Your Questions, My Answers ~ SEEKING
"I was raised as a Christian,
and taught to believe in God, but have never been
very religious. I have a good job and prospects of
promotion, a nice home, and a fairly happy family-life;
on the material level, I lack nothing. But now, in
middle age, having worked hard for and achieved what
is known as ‘success’, I feel something
missing, that there is something more to life than
what I have. I’m beginning to think, more and
more, of the purpose of life—or even if it has
a purpose. It often seems chaotic and without meaning,
unjust and full of suffering. Can there really be
a God in all this—a good and merciful God? I
feel a great urge to know, but distrust organized
religion, with its power-structures and vested interests.
All religions claim to be right, but their theories
and beliefs often contradict each other, so that it’s
hard to know which is right and which is wrong".
Faced with his own mortality,
Throughout the ages,
Sought by thought for the Immortal,
And religions are the result
Of his gropings in this direction.
Yet these, while they form the highest
And noblest flowerings of his mentations,
Have all failed and fallen far short
In their aim and purpose
Of capturing and demonstrating,
Clearly and beyond doubt,
The Divine, of which they speak.
Might this not largely be because
We search from fear,
And the desire to possess and hold,
Instead of from awe and wonder
Of that which we already have?
With nets of imagination,
We have tried to catch the wind,
And all we have succeeded in doing
Is to bring the Divine
Down to our own muddy level,
Instead of raising ourselves to
The level of the Divine.
For so long, and with so fierce
Have we grasped onto concepts and ideas
In the fearful hope of redemption and salvation,
That we know not if the clasped hand
Holds anything but itself.
Perhaps—and if it ever contained anything at
It has long since crawled out and escaped,
Like a worm from the heart of a rosebud.
And all the time that one holds one’s hand,
Convinced that what one has, or thinks one has,
Is real and true and the only,
How it is possible for the Real,
The Unknown, the Nameless,
To reveal Itself?
Would one who thinks he holds
Willingly let go for something unknown?
But if he begins to doubt his belief
In a jewel within his folded palm,
He might begin to investigate,
And find, upon looking, not a jewel,
But just a desiccated flower, its petals dead,
Or some other worthless thing.
Would he continue to cling to and worship
This less-than-a-poor-substitute for a jewel?
His hand would then be open and empty,
And the Nameless could enter.
A concept is not a reality; be careful not
to take it for such. Man has clothed the Divine in
many forms and names—or rather, has attempted
to do so. Ask the believers for some attributes of
God, and you will get many responses: Loving, Kind,
Compassionate, Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omniscient,
All-Wise, Tolerant, Forgiving, etc.; never do they
say anything negative about God. How strange, therefore,
that believers have waged war, hated and killed in
the name of their God! We have no need to look back
as far as the Crusades—which were termed ‘Holy
Wars’, and which remain in history’s records
as events of great savagery and bloodshed—or
the fiendish torturings and burnings of the Inquisition—which
the Catholic Church, claiming infallibility, must
forever have upon its conscience—because this
strange aberration is still with us. If there is a
God, and if It—I am not going to engender or
personify It—has such qualities as Its believers
claim, would It—could It—approve of the
barbaric behavior of Its followers?
Take, for example, the furor in India over
the mosque standing on a site which Hindus claim to
be the birth place of their God Rama: with Hindu fundamentalism
on the rise—as among the adherents of other
religions—there is now a demand for the demolition
of the mosque in order to build a temple there; they
say that the temple which originally stood there was
destroyed by the first of the Moghul Emperors, Babur,
about 450 years ago. Already, there have been bloody
riots about this matter in different parts of India,
during which 700 people have been killed and thousands
There are countless temples in India, but,
in order to build another one, some people are ready
to plunge the country into the horrors of inter-religious
conflict—like that which took place upon the
partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan
in 1947, when millions were massacred and made homeless—between
majority Hindus, of whom there are about 800 millions,
and minority Muslims, who number about 125 millions;
such conflict is always simmering below the surface
in India, ready to boil over at any time. The Muslims
there will surely not allow their shrine to be destroyed
without vigorous protest and opposition! Now, suppose
that, after much inevitable violence and bloodshed,
the mosque is replaced by a temple: Will that make
anyone more religious? Will it bring them any nearer
to the God they claim to worship? Surely, leaders
of religion have a responsibility to help their followers
understand a little better than this, instead of misdirecting
them into courses of thinking and acting that are
the very antitheses of religion. Fanaticism is a disease
that, with proper education, can be overcome and eradicated;
of course, this will take a long time, because it
is deep-rooted, but we can make a beginning, and carry
on from there, can we not?
(Update: Since I first wrote this in 1991,
the mosque was indeed demolished by bands of militant
Hindus, resulting in widespread communal violence,
especially in Bombay, which has a large Muslim population.
The Stock Exchange there was bombed, causing the deaths
of more than a thousand people in that incident alone.
There were burnings, slayings and rapings, as had
been predicted. The suffering was immense. And even
as I rewrite this in December 1997, there have been
several train-bombings in India, with a number of
deaths and many injured, and though no-one has yet
claimed responsibility for them, it is thought that,
being around the anniversary of the demolition of
the mosque, they were carried out in reprisal for
that; the madness goes on).
