Tag Archives: Religion

Neuroscience tells us the thing we take as our unified mind is an illusion, that our mind is not unified and can barely be said to “exist” at all. Our feeling of unity and control is a post-hoc confabulation and is easily fractured into separate parts. As revealed by scientific inquiry, what we call a mind (or a self, or a soul) is actually something that changes so much and is so uncertain that our pre-scientific language struggles to find meaning.

Buddhists say pretty much the same thing. They believe in an impermanent and illusory self made of shifting parts. They’ve even come up with language to address the problem between perception and belief. Their word for self is anatta, which is usually translated as ‘non self.’  One might try to refer to the self, but the word cleverly reminds one’s self that there is no such thing.

When considering a Buddhist contemplating his soul, one is immediately struck by a disconnect between religious teaching and perception. While meditating in the temple, the self is an illusion. But when the Buddhist goes shopping he feels like we all do: unified, in control, and unchanged from moment to moment. The way things feel becomes suspect.


Then there is the odd privilege of existence as a coherent self, the ability to speak the word “I” and mean by it a richly individual history of experience, perception, and thought. For the religious, the sense of the soul may have as a final redoubt, not as argument but as experience, that haunting I who wakes us in the night wondering where time has gone, the I we waken to, sharply aware that we have been unfaithful to ourselves, that a life lived otherwise would have acknowledged a yearning more our own than any of the daylit motives whose behests we answer to so diligently. Our religious traditions give us as the name of God two deeply mysterious words, one deeply mysterious utterance: I AM. Putting to one side the question of their meaning as the name and character by which the God of Moses would be known, these are words any human being can say about herself, and does say, though always with a modifier of some kind. I am hungry, I am comfortable, I am a singer, I am a cook. The abrupt descent into particularity in every statement of this kind, Being itself made an auxiliary to some momentary accident of being, may only startle in the dark of night, when the intuition comes that there is no proportion between the great given of existence and the narrow vessel of circumstance into which it is inevitably forced. “I am Ozymandias, king of kings. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.”


“I’m not an atheist and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God.”

~ Albert Einstein

I need a reset button. Haven’t been following the path lately & have been suffering and perhaps unknowingly, causing suffering. My spirit needs rebuilding, here’s where I’ll be turning to revive.

We have karma which ripens as internal karma and some which ripens as external karma. The opportunities which come to us in life are like doors which open or close for us. This is the ripening of external karma. Our response to these opportunities is critical and is predetermined to some extent by our own internal karma.

The opportunities which come to us in life are very interesting in their own right and we fail in general to truly see them as they are. They reveal a lot to us about the nature of karma. As we grow up we become interested in certain things and yearn for progress in some of them, such as mathematical skill or artistic ability. Some things we succeed in just as if a door is being opened for us. In some we fail just as if that door stays closed. It might be sport or mechanical skill, science etc. In this way our interest is deepened and validated and we then go a stage further with it. By contrast, there are those things we try hard at but which never really happen for us and which we usually end up abandoning. Only people with great determination will succeed in such areas of their lives. Very few people keep battering away at a door which remains consistently closed for them.

As a net result of this process we can see that it comprises a sort of natural selection process in which our innate skills are repeatedly pitched in against external forces in what appears to be a quite random process. It is true that great artists, engineers, writers and scientists often say that their interest was focused right from early childhood, just as if they were already soaked in the subject from birth. For most other people their is a subtle unawareness about their innate talents, interests and abilities. Most of us are oblivious of our natural talents and only become conscious of them dimly through the schooling process, during which we gradually become attracted to certain subjects over others. We tend to move along with those things we succeed in the best or those we fail in the least. We also live in a world of human relationships, and it is often these which case most frustration and unhappiness. Success and failure can also cause problems in this area of our life.

Certainly we evolve through our experiences and thus at a profound level we become a product of them. Yet at another profound level we are innately what we are, even from birth and never change very much at all in spite of our experiences. Thus we are twin beings — nature and nurture both being correct. Through our intereactions with the world and with people, we can come to know that mysterious discourse between internal and external karmas, which is our destiny or fate. But it is a creative fate not an entirely fixed or predetermined one. We contribute to its flowing forwards like a river of our own making.

