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Faith and Samadhi

HamsakaHamsaka goosewhispererPolishing the 'just so' Veteran
edited July 2015 in Faith & Religion

I hang around a forum where atheists and theists debate religion(s), and something a Christian wrote about 'faith' (I'm using the word in a strictly Christian sense) struck me, kind of like a Zen master whacking me over the head.

She/he said:

But leave that aside, faith restores our spirits and our minds. Christians believe without faith we are doomed to death, death of the spirit. Actually it is kind of important to have faith and Christians recognize that. Without it I would be a fool to my own dying thoughts.

The context is a discussion of the Bible scripture 1Corinthians 1:18:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (from the NIV)

When I was a Christian and ever since, I've understood faith to be 'claiming to know/believe what you can't prove to be true'. That is the same definition of faith Sam Harris and the other new atheists use when discussing it. I imagined it was, at times, a grueling process, to 'keep faith' during doubts or challenges, an active process of focusing on the items of faith (God knows best, God loves me, it will all work out for the best with Jesus). Frankly, that just sounds ridiculous, who would actually do that? But I think, in the case of the person I quoted above, when she/he says 'faith, she/he means something different and 'more' than what I've always understood.

I wonder if 'faith' is a comparable to the Buddhist 'samadhi'. The reason I wonder is that the subjective, intimate experiences Christians on this forum relate are one, quite consistent with one another, and describe an altered state of consciousness. I've had one samadhi experience, and minus the God or Jesus attributions, the similarities are remarkable.

I never had a Christian 'faith' experience, so the new atheist rhetoric on faith, very reasonable and logical, seems like the ONLY explanation. It's the only one available to me to understand, maybe until now.

I could just be slow-on-the-uptake and members with Christian leanings know this well already.

I wasn't looking for some cool new way for Christian doctrine and Buddhist doctrine to 'meld' or parallel each other, this just sneaked up on me and I know we have some Christian Buddhists hanging out here :)

Comments

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran
    edited July 2015

    Presumably a theist would attribute an altered state of consciousness to an experience of God, and a non-theist wouldn't.
    Experience is interpreted and shaped through the filter of one's beliefs.

    I've had conversations like this with Quaker friends about their practice of "silent worship", which is roughly equivalent to meditation. They talk about experiencing "the God within" during the silence. Possibly different language for similar experiences.

    ShoshinHamsaka
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    There is no difference between a Christian and Buddhist fart. Both experiences are the same.

    The trancendendent or unconditioned is NOT an experience, therefore it too is the same.

    ... and now back to the experienced ...

    CinorjerajhayesyagrKundo
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    .

    @lobster said:
    There is no difference between a Christian and Buddhist fart. Both experiences are the same.

    I beg to differ...Christian farts smell fishy :)

    Kundo
  • @lobster said: The trancendendent or unconditioned is NOT an experience,

    Eh? How can it be experienced then?

    Shoshin
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    @SpinyNorman said:
    Eh? How can it be experienced then?

    Eh? E? ¿ [Lobster discovers new mantra] :o

    God only knows. o:)

    In the mystical sense, only God can know God, all else is us. <3

    ... and now back to the words ... :p

    EH! EH! EH!

  • Cod can only know itself? Sounds very fishy! ;)

    lobster
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    "In the mystical sense, only God can know God,"
    Not only does it sound fishy....it falls into the realms of the "ultra" spiritual ....

  • @Hamsaka I believe you're onto something in that faith in Christianity did not at first mean simple belief. I was raised in evangelical churches where that translation was taught. But I was raised by a wonderful woman (my grandmother) who taught me it meant more than that. To her, faith was letting go. Beliefs actually got in the way of her kind of faith. Faith was Trust. Instead of praying for things around you to be different or for a miracle to happen, she prayed for the strength to handle whatever God throws at you and had faith that whatever happens, it's part of some vast, unknowable plan. The world was screwed up when she arrived, it would be screwed up when she died, and all she could do was live a Christian life in the meantime. She had faith. She was mourned by the many people she'd helped by living this simple life.

    I think in Buddhism, it's most like our talk of "letting go" or non-attachment with a touch of mindfulness. Like most of our deep truths, it's hard to put in words. A lot of what I call my own Buddhist practice echoes what she taught me through her life.

    Hamsaka
  • ajhayesajhayes Northern Michigan Veteran

    @lobster said:
    There is no difference between a Christian and Buddhist fart. Both experiences are the same.

    The trancendendent or unconditioned is NOT an experience, therefore it too is the same.

    ... and now back to the experienced ...

