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MetaphysicalFuss

Why is it that so many people are interested in religion, and why is it that religious enlightenment is such an arduous undertaking?

Let us start with ourselves. Why are we interested in religion? (If you, dear reader, are not, you may as well quit reading here, hehe.) At the root of it all, the driving force behind it all, is a fundamental unease. Something is not right. But we can't say it, we lack the words. We can't describe it, we can't ask the right questions, and even when we know the answers, we can find the right words for them. Or put it the other way around: When all your answerable questions have been answered -- a few unanswered questions remain. And nobody was able to understand your question, or give you an answer, or you were unable to understand the answer. That is the unease I am talking about.

What happens next is that some people think they know what the questions are and often enough they know the answers as well. The problem is that if the questions and answers were rational, then we would have understood them a long time ago. The point is, since we are talking about the unanswerable questions, they have -- by definition! -- no rational answer.

Since some people feel unease and others feel like they have the answers, an elaborate system of teachers and students emerges: religions, masters, sects, philosophies, schools -- metaphysics! The categorization, description and study of non-rational questions and answers for the troubled masses.

To repeat:

I won't go into any particular metaphysical system on this page. If you are interested in what answers I prefer, take a look at ZenBuddhism. What I want to talk about instead is what the possible answers look like. What we are looking for is enlightenment, satori, kensho, wisdom -- The Truth!

What is The Truth!?

Maybe the best approach is this:

The Truth we are looking for is not the boolean truth found in source code. It is not quality some statements have. To take that as an answer would be ridiculous. Let's rephrase the question, then: What is wisdom?

It not some unknowable idea. It is not unnoticeable. If it were so, then whether it exists or not wouldn't make any difference at all. Therefore wisdom is something knowable, noticeable -- it is real. It is something some people have. At least we can imagine some people having it. As we observe these people, as we observe ourselves, we can that sometimes we are "doing it right" -- and sometimes we are "doing it wrong", where "it" refers to whatever we are doing in life.

Interestingly enough, we know pretty well when we are "doing it wrong":

We also know when we are doing it right:

So what does it all mean? When we are not doing what we want, or when we want what we cannot do -- then we are "doing it wrong". Incidentally, that is what most religions try to teach us: Often enough religions tells us how to behave and why we should wish for that behavior. The short list also tells us that when we appreciate life, when we enjoy the little moments as well as the big ones, then we are "doing it right". Not many religions tell us that, but many new age esoteric schools of thought do that. "Think positive!"

Therefore wisdom is a mind-set, it tells us how to lead our lives and it allows us to appreciate how we do it. Often enough that means that we also appreciate life itself -- but not necessarily. When you suffer a lot of cruelty, chances are that wisdom will not help you enjoy it. But doing what is needed then and there is wise.

All of this may have seemed straight forward. So what is the real problem, then?

Since it is quite easy for us to feel the difference between "doing it right" and "doing it wrong", that cannot be the problem. And if you can't tell the difference, then you wouldn't feel the difference if you were wise -- you have no need for enlightenment.

The problem is that most of the time we are not "doing it right". And the question is, how do we get from here to there? How do we change ourselves and our lives such as to do it right more often? That is the fundamental problem. And here we come back to the unanswerable questions in life. If you think this is a problem, then you were obviously either unable to ask the right questions, or the people you met were unable to answer your questions, or you were unable to understand the answers.

So, how do we get from here to there? I can't tell you, but I think I know the answer. And I know that it is really simple. And that's why this page exists: I don't know why so many would-be teachers are making such a fuss about it.

But here's my take on the answer, based on my readings in ZenBuddhism.

Would-be teachers have trouble explaining their answer to you. And now you know why: Because it is not rational. It doesn't make sense. If it would make sense, you would have understood a long time ago, and you wouldn't feel this unease! The problem is that the teachers keep on babbling, inventing rituals, sutras, prayers, positions of zazen and yoga, of pilgrimages and what not, they resort to poetry, weird images, paintings, calligraphy -- all in their vein attempt to say the obvious.

Any why is that so? Because you cannot ever explain feelings in such a way as to make other people experience the same thing. You can tell them about it, and maybe their imagination constructs something akin to what you are trying to say, and then it works. Did you ever try to comfort somebody having a depression? Nothing works. Because you are feeling find and the other person is feeling sad -- and nothing you could ever say will change that. Only time and experience can. You can be a good friend, you can offer company and kind words. But you cannot say words in order to make people happy.

To conclude:

Hehe, the last one is tricky, eh? Even I like to read books about Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, religious texts, talk with other people who are looking for The Truth, or claim that they have found it. But the difference is this: I already appreciate my life, and if I were not, then nothing they can say would change that.

All they can do is maybe the change my ideas of what is right. Hopefully such improvements keep happening! And maybe they can teach me something about our past -- history, comparative theology, whatever they call it.

"Go bless yourselves!" -- AlexSchroeder


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