Masochistic Perceptions, Trials and Truths

These are my cyberfied cerebral synapses ricocheting off reality as I perceive it: thoughts, opinions, passions, rants, art and poetry...

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Evolving Beliefs

So many things affect our perspectives on life: experiences, things we read, age, education, attitude, etc. Over the past decade and a bit, I have been doing a lot of soul searching. Though baptised in the United Church during infancy, I had little in terms of a religious upbringing, save for a couple of years attending Sunday School at a local Anglican church when I was 5 or 6 years of age. By the tween years, through adolescence and into my early 20's, I was very much a non-theist. This became deeper ingrained as I discovered Punk Rock, Socialism, Camus and Existentialism in high school, followed by several Philosophy courses in University. I did read the Bible cover to cover in my second year of university, but that was to gain a better insight into my English degree as it appeared every literary reference was either to the Bible or "Paradise Lost".

University also introduced me to psychologists such as Jung, and a bit from the Eastern Philosophical cannon, which ultimately held considerable sway in my spiritually formative years of my late twenties and early thirties. The mentality and non-dogmatic approaches to these ways of understanding our world are best summed up in the Buddha's words: "Believe nothing, regardless of where you read it or who said it… unless it agrees with your own reason and common sense." It is very obvious why this approach to spirituality would resonate with me, given the peace-nick-punk rock perspective from which I was approaching the subject.

So, by my late twenties I was distilling Eastern ideology in my brain and foraging a path where I could apply what I was absorbing. By my early thirties, I began to identify myself as being a Buddhist. By my late thirties, I found defining my beliefs slightly more difficult as there were so many contributing thoughts contributing to my beliefs, borrowing from pagan traditions, Hinduism and an assortment of psychological theories. On top of this, I had a decade of Martial Arts and Yoga under my belt, had suffered from anxiety and depression, started a family, and had experienced several extremes in my life ranging from travel to being a Correctional Officer to becoming a special needs Teacher.

The journey has continued to evolve now in my early forties. I find it difficult to call myself a Buddhist, as my beliefs are so complex and varied. For example, I became a vegetarian (pescatarian actually) again a ways back. People are always quick to jump on me when they learn that I do eat fish and seafood, and argue that it should be all or nothing, and that I'm not very Buddhist (by the way, the Buddha had pork for his last meal). In the end, perhaps I'm not trying to "be Buddhist" on a subconscious level (on which I will elaborate in a bit). My justification is to state that I will only eat what I would myself be prepared to kill, and, if I elect to take a life, I must honour it by using the entire animal. Many of my uncles were hunters and farmers, and I have actively participated in the slaughter of animals with them. Given the choice, I simply elect to use meat alternatives over the raising of animals for slaughter. It's as simple as that. I believe that meat (and fish) farming is not an environmentally healthy practise, and it is not cost effective in feeding the world (i.e. comparing the yield of a soya crop to the raising of a single cow).

Perhaps even more extreme is my belief that sometimes the death penalty is warranted and the most compassionate course of action. I by no means advocate death for everyone convicted of murder as there are always extenuating circumstances. However, I do believe that "monsters" do exist and that they do need to be put down for the safety of society and those tasked with their care. I am not going to elaborate on the nitty gritty of this here, but rather wish to offer it as another example of how my experiences have led me to where I am at. No matter how poignant our arguments or the passions with which we press them, we can not revise another's perception, and our perception is our reality.

Inevitably, with my indulgence into Buddhism, Yoga, etc., I also began to embrace many things in Eastern culture. This is not a bad thing and is all a part of expanding one's world views and adding colour to one's life. The difficulty lies in when our search causes us to try to "become" Eastern, when culturally we are not. I think what really got me thinking on this point was when I heard a statement by the Dalai Lama where he made it clear that he did not want people to convert to Buddhism from other cultures or religions. He continued on to say that everything that Buddhism offers is found in the other main religions of the world: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, etc., and that people need to find these things within their own cultural contexts. It's true that we in the West tend to romanticise Eastern Zen Masters and Guru's – as if they possess some great wisdom that can make everything right in our lives and in the world. We seem to hold Tibet as a type of Mecca, and many Westerners feel like they need to shave their heads/ grow their hair and don saffron robes, traveling Eastward to the "promised lands". It is easy to see how many tend to become even more lost on their spiritual quests as they assume a new identity and the language of "Namaste" and "Om shanti" over who they really are (myself included).

I don't intend this to be either negative or insultory towards these people – again, to each our own reality. I am simply speaking about where I am at with my thinking. I am a strong advocate of meditation, Yoga and reading Eastern Spiritual Philosophy in that I believe that they offer significant positive contributions to our lives and express their sentiments in a language far more accessible than many other spiritual traditions (i.e. there's some great stuff in the Bible, but often it is inaccessible in its presentation). What I am saying is that one needs to apply the teachings in the context of their own lives and culture, through simple principles and daily application – simply trying to be a good person. I hope that I am communicating my message here effectively.

At present, I see much of what I have been doing as far as my own spirituality goes, has been trying to departmentalise my beliefs and consolidate them under some kind of identifiable label – Buddhist. There is obvious irony in my attachment toward this need to self-identify, even though there have always been uncomfortable moments or moments where I felt totally disenfranchised (silent retreats and attending services at the Buddhist temple being prime examples, not to mention Yoga's corporatisation in North America). Perhaps I'm still a punk rocker at heart, but, to simplify things, I draw from the words of the late, great Reggae artist, Peter Tosh: "I am that I am, I am, I am, I am"

In conclusion, perhaps the time has arrived to part with my labels of Yogi, Buddhist, etc., and simply become the collective entity of my self. May the road rise with all of you on your own journeys, and I wish each of you health, peace and happiness.



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