Posts Tagged ‘pantheism’

The Storytelling Mind

August 5, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Jack Kornfield, THE WISE HEART. Kornfield begins, “The first step for us in working with the storytelling mind is to notice the endless stream of thoughts and commentary that plays along with our experience. Almost everyone who sits down to meditate is startled by this process. Even though we try to focus our attention on our breath or body or a prayer, we are interrupted by a torrent of ideas, memories, plans. This is a key insight called ‘seeing the waterfall.’ One Buddhist meditation teacher says that the average person has seventeen thousand thoughts a day.

Just as the salivary glands secrete saliva, the mind secretes thoughts. The thoughts think themselves. This thought production is not bad: it’s simply what minds do. A cartoon I once saw depicts a car on a long desert highway. A roadside sign warns, ‘Your own tedious thoughts next 200 miles.’ Buddhist psychology directs us to investigate both the content of those thoughts and the process of thinking itself.

Here is a tenth principle of Buddhist psychology:
Thoughts are often one-sided and untrue. Learn to be mindful of thought instead of being lost in it.

Kornfield relates this story of Aaron who was born in Poland during World War II and he and his family had experienced bombings, deprivation, and refugee camps. Aaron remembered being a young boy whose image of religions and spirituality was a simple one, right out of the Bible. God was a powerful bearded man in the sky judging who was righteous and who was not. But it was this same God who had allowed the war, the killing, the devastation and the loss. Aaron had long concluded that God himself was untrustworthy. And in spite of his doctoral degree and years of psychotherapy this belief remained submerged in his mind, as powerful as ever.

Aaron laughed as he recognized these unconscious fears of religion. The old image of God began to dissolve even as he acknowledged it. But what would happen without this thought? I encouraged him to stay open. The next day he came in with arms outspread, saying, “Now I understand. This is God! The whole world of plants, animals, and humans—everything that is holy, and I am in its midst.” He had found the sacred in life, here, now. There is a term for what Aaron experienced, pantheism.

Kornfield notes that it is a great relief to discover that our stories do not fully define who we are or what is happening to us and tell the following event: One practitioner was on a summer retreat at a camp in the redwoods, She awoke in the middle of the night startled, heart pounding, because she heard a loud growl just outside. She was sure it was a bear close by, perhaps dangerous. Turning on a small flashlight, she looked around and waited fearfully for the unknown growler to make another noise. At first it was quiet. Then after a minute had passed, her stomach let out a loud grown. She realized the the bean soup from dinner was having its way with her digestive tract! The loud growl was herself.
Kornfield writes, “The key to wise thought is to sense the energy state behind the thought. If we pay attention, we will notice that certain thoughts are produced by fear and the small sense of self. With them will be clinging, rigidity, unworthiness, defensiveness, aggression, or anxiety. We can sense their effect on the heart and the body. When we notice this suffering we can relax, breathe, loosen the identification. With this awareness the mind will become more open and malleable. With this pause we return to our Buddha nature. Now we can think, imagine, and plan, but from a state of ease and benevolence. It’s that simple.

The following practice is offered regarding one-sided thoughts:
Choose an important area of your life where you have difficulty, or conflict. Bring to the mind the key beliefs, the thoughts you hold about the situation, the people, the institution, the circumstance: “They are…,”I am…,”It is…,” and so on. After you have brought the beliefs to mind, question them. Are they completely true? Are they one-sided? Who made up this story? What if some of the opposite was also true? What is your experience if you let these thoughts and beliefs go? Try letting them go, and rest in not knowing, or rest in loving-kindness. How does this affect your body and your mind? How does this affect the situation? How is it to live not so caught up in your own thoughts?

A Thought Experiment About Pantheism

October 12, 2018

Pantheism might be both the simplest notion of God, and the most sophisticated conceptualization of God. So called primitive peoples, long before the development of organized religions, saw God in nature. So perhaps it is time to abandon this notion. But consider this thought experiment.

