Posts Tagged ‘Bhagavad Gita’

Think about it.


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I believe in the Hellenic gods.  I have personally experienced their presence and their effect on my life.  I think that worshipping an honoring them in a traditional way makes sense.  I pray to Zeus, to Hermes, to Ares, to Aphrodite, to Hera, Athena, Dionysus, Artemis, Hestia and the other Olympians.  And I believe that I should also be finding ways to honor Pan, the nymphs, and the other immediate, present land-spirits.  I think that Euripides’s The Bacchae is one of the most intense, meaningful, and wise pieces of literature ever composed.  I believe that classical ethics and the Golden Mean remain–as they always have been–the best and most reliable guide for human behavior.

I have a strong pull towards personal mysticism and inner work: I have a strong desire to explore the landscape of the unconscious.  I think there is immense truth to the work of Jung.  Somehow, rock and roll, Dionysus, the Holy Grail, Jim Morrison, and snakes are all tied up in this.  And probably tarot, too.  I believe that there is something to be accomplished, some Great Work, some journey.  A journey outward into the literal Wilderness that is also a journey inward into the Wilderness of the human psyche.  There’s something there that wants to be discovered.

I believe that the Bhagavad-Gita and the Upanishads, taken together, are an unsurpassed work of spiritual genius.  Reading them is like drinking light and wisdom.  I think that the philosophy of Vedanta comes the closest of any human philosophy to explaining the universe as we are situated in it.  If there is such thing as enlightenment–and I have to believe that there is–then the path outlined in the Gita has to be the way to find it.

So what does that add up to?  I don’t cast spells, or do any magic(k), or even really believe that other people who claim to are actually doing anything.  I don’t celebrate the wheel of the year.  I’ve tried, and it just didn’t click like I thought it was going to–it always seems like it should be relevant and emaningful and important to me but I never am able to make it be anything other than awkward and ill-fitting, like an outfit that looked great on the mannequin but just fits me terribly.  I think.  Or maybe I was somehow doing it wrong.  I don’t believe in assembling a homemade pantheon of gods that I “work with.”  I don’t think “working with” gods is a very good term at all, if nothing else because it fundamentally  misunderstands our relationship to them and in a terrible act of hubris tries to convert them into tools for our use.  I do divinations with tarot–and have often had uncanny insights–but sometimes I think the randomness of drawing cards causes me to miss the power and symbolism that the tarot has as a whole and in all of its parts.  I believe in right and wrong, but I don’t believe that we need salvation from sin.  I’m not sure if I believe in literal reincarnation, or literal life after death (I don’t deny either one: I just don’t know).  I’m inclined to agree on a philosophical level with the revival Druids, but when it comes down to specifics, none of what they do really reaches out and grabs me.  I’m not an ecofeminist.  I’m not a pacifist.  I’m not politically very liberal. 

I don’t feel much in common with most people who get included in the boader umbrella of “paganism” or neo-paganism; I don’t even think that the broader umbrella is a meaningful category because it includes too many things that have nothing in common other than being-clumped-together-into-the-category.  I’m not a Christian, but I have no fundamental problem with or hostility against Christianity.

So what, then?  What am I?  How do these pieces fit together?  How do I move forward, given all of this?  What’s the next step for me, spiritually?  Who am I and what does this all mean?  What does it mean for me as a father, a husband, a lawyer, a brother, a human being?  How do I keep myself from getting pulled away into tangents and driven off-course and away from things I hold sacred by the countless diversions and slippery slopes and spectra of meaning and practice that all of these disparate threads seem to be tied to?

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So this is a post I have been meaning to write for a long time.  I mention my beautiful and sexy wife often, but not often enough.  It’s high time I gave her some much-deserved praise and explained how vital she has been in my spiritual journey.

When I first started questioning Mormonism, she was loving and supportive.  She didn’t freak out (to me, at least).  She was willing to talk about long-term ramifications of being a two-faith household should it come to that.  She was willing to listen and to talk, and was willing to think and read and consider.  Poke around the exmormon bloggerverse a bit and see how often you find people telling a story like that.  Good luck.

Even if that was the whole story,it would be one worth telling over and over.  But a quick browse through my blog archives should be plenty of evidence that that ain’t the whole story.  I’ve struggled to figure out what I believe for years now, and she has supported me every step of the way.  And not just in a hands-off “whatever you say, dear” way.  She’s read about and carefully considered Buddhism when I was interested in Zen.  We had long talks about Hinduism when I first read the Baghavad Gita.  Even as she has cautiously explored the limits of her own spirituality (in a nonchalant pretending-shes-not-doing-it way), she has been willing to accommodate whatever harebrained religious idea I am entertaining at the moment.

