Sunday, 25 January 2009

There's Only One Way to Find Out

The art of the sermon isn't dead. Two from returned-from-a-retreat Priest-in-Charge heard by me today, both setting up contrasts. One in the morning was the "super-smooth" conversion experience of Paul as in Luke-Acts, contrasted with the longer more awkward one in Galatians with a time in the Arabian desert, that if it's good enough for us then it is good enough for Paul (said our preacher, adding this reversal to his written sermon).

The second contrast sermon was about becoming, in Christ, more of ourselves, contrasted with the mystics' approach of a drop of water into a vast ocean or Nirvana. Nirvana seemed to be the key word here. Heaven is full of personalities without conflict and hell is full of clones, like the evil power mongers who only sustain themselves and kill.

Humm. I do reflect upon sermons. This reflection is based on what I heard.

The first point I'd want to make is that we die and death is the end and we are biologically dependent. Nevertheless, given that the purpose of religion (as I see it) is to come to terms with that transience, which is the better proposition?

At this point, Harry Hill on TV Burp would shout, "There's only one way to find out! FIGHT!"

Clearly what Christianity is trying to do, via this interpretation, is value the physical and material world, and the personality is part of that material world. Well, it is mental, but it is material on the basis that it is dependent on the gooey thing called the brain. Plus consciousness and being conscious of being conscious is what makes us very human. So I agree with the preacher that this should be affirmed.

To then link it with eternity is to say it is valued supremely. He said that God made a universe that could result in all these consciousnesses and it adds to God, God a bit bored without. Humm, that's all a bit anthropocentric. I rather think we are more accidental than this: just because something comes about doesn't mean it was intended (in any sense).

Eternity then is that quality that would remain: link it to time and it becomes everlasting. But I prefer eternity: plus, I can't think of anything worse than everlasting personality. I do actually want to come to an end. So my personality, or perhaps other personalities, might be affirmed to be eternal, but I'd then rather they stopped. I don't like the idea of overpopulated personalities.

In any case the valuing of personality: that's a valuing of a general concept. In the particular he's damned the clones. He also suggests an achievement of being Christlike.

Actually a clone is just a time delayed twin: the clone develops a personality different from the other. The issue is whether a clone is born old. But we know what he means by the use of the term clone, so I'd let that one go.

The whole point about Nirvana is that it is achieved by training. It is achieved by a spiritual path. It is a deepening, and by discipline. It is programmatic, and arguably more efficient than being Christlike.

The problem with Nirvana, then, is that it means being self less. The self is lost, given up, and this is where the contrast comes in. But I think an error is being made here (or I interpret that an error is being made here - on the basis of a Western Buddhist approach).

Is personality and the self the same? What is it, for example, to have heavenly personalities without conflict (something that our preacher extracted from Keith Ward)? That seems to me to require a difference between self and personality.

If self is that sticky, yucky, attachment to permanence, which yields little but temporary goodies, but longer term (and shorter) is only suffering - dukkha - then self is the thing to reduce and reduce. We simply want things to go on and on (like our lives, for instance) - great while happening, but what happens when it is time to go?

But does the end of self imply the end of personality? Imagine a Buddha nature individual at the scene of an accident. The person without obvious thought immediately and selflessly goes to assist the person in the accident, and also does so skilfully as nature. Clearly, here, the personality has been developed, but it is not gone. Personality has remained, indeed developed, whilst the self has gone.

My conclusion is this: there is no effective difference between the two. It is a false contrast based on boxing Nirvana with (an intepretation of) Christian mystics (or Islamic mystics, Hindu mystics...).

Becoming Christlike and developing the personality, so not to be like a clone, is programmatic. It ought to have a selfless serving quality. So should the one who achieves Buddha nature.

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