WORD AND THOUGHT
Frank Kaufmann March 11, 2009 Brno, The Czech Republic
This presentation examines the nature of conflict, and recommends ways to overcome that propensity. I examine conflict that tends to take place among religious believers, as well as conflict that takes place between religious believers and secular-leaning people, or people who do not have time or appreciation of spiritual and religious matters. These are the two types of conflict I look at briefly, and recommend a program or agenda to help us in transcend this bad habit. [slide]
There are three elements to being human, the spiritual, the mental, and the physical. All people realize this, even non- and anti-religious people. The fleeting flirtation with spirituality that non- and anti-religious people involve themselves with can be seen in the delight at superficial occasions that are spiritual in nature like, “I can’t believe I was just thinking about you and you called,” or “ I can’t believe that just when I was at a deadlock in what I was trying to think through, I couldn’t sleep and I was up at 4 in the morning and there on the television set was a gentleman speaking about the very thing that got me through my problem.” Even people who are either philosophically materialists, or plain old, coarse, everyday, simple materialists of the self-indulgent consumerist type still have a quest, a taste for, and a delight in those things that suggest that which transcends mere natural law, or that which transcends the mere capacities, either mental or physical.
The difference between religious and spiritual people and non- or antireligious people is that materialists, either philosophical or accidental, tend to regard spirit to arise accidentally from the busy clash of phenomena. This random bashing around eventually produces spiritual
things. [slide] Religious or spiritual people tend to regard the human structure, this tripartite structure I described, as given, and therefore, A. purposeful, and B. magnificent. So we are spiritual, mental and physical, and for those people who are religious or spiritual by nature, we recognize our humanness as built that way toward remarkable, exciting, thrilling, and magnificent ends. We are perfectly designed.
Each of these three aspects has a particular quality or essence. [Slide] The essence of the spiritual is that it is “one,” non-divided. All religions, even those that mistakenly have been described as polytheist, recognize that the absolute and the highest of the high is one, undivided. Non-division is an insight, an essence, or a characteristic of that which is spiritual. Constancy or unchangingness is an element of the spiritual and eternal – no beginning, no end. For those of us who are vigorous in our interest in spiritual matters, we increasingly come to develop a relationship with these fascinating elements – oneness, unchangingness, and eternity, no beginnings, no ends. [slide]
The physical side of the human structure is exactly the opposite. It is comprised of or constituted by multiplicity, infinite variety, the seeming exact opposite of oneness, infinite variety. The physical is characterized by variance or incessant change. It appears one way at dawn, and the very same thing appears a different way at dusk. And the chances of seeing the same thing both at dawn and at dusk are unlikely because you are likely to be somewhere else or facing a different direction. Secondly the physical is temporal. It is constantly and incessantly defined by beginnings and ends. We are born, we live, we die. Our days are born, and live and die. So whereas the spiritual has oneness, constancy and eternity, the physical has multiplicity, variance, and “temporalness.”
The spiritual side of us seeks to have a relationship with, to resonate with, and to manifest oneness, constancy, and no beginnings, no ends. The physical side of us seeks to participate in, have a relationship and resonate with multiplicity, variance, constant change. Do we like constant change? Do we like multiplicity? The physical side of it, if we’re honest, we love change, if you're a football nut, you want to see game after game. If you like women, pardon my naughtiness here, the physical side of you wants to try every single one. That’s true. That’s the physical side of us. It seeks to engage infinite variety, infinite multiplicity. This is not a bad thing. It simply is the nature of the physical. [slide]
The most interesting part of being human however is the mental, the middle part. The role and function of the middle part is to mediate, to reconcile, and to orient us down the path betwixt these seemingly opposite realities that are in fact paradoxically harmonious and mutually supportive. The reason why I use the word "mental" rather than intellectual is because intellectual is only subset and faculty of what is needed to fulfill and realize this mediating role. The mediating role is calls for discernment and knowing, and it is derived from three sources – intellectual, emotional, and purposeful. [slide] These three aspects of our makeup help provide for us our needed and necessary discernment. It is the job of all of three of these to judge. I like this one better than that one. This (this wall) is not the way out of this room, that (the door) is. I need these elements to help me make decisions. This is the job of the mental. Because we are infinite, so is our intellect (and our other discerning faculties). The power of the mental to spot and evaluate difference is unending, infinite. [slide]
The same is true with regard to the capacity of the heart, its emotional grasp, and emotional discernment. [Slide] And the same is true for the capacity of purposefulness. The reason why purposefulness is a judging thing or a deciding thing is because purposeful actions distinguish and differentiate; this will quench my thirst, this will not. If my purpose is to get rid of my thirst, "purposefulness" helps distinguish between things, and calls one thing better and one thing worse. So knowing, apprehension, discernment, these are what I call mental (not intellectual). These are designed to guide the human being into our capacity to perfectly harmonize our experiences of being at once spiritual and physical.
