Hump Day Homily #1

I just concluded another round of listening to Joseph Goldstein’s 3 volume extended commentary on the satipatthana sutta, Abiding in Mindfulness, which I worked through at a pretty slow pace, listening to it for maybe like 15 minutes each morning before I meditate. (Taken in total, all three volumes are something like 30+ hours of dharma talks.)

The satipatthana sutta is the Buddha’s discourse on mindfulness (sati = mindfulness), and Goldstein summarized the sutta and all of his dharma talks by saying that the great message of the Buddha was simple:

1) The mind can be trained and
2) It’s just a matter of time

The key is to just start (with a meditation practice), and then after that, just keep going, sort of like, yo, just start walking down the road, dude, and eventually it will take you there.

The Christian scriptures have similar teachings — for example, the Apostle Paul in Romans 12 says Be transformed by the renewing of your mind — but such a path of mental transformation has rarely been the emphasis within the Christian tradition, particularly in the modern era. (The Medieval church, at least, had the monastic tradition.) This lack of a path was one of the primary reason I ended up eventually leaving the church.

However, although lacking a really substantive path for transformation, I’ve still appreciated Christianity, particularly the Christian scriptures, because they have sort of an epic scope, a sweeping narrative of history as being a part of God’s redemptive process, and the more that I have stripped away the excess religious dogmas that skew the scripture’s message, the more I’ve found the stories to be not only epic but also deeply human, intimate and very raw.

So, Christianity has its narrative and its stories, while the Buddha’s path is focused first and foremost on the nuts and bolts of individual transformation. Kind of different, but for me these have been good compliments. Sort of a hack on spirituality. It works.

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Jonathan Erdman

Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy, as the Executive Director of the Wrangell Mountain Center. When not in McCarthy, you'll typically find me in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, writing and working with local activists. My primary writing project right now is a novel set in remote bush Alaska, of the magical realism genre wherein an earnest and independent young woman finds a mysterious radio belonging to her grandmother, a device that has paranormal bandwidth and a disturbing ability to mess with one's mental stability.

One thought on “Hump Day Homily #1”

Consider this post an invitation, an invitation to comment and collaborate ~ In Solidarity, JE

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