    I have to say there is a difference. As a Buddhist, I fart mindfully.

    The result, however, is similar. "....what have I done? I'M A MONSTER!!!!"

    Jeffrey
  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran
    edited July 2015

    @Cinorjer said: I think in Buddhism, it's most like our talk of "letting go" or non-attachment with a touch of mindfulness. Like most of our deep truths, it's hard to put in words. A lot of what I call my own Buddhist practice echoes what she taught me through her life.

    Yes, there is something here which resonates. With the Quakers I've come across the idea of "self surrender", and the sense of opening to something larger or transcendent. The assumptions are different, but the experience is perhaps not all that different from Buddhist practice.

    Cinorjer
  • sovasova delocalized fractyllic harmonizing Veteran

    Be Lost in the Call

    By the one and only Rumi

    Be Lost in the Call

    Lord, said David, since you do not need us,
    why did you create these two worlds?

    Reality replied: O prisoner of time,
    I was a secret treasure of kindness and generosity,
    and I wished this treasure to be known,
    so I created a mirror: its shining face, the heart;
    its darkened back, the world;
    The back would please you if you've never seen the face.

    Has anyone ever produced a mirror out of mud and straw?
    Yet clean away the mud and straw,
    and a mirror might be revealed.

    Until the juice ferments a while in the cask,
    it isn't wine. If you wish your heart to be bright,
    you must do a little work.

    My King addressed the soul of my flesh:
    You return just as you left.
    Where are the traces of my gifts?

    We know that alchemy transforms copper into gold.
    This Sun doesn't want a crown or robe from God's grace.
    He is a hat to a hundred bald men,
    a covering for ten who were naked.

    Jesus sat humbly on the back of an ass, my child!
    How could a zephyr ride an ass?
    Spirit, find your way, in seeking lowness like a stream.
    Reason, tread the path of selflessness into eternity.

    Remember God so much that you are forgotten.
    Let the caller and the called disappear;
    be lost in the Call.

    Cinorjer
  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran
    edited July 2015

    I once asked my Zen teacher what role belief and hope (which I equate roughly with faith) played in Zen practice, which often lays emphasis on zazen or seated meditation. With his 40-50 years of practice behind him, my teacher replied, "For the first four or five years belief and hope are necessary." And after four or five years, I asked? "After that, they are not so necessary," he suggested.

    Belief/hope/faith, when examined, betoken an inescapable expression of doubt from where I sit. They can be inspiring, but they linger ipso facto in a realm that is still not free of uncertainty and doubt. But with practice -- whatever it may be -- doubts are swept away by experience and things become less fidgety and more relaxed.

    This transformation is not something to rush towards or embrace or feign: It is simply something that happens. Like riding a bicycle, at first there are all sorts of hopes and desires and skinned elbows. Fall down, get up, fall down, get up ... and all the time believing fervently that it can be done because others are so clearly doing it. But then one day, knowing how to ride is complete and the need for anything as wobbly as faith or hope or doubt is irrelevant... it's time to soar and swoop and skid.

    My take is that only God can know God, but that's no reason why individuals shouldn't know who God is.

    CinorjerlobsterHamsaka
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    I feel @sova post expresses the experience of the mytical theistic path.
    Theistic mysticism may seem very different, alienating and delusionary to those involved in the more head based dharma.

    The raft is different, the initial experiences and approach are different.
    http://www.christianmystics.com/basics/whatis.html

    Did we not recently discuss an experienced Buddhist who is presently 'channeling Hitler'? Tsk, tsk ... those Buddhists ...

    It is all too easy to believe salvation is only possible through Jesus, Allah, Buddha, Hitler, Consumerism, Communism or transcending beliefs.

    Is it a question of personal integrity and the comfort of certainty?

    ... and now back to samadhi/rapture ...

  • @genkaku said:> My take is that only God can know God...

    What does that mean?

    sova
  • @lobster said:> The raft is different, the initial experiences and approach are different.
    http://www.christianmystics.com/basics/whatis.html

    That approach does rely on a belief in God, and it's difficult to see how it would work without it.

    Hamsaka
  • CinorjerCinorjer Veteran
    edited July 2015

    @SpinyNorman said:
    What does that mean?

    “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
    Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?" (God talking to Job in the Bible)

    Now you're getting into what I love about the Bible. The book of Job is considered the oldest in the Bible by historians and addresses the age-old question of "What the hell is up with God, anyway? Why does he crap all over us? Doesn't he have anything better to do?" Maybe not in those words, of course.

