Thursday, February 18, 2010

Religion and the Govinda Principle

I read Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha not long ago. Don't get me wrong concerning what I'm about to say. I mentioned to someone just this past week that Hesse along with most of the ballyhooed novel writers of the 20th century such as Ernest Hemingway, Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, Norman Mailer etc. were really a bunch of lightweights both in style and substance. Siddhartha isn't terrible or anything, although it is very sappy in some places, but when it comes right down to it, Hesse brings nothing new to the table that every writer of Hinduism and Buddhism hadn't already said. (By the way, have you ever noticed that Hindu writers almost never write without showing some Buddhist influence, but Buddhist writers seldom show any Hindu leanings?) There is, however, at least one passage in Siddhartha worth mentioning:

"I am indeed old," said Govinda, "but I have never ceased seeking. I will never cease seeking. That seems to be my destiny. It seems to me that you also have sought. Will you talk to me a little about it, my friend?"

Siddhartha said:[sic] "What could I say to you that would be of value, except that perhaps you seek too much, that as a result of your seeking you cannot find anything, ... Seeking means to have a goal; but finding means to be free, to be receptive, to have no goal."

I won't go into all the places the book went wrong. Suffice to say that Chesterton has already outlined what's wrong with the philosophies of the east better than I could in his popular book, The Everlasting Man. My only concern is with the above quotation because, from it, we can easily deduce the ways in which so many spiritually minded people get hung-up.

The Govinda Principle says that people who seek too much will never find. This is of course true. Yes, "knock and the door will be opened", but once you're in the reception area you can, and should, quit knocking. You simply wait to be seated. And then you learn, but the lessons come a little at a time, and the more impatient you are, the slower the lessons come. So lesson number one means learning patience, and learning patience is what John of the Cross meant by "the dark night of the soul", although I don't think even he recognized it for what it truly was. The teacher leaves the classroom now and then for extended periods of time. Each time he does, the students get antsy. Antsy is best described as a nervous inability to relax. Now the students are free to come and go as they wish. The most antsy among them may even decide the teacher isn't coming back and will get up, go back through the front door, and look for another teacher. I'd like to say this represents the golden calf incident in Genesis, but if it does, it does so very poorly.

Other students will leave the classroom and head for the library thinking that the teacher expects them to learn on their own when he isn't around. They study all the world's great mystical texts and religious doctrines. Some, a little at a time, will find themselves enticed by the words in these books and may eventually go off to find other kinds of schools where the teachers are always around and always willing to fill their heads with nonsense... usually for a price.

Still other students will use the free time for play and nothing more. They go fishing, but not for men.

A few students will remain seated. They are extremely curious and yet very quiet, blanking their minds and senses, expecting to find their teacher in an astral world waiting for them with open arms to say, "Well done thou good and faithful students."

But there are still a couple of students left. They aren't seekers. They aren't antsy. They aren't even curious. For themselves they are content. Their only concern is for the people who haven't yet made it to the classroom at all. While the teacher is away they go out into the world, to its highways and byways, to care for the sick; clothe the naked; feed the hungry; build homes for the poor; and talk of their teacher. These are the students the teacher is most pleased with. In doing these things they learn the greatest lessons of all about God, their fellow man, and the meaning of life for the teacher whispers into the students' ears while they're working. It is in fact only during work that the great vistas of learning are opened to them. They never return to the great teacher's door because the world has become their classroom now, and the teacher goes where they go because he resides within each of them.

I'm not looking for fellow seekers. I'm not seeking anything except for like-minded people of the same Spirit to fellowship with and nothing more. This is what church is to me. Christ left no commands about organizing our thoughts into a religious system. If that's what he wanted then I believe he would have done it himself, and we'd still be in the classroom on the other side of that door closed away from the world. It appears that he belonged to no sects of Judaism. At least nothing is mentioned of him being a Pharisee, Sadducee, Samaritan etc. When he spoke to the crowds about ancient Jews he always addressed them as "your" forefathers, never "our" forefathers. It seems to me that he did this deliberately, perhaps to show us that he had no part in religion. In fact, he spent most of his time arguing against various teachings in all sects of Judaism. Maybe there's something to be learned from that. It could be that religion, like faith, is meant to be personal, and that each of us must truly work out his own salvation.

People are usually too impatient for that though. They want a systematic learning regiment with detailed class courses. They want a predictable teacher and a class motto/creed. Most important to them though is having a structured philosophical outline of the world and the God who governs it... even if they have to make it up themselves. And damned to hell be anyone who steps out of line with their manmade religion, for thus speaketh the church, and their authority is next only to God himself. Why? Because they say so. And only their system is the orthodox system. Why? Because they say so.

I pay no heed to church authority. I have no regard for biblical cannons. I take what I can and disregard the rest, especially anything that puts an evil face on a God of love whether in the bible or out. The bible is a great book collection, but in the end, it's still just a book collection. God never sanctioned it, never commanded its existence as a whole, and never even predicted it should ever come into being. Both the bible and organized religion are just an aid for the most part, good for fellowship and seeing what great men in ancient days who claimed to have known our savior had to say about him. But there's a point where these things can hurt instead of help. When the bible starts being a rule book sent by God (no matter what despicable things it may have to say about him in places here and there) to represent his very words and thoughts, then we do both the bible and God a disservice. And when we try to make religions and doctrines a means of salvation when churches are only supposed to be about fellowship, we do our fellows a disservice.

Seek, find, work, and fellowship--that's the path to God and no other.

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