Full Circle to Shamanism
I find two features of shamanism absolutely fascinating. One is that while far and away the oldest form of religion or spirituality known, at least fifty thousand years old, it took the same basic form and content all over the world, from Siberia to Australia and North America and all the remote corners of the earth. How could that be? The second is that in its universal love and respect for the integrity of all things sentient and not, it offers allure and remediation for the sickened souls gradually wandering out of the places of worship of most religions. We in the West are most familiar with the Abrahmic Religions emerging from the desert a mere six thousand years ago, to be rapidly taken over my males as a vehicle for organizing secular power. The power of much of the original teaching remains with us, but the vibrancy seems shivered by disputes among men about how it should be.
So the intrinsic and magic universality of shamanic animism becomes such a relief for so many of us remotely lost seekers. Such comfort to be surrounded by so many spirits eager to help with guidance, such compatibility with studies from the East showing the enormous world-creating power in our spiritual gifts.
The Self-Destruction of Power
Power corrupts. The desire for power represents the down payment received for your soul. That sounds a little pompous but what I mean is very simple. We are all born with a natural morality intact, which tells us what will work and what won’t, leading us to an understanding of sustainable behavior. I refer to the simple and universal ideas such as: (1) telling the truth has no blowback, (2) showing respect for other people gets us respect in return, and more generally (3) doing to other people what we would hope for in return. That is simply dog-learning-not-to-eat-dog, not any high-flying religious dogma. It is when we get away from these ideas of how to get along with people and start to feel entitled or superior to others that we enter the desire for power over others. We see in our present world how corrupting that is.
I think religion comes from a stage of social evolution in which we strive for the benefits of unified, cooperative action for the benefit of the whole. It is a good idea to learn from each other devices to enhance our relationships. The trouble begins when people appear who feel the need to control the outcomes for the whole, “leadership” emerges, and dogma develop. That begins the corruption of the soul, the violation of our natural intuition, leading to dogma of “divine” right and superiority. All appealing dogma start out as tribal self-centered sense, but conflict with similar dogma from the next tribe. Thus as the planet moves to a cooperative whole, working for the benefit of the survival of all of us, homemade constructions of dogma and “discovered” religion must fade away, because power and politics cannot survive sustainably together.
There is no reason we can’t all enjoy the application of Christian ideas about love, Muslim ideas about brotherhood and prayer, useful discoveries from ancient Asia and Africa, etc., without getting proprietary about how others function. In short, we can cooperate and also mind our own business. There is an obvious commonality to all religions, most vividly illustrated in the varieties of stories from our hundreds of American indigenous traditions. They are all different, all work together, and on closer examination, all promote the same values — whatever it takes to care about ourselves, care about each other, and bring our individualities into the meeting place for the good of all.
American foreign policy, apparently driven by “neocon” ideas emerging from their invention of “war without end”, manifesting as seeking hegemony over everyone else, and dressed up in “defeating terrorism”, an abstraction they cooked up for the downfall of the World Trade Center towers, is precisely and completely counter to what we all learned in the womb. It is clear how Al Qaeda, DAESH, ISIS or ISIL, Al Nusra, came about. We provoked the people against us and then gave them weapons. “Terrorism” is a tactical weapon of the people without the technological advantage and not something susceptible to self-righteous raging.
Just as Zionist Israel has sold out on all the common sense in the Torah, the United States has lost its soul in trying to be the world superpower for the sake of contractor power. It is in a sense religion run amok. So now it is the job of the people, in contradistinction to the “leadership”, who must return to the ordinary, primitive ideas of working together and keeping each other covered. It doesn’t have to be difficult if we remember the famous quotation that “we learned everything we need in Kindergarten.” True religion has no self-righteousness, no sense of superiority over other cultures, and actually serves to help us be happy from helping meet the needs of others. “Profit” can mean learning helpful things rather than converting exchange into wealth for “getting ahead.”
On Religion and Time
We hear that the interest in religion is diminishing, that participation in religious activities is falling.
