Freedom from religion? Social media, and often times, our press is rife with posts clamouring for so-called “religious rights” — often a thinly veiled justification for a group’s desire to discriminate against others. And while the false claim that this country was founded upon the idea of freedom of religion continues to be embraced by the superstitious, the uneducated and the fundamentalist alike; history reveals that the real bedrock of a progressive society remains those who recognise the importance of freedom from religion.
I have recently come under renewed attack by those who feel that I have somehow betrayed my vocation, by formally renouncing all forms of organised religion. I’ve been called heretic, despicable, evil and my personal favourite, the antichrist by some, and an embarrassment, bad example, and disgrace by others. Most recently, a man who pretends to be a “Catholic priest” (despite having had no proper formation, and highly irregular “holy orders” at best), admonished me that I should “prayerfully consider” the vows I took, fourteen years ago today, when I was consecrated as an archbishop, and sworn to live a life exemplary of our roles as “priest, prophet and king”.
Why is it that my insistence that freedom from religion is an evolutionary leap forward represents such a threat to those who cling to their superstitions, dogma and beliefs so tightly that anyone whose path differs threatens them?
As we begin a new year, we’ve begun to contemplate once more what it is that our community strives to bring to the world.
A recent discussion yielded some interesting insights. Before we were able to really unpack our purpose, most of us were very clear in our minds about what we did not wish to represent, and who we were not:
Our purpose is not to represent religion or other forms of superstition, no matter how popular and profitable those things might appear.
We are not interested in hierarchical structure or governance.
We do not seek to draw more lines in the sand.
We do not consider ourselves as belonging to any one country, state or nation.
We fundamentally believe that every moment can lead to value. And that the discovery of value within ourselves and others is one of the highest purposes to which we can subscribe as a society. We hold that each of us can transform society, by living in the world as peaceful revolutionaries — who serve the needs of those less fortunate, and who bring value to one another in every transactional encounter.
Our purpose, as secular humanists and New Thought practitioners, is to free ourselves from those things which divide us, and to embrace that which recognises our essential unity. For us, it’s not about freedom of religion, which we see as an important right for all persons… it’s about freedom from religion, that we devote our efforts and resources to creating.
We believe that a truly purpose-driven life is one that is informed by its past, not hostage to it. As Rick Warren puts it, “Experience is not what happens to you. It is what you do with what happens to you. Don’t waste your pain; use it to help others.” (The Purpose Driven Life)
We do not need to pretend that we are healers, because no one has ever healed another, and no one ever will. Healing arises from within, and is an organic process of becoming more aware of the innate balance that is our True Nature (homeostasis). We do not need to be priests or prophets, for the world needs no more professional hypocrites, predators or charlatans. It’s had more than enough of those over the past several millennia. We do not need to be in the spotlight, because the most important work is always done in secret and quietude.
We choose to be decentralised… fluid… post-denominational… rebels and revolutionaries of Love Itself.
On the Formal Practice, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche writes:
You can experience that dreamlike quality by relating with sitting meditation practice. When you are reflecting on the breath, suddenly discursive thoughts begin to arise; you begin to see things, to hear things, and to feel things. But all those perceptions are none other than your own mental creation. In the same way, you can see that your hate for your enemy, your love for your friends, and your attitude toward money, food, and wealth are all part of discursive thought.
In Buddhism, we recognise that this aggregate of systems and senses we imagine is our “self” is merely an illusion. One of the principal benefits of this practice is that it restores a sort of gentleness… a soft, comforting reminder of what our True Nature, which is Consciousness, or Śunyata, or Love, or if you prefer the primitive metaphors, God(dess), etc., already knows. It’s about the process of rediscovering truths that we already possess, which might have been obscured by the dreamlike state.
Everything that appears in your experience is a manifestation of your mind. And it is also a reflection of something within you that needs your attention.
While we dream, the events in our dreams seem really to be happening: we find ourselves in another location, conversations takes place, we experience pain or pleasure, fear or calm. Anything can happen in your dreams. All the appearances are there. But despite these appearances, no such events have really occurred while you slept. And so it is with what we imagine to be our “waking state”, which is but another level of dream-consciousness.
The first instruction is very simple, yet profound. We should not lay the blame for anything on others. Now, as simple as it sounds, I know that there will be, for many of my readers, a momentary rolling of the eyes, because this sounds rather absurd on the surface. After all, if someone attacks us on the street, why would we not say that they were to blame?
We must recognise that every experience begins in our minds. And if that is true, and if our perception of this “self”, which is really nothing more than an aggregate of senses and systems, then it is also true that we are responsible for bringing forth the misery in samsara from beginning was time. To the degree that we continue this self-cherishing, self-cleaning attitude we will experience suffering and harm in this lifetime.
Now it’s also very important, to understand that we don’t mean instead of blaming other people, we blame ourselves. Our objective, is to take a closer look at what blame feels like altogether, and then to guard ourselves against the temptation to engage in that hurtful, meaningless, and immature practice.
When you really think about it, it takes so much energy to place blame. I believe that most occurrences of placing blame have their roots in fear. When we are afraid that someone is taking something from us, doing something that will hurt us, making us look less important, less honorable, less “good”, then the ego self, begins the process of pointing fingers.
The very moment that we begin to take 100% responsibility, when we begin to say, “I have chosen this experience, these are the seeds I planted, and now I am reaping the crop at harvest time,”everything changes. When we realise that the ordinary mind throws responsibility on someone else, and that the perception of the other is an illusion, we return to the point of power within ourselves. Pure Awareness.
I like to end this section of the commentary by sharing something Albert Einstein wrote, which might have just as easily been written by a great Dharma master:
A human being is a part of the whole, called by us, “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.
This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.
