Friday, July 10, 2009

Buddhism, Humility, and Freedom

For the most part, secular therapists have little use for humility. Therapy is very market-driven and therefore oriented to the quick-fix to address the symptomology (anxiety, depression, OCD…) through building self-esteem, etc. Humility, however, comes at the painful price of truly facing ourselves. This means challenging our many forms of denial and self-justifications, and that’s not anyone's idea of a good time! Few short-term benefits here!

In contrast, the major world religions tend to be more far-sighted. They’ve accumulated some wisdom along the way and therefore value humility. The late Swami Amar Jyoti, founder of Light of Consciousness, a “Journal of Spiritual Awakening,” writes,

"In most cases, unless you are very humble, insight will tend to make you more egotistical because you feel you know more and understand more and are higher than the average person…We get tempted in the power of maya—darkness and unconsciousness. We are tempted to have more gratification, more privileges or mental powers. Few will not succumb to this temptation…Humility will give you greater insight." ("The Peaceful Path to Enlightenment," Vol 21, #2, Summer 2009, 4)

It’s so obvious that any type of success has a tendency to harden us with arrogance and pride. We develop an entitlement mentality, which makes it easier for us to take what we want and to abuse others in order to get it. After all, we’re spiritually “entitled!” Consequently, far more people have been killed by “superior” and “entitled” people than by all the common criminals, perhaps by a hundredfold!

Jyoti couldn’t be more correct! And humility does impart insight. It represents a willingness to accept ourselves, warts and all, and to not turn away from our defensive tactics at self-justification. It is a brave and calm inner resignation, a trust that enables us to look at the disorienting truths we have so long suppressed and denied. Once we can come to peace within ourselves, without the inner tug-of-war, we have the calm to perceive the reality around us. But from where does this resignation and courage arise? Jyoti continues,

"Avoid arrogance, haughtiness, personal vendettas, jealousy and making impersonal issues into personal ones."

This is the practice of dharma or cosmic law. It has been characterized as a theology of legalism -- "Do better, try harder." At this point, I was getting ready to jump all over Jyoti. Although the practice of God’s righteousness is a great blessing, following God’s laws does not make us righteous but highlights our failures and need for righteousness -- something that can only come as a gift from God (Romans 3:19-20).

However, as I reread his words, I found that Jyoti was giving the credit to “God” for protecting him from the temptations of jealousy and arrogance. Now I was confused like a hunter taking aim at his prey only to find that it had disappeared. How could a karma-based religion, a reap-what-you-sow religion, a what-goes-around-comes-around religion focus on grace and the providence of God? Of course, it has to be as Jyoti says. How can we not become proud over our humility unless we do believe that it’s fully a gift!

I was left wondering, “Can such a theology and practice produce humility and self-knowledge as Christ can?” For myself, I knew that only the love of Christ had been able to penetrate deeply enough into the hidden recesses of my manipulations, selfishness and self-centeredness to empower me to face and confess my utter unworthiness. Only the certainty that Christ had died for my most ugly parts gave me the assurance to face myself. Only when we know that we’re totally loved and protected do we have the courage to confront our concealed horror show. Sometimes, this only happens on our deathbed; more often though, it never happens. It is only in the context of the full assurance that we are forgiven that we can face our sins (and continue to face them), throw our heads back and laugh heartily. This assurance is only possible through the light of the Cross:

"How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!" (Hebrews 9:14)

His cleansing sacrifice penetrates to the core. Only when our consciences are cleansed can we have assurance that our sins have been completely set aside, and only with this confidence can we face the truth, and only in truth can we “serve the living God.” He doesn’t tolerate duplicity, hypocrisy and denial! Nevertheless, Jyoti has come to an understanding that transcends his religion. He knows that humility is only possible as a divine gift. And perhaps also Jyoti's understanding of this? Paul acknowledged to the Athenians that some of their poets had an understanding that comes from above:

"God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'" Acts 17:27-28

Clearly, some are closer than others and the light we have may be an indicator of this. After one man wisely answered Jesus, He responded: "You are not far from the kingdom of God" (Mark 12:34). Let’s encourage those who are close to take the decisive step.

No comments:

Post a Comment