Suppose you were an entity that could create matter and energy at will, understood everything, and could perfectly predict the future. And you were faced with eternity. From the human perspective, and perhaps also from the perspective of this all knowing and all powerful entity, this likelihood was frighteningly boring. So the entity decided to be part of his creation with the limited knowledge and capabilities of these creatures. Become fallible so challenges would emerge. Death would provide the time to review how the entity fared in these innumerable states. This is truly imponderable for us, but perhaps a way for an all-powerful, all-knowing entity to deal with eternity.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the statement is that God created man in his own image. This statement has bothered HM since he developed an initial facility in critical thinking. There have been many wise people who have said, that God did not create man in his image, but rather that man created God in his image. This statement seems more likely to HM. And, in truth, the statement insults God. Moreover, when we consider that given the enormity of the universe, and the possibility of their being, perhaps, an infinity of universes, there are likely to be some truly intelligent species that bear little of no likeness to ourselves.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

God & Homo Sapiens

October 11, 2018

This post is based largely on the outstanding book by Reza Azlan titled “God: A Human History.” This book provides an exhaustive review of evidence for religions from, at least, the earliest humans, through the development of the large religious organizations that exist today. Azlan makes a compelling argument that the belief in the soul as separate from the body is universal. Moreover, he argues that it is our first belief, far older than our belief in God, and that it is this belief in the soul that begat our belief in God.

Azlan says that there are numerous studies on the cognition of children that have shown an instinctual propensity for “substance dualism”—the belief that the body and mind/soul are distinct in form and nature. This means that we enter the world with an innate sense—untaught, unforced, unprompted—that we are more than just our physical bodies. Azlan writes, “There are certain cognitive processes that can lead us to apply this inborn belief in the soul to others—human and nonhuman alike. But when it comes to belief in the soul, we are, to put it simply, born believers.

Azlan is a pantheist. He writes, “I worship God not through fear and trembling but through the awe and wonder at the workings of the universe—for the universe is God. I recognize that the knowledge of good and evil that the God of Genesis so feared humans might attain begins with the knowledge that good and evil are not metaphysical things but moral choices, I root my moral choices neither in the fear of eternal punishment nor in the hope of eternal reward. I recognize the divinity of the world and every being in it and respond to everyone and everything as though they were God—because they are . And I understand that the only way I can truly know God is by relying on the only thing I can truly know: myself. As Ibn al-Arabi said, “He who knows his soul knows the Lord.”

“God: A Human History” ends with the disturbing sentence, “You Are God.” This statement derives from the pantheistic belief that God is omnipresent, but HM would have been more comfortable with the statement, “God is within us.” When meditating, HM does definitely feel he is communicating with God.

This is radical thinking for most, but exercising our minds is important for a healthy memory. So do not just reject it out of hand, but rather think about it on occasions.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

God: A Human History

May 1, 2018

This post is another in a series on spiritual growth. The post, “The Dunning-Kruger Effect Writ Large” was the first. Should you wonder what posts on spiritual growth are doing in the healthy memory blog, the answer is that this blog advocates growth mindsets, and spiritual growth is one component. The title of this post is identical to the title of an excellent book by Reza Aslan. Reza Aslan is a superb scholar. Anyone who appreciates scholarship should be attracted to the book for that reason alone. He provides evidence that a belief in something akin to a soul begins with the first humans from which the notion of a god or gods develops, and documents the development of the concept in different religions as the religions advanced in sophistication.

HM will jump to the conclusions at the end of the book. “It is no coincidence that this book ends where it began, with the soul. Call it what you want: whether “psyche”, per the Greeks; or “nefesh”, as the Hebrews preferred;, or “chi”, as in China; or “brahman” in India. Call it Buddha Nature or “purusa”. Consider it comaterial with the mind, or coexistent with the universe. Imagine it reuniting with God after death, or transmigrating from body to body. Experience it as the seat of your personal essence or as an impersonal force underlying all creation. However you define it, belief in the soul as separate from the body is universal. It is our first belief, far older than our belief in God. It is the belief that begat our belief in God.”

“Numerous studies on the cognition of children have shown an instinctual propensity for ‘substance dualism’—the belief that the body and mind/soul are distinct in form and nature. That means we enter the world with an innate sense—untaught, unforced, unprompted—that we are more than just our physical bodies. There are certain cognitive processes that can lead us to apply this inborn belief in the soul to others—human and nonhuman alike. But when it comes to belief in the soul, we are, to put it simply, born believers.” Nevertheless, many manage to throw off this belief.

Dr. Aslan continues, “Whether we remain believers is, once again, nothing more or less than a choice. One can choose to view humanity’s universal belief in the soul as born of confusion or faulty reasoning: a trick of the mind or an accident of evolution.”

Dr. Aslan is a pantheist. In pantheism, God is omnipresent. This can lead to the conclusion that God is within each of us. Perhaps when we meditate we can feel and communicate with the God within us. At times, it certainly does feel like that.