    And at the end of this four act play, God Himself answers and basically says, "You mere mortals wouldn't understand if I tried to explain." And yes, God is coming across as a bit of a stuck-up dick. He's God, after all. What do you expect?

  • Honestly it sounds to me like a bit of theological trickery. ;)

    lobsterCinorjerHamsaka
  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran

    Honestly it sounds to me like a bit of theological trickery.

    @SpinyNorman -- I couldn't agree with you more!

    Theology and religion invite and urge and console: This is what they are for. But their kindnesses and usefulness lose their savor and functionality where belief crosses over into experience. In one sense -- at least from my point of view -- all religion is a lie and it is up to the individual to winkle out the truth from there.

    My teacher was fond of describing Zen practice/Buddhism in a drinking-tea format ... something along the lines of, "Suppose you ask me what tea tastes like since you have not tasted it. I could explain all day long and you wouldn't know anything. But if I drink tea and you drink tea, then we both know what tea tastes like."

    Yes, it's trickery and jiggery-pokery, all the spiritual folderol. It is well-intended and very helpful perhaps. There are those willing to swoon or shed others' blood in the religious and theological realms.

    But how does all this compare with the taste of tea?

    CinorjerHamsakasilver
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    @SpinyNorman said:
    That approach does rely on a belief in God, and it's difficult to see how it would work without it.

    Eventually difficult or not it does.

    We have lower mystical states, such as faith, grace and even the 'dark night of the soul'. The dark night is the absence but longing for the return of God. So it is still a raft of fish ...

    The trancendence into the unknowable states that Eckhart describes, are meaningless in terms of being, presence or knowing.
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meister_Eckhart#Buddhist_Modernism

    These equate to what Buddhists describe as 'the far shore', enlightenment, emptiness.

  • @genkaku said: But how does all this compare with the taste of tea?

    Nuffink like a nice cup of tea. ;)

  • sovasova delocalized fractyllic harmonizing Veteran

    @lobster not to derail the topic too much, but have you read any of Meister Eckhart's writings? Currently I'm trying to find nice approaches for Christian friends to get more mystical. Maybe if someone has an essay or writing they really like they could share a link?

    silver
  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran
    edited July 2015

    ^^^^^^
    Maybe a little Thomas Merton ... John of the Cross ... or even, I sort of want to suggest, Rumi, who obviously wasn't a Christian.

    Writings aside, Eckhart was kind of fun because the Holy Mother Church wanted to nail his ass to the barnyard door, accusing him of heresy. No judgement was (apparently) reached before the time of his death, but I choose to think he was just plain smarter than his inquisitors and would have beat the rap anyway.

  • HamsakaHamsaka goosewhisperer Polishing the 'just so' Veteran

    http://smile.amazon.com/Meister-Eckhart-Mystic-Warrior-Our-Times/dp/160868265X/ref=smi_www_rco2_go_smi_g2096965542?_encoding=UTF8&*Version*=1&*entries*=0

    Matthew Fox (Catholic priest and probable heretic, too) wrote a book about Meister Eckhart, I think I still have it somewhere. The link will show up with the 'site' where I donate some % to a waterfowl rescue each time I make a purchase, so if it looks funny, that's why.

    The mystical stuff has always fascinated me, and caused no small amount of envy and sour grapes in years past . . . each major tradition seems to have their own mystics, and funny enough, they sound a lot alike in their descriptions of "God" or Allah.

    Maybe this is one of those things that 'seem' important and distinctive, but really isn't -- on this forum, there is a consistent minority of theists who allude to unusual states of consciousness, or 'visitation' by a voice (identified as Jesus or God) that sharply divided their life between being luke warm or agnostic and being as sure as it gets God/Jesus is alive and interactive, literally speaking to them.

    The majority relate something less dramatic, but whatever it is, it was a turning point that convinced them. That they attribute these experiences as 'from God' and then go on to claim 'truth' in Christianity, the Christian bible seems more a function of the culture they grew up in. Their ability to support claims of, say, biblical scripture being TRUE (the inerrant word of God, for instance) is just as poorly executed as any other theist's claims.

    People who have never had an experience of samadhi or 'communion' with a god are at a loss to understand, making for lots of 'shouting past each other'. And mentions of 'psychosis' :winky: .

    For me, if there are similarities between states of samadhi and profound feelings of faith, then that is a 'bridge' of understanding between two traditions who look askance at one another :D .

    I have noticed the theists who describe samadhi-like experiences of faith are just as legalistic as the others. The common Christian exhortations about Hell, inherent human sinfulness and 'need for Christ' are all there and defended with equal conviction.

