6. A. IV. Local and indigenous cultures
Local religions in various regions were related to the cycles of nature. Crops were dependent on the sun and as such the sun worship was usually key. People lived close to the land and observed nature closely along with the sky. The movement of the stars and planets and moon through time were observed along with certain corresponding patterns on earth. Various gods related to their various concerns. Usually ceremonies had to do with seasonal changes. Personification of these forces were often encapsulated in various god's. There were god's that ruled over humans' relationships with one another. There were God's of war, of wine and of trade, and travel on the waters. This held true for the more technologically advanced cultures as well as indigenous cultures. Lesser gods or spirits controlled weather, rain and the herds. How far off were the Indians spirit gods from the Irish druids? Most of the cultures envisioned an overall god, a prime mover so to speak, but this entity seemed far removed from daily life and often had human characteristics, such as the jealousy of the Roman's Zeus. I've heard some American Indian tribes refer to a distance god as the “Great one” who seems a little more removed and elevated from human emotions and behavior.
Unlike what was commonly thought of, the concept of a single overall god did exist. Since cultures often clashed and each culture had their own individual god, this overall god was not always a major factor. At some point in time, perhaps around Abraham's time, this singular God was emphasized. Whether it was an idea whose time had come from the cultures themselves or, as discussed earlier, it was God's will to redirect the emphasis upon itself, Abraham and this singular god began a personal relationship. In a sense all these cultures contributed because of their natural intuition that there was an overall maker. It was in the air. Abraham and his descendants broke into this realm and a relationship along with an oral account of it and eventually a written one. The effort to preserve this vision and the accompanying highs and lows from holding onto it became a history of a people, eventually the Jewish people.
Other events in history, such as the flood appeared in many cultures and were preserved in the lengthy writings of the Jewish people. With the breakthrough of Abraham a new emphasis was reached. As with a sand timer, all the various pieces of sand (in this case people) had to go through this narrow passage way. The point here is that the local cultures had the seed of this idea and to some extent honored it, but it wasn't their major focus. After this refocus with Abraham, a singular God started to take center stage.
6. B. Eastern religions
6. B. I. Compared with the West
Years ago I used to hear the comparison between the East being internal while the West is external. It is sitting in the lotus meditative pose in contrast to Leonardo's anatomical man with his arms stretched out. It was the internal man and inward development versus external man and his accomplishments. This is why many from the west in the 1960's and before sought the eastern disciplines. There were many crossovers between the the East and West. The Jewish people's form of mysticism was a meditation. Often various prayers were recited. Other times just quiet walks listening to the still silent voice of Hashem was encouraged. More recent history often found the Jews in ghettos and impotent to change their outward circumstances so they looked to inward contemplation.
In Christianity Christ was rumored to have studied in the East between twelve years old and thirty. Didn't the wise men come from the East? Perhaps because of trade there was exchange between the cultures. The Catholics have their monasteries which are known for their traditions of prayer and meditation and solitude. Indeed, even saying Hail Marys with Rosary Beads can be considered a meditation.
The difference might lie in the fact that the Jews meditated before their God and the Christians to Jesus Christ while in the Eastern religions God was not a focus. Rather one would empty one's self try to reach a state of detachment so a universal light and energy could enter. The meditation I practiced supposedly was rooted in the Kabbalah and the objective was to also clear your mind of thoughts and let the light in which was the light of God. It didn't necessarily link you to God but during your day to day activities in theory you would make clearer decisions and see more objectively If you think clearly you are thinking with the mind of God. This is how the thinking might go. Although the objectives between the Kabbalah and Eastern meditations appear similar, the emphasis perhaps is different as discussed.
Other veins of Judaism are Torah oriented, so prayer while reading becomes the meditation. When you see the orthodox rocking back and forth that is the motion that takes place when the light curses through your body. The Jewish traditional vision differs in emphasis from the East in that it is ceremonial in nature. It tries to preserve a memory, elaborate on it, and hold on to it until the epoch is experienced through contemporary eyes. The Eastern emphasizes evolving into a higher consciousness. All these descriptions though are hard to define as they are interrelated.
6. B. II. Hinduism
Hinduism is rich in many gods accept I don't recall one overall god referred to. Krishna is one of their favorite deities but is he the god in charge of everything? I, like many others, did not understand how to get peace and tranquility within Judaism and as such was attracted to yoga, deep breathing, the metaphysics of the Chakras, all as related to health and evolution of the spirit. I would visit in upstate New York Ananda Ashram and enjoy the sitar meditative music and incense and cover myself with a blanket. I read the “Autobiography of a Yogi “ and Krishnamurti and some yoga books.
Did it answer my needs. Temporarily. Part of the Ashram visits was just a way to get out of the crowded city into a peaceful surrounding to get my head straight. There is just so much one could take. Meditation at the Ashram was work. You were raising your consciousness from the lower Chakras (animal) to the higher ones (spiritual). Chanting also vibrated the Chakras and was supposed to raise your spiritual awareness. Deep breathing, chewing food properly, cooking to cure, all was useful. Kundalini yoga literally tried to thrust the energy from the lower Chakras upwards by jerking the torso upwards. However, none of this ever cured my inner turmoil nor gave me reason to live life. It was still an achievement focused discipline. I already had all the pressure and discipline thrust upon me I could stand. Perhaps at higher levels than I achieved at this practice one became more passive and empty and able to receive. I'm not sure. In my case this was not so.
