Sunday, January 22, 2012

"People take different roads" in spirituality

It's good for anyone to be able to look at what their critics are saying, to weigh whether the criticism has merit, and to explain their thoughts clearly. So as an exercise, I saw this saying this weekend attributed to the Dalai Lama, and thought it would be good to take a look at it:
People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness.
Just because they're not on your road doesn't mean they've gotten lost. (attributed to the Dalai Lama)

Towards the end of this post I've put more detailed thoughts -- which were written first but are lengthy. Not everyone will care to read that much detail. But here I did want to offer possibilities of how to explain Jesus' way better in ways that are quick and to the point.

Option #1
Different roads lead to different places.
If the path you are on does not lead to reunion with God, then you are lost, and the happiness and fulfillment you find apart from that will not last.

Option #2
If people are not following Jesus, they are not on the road to where Jesus is.
The other spiritual leaders of past ages are in their graves; Jesus rose from the dead.
See for yourself whether all paths lead to the same place.

Option #3
There is no such thing as a great truth that it is good to ignore.
There is no such thing as a great philosophy that avoids great truth.
There is no such thing as a great spirituality that ignores Jesus.

Option #4
If we strive for right speech then we avoid wrong speech.
If we strive for right action then we avoid wrong action.
If we strive for the right road then we avoid the wrong road, and those on the wrong road are lost.

More detailed thoughts are below. For those who stop here: Let me know how you'd respond.

I should mention from the outset that I haven't verified whether the quote actually comes from the Dalai Lama.

The first step in looking at this quote is to see it for what it is, and how it fits in the existing conversation between people of different faiths. The words chosen about "different roads" and "lost" suggest that he's thinking about Christianity and Jesus. Even if he firmly believes that the same applies to all faiths, still the words seem specifically selected to address Christianity first and foremost. In particular, the wording seems to be chosen to disagree with Jesus' call "Follow me", his claim of being "the way, the truth, the light" -- that "nobody comes to the Father but through me", and how he has come to seek and save the "lost". If this is the intended meaning, then the quote is a claim that Jesus' teaching is false or meaningless. The original quote above seems intended as a rebuke to any Christian who would stand by Jesus' claims to uniqueness, and to evaluate Jesus' claims not in terms of truth or goodness, but in terms of whether someone could find a way to be happy somewhere else.

Look at how the goal of life is portrayed in that saying: "seeking fulfillment and happiness." It speaks of fulfillment and happiness as if they are goals in themselves, and that they might be attained in any number of ways. It implies that our own feelings of fulfillment and happiness are the goal of our spiritual path; there is no recognition of God, no recognition that fellowship with God, reunion with God, reconciliation with our neighbors -- that these have a necessary and unmovable part in the kind of "fulfillment and happiness" that is meaningful and lasting.

Look at how the idea of "one true path" is portrayed in that saying. The way of following Jesus is not here portrayed as Jesus himself, but as "your road" -- a private thing, not something belonging to the whole world or all of creation. The saying is meant to claim the equal validity of all paths -- and to characterize those who say there is one path as narrow, arrogant, and prideful. It seems meant to silence those who teach that Jesus really is the Messiah, the world-wide ruler ordained by God the Father to bring peace to the nations. In silencing and ignoring Jesus, it silences and ignores the hope he brings.

I'm sure the reader will have noticed that the original saying does not recognize or acknowledge God's existence, and turns all spirituality into a private matter without basis in reality. The only measure that it recognizes is human emotion, specifically "fulfillment and happiness".

I've mentioned before in some detail ways in which Jesus is unique, from the unmatched power and beauty of his teachings, to his credible knowledge of the end of all things, to his resurrection from the dead. So I will not trouble myself too much right here with explaining again all the ways in which Jesus is unique. It is important for us to know how to answer when people claim that Jesus' uniqueness is a private or personal opinion rather than a demonstrated and beautiful truth. The question here is: Once we have seen Jesus' uniqueness, can we explain it to other people in such a way that their minds will be open to hearing? The appeal to "different paths" often means "my mind is closed to Jesus."

Jesus' greatness is apparent to those who read the accounts of his life. Jesus' greatness is seen as a threat by those who would like a Jesus-free spirituality. But how do you justify avoiding something despite its greatness? It can't be done; it is clearly narrow-minded, shallow, and petty. Still there are some who want a way to ignore Jesus or make him irrelevant. The simplest way to do that is to characterize the people proclaiming his greatness as intrusive meddlers who are themselves the petty and narrow-minded ones.

Can we find a way to explain so that other people will be open to hearing? In some cases that will depend on the hearer; some people, in taking up a saying like that quoted above, intend only to get rid of Jesus from their religion, to stake a claim that a Jesus-free spirituality is just as valid as following Jesus. So the above are my thoughts on how we might explain our thoughts, and how we may correct how our thoughts are mischaracterized by that original saying.

So what would you say in response?


Craig said...

"Jesus' greatness is apparent to those who read the accounts of his life. Jesus' greatness is seen as a threat by those who would like a Jesus-free spirituality. But how do you justify avoiding something despite its greatness? It can't be done; it is clearly narrow-minded, shallow, and petty."

This is a great point! There is something Chestertonian here: the Christian path is the open road for all to follow and is the Creator's gift to us all. It is the ones who object or say "all roads are equal" that are are narrow-minded and shallow by definition because their own road is self-made and self-centered, masking the true path.

Weekend Fisher said...

Thanks for the encouragement.

I have mixed feelings on Chesterton. At the time I was reading him, I remember thinking he switched back and forth between "brilliant" and "off his rocker" so fast it would leave me dizzy.

You know, the "different paths" thing - another option to respond would start something like "You can't find the truth with your eyes closed." Because the "multiple paths" is usually quoted to mean "I'm not going to look."

I did a lot of seeking, and I don't mind at all quoting from Solomon or Moses or Confucius (etc). It's just they aren't on a par with Jesus -- kinda the point of that long series I did at the end of last year.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Martin LaBar said...

Well said, as usual.