June 07, 2005

Karen Armstrong's Statement of Faith

Dkos' teacherken has a review of Karen Armstrong's latest book. This diary is highly recommended. Armstrong has a compelling and exquisite voice when exploring how humans express their spiritual yearnings throughout the times. I wanted to capture one of her passages here in order to come back and read it again when I need some more reassurance that human beings can aspire to truly inspirational actions and lives worth living rather than narrow and benighted lives accepting the unkindnesses and evil around us and in ourselves.

Compassion has been advocated by all the great faiths because it has been found to be the safest and surest means of attaining enlightenment. It dethrones the ego from the center of our lives and puts others there, breaking down the carapace of selfishness that holds us back from an experience of the sacred. And it gives us ecstasy, broadening our perspectives and giving us a larger, enhanced vision. As a very early Buddhist poem puts it: "May our loving thoughts fill the whole world; above, below, across -- without limt; a boundless goodwill toward the whole world, unrestricted, free of hatred and enmity." We are liberated from personal likes and dislikes that limit our vision, and are able to go beyond ourselves.

This insight was not confined to Buddhism, however. The late jewish scholar Abraham Joshua Heschel once said that when we put ourselves at the opposite pole of ego, we are in the place where God is. The Golden Rule requires that every time we are tempted to say or do something unpleasant about a rival, an annoying colleague, or a country with which we are at war, we should ask ourselves how we should like this said of or done to ourselves, and refrain. In that moment we would transcend the frightened egotism that often needs to wound or destroy others in order to shore up the sense of ourselves. If we lived in such a way on a daily, hourly basis, we would not only have no time to worry overmuch about whether there was a personal God "out there"; we would achieve constant ecstasy, because we would be ceaselessly going beond ourselves, our selfishness and greed. If our political leaders took the Golden Rule seriously into account, the world would be a safer place.

I have noticed, however, that compassion is not always a popular virtue. In my lectures I have sometimes seen members of the audience glaring at me mutinously; where is the fun of religion, if you can't disapprove of other people! There are some people, I suspect, who would be outraged if, when they finally arrive in heaven, they found everybody else there as well. Heaven would not be heaven unless you could peer over the celestial parapet and watch the unfortunates roasting below.

Posted by Mary at June 7, 2005 07:48 AM | Religion | Technorati links |