Category Archives: Spirituality & Religion

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Interfaith Harmony

A prayer took shape within me last week while attending the U.N. Conference on Interfaith Harmony. What if there was a permanent standing body, just like the U.N., made up of representatives of all the religions of the world? Surely, such a council could do a lot to stop the use of religions to promote hatred and war.

The idea is that religious leaders would send a representative to such a United Religions Council and then all representatives would discuss matters related to their interactions and vote and pass resolutions. In my mind, this would lead to these representatives, sooner or later, admitting that their goals and orientations in life matched those of the other representatives. As a body, then, they would be able to publicly denounce any religious fraction that attempted to stir up hatred, intolerance and violence. The United Religions Council would have passed resolutions in advance defining such a group as ANTI-religious despite their claims. Such groups would be publicly castigated and called out on their offenses.

There are three tricky obstacles to creating such a Council. One is identifying the religious leaders and determining rank or power within the Council assigned to each denomination. Two is finding a permanent home for the Council that is agreeable to all religions and three is getting the religious leaders to commit to sending a representative.

The first problem could be solved by including all religions and all denominations of religions and giving them power based on the provable number of constituents that they have. The second problem is also solvable. Tokyo, Japan, seems like it would be amenable to all, as a relatively neutral place among the big religions. The third problem is possibly the toughest to accomplish but there has been no better chance for this than right now.

Right now, we have a Pope that is liberal and sensible concerning social welfare issues. It is possible that he would commit to participation in such a Council. Also, the Islamic denominations are under great pressure right now to connect with other religions because of the bad PR that ISIL is causing them. They would have much to gain from such a council. There is tremendously negative public opinion in the West right now not just for ISIL but also for Iranian Muslims. I imagine that Egypt and Turkey would love the chance to boost PR as well about their countries’ religion.

It boils down to Pope Francis, really. Without an amenable Pope there is not much chance of this Council forming. If the Pope joined, the other Christian denominations would have to follow suit.

The Hindu faith would also create a bit of a challenge as well because of its lack of clear central hierarchy but that would not impede the forming of the Council. That would give time for the Council to zero in on finding the Hindu leaders that the average Hindu would pay attention to; i.e.: who could credibly claim to have the ear of the Hindu people. Including all denominations of the Hindu faith would allow there to be many representatives, each with their own claim of followers.

Back to the UN Interfaith Council: thanks to all the groups that made this happen. Here are some links to the wonderful Interfaith efforts already happening in the U.S. and around the world that I made contact with through this UN event:

Fuji Declaration

Even though the U.N. made this event and its success possible, interfaith issues should not be a long term subsidiary of the U.N. if real progress is to be made. The U.N. is very helpful in getting the idea going and gaining momentum but it is not a proper permanent location for these efforts. The U.N. has much in common with Interfaith Harmony but also does not share in some key issues. Where the U.N. and religions meet is obviously in charitable relief efforts. It is natural to religious persons to want to help the disenfranchised and the impoverished peoples around the world just as the U.N. has rightly focused on such issues. But religious people do so from a different standpoint and such charitable activity does not necessarily cause Interfaith Harmony. Two different religions doing the same disaster relief work in the same area may not cooperate at all without some additional prodding. An Interfaith Council can do such prodding but the U.N. cannot.

The simple fact is that a religion will never really feel bound by the U.N. This is because it is the UNITED NATIONS not the UNITED RELIGIONS. No one is more aware of the separations between Church and State that exists in most countries than the religions themselves. Many states are using this separation from religion to sanction the removal of any support for religions. The U.N. is a STATE body and not a religious one, therefore efforts at Interfaith Harmony must eventually find its own support and meet with the U.N. as an independent body not as a dependent one.

There are other good reasons for an Interfaith global council to distance itself from the U.N., eventually. These reasons stem from the limitations created by the politics that hinder the U.N. An Interfaith Council would want to be as free as possible from such politics.

In conclusion, I hope that you will join me in a prayer for the establishment of a permanent body representing the religions of the world, for greater peace and welfare for all peoples, all over the world.

 

 

 

The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky as a Spiritual Tool, Part 5 of 5

The point of view of the “Grand Inquisitor” within Dostoevsky’s novel “The Brothers Karamazov” and of its author, Ivan, are fascinating and insightful on many levels. It is truly worth reading and re-reading over and over again because of its complexity and power. I would like to make a few additional points that are just the tip of the iceberg, I believe.

I mentioned in an earlier blog that Ivan hinted within the chapter entitled, “Rebellion,” that he was someone who “suffered for an idea.” That idea turned out to be his assessment of God as unfair (due to the suffering of innocent children) and his suffering comes from his voluntary self-exclusion from the happiness that God offers the “saved.” In other words, Ivan chooses to suffer out of protest. He connects his protest to the love for humanity that he feels in his heart. He is connecting the mind (an idea) and the heart (love feelings) in an interesting way here.

