Some time back, I was asked to write a forward to a book on meditation. The author wanted to explore the idea of mediation as transformation of one’s self and one’s world. In the introduction I discussed the difference between more Eastern ideas of enlightenment and the more Western ideas of repentance. I thought a bit of that forward might be a good Sunday morning blog.
Every religious practice has strengths and weaknesses. There is no path on earth from which we cannot learn something, nor is there a path upon earth that will not require our stopping to check the map and, often times, backtracking.
“Transformation” is a metaphor expressed differently in different religious practices. Christianity speaks of transformation in terms of “repentance.” Other faiths speak of transformation as “enlightenment.” Some spiritual people even think of transformation as “revolution.” Transformation should have all of these qualities if it is to serve both the seeker and the species.
The Hebrew word for repentance simply means “to turn.” The Greek word is more evocative. It is “metanoia” which literally means a transformation of the mind.
Because the word “repentance” has been used to shame so many people, it is understandable that many progressives avoid the word altogether. But, some kind of “repentance” is necessary to the balanced life because there is suffering in our world and we all play a part in hurting each other.
It is nice to dwell on the positive side of life, but the work of undoing our addictions and prejudices is a hard and sometimes unpleasant work. To merely dwell on positive affirmations can be a way of numbing to those feelings and memories that are not so pleasant. Mediation, to be transformational, cannot just focus on the positive aspects of our world. Reality is beyond what is positive or negative for us as individuals. We may not want to be burdened with an idea like repentance, but we cannot transform the world if we ignore the pain and suffering we are bringing to the world and to ourselves.
“Enlightenment” can also be a helpful image because we need to awaken to a wider world. Transformation should never be confused with private or personal development. We are cells in the common body. If you and I perfect ourselves in isolation, we will have to tear out and rebuild those foundations when we try to live peaceably together. Much of the work of transformation is relational.
Finally, transformation needs to have something revolutionary about it. Talking about “success” or “abundance” must never numb us to the fact that much of our culture has been built upon the misery of the poor. Revolution is not essentially violent, but it is essentially political, which means it really must change our world. Sitting in meditation is wonderful preparation for changing our world but we do not change the world by hoping or wishing alone. We change the world, as Gandhi said, by being the change we want to happen in our world.
Thank you for taking up the important work of spiritual transformation.