I have a really hard time talking about genuine spiritual feelings, but she gives me a safe place where I can do it.  She doesn’t judge; she doesn’t mock.  She’s just there for me.  When I finally told her about Dionysus and the gods, she encouraged me to explore this new spiritual world.  She even suggested we get a good book of Greek mythology for the kids.  When I experienced the presence of Aphrodite, she was excited for me, and thrilled about the new development.  I can’t imagine that this is kind of thing is typical.

There’s more I could say–like about how the decision to pursue a relationship with her, ultimately resulting in our marriage involved what may have been one of the few genuine spiritual experiences in my life–but in the end, it all boils down to this one thing: she is my everything.  She is the universe.  When I love her, I feel like I am loving divinity.  When I touch her, I feel like I am touching a goddess.  I know what it feels like to be in the presence of  deity because it’s llike what I feel like when I am in her presence.

I love katyjane.

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In case it hasn’t been crystal clear yet, I believe in multiple personal gods.  I have personally had intense spiritual experiences with Dionysus and Aphrodite, but I am not necessarily set on specifically and exclusively honoring the ancient Greek pantheon.  However, I have also prayed to Zeus and Hera at different times, and I have some mental head-space reserved for Ares, Hermes, and some others.  Mostly, I am not trying to tackle too much at once, but to take the gods as they become important to me or relevant to me, or as I intuit that I should for some other reason.

I also have some hunches and intuitions about the Norse god Odin (not to mention a sweet tattoo of Odin on his horse Sleipnir on my calf), and I think I might have seen him on the Metro one time, but I was too chicken to ask.  He was an old bearded man with a brimmed hat and an eyepatch.  It was kind of spooky, and my brother was pissed off that I passed up my chance to talk to the All-Father.  On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that direct contact with Odin can be perilous.  I’ve read American Gods, after all.

I’m not sure how all of this necessarily fits together, although like I have said before, my wider position on cosmology and metaphysics is largely informed by a Vedantic interpretation of the Bagavad Gita, and I have some rough ideas about the nature of these gods that I am interacting with.  However, the whole thing is not developed enough for me to be able to define or label my religion/spirituality at this juncture, if I ever will.  But I have been grappling with “polytheist” as a partial spiritual identity, and I have come to grips with it.  I am cool with describing myself as a polytheist.

I realize that other people may bery well think I am uncool, delusional, crazy, weird, or pathetic.  The thing is, I’m not sure I care.  I mean, I care inasmuch as everyone wants to be well-liked and well-regarded.  But I’m not going to pretend to be something else so that other people are more comfortable.  I mean, I’m not going to wear a t-shirt that says “Hey You!  Deal With The Fact That I Am A Polytheist!” but I’m also not going to go to great lengths to conceal my spiritual position just because it is unconventional.  I am not ashamed of my gods.

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In response to the post wherein I declared my newly developed polytheism, some people understandably asked something along the lines of “Okay, you say you believe in gods.  But what do you mean by that?  How literally do you believe that?”  And it’s a fair question–one I intended to write about anyway.  To what extend to I believe in these gods, and to what extent to I believe that they are separate, distinct individual gods?

I don’t believe that Dionysus, Aphrodite, and other hypothetical gods actually live bodily on the top of Mount Olympus in Greece from whence they literally created the universe and currently control natural phenomena.  I am not an idiot.  I want to talk about other possibilities.

I am open to the possibility that these gods no not exist at all outside my head.  I’m not eager to believe that it is flat-out mental illness, but I am definitely open to the possibility that I am talking about psychological archetypes–either universal ones that transcend my individual experience or personal ones that are completely local to my own psyche.  Human beings think and reason in symbol and metaphor anyway, and I have no problem with the possibility that I am encountering symbolic representations of aspects of my own psyche or aspects of a universal human psyche if such a thing exists.

