Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sin, Suffering, Satan and Samsara

My church pastor has a copy of the book, Living Buddha, Living Christ on his desk.  My father recommended that book to me in 1995 when it came out.  I have a copy by my bedside.  In attending a Christian church regularly for the first time in many years, I am working with my cultural tradition in the context of my blended spiritual practice.  

One of my yoga teachers, Cara Sax, has been talking to her students about the yama and the niyama in the Yoga Sutras.  The yama and the niyama are the “do’s” and “don’ts” of the yogic path.  Yama means “abstinence” and niyama means “observance.”  To me these teachings are very similar to the Ten Commandments in the Bible.  From the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, as translated and presented by Sri Swami Satchidananda, Sutra 30 reads: “Yama consists of non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-greed.” Sutra 32: “Niyama consists of purity, contentment, accepting but not causing pain, study of spiritual books and worship of God [self-surrender].”

I am grateful beyond measure for the wonderful teachers God is bringing into my path, from traditions that are rich and varied.  I have tried to explain to Christians how my practice is not so much about the worship of various deities.  It is more about devotion to God and dedication to uncovering spiritual truth and applying it in my life.  It is more about having faith that through practice, God may lead me into more wisdom.  Most of all, it is about getting closer to God and allowing more love and compassion into my life, so that I may share it with myself, my family and the world. 

I have never felt that learning about the Buddha and his teachings was a betrayal of Christ.  If anything, I feel that I can come closer to seeing Jesus in this way.  Particularly with the practice of yoga, I feel that worshipping God and organically integrating God’s spiritual laws into my life becomes easier.  Attending church and reading the Bible is wonderful; singing God’s praises in church is beautiful; practicing yoga is another form of worship and spiritual communion that can only enhance my beliefs.

When I hear about “sin” and “Hell” and “Satan”, I immediately think of what Buddhists and yogis speak of simply as “suffering.”  I think more specifically about avidya which translates as “ignorance,” and samsara which is the cycle of birth and death in which we are trapped without spiritual enlightenment.  All of these are words, and in the realm of Spirit, words are not only unnecessary; words simply fail.  I may prefer to use the words “suffering” and “ignorance” rather than sin or Hell.  Others may prefer the cultural concept of sin and they may want to personify the causes of suffering into a spiritual being they call “Satan.”  I cannot ever say with certainty that they are wrong.  In the same vein, I may prefer the word “enlightenment” while someone else likes to refer to “salvation.”  “Heaven” is a lovely word, but I like the word “Nirvana”; is it because it is more exotic?  I think it is because Heaven is such a culturally loaded concept that it has lost meaning for me. 

This sort of discussion tends to fire up a lot of Christians, and also many other people who are committed to the doctrine of one specific tradition.  They may say, “Salvation is a distinct concept and it needs to be embraced as such,” or they may say, “If you don’t believe in Satan he has you trapped.” Others may say, “Nirvana is nothing like Heaven.  They are entirely separate spiritual concepts.” Everyone is right, because these are words attached to ideas, born of cultures and traditions and written about by human beings.  And all of us, within this culture, are a bit like the blind leading the blind because our specific culture is so far removed from the ancient traditions we are attempting to follow. This is why I am committed to finding the commonality in all of these beautiful traditions and adhering to the universal, simple truths that each contain.  This is what we as humans are being called to do now, on this Earth, to bring salvation to ourselves and to our planet.

Here is what I am finding, personally: God is love. We call God by many names, but the name of God is sacred and hidden.  God takes away our suffering. God also allows us to learn through suffering.  God within us makes compassion possible.  We each have God within us.  God never leaves us.  God is always present: omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient.  Jesus Christ is God made man, and come into the world to ease our suffering.  Jesus was a real incarnation of God, and his spirit remains with us. There have been and will be other incarnations because of God’s great love for us.  (This last point is my major heresy as a Christian, although I have many others). 

Because I have God within me I do not fear death, Hell, sin or Satan.  I do not feel that I have to wholly embrace any religion or doctrine, though I feel compelled to respect them all. 

I am not surprised that my path has led me to study interfaith ministry formally, and when my seminary studies begin in January, I will certainly post more here about them.  I leave you with this Judeo-Christian blessing:

May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you,
and be gracious unto you.
May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you,
and give you peace.