Religions As Expressions of Emotions


At some level – true Christianity is nothing but the expression of the feeling of love – love for other

humans and love for the larger, intelligent side of reality which we are all part of. After all, Jesus himself said there were only two commandments from which all else follows – “love thy neighbor and love God.” Every thing else is a matter of trying to follow through effectively and sincerely from that motivation.  A full and sincere appreciation of the “sacred heart” is an important part of the heritage of all of humanity.


It is easier, in a way, for an honest person outside the Bible Belt to be a pure, true Christian than a person inside it. A person outside the Bible Belt can focus on this core feeling, without being distracted by the  power structures and theories and local adaptations and even perversions which have grown up in many local “Christian” communities. A pure Christian is one who gives way completely to the spiritual power of love, so that it animates all of his or her life, and pushes aside all barnacles which block the strong stream of pure feeling and of its expression. I am not a pure Christian, since this is only one aspect of my life, but it is an important aspect of my life – and of the life of any fully self-aware human.


Perhaps the core of Buddhism is also an emotion – the feeling that we are all too overwhelmed by useless trivia, by self-inflicted pain and silly, petty things, of illusory and fleeting reality, and the strong impulse to rise above such things, to see reality from a larger and detached point of view, the impulse to refocus the core of one’s being beyond all the small things, to seek peace of mind, and root oneself in a much larger reality. Certainly in Washington D.C. I have often felt this emotion rather intensely, and the image of Buddha has come to my mind at such times. (As does the image of Jesus at some times, and the others, as I will get to.)


In June 2007, in visiting China, we had a chance to visit five Buddhist temples. (I plan to post pictures of them here in time). By the time we reached the third – the Qi Xia Temple, about one hour north of Nanjing by car – it was really clear that “the force was with us.” Maybe the sincere visualization of Buddha was affecting the flow of events. At the moment we entered the core of the Qi Xia Temple, they were beginning an initiation ritual, with the senior Buddhist monks on the left, the junior on the right, and the junior monk undergoing initiation active in the middle. The words were in Sanskrit. (Balakrishnan with us was smiling intensely.) A leader of the senior monks waved for me to come stand with the senior monks to the left.


The next day, back in Nanjing, it was theoretically possible for us to telephone the Qi Xia School, on the hill overlooking the Temple, to ask if we might visit and speak with them. They told us that this was one of the two most important schools of Buddhism in China. The brochure at the Temple said (in English) that international discussion and exchange is one of their main activities, and that they strive for world-class intellectual teaching. But our Chinese hosts, from the scientific community, urged us not to. “Those people are only interested in their books, and in living a sheltered life in their own little place. They do not like to talk to anyone. Especially not in English.” I said: “Maybe, maybe not. Their brochure says they invite discussion. The Dalai Lama takes time to try to learn from science, even if he doesn’t always get it right. And we have books, too.” (I was thinking how Buddha himself was trying so hard to reach beyond a tiny local way of being. And I remembered a movie “Circle of Iron,” which a mystic from Syria once showed me on his video player. ) “Why don’t we just call them up and ask them ?” The reply: “We do not think there is enough hope here. You would do much better with a place like the Xiao Lin monastery.” Who knows? But I certainly can see and understand the image of Buddhism as seen by my very well-informed Chinese hosts.


At the next temple, in Suchow – a far more routine type of Buddhist temple – there was still some of the “force is with us feeling” at first, particularly in their bell tower. But as went to a more modern, well-maintained very standard tourist-style pagoda… at a certain point, I felt intensely saturated with the whole scene. (Others in the group had succumbed to that feeling earlier.) I began to have the same kind of feeling about the endless routine rituals here that I do about endless bureaucracy in Washington sometimes. As I felt an intense Buddha-style detachment from Buddhism itself… a very intense feeling with a strong spiritual current of its own… I saw a Buddhist monk turn, and look at me with a rather intense and bewildered look of his own… a very unique expression on his face.


By the way, the fifth and final temple we visited this time was Tiger Hill. I tend to believe that the leaning tall pagoda there was the original inspiration for a scene in the great classic Journey to the West. There is a scene where Monkey disguises himself as a temple, and his tail as a tall pagoda, but it leaned too much…


But what about Moses and Mohammed? In my view, Moses and Mohammed both represent approximately the same emotion – the impulse to try to lay down the law when life gets messy and bloody and out of control, the impulse for Order over Chaos. (And Rumi is to Mohammed what Jesus is to Moses. One of the greatest losses of Islam today is the lack of sufficient respect for Rumi, and for his role in the greatest glories of Islamic civilization.)


Certainly I had a Moses moment later in June 2007, when the Senate voted 70-30 against a bill recommended by the Senate Finance Committee, which would have redirected a small part of the recent new tax breaks to the oil companies (about $3 billion/year of them) to far more useful tax incentives favoring renewable energy, hybrid cars and plug-in hybrids. The press basically reported “the oil companies in Congress decided this was an unacceptable use of their (government) money.” And I did remember Moses’ twelve curses, and how much rain and death it took before Pharaoh was said to wake up. And I wondered what happens when the next big hurricane hits the Houston area more directly. But – it is not yet hurricane season. There is still hope in the House, they said, because there are a few people there who value the survival of the United States more than they value the personal agendas of some specific oil company lobbyists.


As for Order and Chaos – well, this is where the Daoist yin-yang symbol comes to mind. Absolute Order and Absolute Chaos are like ice and fire. They represent well-known extremes in the mathematics of nonlinear dynamical systems, the lifeless states of point attractors and the random “heat death.”  A challenge for the political class is to build the kinds of laws and order which can exist in harmony with life and change – a balance of order and chaos, not a choice of one or the other. The ancient and elaborate systems of rules laid down by the followers of Moses (Talmud) and the lawyers of the corrupt Abbasid Emperors (shariyah) are not compatible even with stability and survival in the complex world we now live in. A new and better follow-up on the original emotions is needed, and many of the ancient barnacles need to be swept aside, in order for humans to continue to live at all on this endangered planet.


Just as Mohammed re-expressed the same emotion that Moses expressed… perhaps world culture and religion now needs a stronger, clearer expression of the kind of emotion that Buddha expressed. From simple detachment… to utter Rationality, the expression of (harmonious) Order within the mind itself.


Do you believe what I am saying about the history of these religions? For a brief account – the most honest and well-informed account I know, based on an objective and sympathetic understanding of hundreds of primary sources, is the text World History by William McNeill. (I have used many other sources myself to form this picture… but it all fits with what he says.)