Which comes first, the idea or the feelings? Did he develop the idea that life was unfair and then form his love of humanity after in order to justify a very egoistic type of freedom that followed (which he calls “everything is lawful”)? Or did he recognize that a universal, non-judgmental love existed in his heart and then judged the God that his religion offered him as falling short of that love? Or could both be true at the same time?

Ivan certainly admits at the end of the chapter that his “ideas” about God and religion have led to a style of life he calls “everything is lawful.” In other words, Ivan’s rejection of happiness in faith in God frees him of any self-judgment of any possible action. When “everything is lawful” Ivan can do anything he wants to, without a concern for its ethics or morality, without feeling a sting of conscience about it. That is because he has willfully rejected the existence that God has created (as inherently unfair and therefore, flawed). In an incredible expression of self-centeredness Ivan tells his brother that he will take advantage of his youth, doing whatever he wants until age 30 or so, and then will kill himself. This is his act of “Rebellion” against a creator God who feels less love than he does (so he believes).

The grand inquisitor expresses something similarly self-centered in his chapter as well, stating that he rejected Jesus and the salvation (happiness) that He offered because he saw that salvation wasn’t for everyone. Out of love for those who could not follow Jesus’s instructions and become worthy of salvation the grand inquisitor rejected Jesus in his heart and began a religious campaign of lies and oppression in order to give something of value to those of nonredeemable character. He also then says that he willingly suffers for having done so. He has chosen to leave God’s side and His happiness for the sake of others (he says that only a repressive Church can give the nonredeemable some happiness because they fear freedom more than anything and the Church can take away that freedom and make them happy at least part of the time). Ironically, in his rebellion, the grand inquisitor mimics Jesus in his claim that he suffers for the sake of others’ happiness. The difference is that Jesus suffered in order that people might be free while the grand inquisitor suffers that people might be somewhat happy (because they are incapable of achieving Jesus’s freedom and in fact, they would prefer their “daily bread” to the freedom that Jesus offers).

There is another interesting connection to observe concerning the “idea.” At the end of the grand inquisitor’s story he talks about freedom in terms of free thinking. He connects having his own ideas (instead of just taking the ideas that the church offers) to developing the sciences. He then connects the sciences with greater unhappiness and war. And he says the only possible chance for happiness for most people is a return to submission to the church’s doctrine. But ironically, Ivan admits that it is his free thought that has led to his suffering and to his rebellion from the idea of God and so, from the grand inquisitor’s point of view, Ivan cannot possibly be happy.

Ivan chooses to think for himself and that leads him to judge God and suffer for it. That free thinking then prevents him from believing in religion which he claims (through the words of the grand inquisitor) is the only way he could be happy (we assume that he doesn’t consider himself capable of following Jesus’s teachings in order to reach true freedom). That circle of suffering that free thought creates (which he claims Jesus encouraged) can therefore only be overcome through the forced, violent, repression of the church. And of course, the church represses by jailing or killing the free thinkers (like Ivan). That repression then causes more suffering in innocent people further justifying rebellion against God. That rebellion against God, of course, requires free thinking!

So the circle goes round and round with no clear way out. Again the important result of this is not to come up with a solution at this point but rather, simply to recognize if we are caught in this circle or not. A few questions to ask ourselves might include:

–Are we a free-thinker about the question of God or do we simply trust what our religion says about Him (or Her)?

–If we are a free-thinker then do we have any deeply held feelings about the suffering of those we consider innocent and undeserving of suffering (our spouse, children, parents, friends, etc.)?

{In asking that question we should observe our emotional responses in the moments when we encounter first-hand the suffering of those we consider innocent.}

–If we have strong and negative (depressive, or anger) emotional responses in those moments do we harbor the idea that God might be unfair?

–Could that deeply held thought that God might be unfair (at times) cause us to feel vulnerable, scared and even depressed occasionally (especially when directly confronted with others’ suffering (or our own))?

–Due to these deeply held doubts about God, do we feel that it is right for us or for anyone to be happy all the time?

–Do we turn to scientific explanations in our lives because we feel a deep vulnerability in front of a possibly unfair (or nonexistent) God?

–Do we feel critical of religions and those of blind faith in religions because we suspect those religions are based on repression of free thought?

–Do we secretly feel jealous of those who can feel happiness from their religious faith and then do we feel frustrated (or depressed) because we feel we already know too much scientific facts to allow us to ever return blindly to our religion?

