Thursday, August 23, 2007

Comparative Religion Pontification

TL has called Pretty Lady on her habit of blithely mixing and matching her spiritual philosophies:

Buddhism has a concept of non-atman, no individual soul.

With the non-atman concept how, who, what re-incarnates and carries Karma?
Chris, of course, spots the Fundamental Flaw in this question:
Karma as you mean it -- probably -- is a Hindu concept, not a Buddhist one. So you're mixing your religions.
Which might very well be the end of the discussion. But you all know Pretty Lady too well to hope that it will be.

For not only is TL mixing religions, this dear befuddled person is conflating the esoteric and the exoteric. Which is an exceptionally dangerous mistake.

(Pretty Lady asks that all you dear people please ignore the Wikipedia entry on the term 'esoteric.' We are, truly, living in degenerate times.)

'Esoteric,' in the context of religion, has to do with inner experience, specifically that of the enlightened mind, trained by extensive spiritual discipline of one type or another. There is nothing 'obscure' about it at all; it is a mere uncovering of the fundamental, unoccluded experiential truth of existence. It cannot be written down, only directly observed.

'Exoteric,' on the other hand, is all about the stories we tell, to attempt to communicate one small part of this experiential truth, rather in the manner of the blind men and the elephant. These stories are usually about exciting and wildly improbable things such as elephants standing on turtles, virgin births, and profligate wastrels sitting under trees. As dear Kenny Wilber says, "Exoteric religions are all different; esoteric religions are essentially the same." Pretty Lady would amend that to state that the myths of each religion are unique, but that the good ones do seem to converge in their abstract principles.

Pretty Lady will leave it in the capable hands of obsessive, fundamentalist fanatics to argue about the literal truth of exoteric mythologies. What concerns her is: are these stories descriptive of some observable truth, on some level? And if so, what is the best way to translate them to one's audience in a way which will be locally understood? For rarely is there a one-to-one correllation of symbols and concepts, when mapping relative world-views.

For example, Pretty Lady was ranting and raving about Karmic Consequences once, while embroiled in a situation involving a young Turk of a landlord and the precipitate eviction of the young family downstairs, on fifteen days' notice, in the middle of winter. Her Brooklynite friend remarked: "You don't talk about 'karma' in Brooklyn. You just tell him, 'What goes around, comes around.'"

Which is, when one thinks about it, obvious.

Thus, in response to TL's question: The concept of 'non-atman' is about as esoteric as one gets. It is an attempt to convey the essential unity of everything, on the level of Spirit, as the Western mind might phrase it. The perceived ability of Spirit to arrange itself into seemingly autonomous clumps of thought, sensation and activity is taken as read; after all, here we are.

Similarly, the concept of 'karma' in no way contradicts this essential unity, when one reflects that if All is One, there is no getting away from oneself. We may, for convenience' sake, choose to claim an isolate autonomy for a period of time, but when what one does unto others is consistently done unto oneself, over a period of millennia, this fiction of autonomy becomes a bit tedious to maintain.

1 comment:

The Aardvark said...

Dear Heart, I ignore Wikipedia as much as possible.