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What were your earliest thoughts about God? How would you describe the evolution of your spirituality since those earliest experiences? What are your present beliefs about God/spirituality?


You might want to look back at the thread Belief-O-Matic
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "I have not always been right, but I have always been sincere." ~ W.E.B. Du Bois ~~~~~~~~~~~
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I'm an odd bird. On the one hand, I'm a very rational person. Extremely logical. And naturally given to healthy doses of skepticism. I find it impossible to be religiously dogmatic. But at the same time, I have certain marked mystical tendencies.

At age 11, I read a book by Albert Einstein called "Ideas and Opinions". It had a very profound influence. I became agnostic after that. I remember deciding that I no longer believed in Jesus and told my parents that I didn't want anything for Christmas.

But at age 15 I experimented with Christianity. My cousin was a Holiness minister and I came under his influence for a time. That was an interesting period. Southern style tent revivals, people dancing in the aisles, and speaking in tongues. I remember once on a cool summer evening standing in the back of a tent looking on. Then I felt like I was hit by lightning - some sort of electrical discharge - and fell to the ground. I lay there for what seemed like a long time. Finally, some friends helped me get up and I could see that I had fallen in an ant bed but there was nothing on me - not a single bite. I couldn't explain it then. And I can't explain it now. In this time, I studied Christianity intensively. But eventually I left this style of religion behind because I felt it was anti-intellectual. I outgrew it.

For a number of years after this period, I'd describe myself as a philosophical rationalist who sought the spiritual only in the aesthetic/artistic realm. I've studied religion and philosophy for years but in a way that was quite removed from direct experience.

But in recent years I've developed in another direction - one I consider more holistic/realistic. A few years ago, a friend convinced me to go with her to a Tibetan Buddhist Empowering ceremony in Atlanta. I was a bit skeptical but I went anyway. It was suggested that attendees bring an offering for Tara - the Boddhisattva who occupies a place in Tibetan religion comparable to that of the Virgin Mary in Catholic Christianity. I decided to take it seriously and so dressed up in my best clothes and brought a flowering shrub because I thought it'd be most appropriate to bring something living.

The ceremony, which was conducted by a Buddhist Nun, consisted of 3 parts. The first was a Dedication. The second was a Purification. And the third was the Empowering. At some point during the second phase, I felt myself getting EXTREMELY hot to the point of sweating. Mind you, it was winter and the inside of this place was not well-heated. It was rather cool actually. Not only was I hot. I started to feel nauseated like I was about to vomit. I even thought of making a run for the door before I made a fool of myself. But the discomfort began to slowly subside. At some point I felt immense relief and inner lightness. The Empowering portion of the ceremony was analogous to what Charismatic Christians might call being filled with the Holy Ghost. We were asked to imagine that an infinitely compassionate being was taking up residence within us.

And you know what? For WEEKS after that I felt like I had been completely opened up to the world. I never felt THAT compassionate and open to others in my life.

I've had experiences like this since then. After this, I started reading Buddhist sutra, in particular the Lotus Sutra. The 25th chapter of the Lotus Sutra talks about the Bodhisattva ("awakened being") Avalokita who is described there as the Buddha "Wonderful Sound" because he hears the cries of ALL creatures and helps them by appearing to them in a form that they can understand or relate to. So sometimes he appears as Brahma, sometimes a king, or a rich man, or a nun, or even a housewife. EVEN as an animal. Etc.

The first time a read this, I was completely mystified. If you read it literally, it makes NO sense at all. I mean: Could he appear to several different people at the SAME times in several different forms for example???

One day, I went for a walking meditation in the Botanical Gardens. It was a beautiful, cool, spring day. Then all of a sudden, the meaning hit me. I had the same lightness of feeling I had in the Temple. I looked all around me and everywhere I looked I saw Avalokita. The lizard that was scurrying up a branch. The leaves. the ants on the ground...

I realized that the sutra was not intended to be read literally (the symbolism of the Lotus Sutra is pretty dense, after all) ... the passage in the Lotus Sutra gives us an image of 'divinity'/Buddha-hood/Compassion that permeates everything and everyone and is always there to help. Avalokita is often depicted in Buddhist art as having a hundred or even a thousand arms because the more arms you have the better able you are to help those that need help.

After the event in the temple, I became a Unitarian Universalist and an occasional attendee in Buddhist Meditation circles.


