Religious Experience


As I said before,  I find Buddhism in many ways to be a surprisingly congenial religion.  Partly this is because it is very different from most other religions, especially the three severe monotheistic religions that were born in the Middle East.

For one thing, Buddha, unlike most religious leaders always wanted the members to think for themselves rather than relying on a charismatic leader. He expected his followers to exercise their own critical judgment. This reminds me of what Nietzsche said, “You repay a teacher badly if you always remain the pupil.”

Buddha believed that he became enlightened when he awoke to the truth that he had found embedded in the deepest structure of existence itself.  He found that truth in himself, and believed that anyone could do the same.  In fact, he believed it was necessary for each individual to experience that himself or herself or the experience would not be genuine. That is why, again unlike other religions, the Buddha did not try to elicit faith. He did not want faith.  He wanted each of us to experience the truth ourselves.  He would be willing to help or guide us to this experience, but he could not tell us the truth.

Carl Jung said that religion was invented by man as self-defence against divine experience.  That sounds shocking.  And it is. Divine experience is hard.  We have to be strong to take it.  As Robertson Davies once said, “most of us are absolutely terrified of a genuine religious experience.”  We would not know what to do with it.

We can have a religious experience anywhere. Even in a church or synagogue, though I would suggest there are much better places, like a forest or a bog. Unfortunately too few of them are experienced in institutional churches these days.  Too often religion interferes with the experience rather than facilitating it. That we have to guard against.

2 thoughts on “Religious Experience

  1. I am wondering, what is a religious experience? There is that feeling of awe inside a cathedral, and then the wonder of a glorious sunrise, but they are somehow different. GROG

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