Sunday, April 07, 2013

Ebert's Religion

"In his 2011 memoir Life Itself, he comes clean: "No, I am not a Buddhist. I am not a believer, not an atheist, not an agnostic. I am more content with questions than answers." In so doing, he inadvertently expressed just how much of a religious person he was. As the astute Catholic monk Thomas Merton once declared, "A man is known better by his questions than his answers," and indeed religious traditions themselves unfold in the oscillation between questions and answers, answers and questions. There is no great person of faith, be it Abraham or Moses, St Augustine or St John of the Cross, Jesus or Muhammad, who did not express doubt, did not ask a lot of questions."

That was from S Brent Plate on Hufpo.

I think his approach is compatible with Buddhism.

There are various definitions of Buddhism. Tibetans sometimes think it's karma and rebirth. Sangharakshita thinks it's going to refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Elaborating in my own words, I think it's the belief that the Buddha actually got enlightened, that enlightenment is a significant thing, and that moving on the path towards enlightenment is worthwhile. While Buddhists might not be the only ones to elucidate the path towards enlightenment, the tradition of text and living people is very supportive on the journey, the living tradition. So when Ebert says he's not a Buddhist, he probably doesn't invest in the tradition.

I've often written my religion on Facebook to be "utmost wondrousness", and I love Keats' negative capability. In the Kalama Sutta, there's a kind of permission to think for yourself, not to just blindly follow what others say. The Buddha supposedly often said essentially, "don't do it just because I said that, test it in your own experience."

That's what appeals to me about Buddhism, that you don't have to over ride your experience, and you don't have to swallow someone else's revelations. There are practical teachings on the path towards enlightenment that the tradition has handed down, and it would seem foolish to ignore those. But you can't really blaspheme that, and you don't have to believe it if it goes against your experience. It really has a modern sensibility that is about freedom.

To be sure some religions offer answers. People want answers. It's natural to poll others when trying to figure things out. Sometimes in a kind of ferver people start to do other things, mistaken strategies, that lead to negativity towards spirituality. I can't convince my atheist friend to watch Atheism 2.0, which encourages an appreciation of what spirituality can give. I think it's a mistake to dismiss what is good in the spiritual traditions, true spirituality. Rejecting labels might be one path, and embracing a tradition and community that works for you might also be a start.

By the way, I laughed a lot at this collection of Ebert Quotes form movies he didn't like.

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