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Submitted by Alex Tomer on Fri, 1/27/2012, 8:43pm
About an hour ago, a friend of mine asked me what my idea of God was. You know, for someone who has studied so much philosophy, spent so many hours on the cushion, and has basically built a life out of learning to ask questions, I really had a hard time finding the words to answer this one. Eventually, through some good conversation and acceptance of my intellectual limits, I was able to arrive at some satisfying conclusions. I guess what I want to do is maybe tease out the reasoning behind them, and share it with you.
The word God has a rough go of it in our world. Many of us, at a very young age, are spoon-fed an idea of what God is (he's usually old, a dude, invisible, and not very understanding). Once people fail to present us with any reasoning for this description, or even some willingness to attempt to, we reject it. But do we really reject it? Or do we simply reject any association with it, but still carry the idea around with us, well into our adult life, and automatically associate any metaphysical or spiritual question with it? That's what I did, and as a result, ended up in my twenties with the spiritual maturity of a seven year old. From what I can tell, this seems to be the norm.
When you remove the dogma and ideology from any religion, what you're usually going to be left with is a problem, a solution, and a program or practice of certain actions which will bring that solution about. Take the teachings of Jesus for example: the problem is that we're born imperfect beings who are disconnected from God, the solution is coming to believe that the sacrifice that Jesus made is our bridge over to God, and we are asked to take the action of inviting Jesus into our lives through asking his forgiveness and living his idea of an ethical life. According to the Buddha, our problem is that we don't understand anguish, the solution is coming to understand its causes, letting go of its causes, and cultivating an ethical life through the eight fold path. While one talks about God, and one talks about anguish, I have a hard time believing that they weren't talking about the exact same thing.
When my friend presented me with this question, the conclusion that I ended up with is that my idea of God is simply my life. I surprised myself with this answer, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me. My life is not just my life, because there is actually no me for it to belong to. In fact, anytime that I've ever looked for the independent, autonomous me that supposedly owns this thing, I've only ever found a body that comes from the earth, a set of interpretations that comes from the cultures in which I find myself immersed, and some sort of consciousness that has no inherent or necessary being in itself, but finds its being in a contingent, complex, and interdependent web of events and circumstances that in no way needed to come about. My life is not just my life; it's your life, the life of the world, the life of the universe, and yes, if you wish, the life of God, because what else can we ever mean by God except for all of those things lumped into one word? The realization of this puts us all where we belong: on equal ground, and teaches us that we don't connect with truth through heightened states of mind or eloquent philosophical systems, but by becoming intimate with the average everydayness of our lives. We tie our shoes, we eat our breakfast, we play with our kids. We take our dog for a walk, and God smiles back at us from the steaming heap of dung that you abandon on your neighbor's lawn.
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