Many people are on a quest. They are searching for answers to their QUESTions. They wonder to themselves, “Why am I here and what is the purpose of life?” Traditionally, religion has provided the answers. In ancient times, villages, towns, and even countries were isolated. One religion and culture were shared by all members of the group. The faith they held in common was all they knew. There were no reasons to question what they were taught. Today, for many, that is changed. Because of commerce, immigration, modern transportation and communication, the isolation of the past is gone. Children in remote villages can catch glimpses of faraway places on the community TV. And North Americans are studying Buddhism and practicing Tai-chi while Japanese children are being taught English by Mormon missionaries.
If you’re searching for answers, do you turn to religion? If so, which one? With so many choices and different answers, no wonder people are puzzled. For example, if I wish to learn about Buddhism, should I study Nichiren, Tendai, Shingon, Zen, or Tibetan Buddhism? If I’m attracted to Christianity, should I become a Pentecostal, Fundamentalist, or Evangelical? What about Southern Baptist, United Church of Christ, Lutheran, or other Protestant denominations?
Maybe I should become a Jew. But which one: Reformed, Orthodox, or Conservative? Perhaps Hasidic? I could consider Greek Orthodox or Roman Catholicism. But how about Sikhism, Hinduism, Hare Krishna (ISKCON), The Teachings of Dadaji, Jainism, Sunni and Shiite Islam, The Bahai Faith, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, Confucianism, and Shinto.
Not enough? I can always look into the Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah Witnesses, Unitarians, Christian Science, Course of Miracles, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and the Salvation Army. Or, for something a little different, I could consider Eckankar, Urantia Book Fellowship, The Unification Church, Raelian Religions, Church Universal and Triumphant, Theosophy, Adidam, Falun Gong, Children of God, Dao Cao Dai (Caodaism), La Regla Lucumi, Vodoun (Voodoo), or even Wicca and Scientology. Of course, if none of these pleased me, there are lots more to choose from!
Why so many religions? They don’t descend from heaven like raindrops, but arise from the needs of man. As Emerson wrote, “Heaven always bears some proportion to earth. The god of the cannibal will be a cannibal, of the crusaders, a crusader, and of the merchants a merchant.” Montesquieu expressed the same thought differently: “If triangles had a god, he would have three sides.” If we seek the God who created man, instead of the god created by man, what are we to do? Can we find Him alone? I agree with Epictetus who wrote “God hath entrusted me with myself.”
How do we discover God by ourselves? One way is by following the advice of the twelfth century Chinese Zen Master, Fo-Yan (1067-1120). He taught, “If you seek, how is that different from pursuing sound and form? If you don’t seek, how are you different from earth, wood, or stone? You must seek without seeking.” How do we seek without seeking? By stop seeking answers and start seeking experiences. God is not to be known, but to be experienced. How can a god that is small enough to be understood be great enough to be worshipped?
Man searching for God is like fish searching for water. The fish don’t realize that their bodies contain water, their flesh is mainly made from water, and they live and swim in water. Are we no different from fish? Speaking on the behalf of God, the Hindu Philosopher, Kabir (1400-1499), writes “Where are you searching for me, friend? Look! Here am I right within you. Not in temple, nor in mosque, not in Kaaba (the famous Mohammedan temple at Mecca) nor Kailas (the most sacred mountain in Asia) but here right within you am I.”
When we are humble enough to realize that God cannot be understood, just enjoyed, the questions we had dissolve. For as Dr. Bernie S. Siegel wrote, “It is the experience of living that is important, not searching for meaning. We bring meaning by how we love the world.” And when we love the world, we love the Creator of the world.
When we experience God, instead of being tortured by questions, we are enthralled by wonder. “My religion,” says Albert Einstein, “consists of a humble admiration of the unlimitable superior who reveals Himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.”
We can experience God in a grain of sand, a blade of grass, or in the sparkle of the morning dew. The poets experience God. For example, William Blake wrote, “To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wold flower. To hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and Eternity in an hour.” And Alexander Pope penned “All are but parts of one stupendous whole, Whose body Nature is, and God the soul.” Also, Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote, “God, I can push the grass apart and lay my finger on Thy heart.” Not much of a poet, but a great comic, Lenny Bruce said, “Every day people are straying away from the church and going back to God.” Perhaps that’s something we should think about. If you’ve been wondering about the answers to profound questions, you may want to redirect your focus and experience the wonder of life and the joy of mystery.