I am also open to the possibility–in fact, I actually believe–that these gods are actual spiritual beings that have independent existence beyond the borders of the individual human mind.  Nevertheless, I would still insist that the gods’ involvement in the natural world is largely metaphorical, but that such an arrangement is only natural since humans make sense of the world primarily in metaphor.  If I say “I believe that Odin made the world out of the broken parts of dead Ymir,” I think that is not necessarily inconsistent with the scientific explanation for the origin of the universe.  Again, I am talking about metaphor and the way we make meaning out of what we perceive.  And I also feel like there is more than one way to understand “the world”–it doesn’t have to be the natural world at all.  We inhabit a “world” that is composed by our own psychology, perception, and experience.  While I do not think that Odin carved out the natural world out of Ymir’s bones, I am interested in the possibility that Odin carved out a psychic, psychological, and/or mythic landscape in exactly that way.  It is still the creation of the world, just not meaning the planet.

If this seems vague and ill-defined, that’s because it probably is ill-defined.  Like I said, my understanding of the gods is still in the early stages of development.

In the end, I think that when dealing with religion it is important, on the one hand, to remember that your gods might all be completely fictional, but on the other hand, that they might in fact be real.  The former keeps you from being a fundamentalist (and a good self-check: are your religious convictions overriding your basic human compassion? because if they are, then you’ve gone too far over the edge, buddy), and the latter keeps you from being a secular humanist.  Not that being a secular humanist is the end of the world, but that there’s just no point in bothering with religion in the first place if you’re going to be certain that it’s all messed up.

The thing is, I believe in the existence of divinity.  I think that the divine is real, and I hunger for it.  I acknowledge the possibility that it’s all in my head, but because I am not a fundamentalist, whether there is in fact an ultimate reality to Divinity or it is all in my head is actually irrelevant, because I am going to act the same way with regard to it either way.  But for the record, I believe that there is a divine reality that transcends individual human experience.

In terms of hard polytheism (i.e., the gods, whatever they are, exist independently and in a fully distinct fashion from each other) versus soft polytheism (i.e., the gods are different facets or manifestations of a greater divine reality), my answer is that I genuinely think that the latter is more likely, as ultimately my cosmological picture is formed by the conception of Maya and Brahman in the Baghavad Gita.  However, that requires some more elaboration, because I am definitely not saying that the gods are simply masks of one true god (although since I have only personally experienced one male and one female god, I might actually be dealing with a Wiccan-style fertility dualism, but more about that later).  If this model of godhood holds, then I am only claiming that the gods are parts of the same divine whole to the same extent that human beings are all also part of that same divine whole.  And with gods as with humans, the compelling illusion of Maya–the deceptive illusion of separateness that enables us to function in the world of sense objects while also blinding us to our essential oneness–applies to the gods as well as to humans.  And that means that, like us, although they are facets of a greater whole, they act for the most part as if they are separate and distinct, if interrelated.

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On the one hand, I’m sure it looks like I’m going ’round and ’round in circles with God and religion, retreading the same ground and getting nowhere. Sometimes I wonder if that is in fact what is going on, and if I can ever be satisfied and happy. Most of the time, though, I am pretty sure that I am slowly, carefully refining the issues, figuring out really what is at stake and what I think, and what decisions I really have to make.

At the moment, I think I have my religious question basically boiled down to the following ideas:

I’m inclined to think that there is a god, even though I have my doubts. I do not think that god is completely knowable by human beings. I also do not necessarily think that getting some (or even a lot of) things wrong about god is as big of a deal as human beings historically tend to. I’m not sure if god is personal or impersonal, or if god is maybe impersonal but with facets that can be personal-ish. Maybe. In any case, atheism does not suit me. I want both a religious identity and a path for spiritual development. Thus, I want a religion.

I really like a lot of things about Christianity. I find Christian theology appealing. I like the liturgy, the hymns, the architecture, the ritual, the idea of church, the liturgical year, the resurrection. I like C. S. Lewis, a lot. When I read C. S. Lewis, I want to be a Christian. Theoretically, I like the Bible, even though my attempts at reading it over the last two years have been most unsatisfactory.  I’m attached to Christianity as a religion, and am extremely bothered by the idea of giving it up entirely.  I even sometimes entertain the notion of going to seminary and becoming an Episcopal priest someday.

Unfortunately, despite everything I’ve just said, I don’t think I actually believe (in) Christianity. I like the idea of Jesus Christ as God incarnate quite a bit, but I don’t seem to actually believe that it it is so. I like the idea of salvation from sin through Jesus Christ’s supreme sacrifice, but I’m not sure I’m really all that worried about my sins, I find the idea of hell implausible, I don’t necessarily feel like I am in need of salvation (I feel plenty of wretched, just not necessarily wretched because of my sins or sinful nature) and I’m not convinced that this supreme sacrifice in fact happened. I think that the resurrection is plausible, but I don’t necessarily think that it means the whole package of Christianity is true.

