Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Religion of Growing Up

People sometimes ask me if I'm religious, and when I reply that I am, they want to know what's my religion. I used to reply that my religion is Buddhism, but I've quickly learned that this answer tends to bring about more confusion than clarification. This is because a lot of people seem to believe that Buddhism is not actually a religion, it is more like a philosophy.

The above belief is, of course, dead wrong, as Buddhism is more like an anti-philosophy. But it also gets tough to explain how is Buddhism a religion, since in the Buddhist teaching one cannot find a Creator, nor gods, nor other divine beings and prophets or what-have-you.

This is why I now tend to claim that my religion is called "Growing Up". Simply put, I firmly believe in the power of growing up. What that means is that in case anyone is feeling upset, unfulfilled, vexed, sad, depressed, and so on, the way out of that predicament is simple -- try to grow up. Once you grow up, all these afflictions will vanish for you.

And of course, the flip side of the above is that anyone who feels sad, forlorn, unfulfilled, addicted, torn, etc. is afflicted like that because he or she are still hanging on to their childhood. Once you leave your childhood behind you for good, you enter the world of grownups, where all these hang ups and all that suffering ceases to be present.

So yes, there is a higher calling, an invisible power that presides over human beings and that can lead them out of the darkness and into the world of eternal light. The presence of that power is what constitutes my religion, my belief system. You cannot see it, you cannot touch it, but you can achieve it. And all you have to do is simply let go of your childish behavior and allow yourself to grow up.

And that's what, in a nutshell, constitutes the Buddhist faith as well. The strong, unwavering belief in the power of growing up. The unshakeable conviction that, once we let go of our childhood, we will wake up in the splendid world of grownup human beings, where all our present problems become marvelous opportunities.

Here is how, in general, human predicament and human delusions work: every human being is keenly aware of the constant change that shapes and colors and flavors our lives. There is no denying that change is inevitable, and that it is constantly at work. Everyone knows that, and everyone agrees with that. But it is what we do with this acknowledgement that makes a difference, that separates childish people from grownups.

All religions (with a notable exception of the Buddhist religion) claim that change is bad, going even as far as claiming that change is evil. Many entrenched world religions ascertain that change is the work of the Devil, or that change is the deceptive hypnotic web that is weaved by some evil demons. At any rate, change, as it occurs in the world, is there to deceive us, to trick us, to lure us away from all that is wholesome and good and holly.

God and truth, on the other hand, are the opposite of change. They are unchangeable, immutable, forever there, forever substantial. Change is totally insubstantial, and as such, is to be avoided at all cost.

To that end, religious systems devise all kinds of practices that will get us out of the evil and deceptive world of change, and into the bosom of salvation. However, when asked to demonstrate that aspect, or part of reality that is not characterized by change, all these sophisticated religions fail. Other than producing some mumbo-jumbo fantasized concepts, such as an immutable 'soul' or 'spirit', which no one has ever been able to see, touch, or feel, all these religions appear impotent. The true substance, the true philosopher's stone or the holly grail, is nowhere to be found. And yet, the blind faith, the wishful thinking that somehow, somewhere, there is a safe world where change will not affect us, persists.

Buddhism, on the other hand, is the only religion that turns all this on its head. In Buddhism, the only real, non-deceptive thing is change itself. Any apparition of substantiality, or lack of change, is considered the work of deception, and is to be avoided. In Buddhism, allegedly immutable things, such as 'soul', or 'spirit', or 'heaven' etc. are considered utterly harmful. The only way out of the miserable predicament that humans find themselves in is through embracing change, which is just another way of saying 'by growing up'.