    My samadhi experience was spontaneous and didn't have a god or a voice that I paired up with familiar cultural deities.

    Zenshin
  • @Hamsaka said: My samadhi experience was spontaneous and didn't have a god or a voice that I paired up with familiar cultural deities.

    The fact that such experiences can be had without any reference to God seems significant.

    ZenshinHamsaka
  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran

    My samadhi experience was spontaneous and didn't have a god or a voice that I paired up with familiar cultural deities.

    @hamsaka -- I have a hunch that experience comes first and "God" is an afterthought rather than a necessity.

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the void Veteran

    When someone spends many years in silent meditation or contemplation the subtleties and differences of such experiences become more apparent. So I can't say whether the experiences are the same or not but the interpretation from someone who has had a single or a few transcendent experiences wouldn't be nearly as reliable as those from long term practitioners.

  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    @sova said:
    lobster not to derail the topic too much, but have you read any of Meister Eckhart's writings?

    No. Not directly, nor have I read any of Thomas Mertons books. Those are more of interest to Buddhists.

    I am not a Christian so have not studied the whole of the Apocrypha or Philokalia extensively.

    When I was actively involved in Gnostic Christianity, I studied practical mystical advice from Evelyn Underhill, The Cloud of Unkowing, some of the populist books on the desert fathers (not to be confused with the dessert fathers who were into chocs, ice cream and cheese cake) and some of the Catholic mystics already mentioned ...
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evelyn_Underhill

    I spent a lot of time reading and rereading St Johns Gospel in particular, the Psalms and generally cherry picking.
    For example the whole of Christian Dharma can be summed up in two precepts:
    http://www.the-ten-commandments.org/greatest_commandment.html

    Sounds like a plan to me ... <3

  • I think its totally different. If you wanted to practice Christianity, faith is required to sustain the practice. In Buddhism, it is mindfulness that is required. In my experience when I practiced Christianity, faith is something you accept "blindly", you take something that wasn't in you, and make it yours (as a belief) It's really a burden, because there is not much avenue to explore and investigate.

    Buddhism seems more practical. By just understanding suffering, we can follow (with investigation and exploration) it's true nature and origin. In everyday life, we can see what the Buddha is trying to teach. No need for an authority, pope or institution. All we need is clarity of the mind.

  • HamsakaHamsaka goosewhisperer Polishing the 'just so' Veteran

    @mockeymind said:
    I think its totally different. If you wanted to practice Christianity, faith is required to sustain the practice. In Buddhism, it is mindfulness that is required.

    I don't agree with this as a blanket generality for Buddhism on the ground, doing it's daily thing (mainly 'cuz generalizations always leave out something important).

    In your mind, what is the difference between 'faith' as described by Christians and 'mindfulness' described by Buddhists?

    In my experience when I practiced Christianity, faith is something you accept "blindly", you take something that wasn't in you, and make it yours (as a belief) It's really a burden, because there is not much avenue to explore and investigate.

    That is a lot like what I was thinking until I had that little 'moment of understanding' a couple of days ago (as described in my OP).

    But there are Christians who describe their faith as an ongoing, effortless experience, and darn it if it didn't sound exactly like samadhi. I'd say these folks are far in the minority, and the content of their discussion points is ease-ful and confident, rather than the more typical effort-ful, insisting, debating style.

    Buddhism seems more practical. By just understanding suffering, we can follow (with investigation and exploration) it's true nature and origin. In everyday life, we can see what the Buddha is trying to teach. No need for an authority, pope or institution. All we need is clarity of the mind.

    That sounds good to me :waving:

  • HamsakaHamsaka goosewhisperer Polishing the 'just so' Veteran

    @SpinyNorman said:
    The fact that such experiences can be had without any reference to God seems significant.

    Indeed.

    In the same way, an Indian national raised in Haryana district is unlikely to encounter Jesus or Muhammed instead of Ganesh or Lakshmi!

    Which reasonably leads to people encountering their 'preferred' god, or 'most familiar god' when they have deep subjective experiences like samadhi. A person 'believes in' the god most prevalent in their culture, so it seems to me that the god is incidental to the experience of 'faith' or samadhi.

    It's probably a little bit weird that I did NOT 'feel God' at the time. In truth, there wasn't even a hint of anyone, including myself :D .

    This is going to sound superior-ist or snotty, but y'all know I don't get off on that stuff, so here goes. I wonder what leads a person to attribute a particular god to what amounts to a universal human experience? I conclude they must already buy into a belief system, and the god comes out like a Pez pellet from the dispenser.

