Saturday, August 17, 2013

Under the bodhi tree with Jesus and Malcolm X

This week I had an, as always, fascinating conversation with a friend whose life has been dedicated to helping people think through what kind of organisation would best express their values and objectives and which would enable people to make their best contribution.

Part of the conversation revolved around how challenging it is for us, as people, to recognise our assumptions, the way in which we frame our understanding of the world. We touched on this first in relation to the on-going financial crisis, how often it is we encounter people whose 'modelling' of the economy has come unstuck but it is not the model that is dysfunctional but the application of it and if they (always it is them) had simply played by the rules, all would be well. If questioned about their assumptions, they either deny they have assumptions: no, this is how the world really is or defend their assumptions as the only possible rational ones: so there.

We all do it to a greater or lesser degree. We have covert world views and the costliness of changing them is such that most of us, most of the time, do not even try.

Such failure is, sadly, everywhere it was in the running comment after the recent report of the rat experiment that showed a surge of electrical activity at (or beyond) the rats death and most of the commentary I saw spared not a thought for the poor rats demise in 'proving' that death is a process not an event and 'explaining' the reported phenomena of 'near death experience'. Virtually every comment I read started from a particular implicit (and unacknowledged) framing that determined how one read the evidence without pausing to consider the nature of the framing we were bringing to it.

Much more tragically, and with bitter circumstance to be reaped for many years to come, I fear, it was painfully present in the conflicting realities of Egypt, made doubly so, by not only a blinkered appreciation of one's own framing but a confident assertion (projection) of the framing of the 'other'. It becomes then a fighting over the 'one reality' (which is to enforce mine over yours) rather than a recognition that our reality is, in fact, always and everywhere a construct out of Reality, a Reality that always transcends it. There is all the difference in the world if you imagine that you are on a journey and must make do and mend with your disparate companions than if you think you (and you only) are the owners of the destination.

This is especially tragic in the case of 'religion' - each and every religious tradition has within itself resources to remind its adherents that 'Reality' is always and everywhere greater than their consciousness of it and so tread lightly. This is encountered more often in the breach than the observance, sadly; and, indeed the notion of a religion, as implied in the words roots as 'that which binds' is the absolute antithesis of the 'end point' of any sacred journey as that which frees!

The first sacred text that I read (of my own volition) was the Buddha's remarkable first sermon in the garden, under the bodhi tree of his enlightenment, and from which I gained two insights that, fitfully, have stayed with me. The first was that 'the solution' was not primarily in the 'content' of what you held in your mind but the 'context', how a truth is held is as important as 'what is the truth'. More important is the compassion that you bring to your wisdom than the wisdom itself indeed wisdom dissolves if compassion is absent. The second was to admire (and hopefully emulate) those capable of shedding their assumptions, even when they found themselves in the spotlight of leadership.

This is why both Jesus, who you plainly see growing in his understanding of his ministry and its universal nature through the Gospels, for example, in responding to the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7 25-30) and Malcolm X who grows out of his 'Nation of Islam' framing of Islam into a more whole, generous and inclusive understanding of the Prophet's message even to the point of triggering his assassination join the Buddha under this sheltering tree of admiration!

With Jesus this is especially true for being God, it is especially important that we are reminded that a core theme in the Hebrew Bible is humanity's ability to challenge God's framing of the revelation or as Martin Buber put it: Know to your marrow that you need God but know too that God needs you! (And indeed Buber always happily reminded people that there was no word in Hebrew for 'religion') Or in the Church Fathers, most notably in St Gregory of Nyssa, that any knowledge of 'Reality' is always radically incomplete and the fulfilment of the human person in relation to that Reality is the joy of being lured endlessly into renewed discovery.

Reality is a co-created endeavour - a loving journey perhaps more than A destination.

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