Thursday, April 21, 2011

Faith, Non-Attachment and Wu Wei

As you can probably tell, I love to make connections. It's sort of my thing. I especially love to make connections between the various religions and philosophies of the world. I have been able to do this relatively successfully, but until last February, there was one big exception. Non-attachment (or Nekkhamma) is one of the highest virtues of the Buddhist religion. Essentially, it means that one should give up all desire, craving or attachment to anything (including God) in order to achieve the highest state of happiness. This principle is quite possibly the most important one in Buddhism, and is therefore very problematic for a person like me. There seems to be no parallel in Christianity or Mormonism.We are taught that we need to cleave to God and that we are supposed to be bound to our families for eternity. So I was at a loss as to what to do. Then, a miracle happened.

Last February, while I was reading my Statistics textbook for homework, I realized something. I understood nearly every principle in the chapter, but only superficially. Or rather, I understood that they worked, but not how or why they worked. I wanted to keep reading, so that I could understand every rule and formula inside and out, front and back. But I didn't have enough time to both do that and my other homework. So, purely out of a desire for efficiency, I at least temporarily refrained from a complete understanding and for a while, I was content with understanding only on a surface level. To my surprise, this did not lead to me falling behind in Stats, but rather to me soaring ahead. Without my desire for a complete and total understanding bogging me down, I was able to progress a great deal in getting my homework done and in doing well on tests. And unexpectedly, the how and the why came naturally later, on its own. In my journal, I originally called it a leap of faith, but I later I realized it was something else as well. I suddenly understood that I was letting go of or detaching myself from the Statistical principles, just as the Buddha himself would have wanted me to.

This led to what I think may have been the most important connection that I have ever made: Faith is letting go. To have faith is to be non-attached. This may seem a shocking conclusion to come to, and perhaps may even seem heretical, but bear with me. A person with faith goes through life free of any concern. They have faith that God will work out everything in the end. Similarly, a person without ties fettering them to the world is free. They can live life to the fullest without worry, pain or sorrow because all of those things ultimately stem from unnecessary clinging. Providing yet another view to look at this idea, the Taoist principle of Wu Wei (as I discovered soon after) is the same concept to a tee. Wu Wei means roughly "going with the flow" and involves natural action, or "trying without trying". A person who practices Wu Wei gives up the futile struggle to change the world by individualistic actions, and like a person with faith or who practices Nekkhamma, can go through life freed from worry and sorrow.

All of these things have yet another thing in common. They all involve giving something up. For the Christian, it is the sure knowledge of any truth, including God. For the Buddhist, it is attachments to the world. For the Taoist, it is a person's ability to feel in control. But inevitably, when you give these things up, something even better comes to you, of its own accord!

In summary, to have faith, practice non-attachment or to live by the principle of Wu-Wei are the same thing. They all consist of looking beyond a here and now that is full of separateness, temporality and mortality to the source of everything that is good. The Christian looks forward, to the time when God will come and renew the Earth. The Buddhist looks inward toward the deathless Self at the heart of all things. The Taoist looks outward, to a world where everything that seems like conflict is actually harmony. But looking forward, backward, inward, outward, up or down all ultimately lead to the same place: the presence of God. These points of view all involve realizing that the physical world of mortality is in fact transparent glass, through which can be seen pure light.

This metaphor may seem to say that we should "look past" the physical world and only focus on the spiritual. This would be world-denying, and is against the tenets of the LDS faith. However, this is not what I mean. On the contrary, to see the light that shines through something is to fully appreciate that something for what it is: an extension of the light's source. The light of God (or Truth) fills everything that it comes into contact with.

On a final tangent, this is why it is perfectly fine for a mystic to believe in a personal God: the light of the undefinable and unspeakable God completely fills the God we can talk to and pray to, such that they are indistinguishable. To speak of one is to speak of the other. In fact, I would say that to not believe in God in this way, and to try to directly experience the ungraspable, incomprehensible God is tantamount to spiritual rape (the sin of the architects and laborers of Babel). Instead, we should realize that, whether in terms of belief or eternal progression, the road toward the infinite is never-ending. The journey is a marvelous, beautiful process: ever-improving and ever-growing. To participate in it is the ultimate act of faith: we will never actually reach the infinite, but if we can see rightly, we will perceive that its light is always shining upon us and filling us to the brim. 

I hope this has been a delightful post for you. It certainly has been a joy writing it.

And if you read it and have something to say, please comment! I am always willing to learn more.

1 comment:

  1. I know my comments aren't all that enlightening and add to you discoveries, but I just wanted to say I'd like to try this concept out sometime. What you learned in Statistics, I mean (at first), and further into my religious life. This may be the reason I have hope in all things; As in, I have this never-ending spring of hope in my life, that everything will be ok with proper timing and placement, and this post may explain why it's there. It's helped me understand a little more about the "why"s in my life.