It’s been difficult to explain my perspective on religions to devout conservative Christian relatives, Muslim or Jewish friends, as well as to atheist friends.
The best way to explain the difference between beneficial religions and controlling religions as I see it, is to classify their practices as ‘maverick’, or ‘custodial’ in nature.
In the book The Gods of Eden, William Bramley divides world religions based on whether the focus is projected externally, to serve an outer God (custodial), or internally to resolve relationships with self and other (maverick). I find this list massively revealing about who we are as followers and what we practice as religion.
‘Custodial’ religions are used by the powers that be to control the masses. Even though the masses are faithful believers, the leaders of such religions historically are usually beholden to very human greed for power, riches, and influence.
In contrast, maverick religions are focused on self-discovery, and leaders of these religions take on ‘teacher’ roles, as opposed to ‘intermediary to God’ roles.
Here is an excerpt from the book. See if you can place specific religious traditions that you know into these categories (more or less) :
- Source or inspiration of teachings is said to be a God, angel, or supernatural force; not a human being.
- Belief in a single Supreme Being, or God, is a principle cornerstone of faith. (In earlier times, worship of many humanlike “Gods.”)
- Physical immortality is an important or desired goal in many Custodial religions. Adherence to doctrine, based upon faith or obedience alone, is stressed.
- Severe or fatal physical punishments are sometimes employed or advocated during the religion’s history to deal with nonbelievers or backsliders.
- Belief that being born in a human body, either once or many times through reincarnation, is part of a broad spiritual plan which will ultimately benefit every human being.
- Belief that there are “higher forces,” “Gods,” or supernatural entities which control people’s individual or collective fates. Human beings have no control over those forces and can only yield to them.
- Belief that only one Supreme Being alone created the physical universe.
- Human suffering, toil, and enslavement are part of a broader spiritual plan which will ultimately lead to salvation and freedom for those who obediently endure it.
- Spiritual recovery and salvation depend entirely upon the grace of “God” or other supernatural entity.
Now, let’s take a look at this:
- Source or inspiration of teachings is said to be an identifiable human being. Belief in a Supreme Being is usually tolerated, but is a minor or nonexistent part of doctrine.
- Emphasis is placed on the role of the individual spiritual being in relation to the universe.
- Spiritual freedom and immortality are sought. Endless existence in the same physical body is deemed unimportant or undesirable.
- Observation and reason are held to be the proper foundations for adhering to a doctrine. Physical punishments or duress are very mild to nonexistent.
- Severest punishment is usually formal exclusion of an individual from the religious organization.
- Belief that there is no hidden spiritual purpose to human existence and that the process of death-amnesia-rebirth causes spiritual decay.
- Belief that all people are ultimately responsible for having created their own conditions in life, good and bad, by the known actions and inactions, and that all people can ultimately control their own destinies.
- Belief that everyone has something to do with the creation and/or perpetuation of the physical universe.
- Human suffering, toil, and enslavement are social ills that have no constructive purpose and stand in the way of spiritual salvation and freedom.
- Spiritual recovery and salvation are entirely up to the individual to achieve through his or her own self motivated effort.
Which list sounds like it would contribute to a healthier, less conflicted, more sustainable world? Why do you think so?
In our sangha, or spiritual community, as with many awakening communities throughout the world, realization is taking place, liberating practitioners and bringing them peace, through the methods prescribed by each tradition. These traditions are transmitted, from Teacher to Student, through lineages over time. As happens with all transmissions, things get ‘lost in translation’, and other things get ‘added’. However, we are conscious about adhering to a maverick framework.
If you are in the San Diego area, and interested in a Zen 1-Day Meditation retreat, we will be hosting one in Escondido at a private estate on August 21, 2016. Click here to find out more.