Nothing exists independently of consciousness or mental designation, therefore it becomes easier, and in fact, essential, that we release the need to place blame.
This is the time of year, where humanity experiences the transformative power, when light and darkness meet and become unified, leading up to what my teachers called, “The Twelve Nights of Transformation”.
One of the central tenets of the Buddhist philosophy is the concept of interdependence.
The philosophical dimension of this concept focuses on the recognition that nothing has value in and of itself. Everything is composite, and everything is impermanent or transient. Everything undergoes a process of change, most easily evidenced in our own human lives.
We are not today the person we were physically, emotionally or psychologically, five or ten or twenty years ago. Why? Because the notion of “self” is a delusion. “We” are really nothing more than a composite or amalgam of systems and conditions. The “self” that we cherished when we were twelve no longer exists. Therefore, we can say that it had no essential value, since it was actually nothing more than an idea we had.
Today, I choose to shift my focus from resentment toward forgiveness. I recognise that forgiveness is a gift I give to myself. It is an opportunity for me to release the energy that holds me hostage, and distracts me from growth. As I forgive myself, it becomes easier to forgive others.
Each moment is an opportunity for me to release a limiting belief or fear, and to forgive myself for holding me back from experiencing the full potential of that moment in the past.
I know that my experiences are the result of my thoughts. And without a need for blame, I recognise that there are times my thoughts take a less productive turn. And that’s alright, because it’s part of the experience of learning. But I also realise that I am free to choose new thoughts.
And so today, I choose thoughts which free me from the decisions of my past… which bring new possibilities and reinvigorate my journey, rather than distracting me from it.
I let go of resentment I have felt toward those who have let me down. I release the need to punish those who have hurt me. I know they were doing the best they could, and their mediocrity and lack of commitment is their business… their lesson to learn… not mine.
I am limited only by the barriers I create in consciousness. And so I release those barriers now, and recognise my essential nature as Pure Awareness.
Today, I allow ease and compassion to guide my thoughts and energise my actions. I celebrate the limitless potential that exists in the present moment, and choose to mindfully turn my awareness to that moment… to live from that place alone… which is the source of my power and potential.
I forgive myself and others effortlessly, and let go of the old stories that held me captive.
The wisdom of the Buddha points out that holding onto anger is like holding onto hot coals, but hoping that the other person is the one who feels the pain. It’s like drinking poison, and expecting the other person to die from it. And so it’s time for me to let go of these foolish endeavors and resentments.
I’ve allowed another to hold the pen that was writing my story. Today, I choose to write a NEW STORY, in my own hand…
And as that story unfolds the joy and abundance that are my birthright begins to express in every experience… every turn.
Forgiveness comes easy and release gently follows.
Master Thich Nhat Hanh once observed, “Most of the boundaries between traditions are artificial. truth has no boundaries. The differences are mostly in emphasis.” Letting go of the perception of boundaries can free us to experience a deeper, quieter, and more still version of Truth. In the Buddhist tradition, we call that place of letting go, “calm abiding”.
I’ve often thought it interesting that some Buddhists, especially in the Tibetan tradition are so quick to pontificate that “all phenomena are empty,” and yet they get their uttarasanghas in bunch so easily, decrying this monk’s lineage or that teacher’s orthodoxy! If phenomena are empty, then doctrine and dogma are equally empty, and all wisdom paths ought to be given the same respect.
A couple months ago, I was approached by a number of practitioners, who wanted to know if I would consider reinvigorating the Contemplative Order of Compassion as a centre for wisdom and dharma. And I agreed to give it some thought, as I took into account many of the areas of my work and practice at the end of the year. It is something I am still giving a great deal of thought.
Some have encouraged me to consider incorporating the order back into an institutional organisation, so that we could have access to greater funding for the projects that impact so many people’s lives.
I’m not sure that will ever be a good idea, as who and what we are arose from the journey out of institutional religion, to a place where post-denominational expression of ancient teachings and new thought philosophy could be unencumbered by dogma and doctrine.
Others have suggested that we formalise the beliefs and teachings in such a way that Zenkondo becomes a spiritual path itself. And I think we’ve done so already, without allowing it to become another institution or religion.
It may be time to explore the possibilities of forming a greater community, possibly even a physical community again. Time will tell.
In the meantime, let’s simply agree to let go of the idea of boundaries, and begin working toward expanding the work of compassionate service to others. And we will be well on our way to rediscovering what the future holds.
Join us for a special re-broadcast on World AIDS Day, as we talk with survivors, community servants, and honour some of the greatest activists this generation has ever known. My special guest for this show is Swami Anjani Jaya Hanuman, of Kashi Ashram.
I wanted to share my thoughts on the visit of Pope Francis to the United States, because I think there is a message relevant to every spiritual path, including those of us who are non-theistic and secular humanists.
This past week brought a lot of “religious discussion” to the forefront of social media, owing in no small part to the Pope’s visit to the U.S. For many, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, the experience was something of a ‘retreat’ experience — reminding us of our essential unity, the need to serve the sick, poor, and dying, our responsibility as stewards of a planet facing global warming and other environmental issues, and of the need for peace and compassion. That ‘retreat experience’ ended last night, when Francis boarded the plane for Vatican City. We often refer to what follows as “the fourth day” experience… that experience of “what now” after an intensive three day retreat.
It occurs to me that what Pope Francis really did was to serve as a mirror for us. That exquisite Inner Light, which is compassion or love, Pure Awareness, as I prefer to call it, which some acceptably anthropomorphise into the “god concept” and all its various legends and myths, was reflected in his eyes, his words and his admonitions.
He reminded us that how we LIVE our religion (or spiritual paths) is far more important than what we SAY about our religion or spiritual paths.
Now it’s our turn to take action, and own the POSSIBILITIES for healing to begin.