The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky as a Spiritual Tool, Part 4 of 5, The Grand Inquisitor

“The Grand Inquisitor” is a chapter within Dostoevsky’s novel, “The Brothers Karamazov.” In it one of the brothers, Ivan, relays his feelings about Jesus and religion, to his monk brother, Alyosha. In the previous chapter, “Rebellion,” Ivan explained why he can’t accept the idea of God and the happiness that God offers in Heaven or “salvation.” His argument rested upon his refusal to accept the fact that innocent children suffer within God’s creation. He said that it was impossible for him, as a lover of humanity, to accept an eternity of happiness as one of God’s “saved” if it came on the backs of suffering innocent children.

Alyosha agreed with his brother that his difficulties in accepting God on that basis are understandable but countered that the life and actions of Jesus provide the answer. Ivan, however, is not convinced and shares a story he calls “The Grand Inquisitor” to explain his difficulties with Jesus the Savior.

Ivan’s story involves a highly respected leader of the Christian church who wielded near absolute power over his parishioners. He was so influential that he was able to orchestrate and direct the killing of perhaps 1,000’s of people he called “heretics.” This fictional story of Ivan’s supposedly took place during the Spanish Inquisition of the 1500’s and curiously described a possible meeting between this “Grand Inquisitor” and Jesus, Himself.

In the story the Grand Inquisitor persecutes and threatens to kill Jesus for similar reasons to the ones Ivan shared in “Rebellion.” Just as Ivan said that he could not accept a salvation that involved the suffering of innocent children, the grand inquisitor tells Jesus that His salvation is unfair to the majority of humans and is willing to kill Jesus again for the sake of those people.

The grand inquisitor implies that his authoritarian, oppressive measures are more loving of humanity as a whole than Jesus’s original teachings. He tells Jesus that He left humanity with directives that they cannot possibly match up to and that what He offered them, namely True Freedom, most of humanity does not even want. The Grand Inquisitor tells Jesus that what most humans want is their “daily bread” not freedom. The Grand Inquisitor claims that he, not Jesus, gives most of humanity their chance for happiness by taking away the one thing they fear the most, their freedom.

Ivan’s story paints Jesus as the God who offers salvation (and its eternal happiness) but in a way that only a very small number of people can actually receive. Jesus’s teachings are too difficult for most people to even think about, much less follow through with, and so, his teachings are partial; i.e., unfair. Ivan thereby explains his grounds once again for rejecting such a salvation offered by Jesus, due to his “idea” of unfairness.

Earlier in “Rebellion” Ivan mentioned that he “suffered for an idea.” This is his way of saying that he adheres to principles which get in the way of faith in God or Jesus. His principles about what is right and just allow him to feel indignant towards what he witnesses in society. He observes a world that is unfair, even downright cruel at times, and he cannot forgive such injustice nor does he feel it is right for anyone else to do so. Jesus’s salvation doesn’t work for him either because he believes that salvation is partial; not everyone is saved, only those who are capable of acting correctly as Jesus prescribed. What about everyone else, Ivan asks? For the sake of those people, the ones excluded from salvation, Ivan rejects God and the eternal happiness that He offers through salvation. “And if for the sake of the bread of Heaven thousands shall follow Thee [Jesus], what is to become of the millions and tens of thousands of millions of creatures who will not have the strength to forego the earthly bread for the sake of the heavenly?”

Ivan also criticizes religion itself, as characterized by the Christian church. In “The Grand Inquisitor” Ivan paints a picture where a religion must become oppressive in order to cater to the majority of humanity that is incapable of true sanctity as the scriptures prescribe. In other words, religion itself ends up perpetuating the very unfairness/cruelty of the world in order to give people what they want (food and shelter) and protect them from what they fear (true freedom) because “freedom and bread enough for all are inconceivable together.” The picture that Ivan paints is thereby even more distressing for a man of real love for humanity as he claims to be. On one hand religion provides for the needs of people that Jesus has discarded (because His standards are too high) and on the other hand religion adds to the suffering of innocents.

Ivan’s criticism of religion, as represented by the Christian church, has another ironical part to it. In addition to the church adding to suffering (out of concern for the masses) the church must take away freedom in order to give happiness to the people. Ivan claims that the church owns “mystery” and when the people bring a certain threshold of suffering upon themselves because they follow the path of “free thought” (i.e., the sciences) they will turn back to the church as the abode of “mystery.” In other words, when the intellectuals finally admit that they don’t understand the world and its purpose any more after extensively exhausting the sciences they will give up such freedom of thought and come back to the safety of the church.