The internal karmas ultimately have dominance because it is not so much what life throws at us (external karmas), but how we cope with them that decides our true level of happiness. Happiness means being contented with yourself, happy with the way you are. It is a state of not hating anything and not desiring anything, a balance point. Our happiness ultimately comes from within and is thus determined by the internal karmas, and not very much by the externally-acting karmas and life experiences. This is the opposite to what we might think.

Many people tend to think that getting the externals of our life right brings lasting joy and happiness, like money, good job, good relationships, etc. But there are those people who have terrible misfortune, failure and tragedy in their external life and yet who remain inwardly quite calm and contented. Such people kind of prove this karmic rule. There are also those with everything in their external life just right and highly successful, but who still have an internal unhappiness and restlessness, and an inability to become truly content with themselves the way they are. They cannot seem to throw off certain hatreds and certain desires to reach the balance point of true happiness. These people also prove this rule.

Some people much of the time, and many people some of the time, seem doomed to experience very bad things in spite of the helpful advice and actions of others, which they might come to regard not as kind help, but as just so much senseless talk in a dream or as patronising arrogance. People thus have to be ready to use the compassion or advice which is directed at them. Otherwise it is of no use to them and becomes in fact an irritation. It is almost as if we must stand back and allow people to experience the lot which is theirs, the path which fate has prepared for them, no matter how unhappy it is. Or the path which they have created for themselevs through many lifetimes. In this sense, trying to help them is pointless and causes more harm than good. They must go through those experiences, it seems, and any help we offer will be rejected or misconstrued as unwanted interference.

We should therefore respect their right to liberty, even to the extent of allowing them to suffer, even if that suffering is very intense from an external viewpoint. If they do not ask for help, then what use is there in giving it? Viewed from the outside, it is easy for us to believe that they want help, when in actual fact they might think they are doing just fine. One thinks here of criminals, prostitutes, alcoholics and drug users who would claim they need no help at all and are doing just fine. Who are we to stand in judgement over them and declare their lifestyle invalid, damaging or helpless? Is it not a form of spiritual oneupmanship and arrogance to adopt such a position? Surely they have the right to live exactly as they wish?

To act with true compassion is not therefore to interfere or stand in judgment, but to be ready to help only when asked. Only then will any help offered be truly useful to them. People therefore have a weird sort of right to tread their own karmic path. We should not deny them the right to experience whatever karmas they alone have created, and accumulated; whatever paths they have created for themselves. Though they seem real to us, they are as if in a dream. Though we can touch them, they seem to be in a cage quite beyond our reach. Thus advice and help is misunderstood by the suffering and is rejected, perhaps even violently. For such people the most we can do is to be quietly there for them as simple and peaceful contents of their troubled lives.

Each lifetime is another struggle with the same basic forces and problems as the last or the next. The actual theme changes little. Each lifetime we face the same basic mistakes and problems as the last, the same wins and the same losses, but woven into a slightly different fabric. We even meet the same people over and over again — those closest to us, the ones we have loved so many times and who many times come back to us, as we do to them. We can derive great comfort from this knowledge. Each life is thus only a tiny evolution through our experiences, some good some bad. We inch forwards very slowly and change but little through many lives.

Our karma inches forward slowly like a great river, gathering like little rafts, new good and new bad seeds from each life. We reap what we have sown. Our primary aim, as spiritual people, should always be to ensure that we create and garner new good seeds and to deal with, work through and destroy bad seeds. And we should also strive to create no new bad in our lives. That is our basic ethical basis: ‘do good, avoid evil and purify the mind’. If we reach the point of death better off than we were at birth, a sounder, kinder person who can look back on their life with true pleasure and know that one has done more good than harm and that one has created happiness for many, then we can truly die in peace. For such a situation moves us forward along our karmic path towards greater spiritual insights, greater love and greater wisdom in the future. In this sense we create our own future, for good or ill.

While it is true that each living being tries to find happiness and to avoid suffering, yet it is also true that each living being reaps just what they have sown, and must be allowed to tread the path given to them by their own accumulated karmic seeds. While it is true that compassion and kindness are important qualities for all of us to develop, but we should not go around trying to give help to the suffering who are happy in their suffering and who do not ask for our help. To do so is in fact to follow a delusory path which creates suffering and confusion and which pollutes the spiritual traditions with confusion and misunderstanding in the eyes of those who might benefit from them the most.