This tripartite, mental part of being human has by its natural function judgment or assessment. Its job is to navigate and to guide. Its mission and job is to provide for the individual access to the true nature of things. It does so through collection, collaboration, interpretation, and integration of information. That can be straight gut. It can be straight heart. It can be straight emotion, intellectual analysis, or a blend of the three.
I have a friend who is radically different from me. She operates entirely from the gut, and I am relatively intellectual. We often clash and are often at odds from one another. People wonder how we can be friends. But
through her emotional apprehension she gets an accurate grasp. For this reason I stay humble to her, even though it may seem to some that she is erratic. It is important to understand this and never to be prejudiced against people you consider unintelligent or dull witted. Please understand that each person has a grasp. They get it. This is an important matter for me. When you walk down the street and you pass the person cleaning the street, you make a big mistake to think that your intentions and ways elude him just because you are smart, think quickly, or speak well. If you think you are smarter than him, pause and correct yourself.
The reason why conflict can arise is when these mental functions – intellect, heart, and purposefulness – have a bias in their nature, when they fail to function as an impartial third party. If the mental is infected with bigotry, if it is bigoted toward one side or the other it cannot provide the balance and sound guidance for us to chart our lives properly. The mental usually has a bias toward the physical. This is because the physical is most easily recognizable, and the most easily accessible. If the mental tends to side with change, difference, and multiplicity, it fails to provide guidelines that intuit the spiritual, oneness, constancy, and eternity.
When you see religious conflict, it is not because religion by nature tends to be conflictual. It is because the work of the mental side of ourselves is biased toward the differences in religion rather than biased toward the spiritual in religion.
The second thing to note is that religions, (due to religious history) are guaranteed to be radically different from one another even though they derive from the same, one, true origin point. The founding and arising of religions has happened steadily for 1000's of years. How different is each age and each epoch? Add to that the extreme geographical and cultural differences in the founding and development of each religion, and you have a recipe for as great a difference as possible. Faithful people often do not like to approach religion historically because they think it might relativize their faith, but most mature believers are able to integrate the contextualization of their faith in history. [Slide] The person who taught what eventually became Buddhism lived about 2,500 years ago. [slide] The person who taught what eventually became Confucianism and what eventually became Taoism also approximately 2,500 years ago. [Slide] The person who taught what eventually emerged as Judaism taught
approximately 4,000 years ago. This is a guy walking around teaching, a fellow like you. Some fellow 4,000 years ago. [Slide] The person who taught what eventually emerged as Christianity, 2,000 years ago. The person who taught what eventually emerged as Islam, 1,400 years ago.
Plus, all these religious impulses are arising in all different parts of the world – in China, in India, in Israel. [Slide] These simple facts, plus the extreme differences in geography and culture in these vastly different parts of the world should make it obvious that initiatives, even in touch with identical sets of truths, would surely find expression in wildly different forms and externals. This is common sense.
So here once again there is an urgent need for sound mediation from our mental faculties, these and the social institutions devoted to the training and development of our mental faculties – namely, education. Our approach and grasp of religion both in the oneness of spirit, and in the vast multiplicity of time and space, require balance, and a positive role for judgment and discernment. We must be fixed and oriented toward a peaceful balance between the infinite, the one, the unchanging and eternal, and the infinitely various, infinitely changing, and infinitely arising beginnings and endings of historical religious unfolding. [slide]
The ideal enterprise to help us and to train us in forging the balanced and whole persons that we must create of ourselves, by our own decisions and responsible acts is the conception, construction, and devoted maintenance of sacred space. It is in this permanent self creating demanded by such a reality that we forge the capacity to harmonize these two seemingly paradoxical dimensions of our experience the one and the many. There is nothing more perfect for this simple human purpose, than beginning with sacred space, the building that sits in the center and from which social unfolding expands. Sacred buildings are not only merely functional as places for people to gather, even as place for every kind of person to conjoin. Even beyond their functionality as the present call for social harmony, they are more profoundly the present call for our own inner harmony. The mind, the devotion, and the act harmonize all elements of our being human for simultaneously spiritual and physical purposes. These invite us to be human in a balanced way, training our three parts to dance in the original ideal of the divine.