The Grand Inquisitor predicts that science (free thought) will fuel humanity to fight each other ever more fiercely, causing ever more suffering, until it gives up such science and admits that existence is all a mystery that only religion can handle. They will say in the end “’Yes, you were right, you [the church] alone possess His mystery and we come back to you, save us from ourselves!’” The grand inquisitor says that in the end “they will know the value of complete submission!” But “until men know that, they will be unhappy.” And, of course, he blames Jesus for leading humanity away from such submission by offering them complete freedom (in exchange for acts that they aren’t capable of). In the grand inquisitor’s view Jesus led humanity astray by inspiring them to reach for freedom which led to the sciences which led to wars and an increase in strife. Only religion, he claims, can fix this situation by humanity’s complete submission to it.

Echoing Ivan’s thoughts, I believe, the grand inquisitor stands up to Jesus, claims that he is the true savior, providing for the people that Jesus has rejected and then dares Jesus to judge him for the lies and the acts of cruelty that he had to perform in order to do so. The grand inquisitor truly believes that he holds the high moral ground on Jesus and so, does not fear Him. The grand inquisitor feels that he rejected Jesus’s salvation on principles (on an “idea”), because any salvation that leaves a vast number of incapable, weak, childlike beasts (as he describes the majority of humanity) hanging is “madness.”

So Ivan’s counter-argument to Alyosha’s reliance upon Jesus to overcome the dilemma concerning the suffering of innocent children is a negative assessment of Jesus’s actions relative, not to each individual, but to humanity as a whole. Through his “Grand Inquisitor” story, Ivan criticizes God for not accepting everyone, regardless of their capabilities and actions, into Heaven.

Essentially, Ivan criticizes God for judging us in any way: for identifying what we are doing wrong and delineating what we need to do in order to reform ourselves and receive eternal salvation and happiness by His side. Ivan criticizes God because His plan leaves out a tremendous number of humans who are not capable of earning their place in Heaven by doing good, being good.

In that way, “The Grand Inquisitor” does a wonderful job of putting words to so many valuable questions and helping us to determine how we have already secretly answered many of them. Do we, too, already harbor an “idea” about the suffering of innocent children? Do we, too, secretly feel that if God judges any of us He is not a truly loving God? Do we, too, harbor resentment towards the idea of a God that will reject an individual for choosing “bad” over “good?” What if that individual is our father, brother or sister? Can we happily go to Heaven if we know that they have gone to Hell? Or to put that in more modern terms, are we willing to be happy everyday (because we believe in an all-loving God) when others close to us are unwilling or unable to do the same? Can we allow ourselves to be happy all the time when we know that many children are suffering all around the world? Do we secretly feel superior to the God that our religions describe because of our unwillingness to be happy all the time?

In the next blog entry I will explore a few of those questions in greater detail but for now the important point I want to make is that the value of reading this story is in considering to what degree we share Ivan’s feelings and opinions. We must keep in mind that these feelings and opinions may be held deeply within our mind and may take a bit of introspection in order to dig up. It is a fact that our upbringing may have encouraged the burying of such feelings. Modern society doesn’t help us very much in exploring our emotional relationship to God and suffering. It trains us, rather, to focus more superficially on issues related to daily affairs.

In other words our very busy daily lives may hide deeper feelings about God and suffering that are not only secretly driving us but also do a lot to prevent us from feeling content or happy in any given moment. To what degree have we already blocked off happiness in our lives, like Ivan has done, because we have judged God and His creation as inherently unfair or even downright cruel to those undeserving of such treatment? This is question worth asking and re-asking ourselves, resisting the temptation to judge our deeply held ideas and opinions are “good” or “bad.” Let’s find out how we truly feel about life, first, before attempting to force ourselves in one direction or another.

The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky as a Spiritual Tool, 3 of 5

In “Rebellion,” the fourth chapter of Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov,” Ivan speaks to his brother, a Christian monk, about God. Ivan explains to his brother that the suffering of innocent people prevents him from believing in an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and all-loving God. Even if God exists, Ivan explains, he wants no part of His Heaven because he cannot forgive the wrong done to innocent children.

Although Ivan appears to argue from a stance of accepting the existence of God and Heaven, Ivan is secretly telling his brother why he doesn’t believe in God at all. He then surreptitiously explains that without such a belief he views life as not worth caring about or preserving. Ivan is truly “rebelling” not just against God but against the existence of God.

In this one well-written chapter, Dostoevsky gives a cogent voice to feelings about God that many (if not most) humans deeply harbor. These are feelings that can cause not just depression but also suicidal aggression, as Dostoevsky also depicts. But the issue right now is not whether these feelings are right or wrong but rather whether they are acknowledged and admitted. When feelings that cause depression and aggression are kept hidden within the recesses of our subconscious then they affect us without any control. We are simply at the mercy of such emotions and don’t know why.