Compassion is a great problem for us who are active in the world, as we must beware of the actual karmic position of the people we meet and not just jump in feet first to ‘help them’. Direct compassion for the suffering of living beings is not an easy task to undertake as it presumes they want help or that it is being offered in a form which is useful to them. As indicated above, we must approach the problem as-is and give people something they can use directly which is of immediate use to them and easily comprehended. To do otherwise is to open oneself to great misunderstanding. Within Buddhism (and also in Christianity) ‘compassion in action’ is portrayed as a great quality which generates great merit and is directly helpful to living beings. But it is easy to misunderstand how it can be applied in a subtle way. It is rather like food which must be prepared in a certain way to account for different people’s tastes.

In the case of violent and troubled people and those whose lives have been filled with damaging relationships, we must tread very carefully. Yet it is true to say that even these people will appreciate a new friendship if they can see that we are reliable, can be trusted and will never hurt or abandon them. For them to know there is ONE person in their life they can depend upon is an enormous success story compared to what they have experienced in every other section of their life to date. Just befriending such a person is compassion enough. Showing tolerance where others put up a fight, showing warmth where others reject them, showing love where others show hatred, these are all subtle forms of compassion we can deliberately cultivate, indulge and weave into the fabric of our everyday lives.

Ultimately, criminality, violence and social deviance derive from the pain and sufferings and bad relationships which have been the daily bread and butter of the people who become like that. To have grown up in violence, abuse, fear, threats, low self-esteem and to know no love from anyone is the cruellest of fates. We should be more grateful to realise how immensely lucky we are not to have been born into such a life ourselves. And to be more understanding of those who are. To have in effect no father and no mother, no comfort and no happiness, no friend in the whole world is a terrible fate. Yet that is the background against which violence and criminality develop. That is the soil which cultivates all the bad in society. Such people are the products of their experiences, just as we all are. Such people have seen every door in their life stay closed. No wonder they become so angry and so bitter.

It is clearly apparent on spiritual grounds that such people mainly need love and affection, and in a form they can understand and assimilate — steady, friendly relationships, people who care for them and who can get close to them in a way no-one has ever tried to do. To heal such lives no preaching or imprisonment can do that. Only friendship and sound relationships with people who understand can achieve such radical change. And therapy. They require a ‘change of diet’, a ‘food’ they can eat and digest. That food is compassion and kindness, from which they have been deprived since birth. How can more violence, more hatred, more estrangement from the human family and more imprisonment possibly help such people? They are foods they have overdosed on already and which have proved to be quite unsuited to the task. Those foods create only pain, suffering and misery.

To be a healing and peaceful influence upon the lives of others is a noble Buddhist goal, but it does not involve forcing the Dharma down people’s throats. Simply by quietly being within the lives of others can have a positive healing effect. To be a source of compassion is to be a source of peace, joy, simplicity and contentment. These qualities touch all people very easily, for they can see directly with their own eyes the type of person you are, and in a way that needs no explaining to them. To quietly be a steady and warm influence in the lives of everyone we meet is a wonderful undertaking, and it is to generate healing vibes for them and to fill one’s life with warm compassion. Quietly tolerating the vices and imperfections of others is a massive virtue. We reach all people through this technique of right livelihood than through any other means. Our joy, our composure, our friendliness, our self-contentment become radiantly obvious to the spiritually aware, and intuitively attractive and comforting to the troubled and the unhappy.

The Tibetans encourage us to see all living beings as our own mothers, because they have been our mothers many times in countless previous lifetimes. That forms the basis for universal compassion as we transfer our feelings for our known mother of this life to all living beings and to regard them all just as precious to us as she is. It also extends beyond human life to embrace all living beings including worms, fish and insects and even plants. A prayer they use to cultivate this feeling, by frequent repetition, is:

‘May the infinite mother beings attain perfect peace and happiness and be released from their pain, fear, sorrow and delusion; may they always abide in perfect equanimity of mind and in joy beyond all sorrow.’

This short prayer contains all the essentials of Buddhism as it asserts universal compassion, it is ethically sound, it sees all beingsa sour mothers and it emphasises the 4 perfections of love, compassion, joy and equanimity. It is therefore a practise for oneself and it creates happiness for others too.