  • Buddhism does have a faith-based practice, called Pure Land. It's not as popular in the US as it once was, but there's a door to the Dharma for everyone.

  • HamsakaHamsaka goosewhisperer Polishing the 'just so' Veteran

    @genkaku said:
    hamsaka -- I have a hunch that experience comes first and "God" is an afterthought rather than a necessity.

    If I had not already had a life-long interest in transcendent experiences (regardless the religious base), I might have spent more time inserting my preferred deity into the experience, just to make SENSE out of it. Heck, I might not have even recognized it as altered or transcendent.

    To a person without my kind of curiosity-led study, who needs to make sense out of a startlingly odd experience they had, attributing it to the most familiar deity makes perfect sense. We seem to be 'programmed' to do that. What with our pattern-seeking brains and all.

  • HamsakaHamsaka goosewhisperer Polishing the 'just so' Veteran

    @Cinorjer said:
    Buddhism does have a faith-based practice, called Pure Land. It's not as popular in the US as it once was, but there's a door to the Dharma for everyone.

    What little I know of Pure Land sounds like a faith-based religion, for sure. If I weren't such a helpless skeptic, I could do theism in a Pure Land framework :)

    There's a modern guy, a psychotherapist, who wrote some books about Pure Land and Zen from a psychological perspective. David Brazier is his name, I believe, I have one of his books in my kindle library.

  • HamsakaHamsaka goosewhisperer Polishing the 'just so' Veteran

    @ajhayes said:
    I have to say there is a difference. As a Buddhist, I fart mindfully.
    The result, however, is similar. "....what have I done? I'M A MONSTER!!!!"

    Hey, so do I !!!! I've never met someone else who passed gas mindfully (or with a touch o' the mindfulness brush).

    I too struggle for 'equanimity' in the presence of some of them.

    ajhayesKundo
  • @Hamsaka said: I conclude they must already buy into a belief system, and the god comes out like a Pez pellet from the dispenser.

    Undoubtedly. It then gets wrapped up in confirmation bias.

  • @Hamsaka said:Hey, so do I !!!! I've never met someone else who passed gas mindfully (or with a touch o' the mindfulness brush).

    People on retreats seem to get quite good at it, the "silent but violent" variety.

    ZenshinKundo
  • HamsakaHamsaka goosewhisperer Polishing the 'just so' Veteran
    edited July 2015

    @SpinyNorman: Church is another such arena. In my part of the world, 'silent' and 'violent' aren't so homophonic, we like that 'oh' sound, so we say "silent but deadly", or SBD. In spite of that I'm definitely appropriating 'silent but vi'lent' into my repertoire.

    Zenshin
  • robotrobot Veteran

    When I was a young teenage I had a friend who was seventh day Adventist. She tried to describe the experience of being saved to me. As I recall she said that after a period of praying and asking Jesus to come into her heart a moment came when she new that it had happened.
    She was talking to someone with no way to relate to her experience but what she described sounded to me like something that was defined and extraordinary. I thought that I would like to have that experience, but of course I didn't have the background or the faith to attain it at that time.
    Later, when I could better relate to what she had described I assumed that the experience is universal. Words, names and descriptions come afterward.
    Her mistake, if it was one, was common and that is to assume that her way is authentic and all other ways are false.

    Cinorjerlobster
  • ZenshinZenshin East Midlands UK Veteran
    edited July 2015

    It was silent but deadly where I grew up as well @Hamsaka. Never heard silent but violent before.

    Hamsaka
  • mmommo Veteran

    I think samadhi is substained stillness of mind. Assuming faith means meditator is clear of any paralysing doubt when sitting, (doubt obviously is one of the hindrances in meditation), then faith (good open minded doubt) seems compatible with samadhi.

    CinorjerHamsakalobster
  • HamsakaHamsaka goosewhisperer Polishing the 'just so' Veteran

    @mmo said:
    I think samadhi is substained stillness of mind. Assuming faith means meditator is clear of any paralysing doubt when sitting, (doubt obviously is one of the hindrances in meditation), then faith (good open minded doubt) seems compatible with samadhi.

    As best I can understand it, the Christians who describe 'faith' similar to samadhi aren't defensive or easily offended. Or 'rattled' when attempting to rationally explain religious experiences, a difficult thing to do anyway.

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the void Veteran

    For those committed to retreat there are progressively deeper and more subtle levels of meditation and people are able to differentiate between them so I don't think we can say that all experiences are the same and everyone is just unconsciously applying their own biased view.

    lobster
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