Ivan explains that even if he were to accept that all the suffering in the adult world is caused by previous sins (starting with the sin of eating the apple of knowledge of good and evil) that doesn’t help him to accept the suffering caused to innocent children. So even if all the pain in one’s life is a result of having caused pain to others previously (cause and effect, as he describes it) nothing atones for pain inflicted on children, especially by their own parents. Therefore if God does exist, He is imperfect and so is His happiness in His Heaven. Ivan says that he cannot respect such a God enough to receive His “salvation” into eternal happiness. In other words, Ivan doesn’t want to be “saved” into happiness by such a God because he must forget about the suffering that has happened to innocent children in order to do so. And because of the love he feels in his heart for humanity he cannot do so (“for the sake of an idea” as he describes it). Ivan, therefore, feels justified in his depression, anger and “rebellion.” Ivan, in fact, feels superior to such a God because he is unwilling to be happy out of protest to the injustice seen here and now.

How many of us, when we carefully consider Ivan’s arguments, feel as he does? I say this not to judge this position as good or bad but simply to point out that such feelings must rise to the surface of our awareness. If we harbor Ivan’s opinions and feelings on this matter, doesn’t it also follow that we share at least some of his depression, anger and rebellion? Whether or not such feelings are truly justified we must become aware of them if we are to understand what happiness in life is all about and why we are not experiencing it in every moment.

Some readers may counter that they think differently than Ivan because they are aware of Eastern spiritual principles that Ivan was ignorant of. Specifically, such readers may mention that the concept of reincarnation removes this stumbling block to accepting the possibility of a perfect, all-loving God that Ivan describes. Reincarnation explains that every innocent child that suffers is also receiving payback for the suffering that it caused in a previous lifetime.

I must ask, however, if reincarnation is a fact, why do children not remember their previous lives and if they don’t remember them do they really deserve to suffer for them? Is some degree of innocence returned to a child because it doesn’t remember what it has done to deserve being mercilessly beaten by one’s father or mother? If a child regains even a little innocence because it doesn’t remember what it has done wrong in a previous life don’t Ivan’s arguments regain validity whether or not reincarnation is a fact? As Ivan asserts, can we really forgive even the smallest transgression against someone who is even partially innocent? Do we have the right to forgive such things, Ivan wonders. Can we forgive even if we want to? Can we use the idea of reincarnation to force our heart to forgive even when it doesn’t feel justified?

Additionally, reincarnation is an idea that most of us have not actually verified by ourselves. How many of us “believe” in reincarnation but are far from certain about it? Many, I would guess. If we are not certain about reincarnation then there is some doubt. With some doubt about reincarnation Ivan’s arguments return and depression, aggression and rebellion are justified again.

Those of us who are like Ivan in that they are depressed, angry and rebellious of life itself AND they see this to be the correct response of a truly loving person have nothing further to consider here. I am not writing with these people in mind. These people have considered life and realized that they don’t want to be happy all the time. I am, rather, writing for the people who claim they want to be happy all the time but still experience moments of depression, anger and rebellion. These are the people that can most easily benefit from a careful consideration of the underlying question of God; that is, the benefit comes not in finding an answer to the question as much as in recognizing where they already stand on it.

The idea of reincarnation is weak for another reason, I believe. Even with those that profess to believe soundly in reincarnation such a “belief” is not there when they need it. In other words, even if you say, “yes, I believe in reincarnation” you still will find yourself depressed, angry or rebellious the next time your boss or neighbor treats you unfairly. You still will feel a sense of the unfairness of life if you witness a man molest a woman on a public bus and get away with it or if you see a news report of a mother who threw her one-year old baby into a garbage dumpster. In those moments you will probably forget about your “belief” in reincarnation and will be depressed, angry or rebellious. In those moments you will reject the happiness offered by “God,” out of indignation, just as Ivan does. The fact is that the mind might say “yes, I believe in reincarnation” but when push comes to shove the heart does not agree. And you can’t force the heart to feel happy when you are ignoring the underlying “ideas” that cause the heart to feel depressed, angry or rebellious. This points out an interesting connection between ideas we hold in our mind which affect the emotions of our heart. Certain ideas can force us to be unhappy even when we claim that we want to be happy and feel love. Clearing the heart of depression may require that we look closely at the ideas we hold in our mind.