St. Augustine wrote that he had said to
Nature—the trees, the mountains, the flowers,
the birds, and so on—’"Tell me about
God’. My gazing upon them was my question; their
beauty was their answer". This is extremely flawed
reasoning, starting with a preconception, and then
seeing just what he wanted and expected to see. In
order to perceive a mountain or flower as beautiful,
he must have had a standard by which to measure them,
but that was his standard, not that of the mountain
or the flower. Does the flower or the bird know it
is beautiful? We say they are, but that’s just
our opinion, our judgment, which depends upon our
feelings, which are heavily conditioned. Among humans,
there are differing ideas of beauty about the same
things: in Western society, for example, although
there are lots of overweight people, fat is regarded
as ugly, but among islanders of the South Pacific,
Samoans consider it beautiful! There will be no grounds
for disagreement about this if we realize that measurements
of such things as beauty and ugliness are relative
and subjective. Most people fear snakes and think
they are ugly, but some think they are beautiful.
To humans, toads are rather repulsive, but to each
other they are probably not, otherwise they would
have died out long ago. And from a toad’s eye
view, humans may be grotesque monsters! It all depends
upon how you look at it!
St. Augustine mentions nothing of ugliness,
but, as Lao Tse said: "All can know beauty as
beauty only because of ugliness". We can know
one only when we know the other; they always go together,
inseparably. What Augustine perceived as ‘beauty’
is not proof of the existence of God, as he claimed—and
certainly not as he imagined God to be: as a being
with human qualities such as jealousy, love, hate,
anger, favoritism, and so on. Nature is impartial
and impersonal; the rain wets the good person as well
as the bad; the house of the believer may be consumed
by fire just as may be the house of the non-believer;
the flood sweeps away those in its path regardless
of their piety or impiety. Anthropomorphism—the
attribution of human qualities to the Divine, or the
personification of the Absolute—has done more
harm in the world than anything else, because people
believe that such a God can be bribed, persuaded or
lobbied into taking sides, and many wars have been
fought with the idea that God is somehow participating,
and often with both parties claiming that God is on
their side against the other; thus, God is divided
against ‘Himself’! This delusion continues
until today. Isn’t it amazing?
Theists are divided in their ideas of God.
Some believe He/It is eternally transcendent, or separate
from the Universe, while others declare Him/It to
be imminent, or infused in everything—or, more
accurately, that everything is part of God. According
to the latter view, everything thereby partakes of
Divinity, and this fits in better with the findings,
or deductions, of modern science than the former.
Many Christians have become stuck with the idea of
God as painted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the
Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, where He—and
It definitely is a He—is shown with a long white
beard in the act of creating Adam. Though it is a
masterpiece of art, and Michelangelo’s devotion
and artistry can only be highly admired, it can in
no way depict what he had tried to represent, no more
than a Buddha image can represent the qualities of
the Buddha. This is largely why Muslims and Jews abhor
images and portraits, regarding all attempts to depict
the Divine as futile and blasphemy. No attempt should
be made to limit the Limitless.
These days, because of the rise of Feminism
and the reaction against patriarchal religion, some
people—mainly women—are thinking and speaking
of God as ‘She’, instead of ‘He’.
And why not? It is just as logical—and just
as much a limitation.
Now, before you set off on a round-the-world
search, it is advisable to check what you already
have and are, or you may find that, after much wandering
and hardship, finally, you must return—to yourself!
Why should we think that what we are looking for is
there but not here? Truth has no limits and, just
as gold is unharmed by fire, so Truth cannot be destroyed;
if it can be destroyed, it is not Truth. Therefore,
can you—dare you —put your beliefs to
the test? An unwillingness to do so would indicate
some uncertainty about them, would it not? But it
is the only way to check their validity.
Despite the fact that the Buddha never called
anyone to believe Him, but to investigate things and
find out for themselves if a thing is reasonable or
not, Buddhists, no less than people of other religions,
are prone to belief. Many of them believe that, by
calling for help on Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, they
will be delivered from dangers and difficulties of
all kinds, as this is what is said in the Lotus Sutra.
Well, I will shock many believers here by asking:
Is this belief supported by the realities of life,
or is it just wishful thinking, like so much belief?
We all know of people who prayed for help when they
were suffering or in danger, and got no response.
Those who get responses to their prayers are fewer
in number—far fewer —than those who don’t.
This, surely, suggests that such beliefs are not confirmed
by our experiences, yet still we believe. Should not
our faith grow from our own direct experience of things,
instead of beliefs inherited from others? We would
have a much firmer foundation if our faith were so
A last hint, before you begin your search:
Take care that what you are searching for is not a
projection of your hopes, fears and imaginings. It
is not within your capacity to find Truth, for Truth—or
God, or whatever you prefer to call It—is bigger
than you. Truth, rather, must come to you, and it
cannot do so if your mind is full of concepts and
beliefs, but only when it is open and receptive.