Posted by Adam on January 27, 2000, at 23:38:21
In reply to Religion and Depression, posted by Cass on January 27, 2000, at 19:31:39
I think your goal of finding a sense of community and structure is a superb one. I often wish I had more of that too. I guess it would be contrary to the teachings of the faith to evangelize in any way, and I am myself not a practitioner in any disciplined sense, but have you ever considered Buddhist teachings and communities?
I think I may be in a similar position as you in that I tend to regard most religions, Eastern and Western, as containing various dogmatic and mutually exclusive elements that are, again in my oppinion, chauvinistic and destructive in nature. I've also found that all sincere attempts at ecumenicalism lead to such a dissolution of the tenents of a given faith as to render it nearly unrecognizable and meaningless. In that respect I find I almost understand fundamentalists more than your average liberal "believer". The fundamentalist at least seems to have some concept of God(s) and Truth that can be firmly grasped, and weather or not I find their views disturbing or disgusting, I know where they stand, and they know what their faith means.
I like a lot of things about Buddhist teachings. It's really not correct to call it a religion, I think, but rather an ethos or economy in the truest sense of those words. Those teachings take a certain level of ambiguity for granted, and don't present the practitioner with rigid doctrines or commandments but rather guidelines that one can absorb and implement as much as one is ready for. There isn't even a strict sense of right or wrong or "sin"; rather, a persons actions are considered inept or adept. One who is inept brings about his or her own suffering and the suffering of others. One who is adept is learing or has learned to escape that practice.
Suffering is the main thing that Buddhism seems to be focused on, both its causes and its cures. The buddha put forth four essential concepts (the "Noble Truths"), and one need truly understand these only to be on the road to health: All life or existance is a state of suffering, this suffering stems from desire, there is an end to suffering, and that end is to follow the Eightfold Way (to exercise right thought, right action, and a bunch of other "rights" I can't remember!) You learn to dissociate yourself from what's hurting you the most (which is clinging to an illusion of permanence and health when all is in fact flux and illness) and focus mostly on being wise and compassionate.
It seemed awfully pessimistic and depressing when I first learned about it in school, this whole concept that we were sick and the only way to get better was to achieve a state of total unbeing, but you learn what it means to suffer and it starts to make a lot of sense. It's not about hating the world or seeing everything as harmful and diseased. It's more about accepting that nothing in the world stays the same for very long, that no hunger can truly be satisfied in the end, and the best you can do is be kind to yourself and others. Part of that kindness is a measured state of detachment; not apathy, but a healthier awareness informed by the conviction that the only way to live well is to let go. I also figured that a true buddhist community (sangha) would be filled mostly with dour ascetics spending all their time meditating and avaoiding anything that smacked of fun, but the reality of most such communities is quite the opposite. Buddhists I've met who are true practitioners have been some of the most vibrant and optimistic people I've encountered, and their faith (or I would rather say, their practice) seems to give them a sanity and equanimity I can't help but admire.
I still have difficulty with some concepts in buddhism, especially those that enter the metaphysical realm (the nature of karma, transmigration of souls and so on), but the beauty of it is one is not expected to buy it all. It's built into the system of beleifs (at least the basic tenants of therevada, or "old school" buddhism) that you take on as much as you can handle, so no one would dispute with you that there are souls or demons or reincarnations or anything else. That's not the point. The point is to get on the path and follow it where it takes you.
I have a feeling this may be something I will explore more, both for my emotional health, and because many sanghas are actively involved with humanitarian causes in, as I mentioned far above, a totally non-evangelical way. It's the focus on helping others which, I guess (and this may be somewhat selfish in motivation, and perhaps not in the true spirit) is what everyone says is the healthiest and happiest thing you can do: make someone elses life better for no other reason than to increase happiness all around. The few times I have done charity work, even when it felt like an excercise, I always came away feeling a bit better. If someone else benefits to, I suppose there's no harm in that.
It's true: buddhism defers to no higher power. No god will help you find salvation; you have to do that yourself, maybe by following some of the buddha's suggestions. But you aren't expected to be alone, until you are ready to be.
> I have developed a "save my life plan." Part I is seeing a pdoc and reanalyzing my medication needs. Part II is submitting to a "higher power." Sorry if I sound trite. I have never liked organized religion, but I'm desperate and perhaps I have been wrong in thinking that all organized religion is destructive. The structure and support of a church may be benificial to me. I believe in God because I sense it in myself and in Nature. I need something to reinforce that feeling. I don't want to go to an evangelical or to a rigid church. I don't like religion that cultivates narrow-mindedness or intolerance. So far, I'm looking into Untitarian and Methodist churches. Any feedback is welcome!!!