Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Familiar Stories

I'm in the midst of reading God is Not One by Stephen Prothero. I heard a good On Point podcast featuring Prothero and thought I would read his book. In short, he proposes that interfaith dialogue isn't helpful when we simply imply that God is one and the differences between religions aren't all the important. That's a brief summary, and I won't explore it further until I've read the whole book.

Today, I'm reading the section about Buddhism, and I'm finding the chapter somehow comforting. I took a class on Buddhism at Truman State University back in the day, and while the professor was a bit of a pompous ass, I thoroughly enjoyed the class as a whole. Each week we were given a different style of meditation to try, and we explored various "forms" of Buddhism. I did my final paper on the similarities and differences between Buddhist and Christian mystics. In any case, reading the basic story of the Buddha and being reminded of Dharma/The Way of Enlightenment has brought a sort of joy to me today. The best comparison I can make is the enjoyment I gain from re-reading a favorite book, or hearing a familiar story told again and again. My grandpa used to tell us bedtime stories about a talking white horse, and although the story didn't vary much, I looked forward to those stories as a child.

I write all of this and ponder the proper place for story and narrative in the teaching and preaching of Scripture. I fear, as I'm sure scholars more intelligent than I have already feared, that the ancient stories of Scripture are losing their familiarity in the midst of e-mailed stories that, while poignant, have no root in reality. I wonder about the over all effect of telling the same context-related stories year after year in sermons while leaving so many scriptural stories to sit on the pages of those enormous pulpit Bibles. As I walk on the journey with adolescents, I struggle to point them back to Biblical stories and realize that, when it comes down to it, their own stories carry more weight and authority, and if not their stories, the stories of their parents, or the preacher, or the ethics teacher, or heaven forbid, the youth worker (that would be me).

The irony of all this is that within the traditions of Buddhism, finding one's own way to enlightenment regardless of doctrine, sacred books, or even the gods themselves is valued. The last words of Siddartha (the Buddha) are reputed to have been: "Be lamps unto yourselves; work out your own liberation with diligence." Have we become a faith of Buddhists? Have we decided that we are, in fact, our own best authority? Do we expect scripture to find its way into our narratives rather than seeking to find ourselves in scripture's narratives? I do wonder.


Ron Krumpos said...

The true kinship of faiths may be best found in their mystical traditions. Here is a brief quote from my e-book:

Mysticism seeks to join, or unite, our inner self with the divine by spiritual disciplines of devotion, knowledge, selfless service, and/or meditation. What you do matters greatly to what you will become: that is divine justice. How you do it, through Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, or outside these faiths is important when it is the right way for you: that is divine law. One is Truth: true Reality transcends the boundaries of our beliefs. Thou art That: you are in the divine essence; you must be dedicated to fully realizing it.

Our religion may be right for us, nevertheless that does not mean billions of others are wrong. What of the 100 billion people who lived outside of our faith since the origin of our species? Religions do differ in approach, beliefs and practices, although the divine Reality they seek is the same. Their mystics used the words and concepts understood by followers of their faith, but these are just alternate ways of trying to express the One underlying Truth.

[Note: For mysticism in the Mahayana replace the divine with the Dharmakaya, or Buddha-essence.]