I think the confusion lies in the area between attending to the ceremony and the trappings, and the assimilation of the message and the sense behind the teachings of the religion.
One difficulty in the case of Judaism and Christianity is that the sacred writings are from an era so far bygone that we cannot be very sure just what was said, or even intended, even without grave difficulties in translation from the Greek of the era. Many readers take a phrase from the bible, identify with it, and present that as a sacred truth without being aware that we are lucky to come even close to guessing the meaning behind the phrase. So we cling to words without having any real idea what we are talking about.
It is a similar problem, on a shorter time scale, with our Constitution. Even though its creators knew how imperfect it was, they accepted their own work in the full confidence the people would hold periodic Constitutional Conventions to update and correct the founders’ work. But by and large that never happened, and instead, people attached a holy significance to the words as written and preferred immutability to taking the responsibility to accommodate their strides into the future.
In both cases, we get stuck in words without being enabled to be entirely sure what the writers intended. In that case we create an aura of sacred knowledge around writing that has become encrusted and enshrined because people wanted immutability to the extent that they would fabricate it. Much of the horrendous and vituperative argument between the Church in Rome and the Church in Byzantium around a thousand years ago was about interpretation and explanation of mysteries they had chosen for themselves in the distant past. People clung to those mysteries and their interpretations as if afraid of the darkness that might befall them without such aid. But by now, we can hardly fathom what the fuss was about. But the denigrating language has not left us. Many civilizations have felt that writing it down was sinful, recognizing in writing a potential device for forgetting. By handing down their sacred ideas from one generation to the next, they avoided the problem and updated subconsciously, so never an accidentally ambiguous or incomprehensible phrase was uttered.
In this age of vastly improved communications, we can all talk to each other about our religions and what they mean and we can begin to discover the differences between them and the areas of commonality shared. So often it occurs that the differences are in the ceremony and trappings, while the commonalities are in the common-sense distillation of intention. As a harbinger of all this, Gandhi knew and admired the teachings of Jesus. He was perfectly able to see that the intention behind Christianity and the goals and guideposts of his own religious heritage were the very same. And now, almost a century later, we all have the opportunity to lay down our weapons of argument and see that indeed we all do know the essences of all the teachings of the world’s holy women and men, and we too can see that what is broadly good in one religious heritage is exactly the same as that in others.
Thus, when we gnash our teeth and wail about Muslim Terrorists or any kind of asymmetric warfare, which is all the downtrodden have to resist with, we are playing a hideous game with ourselves and exaggerating the differences between ourselves and others almost with the intention of maintaining a tension of disagreement. We choose not to understand because we’d prefer not to understand. The Bush-Cheney unending war against terror shows its true colors. We don’t have any bone to pick with Islam anymore than we do with the Torah or with Mennonites. But we want to maintain our distinctions for the profit and entertainment of creating wars over words and misunderstandings.
Were we to suddenly and mysteriously grow up into adults, we would immediately see that universal world peace is a given, just as it is given that we better protect the water tables so that poor people everywhere can get a drink. Once we understand that, we can open our eyes and create a universal religion of gratitude and siblinghood, just as all pagans have always observed, and become of huge assistance to each other. As entertaining as we may find wars, we would find the gratification of helping each other utterly transcendent.
Tribal religions were so effective because they came from the tribal culture of that time, so there was no mismatch between what the story said when it was written thousands of years previous and the story that we need now. Once people start to worship a book and treat it as immutable, then questions have to come up later about, “What exactly did that mean?”. Both Christianity and Islam are way out on this limb now, with hundreds of questions about things that were written they really can’t answer so they have to enshrine some comprehensive statement in dogma. That is part of why both Islam and Christianity have such a genealogical tree of believers and disbelievers. It all gets in the way of remembering we are brothers and sisters and treating each other as such.
So much for all the “other” people. There aren’t any. We are all the same, and someday soon will have to stop the squabbling and grow up.