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Walking life’s path in our own shoes


“The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend personal God and avoid dogma and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity.” Albert Einstein

Sunlight sieved through leaves
I was once asked my religion and the question certainly made me think. I am very wary of labels. We use them all the time in order to make sense of the world and our place in it – putting things into neat little boxes seems to make life’s overwhelming variety a little more manageable. We humans have been labelling things ever since we discovered words and there’s no doubt that words have contributed to our evolution. On the downside, alas, labels have also been applied, to devastating effect, to individuals, communities, nations and races. Like fire, they are a useful tool but, as a weapon, can burn stereotypes into our minds and reduce our common humanity to ashes.
The danger, too, with associating exclusively with any one particular religious tribe is that it can become too easy to limit our learning to one teacher or book. In my explorations, I have found wisdom in the most extraordinary and varied of places.

Mahatma Gandhi, keen to stress that spirituality transcends man-made religious definitions, once described himself as a Hindu, a Muslim and a Christian. I might also add to that list: a Buddhist, a Druid, a Pagan (meaning “country dweller”, or someone who seeks to live in harmony with nature), an Animist, an Agnostic and an Atheist... and none of these.

Several months ago, I wrote about the blind men who were told to describe an elephant, one feeling the trunk, another an ear, another a leg, and so on. Each was adamant he was right and they ended up fighting. As Mother Teresa once said: “A preaching point is not a meeting point.”  We are all blind men (and women) and each belief system is just a small part of all that there is still to discover.
Each one of us is an explorer in a tiny part of life’s great unknown continent. Some discoveries may turn out to be not what we thought they were, or even harmful, and we learn from our mistakes and let them go; others may be priceless treasures.

But it is for each of us to take personal spiritual responsibility for how we live our lives, to walk life’s path in our own shoes; not accept without question the “certainties” of others. “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21), or, as Buddha put it: “Be a lamp unto yourself.”

The quotation at the start of this blog is by physicist Albert Einstein, who added: “If there is any religion that could cope with modern scientific needs, it would be Buddhism.”
One possible reason for this view is the Buddha’s scientific approach. He suggested ways to awaken, then told everyone to try them out for themselves, to experiment. He didn’t want people following him blindly; he wanted people to examine his ideas critically, practise the exercises mindfully, and learn from personal experience.
Such an approach is useful, whatever our beliefs. If those beliefs help us to become kinder, more tolerant, more understanding, then they are worth living; if they narrow our world, close our minds, or sow seeds of hatred towards ourselves or others, we need to let them go and move on.

Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh suggests Buddhist teachings need not replace our existing beliefs but can be incorporated into them. Indeed doing so, I have found, can enrich both and open up new paths we never knew existed. Perhaps even to a “cosmic religion”? Maybe.

And Druid Dharma? I'll come to that next time.


Comments

  1. I have greatly enjoyed reading your articles. Your poems are lovely too. I hope you continue to post to this blog. Best wishes.

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