Thursday, December 31, 2009

Original Goodness, Original Sin

The beginning of a new year is a great time to remind ourselves that we can approach our lives in a fresh and open way. It's a good time to start with a clean slate, to set our calculator-minds back to zero, to erase our metaphorical chalk boards so we can get back in touch with our true nature and operate from there rather than that delusional place that believes we're all separate from everyone and everything else.

During my twelve years of Catholic school I was taught that we’re all born with original sin. Having been born essentially tainted, we're asked to search for salvation outside of ourselves even though Jesus Christ himself said that the kingdom of God is within you.

Buddhism teaches that we come into this world with what I call original goodness, or Buddha nature: a pure, perfect, loving nature that we simply need to get back in touch with. It’s always there just as the sun is always shining even behind the clouds on a stormy day. It isn’t something we need to try and get, it’s something we merely need to uncover.

If we’re going through life from the starting point of being damaged goods in need of repair from some far away and disconnected entity that judges us and our actions as good or bad, our motivations and behavior will be one way. But if we approach life from a place where we realize we’re inherently good, and we take the time to sit silently and mindfully so we can get a real glimpse of that goodness, then our actions will always be natural and right on. There won’t be any need to for over-thinking anything or following someone else’s set of one-size-fits-all rules. We can be in touch with our hearts and our true nature enough to know what the right course of action is at any given moment.

May we all attain a degree of sanity and peace of mind so we can better serve ourselves and each other.

Happy New Year!


Nathan said...

Even though I spent not much time in
Christian communities when I was younger - mostly 2 years at a liberal Catholic church when my mother decided to give it "one more try" - I always found myself rubbing up against the original sin idea. The guilt and pandering to external authorities it creates always has seemed to me to go against the way Jesus was in the world - at least, the little bit we know.

Chris said...

Misinformation about other religions, like this, gives me pause. Original sin has nothing to do with past sins...adam and eve realized that were seperate and all of humanity has this experience of seperation. What is the big deal? For a whole host of reasons modern Americans have all sorts of problems being told they sin (but relish chanting about their endless greed, hatred, and ignorance?!?) which may tell us more about the Western world, and western buddhists, than the doctrine of original sin.

The quip about finding salvation outside yourself seems to be typical fare. So you are going to acheive kensho through effort? For me, that provides all sorts of opportunites for my inner accountant to admonish me.

Barry Magrid takes about the Christain idea of grace as one that Buddhist might be able to utilize in their own matter how hard you work an experience of oneness is a gift.

Thanks for your effort.

Lawrence Nosan Grecco said...

Chris, this is not misinformation. What I wrote in this post was based on what I learned over the course of 12 years in three different Catholic schools.

It's true that teachings on original sin do vary from one Christian tradition to the next. But it's been my personal experience and the experience of many people I've encountered over the years that more often than not, it’s used to describe human beings as essentially flawed and in need of repair from an outer source, i.e. God.

According to Wikepedia: This condition has been characterized in many ways, ranging from something as insignificant as a slight deficiency, or a tendency toward sin yet without collective guilt, referred to as a "sin nature", to something as drastic as total depravity or automatic guilt by all humans through collective guilt.[3]

In fact, until recently the church taught that babies who died before being baptized would not go to Heaven but would be stuck in limbo, whatever the heck that is. But apparently the Vatican has revised their bizarre teaching on this and now concedes that perhaps an innocent baby who didn’t have water sprinkled on his or her forehead may indeed be worthy of Heaven after all:

Buddhists do talk about the "three poisons" of hatred, greed and delusion, for they are the roots of all of our problems. Suffering arises in our minds alone, and our thoughts and emotions contribute to actions which might be harmful to ourselves or others.

This is a very different frame of reference from that of many Christian traditions. It puts the power and responsibility in our hands alone and gives us something concrete that we can do (meditation) so that we no longer have to be so beholden to our fleeting thoughts and feelings. We’re not told that we are somehow defective (have you heard what the church says about gay people?) and in need of repair.

Buddhism tells us that we are already whole and innately good, and all we need do is to be still long enough to recognize what already exists deep within us.

Sorry Chris, but I’ve never gotten that message from any Catholic teaching.