Who am I, anyway?
My mother suggested that I may be becoming a “Buddapalian”, blending Buddhism and Episcopalian traditions. The point of divergence between the two is a critical juncture, then. The Christian tradition supposes a Creator God who is superior in every way to the created human and source of everything in the universe. Humans are morally inferior and have been instructed that obedience and subservience is the correct posture to take in relationship with God. We need to be saved and cannot do that for ourselves. God gets credit and blame for everything in this world view, really. Humans fall and fail but aren’t ultimately responsible for that, as God set the whole thing up in the first place as author and initiator of the salvation story. Throughout my life, this story dominated my thinking.
Then someone asked the question, “Why does there have to be a Source of life? What if that’s just a human construct?” We humans are used to doing and making things and finding cause and effect. We see ourselves as agents, and so we assume agency is the way the world began. Maybe it isn’t. Buddhism talks about conditions “arising” so that something is manifest, and then conditions change and the thing is not manifest. There is no agent. Humans aren’t a Creator’s creature, we are a life form that arose out of certain conditions. We can be aware of conditions and grateful for them. Steve once looked around on a sunny day, spread his arms wide and said, “Who do I thank?” It seemed a very natural question, and being the human I am, I wanted to give him an answer. I couldn’t prove that answer was true, however. He also asked me about being separated from God and needing salvation. “What if you’re not?” I had to begin to look to experience to answer that. I don’t feel separated from Life. I don’t see Life being separated from anything, even Death. They seem more like two sides of the same coin. I see this more and more as I study the natural world.
So what is a sentient being’s responsibility and position in life? That’s what I am working out. I don’t know that I need to feel superior or inferior to any other being that lives. I am not the Source of most of the wonderful things in life, so I don’t thank myself for them, but I do want to take responsibility for my decisions, my actions, my thoughts and my attitudes. Both Christianity and Buddhism have a lot to teach about responsibility and ego. Their teaching comes from very different basic suppositions about the world, but both come to a place of humility. I am a life form with a pretty complex brain that enables me to be aware of quite a bit…including the fact that this brain dominates my world view but not the world. So I take it with a grain of salt and try to be open and do my best to respect everything.