. they are ideas of self which equally serve the dictates of the ego. it is only when I relinquish the desire to be a better person that I become still—still enough to see this thing that craves my life and yet cannot fulfill it.

there are many interesting things that I have recently experienced. I saw “the miseducation of Cameron Post” with my mother and my son yesterday. I engaged in a probing conversation about racism and white privilege with my church yesterday. when I began this post, I set out to reflect on these things. but even in the midst of these experiences and the thoughts that they trigger, I can see that what is beneath so much of my life experience is this ego and my experience of it. I know that I will wrestle with it for the rest of my life, and even at the end it will tell me what I should fear, whom I should trust, and where I should hide all that I am so that no one can harm me. this ego is not a bad or evil thing. it is an idea of self, and it came out of the womb with me like a placenta that never separated from my body. it cannot survive without me, and so I regard it with some compassion. I would prefer to live without it, but it is attached to me for as long as I dwell in this form. so I carry it like a petulant child, like a tumor in my flesh, like a body of pain or, as the saints would have it, like a body of sin. one day, I will look down upon it, like the body I surrender, and I will recognize the work that it did in my being so that I might free myself of suffering. but for now, I simply observe, and I watch as it folds upon itself, all future, past, and spectacular rumination ever collapsing upon itself like a dying star, and in the furious radiance of its implosion, I see myself—the space that holds the light


what i have learned from Christ

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:30 pm by Administrator

there are moments when I look back at these past eight weeks and consider the change I have undergone. it has been transformative. I don’t live, speak, think, or breathe in the same way. I do not ruminate, and I do not experience longing. it is rare that I experience a strong emotion. my day is punctuated repeatedly by intervals when I interrupt my stream of thoughts and become relatively thoughtless, and this thoughtlessness can last for many minutes at a time. I used to move from one sound space to another, whether it was from one conversation to the next or one listening space to another. much of my day I now spend in silence. I do not listen to music, nor do I listen to the radio in the car. neither do I talk to myself or pray.

ideas that once infected me with passion now seem very remote. political controversies, the actions of the president, and news of natural disasters and crimes strike me as information but not as the engaging dialogues that I once experienced on a daily (if not hourly) basis. I do not really respond to a thing unless I am present with that thing, and indeed I feel unable to render an opinion about something that exists for me only as an idea. I would not call myself socially disengaged; I would say that I am now highly focused on what is in front of me, to the point that I don’t have the capacity or wherewithal to speculate on what is remote to my immediate experience. when I do observe myself struggling with an idea, I feel compassion for myself, because I see the path that my mind is taking and all the suffering that will result from it. this experience of observation and of the compassion I extend to myself in that moment is often sufficient to silence the mind.

in many ways, my experience of life nowadays reminds me of the year when I was on sertraline. for almost two years I suffered through a job that was soul-killing and terribly isolating, and for more than a year of that job I relied on an antidepressant to sustain me. the effect of sertraline on my consciousness was very pronounced; it curbed rumination, it prevented obsession, and it cut up my thoughts into discontinuous segments that were individually incapable of propelling mental momentum. I became boring to myself and a disengaged conversationalist. after more than thirteen months on the medication, I self-discontinued it because there was no joy in the life that it gave me. the withdrawal symptoms were terribly severe, but I remember waking up from that time of crisis with sudden emotional acuity. I mistook that emotional acuity for awareness. it was, in fact, reattachment to ideas that I was experiencing.

this chapter of my life is not like the time in my life when I was medicated, save for the interruption of thought and the lessening of emotional intensity that I experienced in that period. what I have now is a deep and restorative sense of the silent and untroubled moment. when I was on sertraline, that silent and untroubled moment was imposed on me, and I was fundamentally opposed to that, and I sought to use my mental machinery and conditioned responses to fill that empty moment. now, I seek the silent and untroubled moment, and when I embrace it, it is utterly sufficient to me. I would not surrender it for any thrill, for any reassurance, and for any sense of purpose at all. I hope that when I face my death, I can hold the moment as I do in my times of meditative awareness. it is truthful life, and it heals because it does not deceive.

the Christian tradition within which I positioned myself for many years did not afford me this view of self, but perhaps it did create the context for this transformation. when I think back on my long journey in the church and consider what it is that I actually learned from the example of Christ, I find that the answer is very simple: I learned that I am the cause of my own great suffering, and I require salvation because I cannot live into eternity as what I am. Christianity gave me a language to describe my fundamental insufficiency. in the context of that insufficiency (what I termed my sin), I saw the importance of that which transcends me, whether it is God, the church across time, or the universe of created things. I came to rely on Christ, He who takes the death out of my life, as the One who could reconcile me to myself and ultimately to others, that I might experience true peace. it is this Christ, I’m beginning to realize, that introduced me to the tradition of the Buddha, that I might find what I am looking for and be truly reborn.