At the end of the chapter Ivan’s monk brother, Alyosha, recovers his wits a bit (after being knocked over by Ivan’s argument) and asserts that God, himself, in the human form of Jesus can do all the forgiving, even for the innocent children. Alyosha asserts that all of injustice is redeemed because God, himself, was willing to suffer the worst of it. He implies that not even a child can be more innocent and undeserving of pain than God himself is and so, God’s willingness to suffer allows us to feel good again for all of life. God’s willingness to suffer restores our ability to respect and accept life as it is, in all its imperfections, and embrace the eternal happiness that is offered to us in “Heaven.” If God himself is willing to suffer indignation than certainly an innocent child should be willing as well, the argument goes. We forgive all in an attitude of celebration for God’s infinite love and compassion for us (which we “witnessed” in His suffering as a human being). That’s Alyosha’s response, in essence.

Alyosha thereby presents a strong counter-argument to Ivan’s “rebellion” but Ivan isn’t convinced. In the next chapter Ivan will counter back, explaining why the idea of the “Savior-God” doesn’t work for him. I hope you stay with me while I continue to examine Dostoevsky’s well-written words, not as much to find answers to this age-old dilemma but more to realize where we already stand on this issue and how this stance pre-determines our faith in God and level of happiness in the here and now.

The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky as a Spiritual Tool, Part 2 of 5

Despite what conventional scientists might assert, the question of the existence of God is not dead. The human race, as it exists today, is still deeply affected and directed by how we ask and answer the question of whether or not God exists. Despite the scientific revolution, every individual human asks and answers the question of God in his or her own way and there are many models, called religions, that can be followed in the process of the answering.

Science is the guiding and structuring principle for modern society but its attempts to deny the existence of God are not accepted by a large portion of the human population and its attempts are not deeply investigated by many of the humans that do accept it. The end result is that the question of whether or not God exists is a live one for every human, no matter how they are currently asking and answering it.

The fact that there are so many different religions answering this question in different ways testifies to the difficulties inherent in even asking the question of God. Unfortunately, it is easier to pretend that it is not a relevant issue to you or to just blindly accept one religion’s version of the answer than to personally wrestle with the question itself. Even many of today’s “spiritually” oriented people have yet to get into the ring and really fight to determine how they truly feel about the question of God. That is why I feel that Dostoevsky’s treatment of this question within his novel “The Brothers Karamazov” is so valuable. It frames the question in a way that everyone can relate to and leaves the answer open to the reader.

What is needed in order to answer the question of God is actually not the answer but a well-worded version of the question; that is, we need to ask the question in a way that unlocks all of our feelings. What Dostoevsky does so well is to give a voice to some of the deeper feelings that lay hidden within all of us and are secretly driving our stance on the issue.

The Buddha taught that asking the question of God is not the goal but is actually a distraction to the natural process of receiving the answer. He taught that the most important thing is finding the right method that will prepare ourselves to receive the answer when it comes. Dostoevsky’s words do a lot to help us with the first part of the Buddha’s recommendations. We need to get clarity on the question itself in order to truly see how complicated, difficult and important the question is. Only then will we be motivated enough in order to engage the practices that will prepare us to receive the answer. Otherwise we may live most of our lives pretending that we don’t care about the question or pretending that a religion can provide the answer without any effort on our part.

In my last blog entry I recommended you read the two chapters entitled “Rebellion” and then “The Grand Inquisitor” from Dostoevsky’s novel. “Rebellion” deals with the question of the existence of God and then the “Grand Inquisitor” deals with the question of religion as a pre-formulated way of approaching the answer. In the next 2 blog entries I will discuss “Rebellion” and “Grand Inquisitor” individually.

For now I hope I have made my point that no one can escape the bite of this question and the confusion that can come from the wide variety of pre-formulated ways available to avoid its consideration. Not even the most atheistic scientist is living a life free from the influence of the deep feelings we all hold around this question. It is one thing not to believe in God but another to be free of the anger that results from consideration of the circumstances of life and death. We cannot separate the quest for happiness from the question of God because it is impossible to obtain a lasting happiness within an existence that is fundamentally unfair and unjust. As you will read within “Rebellion” it is our basic human nature to reject even the possibility of happiness if it rests upon the existence of injustice and unfair cruelty. This is the issue I will examine with Dostoevsky’s help in my next blog entry.

The Grand Inquisitor by Dostoevsky as a Spiritual Tool, Part 1

The Grand Inquisitor is the name of one chapter within Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel “The Brothers Karamazov.” Let me start by saying that “The Brothers Karamazov” is a spiritual must-read. It is one of the finest depictions of fundamental spiritual struggle ever depicted in a novel format, in my opinion. Sure there are a tremendous number of fine books on spirituality but very few in a novel format and very few that cover spirituality in a way that virtually everyone can relate to. If you have your own favorite spiritual novel please leave them in the comment section.