I think I actually believe something a whole lot more like Vedanta, like the ideas expressed in the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita about Brahman and everything, the world and people and you and me and God, all being really the same thing. I’m not culturally Indian, so Hinduism as a religion has no appeal to me whatsoever, and all of the New Religious Movements that have spun off from Hinduism in the west are, well, New Religious Movements. Pretty much they are to Hinduism what Mormonism is to Christianity (and Soka Gakkai is to Buddhism), and I am not interested in that at all. I’ve already done aa quasi-cult, thanks. I’m not really in the market for another one.

So I would prefer to read the Bible because I prefer the idea of reading the Bible, but in reality I find the Gita and the Upanishads so much more meaningful.

Also, I find various flavors of Paganism (neo and otherwise) extremely appealing: Asatru, Druidry, the Greek Gods, etc. I feel like all of that would dovetail a whole lot better with the Bhagavad Gita than it would the Bible. I’m European, not Indian, so actually becoming a Hindu is not interesting at all to me, but I think that the philosophy underlying Hinduism and tying it together can easily be applied to any Indo-European mythology.  I think that AODA Druidry as spiritual practice, Vedanta as philosophy, and European myth as a corpus of spiritual literature is an extremely reasonable combination, and probably a hell of a lot closer to what I actually believe than Chistianity ever will be.

But, Christianity is more appealing for some reason.  And for a lot of reasons, Vedanta+Druidry+Mythology, although it might actually be what I believe, is extremely unappealing.  There’s a lack of clear religious identity, for one.  There’s no Christmas.  Druidry as spiritual practice sometimes seems shallow and empty to me–it is missing the millennia of tradition that Christianity has.  There are the social and cultural problems with identifying as an odd religion.  Treading a new path means missing out on the guidance of people who have gone before.  There’s the worry that I’m really just cherry-picking the things I like.  There are issues about the source of morality and the source of values (that I am exploring in another series of posts).  And in my head, Vedanta+Druidry+Mythology just doesn’t have the same, I don’t know, pow! that Christianity has.  And it doesn’t have C. S. Lewis.

So I know what I probably believe, but it doesn’t happen to be the same thing as what I would like to believe.  But my desire to believe Christianity is subtly undermined by the things I actually do believe.  I’m not sure how to resolve this painlessly–there may simply be no painless resolution–but I think it is extremely important that I have arrived at (or at least I’m getting closer to) the central question in my search for God.

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So there’s a lot about Hinduism that I really like.  I’ve read the Bhagavad Gita, and I find it to be fairly awesome.  While I’m not interested in Hindu culture, there is much about it’s philosophy and cosmology that ring true to me (or perhaps I should say about it’s philosophies and cosmologies).

Hindu gods?  An interesting bunch, but there’s room to simply see them as symbolic or representational of greater truths.  And Hinduism isn’t as culturally alien as some world religions, because there’s a linguistic and perhaps otherwise anthropological connection between the North Indians (Aryan/Sanskrit group) and Europeans, of which I am one.

I have no big conclusions right now, but I intend to continue to look into Hunduism and think about it.  I don’t know if I would ever say “I am a Hindu,” but I think there’s a lot of solid philosophy there, ripe for the pickin’.

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The cruise was fun, and Miami has been gorgeous, but tomorrow we’ll be back in the DC area and I’ll be back to the law school grind.

While I’ve been gone I’ve been reading about Hinduism, and I find a lot of it extremely compelling.  Some of it even seems, I don’t know, self-evident.  Barring materialist atheism or some other uber-exclusive religion being in fact exclusively true (like Islam or Christianity), I don;t see a lot of room for Hinduism to be wrong.  Expect me to post a lot more about it as the days roll by and I collect my thoughts.

 Right now I’m reading the Bhagavad Gita and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Hinduism.

Hopefull;y, when we get home tomorrow, my Druidry Handbook will have arrived, though I don’t know how interested in that I am anymore.  Still withing the context of Hinduism.  In other words, Druidry as a more appropriate cultural context for the concepts of Hinduism, being that I am of European descent and not South Asian Descent (unless the Vedas are right and it turns out that all of us Indo-Europeans are of South Asian descent after all).

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