Monday, November 19, 2012

We're (not) All The Same

The path of the Asiatic religions seems logically consistent and religiously profound: they start from the ultimate identity of the ‘I’ which is in reality not an ‘I’, with the divine ground of the world. Here prayer is the discovery of this identity, in which, behind the surface illusion, I find my own serene identity with the ground of all being and thus am liberated from the false identity of the individualized ‘I’. Prayer is letting myself be absorbed into the what I really am; it is the gradual disappearance of what, to the separate ‘I’, seems to be the real world. It is liberation in that one bids farewell to the empirical, experienced world with its chaos of illusion and enters the pure nothingness  which is truly divine.

There can be no doubt that this is a path of impressive proportions; moreover it appeals strongly to man’s painful experience, which causes him to wish to abandon what seems to be the illusory surface of being. Only a radical abandonment of being, in favor of nothingness, seems to offer hope of real freedom. It is no accident, therefore, that the way of Asia presents itself as the way of salvation wherever the content of faith is relegated to the level of an untenable piece of Western metaphysics or mythology yet where there is still a deep spiritual and religious will.

I believe that as far as religion is concerned, the present age will have to decide ultimately between the Asiatic religious world view and the Christian faith. I have no doubt that both sides have a great deal to learn from each other. The issue may be which of the two can rescue more of the other’s authentic content. But in spite of this possibility of mutual exchange, no one will dispute the fact that the two ways are different. In a nutshell one could say that the goal of Asiatic contemplation is the escape from personality, whereas biblical prayer is essentially a relation between persons and hence ultimately the affirmation of the person.
Feast of Faith, 24

Reflection – Well this passage is bit longer than what I usually offer – it couldn’t really be cut down or broken up and still make sense. My reflections will be correspondingly brief.

I am struck, as I always am, with the friendly open tone Ratzinger has to ‘the other’, to the different world view. He is always eager to highlight what is true, good, beautiful in any philosophy or religion, while at the same time not lapsing into indifferentism or a false syncretism (we’re all the same, after all! It’s a small world, after all!).

We’re not all the same, and it’s tackling those differences head-on that allows us to genuinely learn from each other and benefit from one another’s point of view. To either demonize the other or to subtly dismiss the other by papering over the real difference in what they are saying closes the door to genuine dialogue and encounter.

Now I’m no expert in Asian religions, so in offering this excerpt from Ratzinger’s writings I cannot weigh in even slightly on how precisely accurate he is on the subject. Since he is a scholar of international stature, I presume he wouldn’t write about them without having done his homework.

But it certainly does strike me as a very profound question, this whole business of the affirmation of the person or the denial of the person. Is spirituality a plunging into something that ultimately negates our perception of existence, or does spirituality (prayer, God) ultimately affirm our actual existence and then draws us to transcendence through genuine personal communion with God?

It does seem to me that the two are very different realities. And that there is a fundamental question of the goodness and truth of what we know, what we experience, where life in this world has plunged us – is salvation an escape from experience, or a transformation of experience by a communion of love with Love Itself?

I am a Christian, and take my stand on the Christian approach to the question. But I would be interested in this learning, this exchange, this encounter of East and West, Asia and Europe, so to speak. There is much to ponder here, and Ratzinger shows us a good way and a good spirit in which to do this pondering.


  1. Father Denis,

    Well, I was just wondering if the Pope had a word about the news of late.

    The reports from the Middle East and elsewhere are so grim, massacre, retaliation...rising death tolls... Whole generations of people growing up with nothing but anger in their hearts....

    I think the pope is talking about the Far East and not the Middle East here... But, it is really the same issues everywhere ....the place/ role of activism ( Palestinian), anger ( perceived injustice) and prayer ( putting you head inside your true heart). Maybe, I just can't hear the Pope very well....maybe, I just can't hear him clear enough. But, I want to.

    Do you have some words to share on the Middle east now? It is all so very, very sad...and I am looking for signs of love and compassion in this crazy, mixed up world.

    1. Yes, he is talking about Hinduism and Buddhism more than anything else here. The world is in a terrible place right now - I am going to look for recent statements from Pope Benedict this week, perhaps on that, certainly on other things. You know, his talks when he was in Lebanon in September are really profound and beautiful - the call to love in the face of violence and hatred. For me it always comes down to what am I doing today - am I loving the person sitting across from me in the dining room, the commentor in my com-box (smile), the directee on the phone? I can't go to Palestine or Israel and do anything at all there, and if I dwell there too much in my mind it is hopeless and depressing... but I can love and serve here and now, and I have to believe that's what God is asking each of us to do.

  2. Thanks, thi came in an email today. Thought you might apreciate it also

    Prayer to the Immaculate Lady, Queen of Peace

    Most holy and immaculate Virgin, Mother of Jesus and our loving Mother, being his Mother, you shared in His universal kingship. The prophets and angels proclaimed Him King of peace. With loving fervour in our hearts we salute and honor you as Queen of peace.
    We pray that your intercession may protect us and all people from hated and discord, and direct our hearts into the ways of peace and justice which your Son taught and exemplified. We ask your maternal care for our Holy Father who works to reconcile the nations in peace. We seek your guidance for our Head of Stater and other leaders as they strive for world peace.
    Glorious Queen of peace, grant us peace in our hearts, harmony in our families and concord throughout the world. Immaculate Mother, as patroness of our beloved country, watch over us and protect us with your motherly love.

    1. Amen, indeed... and you might find my post today a reflection on what you wrote above.


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