Trained yogis did understand the science of mind and its subtleties beyond what western science could verify. Still, I never isolated the light and had a real experience being infilled with it from yoga. It was always a physical discipline for me. Also the overall purpose behind it did not resonate with me. The practice always seemed more important. In Judaism too carrying out the commandments and following Torah took precedence. In both traditions rules for living were very important. However, in these times, if one is hurting, God is needed first and foremost. That is the key. I didn't connect with that in Hinduism. It does connect with the imagination, a rich multi level way of looking at life, but I needed more directness. Subtlety was too subtle at this point. A center providing stability was what I did not have.
6. B. III. Zen Buddhism
Zen I think began in China by an Indian teacher about 1500 years ago and spread to other countries, including Japan. Of course Buddhism is much older and started 2500 years ago. I read some of his writings years ago and don't remember much. I do recall the story of his death when he accidentally was drinking something from his host that was fatally toxic (untended). He gracefully and gentlemanly accepted his death. Basically the essence of his writing was to relieve pain and suffering by limiting expectation and too many desires. The emphasis was upon looking within. Traditions and wisdom and practices were passed down from teacher to student helping to do this. There were no formal scriptures.
I think Buddha had two thousand lifetimes. I could be wrong here. Reincarnation is part of all Eastern religions. The concept of karma is related in that one increases one's burdens with bad acts and helps one burdens with good acts. The related martial art Karate seeks to save your opponent's karma by not letting them hurt you. The Jewish Mitzvah is similar where one does good deeds to please God and build merit. I also recall the statement “If you see Buddha on the road, kill him.” Basically meaning one had to learn for one's self.
Then there is the statement from one Buddhist teacher “Before enlightenment, bring the bucket to the well and fetch water and after enlightenment bring the bucket of water to the well and fetch water.” In other words one didn't become a transcendent spiritual being but stayed an earthly one. The Bal Shem Tov I think around the 16th century also started a movement in Judaism that attempted to bring God down to mundane everyday tasks. That was part of the Jewish vision, have God available in all our activities. In Christianity the equivalent is “be in the world but not of it.”
Zen basically was what I encountered. The deep sounds of certain words were to create certain vibrations that awakened a certain focus from within. Hebrew is also a basic language where the sounds affect the psyche. The basic appeal of Zen is its detachment from results. It also stresses detachment from this world. Judaism delights in the particulars of this world. Zen tries to remove one from it. It is a very useful tool however. It enables one to be aware and in the moment, and carry less anger and emotion. At least that is the goal. A person goes through experience not rooting for a certain way or another way. You remain neutral and not result oriented. I suppose one could say one is staying attached to God instead of become attached to the world. This must be universal because in varying degrees it is also reflected in Western religions and wisdom.
Honor becomes important and if broken suicide is accepted to save face. Human behavior counts in this arena. I went to a couple of New York gatherings secretly led by Koreans and they would chant certain words over and over to encourage prosperity. The profit motive was alive and well in this commercialized version.
Anyhow, Zen is a very useful tool for getting through modern life. Anger and resentment can kill and one needs to distant one's self from these crippling emotions if at all possible. However I find little comfort in Zen. It is the opposite of cozy. In today's world it is useful to handle and prioritize and think objectively amidst all there is to do. However, again, the idea of a personal, close and godlike friend is no where in this practice. It's almost like a spiritual survival technology. One might achieve a certain lightness and peace. However, if there is a God, which I believe there is, that is whom I want to be in touch with.
Perhaps Zen barely mentions God as a self protective mechanism. I can understand that. If a person related to the maker, they gather expectations. When not satisfied for whatever reasons, anger and resentment follow. Zen discourages relating to God and instead encourages the discipline of detachment. You can keep your life force Chi in tack easier when you have fewer expectations. All true I find, but still, we are not only soldiers of the spirit, but humans who hurt and need comfort and need to relate and feel close and reassured by the maker. This last part is not Zen, but my two cents. Still, on the other hand, we (as in Judaism) are equal partners with God and therefore a certain self accountability and toughness is required. Even though there are seeming contradictions it's all part of the mix.
6. B. IV. Confucianism and Tao
What I've written in this section was from memory and impressions made upon me during my life.. However, I must admit I looked up both Confucianism and Tao to refresh my mind. Wisdom is wisdom. Some of what I recall is just the cliches of each, some more to the point.
Both began around 2500 years ago. Seems as if that was a magical time. Both are ways of looking within and don't focus on an omnipotent and eternal God . Both offer much in the wisdom of living. Both had some subtle influence on me in the past, both unknown and known. Both have no centralized authority.
Confucianism began with Confucius and at first dealt with ethical and sociopolitical thinking. Later it became concerned with metaphysics and cosmological concepts. Lun Yu is its most sacred texts but four others plus are important too. Lun Yu is basically the masters' sayings passed down to students. There is also the I Ching which many of us have played with. Basically it's as if you are rolling some dice and the fates allude to some wisdom pertaining to your immediate situation. The wisdom is always from the top down meaning they say what the wise man would do in any given situation.
Tao was founded by Lao Tzu. The Tae Te Ching is its sacred scripture, but I read there are many more. I remember reading it and seeing all the wisdom in it. It was basically a code of behavior. I read that keeping the dignity of yourself and that of others was one of its main tenets. I recall Lao Tzu being sharp as a knife.
Tai Chi, the graceful dance of the martial arts, stems from Tao. Sometimes, when growing up in New York, I would see the elderly in Chinatown practicing this discipline. Even now a neighbor performs Tai Chi at the pool and in the past I've had a lesson or two. Who can not be impressed with the soft elegance and inherent power in this dance.