Is Religion the Problem?
by William R. Stimson
The meditation retreat
was the first I'd attended since the Islamic
terrorists piloted the passenger jets into the twin towers
of the World
Trade Center. I settled onto the cushion for the mornings
meditation. My whole body was a knot of tension. "How
writing about the religious when this is what the masses
religion into?" was my quandary. My writing had ground
to a halt since
the terrorist attack. As I sat there, I felt at a loss for
a way to
proceed. Suddenly, out of the blue, something a woman had
told me years
before sprang to mind "It takes a long time
to settle the body; then,
even longer still to settle the mind." I'd seen that
cross-legged through several meditation periods in a row
up to stretch in between. When the retreat ended, I'd marveled
ability to do this. She'd given me that reply. It seemed
woman's words would so suddenly pop up now, years later.
this was my cue. I resolved to sit through the stretch period
into the next meditation session.
Immediately I began. I was startled
to discover right off that this
method didn't call for me to do anything. The doing came
agency outside myself. I hadn't exactly ever meditated like
before. It didn't feel quite Buddhist, but almost Christian.
I had a
tightness in my jaw, my throat and my upper chest. I didn't
myself with remedying the situation. I did nothing. I sat
and immobile feeling like a Teresa of Avila doing her prayer
faithfully awaiting the miracle. Attentively, I followed
of tension in my body as they collapsed and flowed into
different designs. I watched the tightnesses subside, gradually
their own accord. I discovered how quickly a blockage can
completely open up so that, moment by moment, I was not
in the same
condition anymore. A pain in my leg vanished by itself.
After a time I
was surprised to note the tightness in my chest and throat
The bell rang, signaling the end of the meditation period.
move as the others around me got up to stretch. I sat through
next meditation period.
Well into the next period, it dawned
on me at one point: my whole body
was calm and relaxed. I shifted attention to my mind. Hardly
passed before I found it overrun with a complicated train
about Islamic terrorists and the military operations against
didn't try to stop thinking or redirect my attention towards
sensations or the breath. I did nothing. I sat absolutely
observed the thinking. The rapid train of thoughts gradually
slower and slower. In the end, just one single thought remained
mind, like a still frame in a reel of film that had stopped
Then, that last thought shattered and burst open. An almost
hallucinatory aliveness broke through from within it or
behind it and
flooded me. I sat there totally and completely at peace.
repose filled the room. I felt at one with everything and
Religious experience is a direct
and transformative encounter with the
unconditional. Religion is conditional the opposite.
This one here,
that one there; this one for us, that one for them; this
one thing, that one something else. Every religion undertakes
condition its believers to hold certain things true, not
behave in one way, not another.
A religious realization is alive
a creature of the timeless instant.
It comes like a lovers unexpected touch, informs us
of something we
could not possibly say, and then is gone. Each world religion
failed attempt to say what cannot be said, understand what
understood. Extending all around us in every direction is
where we might at any moment find ourselves standing in
the light. The
religions are merely maps, pieces of paper in our hands
antique; museum pieces. Useful yes, but in the way
things in a museum
are useful: to show us where we can go, what terrain great
souls in the
past have tread.
As often as religion delivers us
into religious experience, it performs
the opposite function. This is true of all the religions.
peace, the Christian nations wage war. For divine love,
seethe with virulent hatred. In the name of the law, Jews
disregard other peoples. To impart wisdom, Zen Buddhists
indoctrination during their meditation retreats.
How a religious experience gets distorted
into is opposite is not hard
to imagine. A lone individual in the distant past is illumined
the religious dimension. He comes away with love, compassion,
understanding, tolerance and a fervent desire to help others
and serve all living beings on earth. In an attempt to convey
the inexpressible, he resorts to metaphor, much like a poet
who write down his words and pass them on into history are
illumined to the same degree. They reify the metaphor into
In doing so they turn divine truth on its head. The metaphor
Promised Land, used to convey the way the world all around
one leads an enlightened life, is mistaken for a geographic
metaphor of the Jihad or Holy War, used to describe
confrontation with the selfish ego necessary if one is to
find his true
nature, is mistaken for the butchering of innocent practitioners
different religious tradition. The metaphor of walking on
to illustrate the ease, peace and repose with which the
moves with such a light step, so unburdened of himself,
goes, is taken literally as an example of a supernatural
happened in the historical past.
Religion is all about belief. Yet
so much of what we believe,
especially about the unfathomable religious dimension, is
a mistake a
mistranslation, a reification. In international New York,
I see more
and more evidence every day that this is being realized
by people from
all over the world. In America, in Europe in the
East and the West
the old thought constructs of the religions are falling
away and out
from underneath them is coming the light that gave rise
traditions in the first place and caused them to touch people's
and spread across the globe. This illumination is real,
more real than
the religions themselves, and it unites all the traditions
mankind into one single brotherhood.
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