Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Why Do I Talk So Much About God?

Why bother using the word “God?” if I don’t mean by “God” what most people seem to mean by “God?” This question was put to me the other day during my current retreat. I hope you find my answer of value:

I use the word “God” as an act of upaya, the Sanskrit Buddhist term meaning “skillful means.” Upaya is a category of action or teaching that allows one to work more effectively with a student. When I speak at a Buddhist center where the word “God” has no place, I don’t use it. Doing so would be counter-productive. People would immediately respond defensively, and I would spend all my time defining terms.

Similarly, if I’m speaking at a church, synagogue, mosque, temple or spiritual center where people are comfortable with the word “God,” I use it freely. But only to lull my listeners into a sense of false security: “Oh, this guy is OK, he believes in God.”

So I speak of God and then, when the time is ripe, explain what I mean by God, and in doing so I seek to pull the theological security blanket out from under the listener. It is the same reason why I use texts from Torah or the Gospels or the Bible. I take texts to which my audience is attached, and with which they are comfortable, and then unpack them in ways that reveal truths that they would otherwise refuse to even contemplate.

So do I believe in God or not? I believe in what I am saying; “God” is just a word. For me it isn’t a matter of true or untrue, it is a matter of useful or unuseful.

While it is true that I experience a conditional You who appears to me as Mother, even She is fundamentally empty of permanence. She is simply the way the universe and I meet one another, and while this meeting is often verbal it ultimately drops all words and forms, and yields to a nondual ecstasy in which both She and I are gone, and no more can be said.

I find it useful to speak of God as Mother, and unuseful to speak of God as Father. This may have more to do with my family and my religious upbringing than it does with anything ontological. God as Mother is as real as She has to be for me. I feel love from and for Her. I thank Her continually for both the wonder and the wildness of my life. But She is still a manifestation of a Beyond, and that Beyond is ungendered, unconditioned, and unconditional.

Words are useful. Silence is revelatory.


Aron said...

Thank you for help clarifying in a way my own use of the divine. Although I don't think I operate in as many variety of communities as you do Rami, I do use it in ways close to the way you speak of it, here.

Phil said...

"'God' is just a word. For me it isn’t a matter of true or untrue, it is a matter of useful or unuseful."--

So, you may be a kind of pragmatist or even Deweyan (for the Dewey of "A Common Faith," that word names the gap between reality and our ideals). But maybe you aren't a Jamesian kind of pragmatist, insofar as being useful or not is still separate for you from the "matter of being true or untrue." I think I'm with you on that.

Cayte said...

The term I use to indicate the One, Eiheyeh, is God/dess. In speach I use Him and Her interchangeably. I think the wonderfilled experience of this One is so beyond gender as to obcsure the authentic nature of namaste: "the God/dess in me bows to the God/dess in you"
Bright Blessings and good shabbos