there is within me a vague impulse to give thanks to Christ for this movement and for this deliverance. but even if I expressed that thanksgiving, I know that it would be unnecessary and to no end, because Christ surrendered his ego and does not require my acknowledgement, and neither does my ego require affirmation through the reciprocity of an interaction. so yes, I am thankful for the path I am taking, because I suffer less and understand more; but this is a thanksgiving that I direct to no one and for no purpose. it is a quality of the moment before me. this too I believe I have learned from the one who came before me and made little of his death and of his resurrection, though he knew it would change the world

the body of Christ

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:08 am by Administrator

the difference between buddhism and christianity, i’m coming to realize, is identity. and the question that this raises for me is this: what does identity offer that the emptiness of identity cannot?

i considered many possibilities. worth, for instance. but the buddhist can argue that while worth is an idea, it is also an implied truth, as all truly interconnected beings must sense the value of others. i thought of beauty. perhaps ascribing identity to a thing enhances the beauty of that thing? but the buddhist can argue that there is infinite beauty in a form even in the absence of identity; and in fact the true beauty of a form cannot be appreciated until it is viewed for what it truly is, in the context of awareness. what about purpose? perhaps a thing has no purpose until it is named with its function in mind. but this too can be disputed by the buddhist, who sees at once no purpose and infinite meaning in a life, simply by virtue of what it reflects about the entire universe. a thing cannot be understood apart from all of the elements that came together to form it. purpose is no thing to be achieved.

in the end, there was one conclusion i came to about identity. identity facilitates influence in a manner that the emptiness of identity (or absence of it) cannot. and by influence, i refer to influence in a broad sense (i.e. an influential person) and not in a transactional sense (i.e. influencing a decision or a conversation). the buddhist, by insisting on the essential equality of beings (not just humans but all forms of life), cannot privilege a human being in any conversation based on his or her social attributes or qualities. by contrast, the Christian is defined by his or her place within the community of believers; and in fact the biblical language of calling, of organs of “the body of Christ”, and of spiritual roles (i.e. apostles, teachers, and prophets) points to a fundamental differentiation of human beings according to their prescribed roles. there is within the Christian paradigm the distinct sense that identity is conferred so that a person’s specific influence can be realized within society, for the edification of that community.

i don’t mean to simply imply that Buddhist is a religion of individual contemplation while Christianity is a communal practice. indeed both approaches can inform both personal psychology and social structure. the difference between the two traditions resides in the way that they view the ultimate journey of human beings. the Buddhist maintains that humans come from a common source and will converge upon a common fate (unity), while the Christian believes that humans can and must differentiate, in this life and in the next, in order to reveal the proper order of created beings (integration). i do not believe that the Bible lends itself easily to a universalist theology or even to the aspiration of a unity with God, though a shared consciousness and an interdependence are possibly implied.

there are four key priorities around which buddhism and christianity find strong agreement: 1) awareness of truth, 2) a personal response to truth, 3) care of self, and 4) kindness to others. they disagree on the particulars—identity being among them (as in the identity of God and the identity of human beings). do these disagreements actually matter? this is conceptual only; and as such, the buddhist within me says it cannot matter, at least not in my experience of the present moment. i consider these words, all of them, futile. and yet, i am aware, in all awareness i can fall into, that this fixation with understanding is inescapable, because i still love the idea of Christ, if not the person Herself


outcomes and commitment

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:47 pm by Administrator

there was a dark and weighty thing at the root of my thoughts this morning, and when I sat with it, what I observed was the fingers of my consciousness reaching into the future and seizing an idea. it was an idea of how certain things should turn out. the grip that my ego had on this idea of an outcome was very tight and seemed almost obsessively so. but as I observed this—the restless movement into an undefined future, the stubborn sense of what must be accomplished—I felt the urgency of this notion dissipate. the fingers relaxed. the future, which does not exist, faded into unreality. what I was left with, as I sat in my car, was a knot in my chest that gently unraveled, allowing me to relax into a breath. I knew intuitively that this sense of the future would return again. I recognized that this is so frequently what troubles me: a specific idea of a necessary outcome, and the resultant inability to trust in a process of life that does not hinge upon my will.

I’ve been conditioned to go through life with a predetermined sense of outcomes for most things that I engage in. why embark on a path if it does not promise success? but in truth, life’s paths are never so straightforward. the challenge for all of us but particularly for those who take on much responsibility is to communicate truthfully a vision for the future that does not invalidate or distort the beauty of the present moment. this requires that we hold more lightly to these things that are ultimately conceptual.

I am beginning to understand that there is a difference between the Buddhist and the Christian when it comes to the understanding of commitment. for the Buddhist, commitment is not a matter of will but rather of intrinsic connection and even unity with others. the work of mutual identification and alignment is not as necessary as the work of personal enlightenment, which naturally leads to a sense of universal belonging. for the Christian on the other hand, commitment is demonstrated in the depth and strength of human interrelationship; it requires not only will but also self-sacrifice. the work of mutual identification is the substance of Christian community and results in personal transformation—the experience of a collective consciousness.

I cannot comment on which path is more correct. I can only say that commitment (even more fundamentally than community) is what differentiates these two traditions at a psychological and relational level.