Sunday, March 5, 2017

Separating wheat from chaff.

Throughout recorded history there is evidence that agriculture began as far back as 20,000 BCE. For that long we have recognized that in harvesting grain, the good and the bad grew together, and it was necessary to separate the two in order to glean the good. Consequently numerous texts can be found that illustrate the practice of separating wheat from chaff for extracting the useful from that which is not.

I mention this as a means to illustrate a vitally important distinction between religion and spirituality. It is commonly accepted that spirituality runs through the core of religious thought, from any and all corners of our human global community. The issue of the day is to challenge this view. And the reason, for any serious student of history, is that religious dogma has perhaps never been as blatant a bludgeon as it is today. And religion is now being used as a means of political manipulation to appeal to the most base and egregious of human tendencies, all the while employing twisted thinking by using holy texts to justify really bad behavior.

So the question becomes: Can the purity of spirituality be extracted from the hull of religious trappings, that appear on the surface as pious? Is this a matter of a wolf in sheep’s clothing? And to answer that question all we need to do is reflect back to the answers of two of the greatest spiritual leaders of all time: Jesus and The Buddha. Without cherry picking scripture, but instead looking at the big picture, it is unavoidably clear that Jesus came into continuous conflict with the religious institutions of his day and often times was very critical of their hypocritical nature. The Buddha likewise castigated the religious institutions of his time and place by urging his followers to rely on what is good for one and all, instead of relying on religious institutions of holy men.

Ultimately economics, religious thought and politics run together like wheat and chaff. Can these matters be successfully isolated? Probably not, but it is instructive to do so momentarily and once looked at, bring them back together into the blended conglomerate they represent. Can we, as a human society honestly go forward with the attitude that a political/economic system that divides people into camps of haves and have nots be justified by quoting scripture? To do that requires mind numbing mental flip-flops that defy all reason. But yet that is what is taking place today.

The free enterprise system of economics is allegedly based on individual initiatives, but without integrating the element of morality into the mix, it descends downward into a disgusting slug fest of greed and selfishness. The buggy-man of the free enterprise system was Karl Marx who is known for his stance that, “Religion is the opium of the people.” He did not, however, say that spirituality was an opiate. Ultimately this comes down to a much more fundamental issue which is best expressed as a question: Is spirituality something we do, or what we are?

If you are of the mind, as many are, that our core nature is in need of an overhaul or renovation, and can only be cleansed by divine intervention, then perhaps there could be a place for a religious or spiritual practice that is foreign to the nature of man. On the other hand the alternative view is that we are fundamentally spiritual to the core, and no overhaul is required. Consequently there is no way of being human as “non-spiritual” beings. In this case the need is not one of renovation but clearing away the impediments that distort our thinking into conclaves of alienation, superiority and self-righteous obscurity. In other words clearing the mind of twisted perspectives that seem to justify self-centered behavior but instead move us toward rejoining the human family as indiscriminate vessels of compassion and love.

So then I return to the beginning matter of separating the wheat from the chaff. Is that a worthwhile endeavor? And if it is, then what does it mean to be religious yet not spiritual? Or, said differently, how can we best express our fundamental spiritual nature without diluting it with extraneous and dogmatic teachings that stand in the way.

One of the greatest Zen Masters was Rinzai Zen Master Bassui Tokushō (1327–1387), born in modern-day Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan

He said to his students (about reading scriptures and trying is glean understanding): “One whose dharma eye has truly been opened will know the original great wisdom. Why would he then have a strong desire to study? Delicious food has no value to one who has had his fill.” He went on to say, “First open the mind that reads and then you’ll know what you are reading.”

The bottom line: Religious texts can be (and often are) used as bandaids to justify bad behavior that stands in direct conflict with the heart of spiritual unity. Bassui was correct: the essential task is to cut through the dross that shrouds the purity of the human heart. Once that has become established, there is no need to keep reading, over and over religious texts that, at best are admixtures of wheat within chaff. Once your eye is clear you’ll be able to see what ought to be evident, but isn’t.
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