So do I believe in the literal existence of Buddhas and Boddhisattvas? Or in the truth of the Sutras? I don't know ... but I do believe in the power and reality of my lived experience. To a point, I almost believe that "belief" is secondary. I believe also in the kinship of all beings to one another and to the Divine. I'm at a point now where I think religion/spirituality is an important human function which we cannot ignore but at the same time I also believe it imperative that humanity discover a more evolved spiritual sensibility - one not as tied down to textual literalism, claims of exclusivity, or the belief that any person, tradition, or book speaks exclusively for God. It is precisely this attitude that is at present tearing the world apart.
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quote:
Originally posted by HonestBrother:
What were your earliest thoughts about God?


Hmmm.... How did I view God when I was younger? The term I use now as an adult I was not able to express as a child.... but God was a conscious energy....


quote:
How would you describe the evolution of your spirituality since those earliest experiences?


Steady... A constant sincere yearning to truly experience God's essence and presence in my life....

quote:
What are your present beliefs about God/spirituality?


Something close to God as All in All.... and the same beliefs I had as a young girl.... not sure if I want to elaborate.....

This is a very vulnerable and personal subject for most people.... myself included... but I thought I'd answer any way....


Peace,
Virtue

quote:
Originally posted by HonestBrother:
What were your earliest thoughts about God? How would you describe the evolution of your spirituality since those earliest experiences? What are your present beliefs about God/spirituality?


My earliest experiences and thoughts about God and religon were frightening. Even though concepts of heaven and hell were not discussed in my home, I had friends whose parents were religious and attended church regularly. And so whenever I would stay the night with a friend and her family on weekends, I was expected to also attend church with them on Sunday before returning home. And this is where the nightmare begins. Unlike White ministers, who tend to be very reserved speakers, Black ministers tend to give the most horrific and graphic details about hell that they can possibly deliver to their congregations. These insensitive descriptions can create some very frightening images in the minds of young children.

I'll never forget, after one sermon, my youngest sister and I were directed to attend Sunday school "for beginners" (ages 5-10). The woman leading the Sunday school session went around to each child to ask if whether or not we were saved. Scared and unsure about what she meant, when she got around to ask me the question, I told her, "No." And my youngest sister, who copied everything that I did at the time, said no too. After hearing both of our responses, disgusted, the woman eyes enlarged and suddenly she turned into what looked like the Devil himself, and said "Then the both of you are going straight to hell." Afterwards, the woman began to describe hell to us. She talked about an inescapable fiery pit where demons dwell. My youngest sister began to cry, but I didn't. Balling up my fist, I wanted to hit the woman in her ugly face, but I just got up, grabbed my sister, and left the crazed woman standing there.

Ever since then I wanted nothing to do with church or religon. And for a long time, I wouldn't step foot inside a church. It wasn't until years later, while attending college, that I found a church family that was much different from the churches with which I was familar. This church family renewed my interest in religon, because the minister was more "Afrocentric" than he was traditional. He did the best he could to find passages in the Bible--Genesis being his favorite chapter--that would prove to us that Black people (and our lineage) can be found in the Bible. Unfortunately, however, he died subsequent to the church falling apart, and his church is no longer in existence.

Now, I live my life appreciating multicultural perspectives and worldviews related to religon and spirituality. I am especially interested in traditional African and American Native religons and spirituality. After reading books like Yurugu: An African Centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior by Marimba Ani and God Is Red: A Native View of Religon by Deloria Vine, Jr., I've sinced discovered refreshing worldviews and beliefs that are very much different from the ones being espoused in the Christian Church.
Last edited {1}
quote:
Originally posted by HonestBrother:

So do I believe in the literal existence of Buddhas and Boddhisattvas? Or in the truth of the Sutras? I don't know ... but I do believe in the power and reality of my lived experience. To a point, I almost believe that "belief" is secondary. I believe also in the kinship of all beings to one another and to the Divine. I'm at a point now where I think religion/spirituality is an important human function which we cannot ignore but at the same time I also believe it imperative that humanity discover a more evolved spiritual sensibility - one not as tied down to textual literalism, claims of exclusivity, or the belief that any person, tradition, or book speaks exclusively for God. It is precisely this attitude that is at present tearing the world apart.


What a beautiful account of your spiritual journey. I truly enjoyed reading this piece. You should consider writing a short book about your experience. You always come up with the most reflective topics to discuss. I appreciate that. Sometimes we need to just talk about our experiences, which helps us to heal and recover from past experiences. Thank you.
Last edited {1}
quote:
Originally posted by Rowe:
You always come up with the most reflective topics to discuss. I appreciate that. Sometimes we need to just talk about our experiences, which helps us to heal and recover from past experiences. Thank you.


And thank you, sister. I believe it immensely valuable to be able to talk about our individual experiences. That is the stuff of which living religion is made ... Spirituality, if it does nothing else, should at the very least enable us to be honest.

And I must say, I'm starting to look forward to your avatar incarnations Wink

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