What are our authorities? The Church, our government, law enforcement . . . our boss? And why should we question them? Better to leave well enough alone and just follow along - much safer. Plus, there is a certain amount of security in just following along, and it’s easier than questioning; questioning is actually hard work - and dangerous. So why bother? If we stick our head up, it might get knocked off!
Some people, however, have a natural contempt for authority. They are labeled antisocial at best, and treasonous at worst, but this never stops them - the first inkling of unfairness and they go into action. They seem to have their antennas out all the time, looking for an excuse to rebel.
Two of the world’s foremost religious figures were like this - Christ and the Buddha. They rebelled in their own way about the religions and circumstances of their times. They certainly were not followers! They forged their own way, bravely and without fear, as they changed the world.
Christ sacrificed His life in a few short years, and the Buddha, although living eighty years, sacrificed His life as well, living his entire existence homeless and wearing rags. He accepted no authority, other than the authority in His heart. Both of these men saw something that escapes most of us - a way to become free from the authority of themselves, yet find the freedom of something much greater.
Can we become Christ-like, or Buddha-like? This is a serious question. If we can, we can find those same freedoms they found, but in order to become Christ-like or Buddha like, wouldn’t we have to look for that which they looked for, rather than parrot their actions? In other words, it was their quest for truth that sustained and enlightened them, not following a religion, or rules, or practices of some kind. They eventually disregarded the authority of their Jewish and Hindu traditions and forged their own paths. Only this kind of spontaneity creates shifts in consciousness.
But here we are, following the authority of Islam, Buddhism, or Christianity, and the religious wars continue. There are few fundamental changes in humanity. Why is this? Is it perhaps that instead of seeking what these men sought, instead of sweating hot beads as they did, we seek to comfortably follow their words, and thus take the easy way out?
Our religion becomes a relaxed social affair where we can feel good about ourselves, while we pursue things that both Christ and the Buddha would have deemed selfish. We have been convinced by decadent leaders that this is the righteous thing to do. They have even gone as far as suggesting that making as much money as we can and enjoying ourselves is the religious way.
We don’t question these leaders’ authority, because if we really did seek what Christ and the Buddha sought, our comfortable life as we know it would end. Our families would call us antisocial, deadbeat dads or moms, and maybe even subversive. If Christ came back to earth today, I’m sure that he would be summarily thrown into prison as a vagrant, or perhaps an illegal alien! . . . Maybe it’s too late for us.
Why try to find God within ourselves when we are having so much fun, people may ask. I would say; just look at your life - look deeply - at the unsatisfied desires, the conflicts, and the uncertainty.
In Christian terms, God wants you exclusively. He knows if we are only interested in entertainments and pleasure instead of Him. But how do we get ourselves to think only of Him? That would be boring! Also, the interesting thing is that thinking of Him won’t make a fundamental change in the way we live our lives, because He cannot be approached within the world of thought.
According to Christian contemplative saints, the images of God (The old man with a white beard, or a spirit) are not even contemplated at serious levels of meditation and deep contemplative prayer. The mind is cleared of all thought and images, and through this void God shows us his true face. This is the only place where fundamental changes in our being takes place.
When we look at a world on fire, we can see how far off track we have gone, where there is little love and even within our own families feuds erupt regularly. Economics and entertainment have become our Gods, they really have, and that’s all we talk about. What can we do to turn it all around?
I have an idea; why don’t we try what Christ and the Buddha tried - seeking truth for ourselves? We don’t have to go to church, or even give money to a preacher; all we have to do is go within as these two men did. It is not difficult to do this, only difficult to give up our obsession for money and entertainments long enough to pray or meditate seriously.
This is all it takes, practicing prayer and meditation, and sincerely seeking truth within yourself just as Christ and the Buddha did. It won’t cost you a penny, and if anyone wants to charge you for instruction, the instruction is flawed - don’t fall for it; access to the truth should always be free.
And yes, we should always question authority.
E. Raymond Rock of Fort Myers, Florida is cofounder and principal teacher at the Southwest Florida Insight Center, www.SouthwestFloridaInsightCenter.com His twenty-eight years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents, including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Theravada Buddhist monk. His book, A Year to Enlightenment (Career Press/New Page Books) is now available at major bookstores and online retailers. Visit www.AYearToEnlightenment.com