The Brothers Karamazov” depicts the lives of a few brothers who are each struggling with the deeper questions about life, death and God in their own different ways. It is worth reading if only for the opportunity to see which of the brothers’ positions, opinions and decisions you most identify with. Being a deeply Russian novel it also assumes that the question of religion is a fundamental one to any human being of any real mental capacity who is seeking to be happy and fulfilled. Having been educated in the US I can honestly say that I wasn’t taught this truth; that is, my education gave me the opportunity of considering my life without struggling with the question of religion. I was taught, more or less, that I could consider myself above the question of religion and pursue happiness and fulfillment without it. I am not proposing that this is right or wrong but I did miss out (for a short time during my education) on the struggle with the issues that “The Brothers Karamazov” depict so well.

I do believe that every human who is interested in happiness and fulfillment in life (a type that is lasting and stable) needs to at least consider the questions of religion and God as the characters in “The Brothers Karamazov” do. And these two are not the same question. The question of religion and the question of God are connected, of course, but they are not the same. This is another point that Dostoevsky’s novel makes wonderfully clear.

The Grand Inquisitor” is so well written and so poignant that it has been isolated from the larger novel and published separately. This is somewhat of a mistake however. “The Grand Inquisitor” covers the question of religion really well but it is the previous chapter, “Rebellion” that is equally important because it covers the question of the existence of God. To read “The Grand Inquisitor” alone is like examining only one side of an ancient coin in order to determine its origin. It can be done but it is much easier to look at the other side as well.

The following series of posts will cover these two chapters and their issues. If you are interested in pre-reading these chapters, the whole book is available on Kindle for 1 Dollar, and of course, it is available in every library. It is also available in PDF on the web for free from Project Gutenburg https://www.gutenberg.org/files/28054/28054-pdf.pdf

Don’t be afraid to jump right to the two chapters, 4 & 5, “Rebellion” and “The Grand Inquisitor.” I am betting you will eventually want to return and read the whole book but you can do so later. Chapter 4 & 5 won’t spoil that.

To give you a little background so you can go right to Chapter 4: you will be reading a discussion between 2 of the 3 brothers Karamazov, Ivan and Alyosha. Ivan is a deep thinker and is going through a painful emotional breakdown of sorts that is entirely interior-oriented. He will be explaining his position on God and religion to Alyosha in chapters 4 & 5, respectively. Alyosha is a deeply faithful, gentle, monk-type within the Catholic church who is currently under the guidance of a well-known christian holy man. The third brother, who you won’t meet in chapter 4 or 5, named Dimitri, is a man of intense action without the introspection or the faith and is causing a family crisis that brings the other two brothers together and forces them to open up to the others’ point of view on God and religion.

So in the next post in this series I will discuss Ivan’s position on the existence of God, as per “Rebellion,” and following that I will engage his position on religion as per “The Grand Inquisitor.” I hope you can follow along and see which of Ivan’s points you share and which you have never even been taught to think about intentionally.

Conversation with Sr. La. Prabhupada about Providing Jobs to Others

In the last few blogs I reviewed a book critical of the effects that the internet is having on the world’s economy (“The Internet is Not the Answer”). That book made one point super clear: the internet is having a major impact on the American and possibly the world-wide job market. In other words, the internet is another huge step in that historical progression called automation. The internet has created a new sector of the worldwide economy where a very few websites control a huge amount of business transactions. And those very few companies employ very few people relative to similarly powerful companies of the past. One can argue, of course, that this is a continuation of a trend that began in the 1700’s in England with the Industrial revolution. That argument does not minimize the negative impact of such a trend.

It’s a complex situation of course, one that is beyond the scope of a single blog or even a single book to address completely but I think it is clear enough that there are serious negative ramifications of putting average people out of jobs. If we choose to use Uber to call a cab or order something from Amazon that we could have gotten locally we are supporting such a trend. Of course we may not agree that society needs to give people jobs that allow them to earn, at least, minimally for their needs. But I must ask, how can a society be successful and healthy without having work for people to do and feel good about? Where is the money going to come to buy all these things on Amazon if only a top 1% are making any money on their production and delivery?

I came across a conversation with the leader of the American wing of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness where he (Sri Prabhupada) talks about this very thing. According to him, as you will read below, taking jobs away from people is something that very poor societal leaders (he calls them rascals) facilitate and support. In fact, Sri Prabhupada makes the point of stating the importance of employment whether or not that employment is even necessary or logical in terms of business success or not.  Wow! Do we need to re-evaluate the very basic tenets of capitalism in order to regain a healthy perspective on the importance of jobs in society? Do we need to recognize and criticize any impulse of profit through automation over employment? Here’s what Sri Prabhupada had to say about this:

Nityānanda: Without a machine how can you make sugar from the cane?

Prabhupāda: Hand machine.

Nityānanda: Hand machine?

Prabhupāda: Yes.

Nityānanda: Metal?

Prabhupāda: Yes, they manufacture, hand, hand … in the sugar cane, two men. Even we can prepare hand machine by cutting the wood. They do that. We are not against machine. You can utilize machine. But we should not allow others unemployed and use machine. This should be [the] point. You can use. Use machine, that’s good, but not at the risk of keeping others unemployed. This should be noted. First thing is that everyone should be employed. If you have got many men, then why should you engage machine? These rascals, they do not know. They’re taking machine and keeping so many men unemployed. And the welfare department is paying them. They do not know how to organize society. And therefore hippies are coming out. Crime, criminals are coming out. (indistinct) The government is paying for becoming criminals and hippies and prostitutes. And how you can be happy, a society full of prostitutes, hippies, and criminals?

[An excerpt from a room conversation with devotees in New Orleans, August 1, 1975] http://tinyurl.com/qh2mwor

 

WAKING LIFE is just more fun!

“So many think that because THEN happened NOW isn’t.
But . . .
the ongoing WOW is happening right NOW!
We are all co-authors of this dancing exuberance . . . where even our own inabilities are having a roast.
This entire thing that we are involved with, called the world, is an opportunity to exhibit how exciting alienation can be.
For, REMEMBERING is so much more a psychotic activity than forgetting.
When one realizes that one is a dream figure in another person’s dream . . . THAT is self-awareness!”

from the movie, WAKING LIFE, directed by Richard Linklater.

Kudos to Richard Linklater for making such a superb film about perception and dreaming. This film does a great job at making us think about the differences between dreaming and “waking life” and alerting us to the fact that they are tied to each other at the waist. This quote is from one of the more profound scenes. It is a monologue delivered by western guru type person and he is sharing some real wisdom here. He does a great job at helping us to imagine what our perspective on our life might be if we could look back on it from some magnificent heaven that we gained after death. From that perspective we might value, even appreciate, our moments of most extreme “alienation” and “inability.” He is trying to teach us that we can live this type of perspective right now.

His definition of “self-awareness,” otherwise known as “LIBERATION,” is equally brilliant. He says that we are truly awake to our True Self when we perceive that we are only a dream figure within someone ELSE’S dream. Where is the room for the ego in such a realization? Clearly this is a far cry from the romantic notion that upon LIBERATION we will jump up and down in self-congratulatory victory. Here this quote tells us that self-awareness is a profoundly humbling experience: not only is this all a dream but it’s NOT EVEN MY dream!  Ha Ha Ha.

Harry Chapin followed Jesus’s teachings despite being an Atheist.

“I get asked all the time how can one change the world?
If you care enough you can have an impact because in the long run we’re not sure about a prior life or an afterlife, we’re all hoping for that, but what we can do is maximize what we have in this brief flicker of time, in the INFINITY, and try to milk that.[Let’s be] hungry in a different kind of way: Hunger for experience, Hungry for meaning and [if so] you can be terribly, terribly effective if you want to be.”
Harry Chapin

When Harry Chapin, the superstar folk singer of the 70’s, died in 1981 his surviving widow reported that “‘only with slight exaggeration’ — that ‘Harry was supporting 17 relatives, 14 associations, seven foundations and 82 charities. Harry wasn’t interested in saving money. He always said, ‘Money is for people,’ so he gave it away.'” Despite his success as a musician, he left little money and it was difficult to maintain the causes for which he raised more than $3 million in the last six years of his life.[8] The Harry Chapin Foundation was the result.” [from wikipedia]

Harry Chapin’s epitach etched on his grave reads from one of his songs:

Oh if a man tried
To take his time on Earth
And prove before he died
What one man’s life could be worth
I wonder what would happen
to this world

Harry Chapin was a living example of what Jesus said in

the Gospel of Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who addresses me as ‘Master, master,’ will get into Heaven’s domain — only those who carry out the will of my Father in heaven.”

If an atheist like Harry Chapin can dedicate his work and his money to eradicating hunger within the US how much should those who profess a belief in Jesus Christ and are famous or wealthy be doing! Harry Chapin may not have gone to church or prayed to Jesus but he followed Jesus’s instructions in “carrying out the will of my Father in heaven.” Isn’t he an example of one who “loved his neighbor as himself” (Matthew 19:20)? How about Jesus’s teaching that “whoever has two shirts should share with someone who has none; whoever has food should do the same?” Can I point to a famous Christian leader who has done this more than Harry Chapin? He died virtually penniless, on the way to a benefit fund raiser concert, because he was giving all his money to efforts to end hunger in the US. If there are wealthy/famous American Christian religious leaders who have acted so selflessly in their love for their neighbors please leave their names in the Comments below so that they too can be honored here.