Thursday, 10 January 2019

Beggar Spirituality

"A Beggar Girl" by Sargent (c. 1877)
When my husband died nearly two years ago it was as if in a thunderstruck moment I realised that the cosmos was not as I thought it to be – it was so much darker and more painful than I had imagined. I saw that the Gods had not kept me free from misfortune, and that my approach to worship had been absurd. I dismantled my beautiful shrine and even destroyed one of the statues in a state of bitterness and blank despair. But I did not stop believing in the Gods, nor did I hate them. Rather, I saw that on a very fundamental level *I* had got it wrong and that I needed a wiser and more realistic approach to the divine. Answers to difficult questions can never be finite – because the universe and the questions keep changing – but what I see now is that I was more of a spiritual beggar than a spiritual seeker. 

When religious practice revolves around begging for blessings from the Gods why should the Gods not go silent? The best Gods surely don’t wish to surround themselves with emotional paupers, begging for this favour one day and that favour on another? Would they not rather take an interest in those with the fire to go out and seize the day, taking what they want based on their own hard work and determination? What God worth worshipping favours sycophants and beggars? The Gods don’t exist for us so that they can dole out all the things we are too weak to get for ourselves. They exist in their own right, with their own ambitions – just as we do. It may be that they influence events, but their powers are not infinite and they cannot change the fundamental realities of all life in the cosmos – which is that loss and death and the suffering these things bring is inevitable. We ourselves have more power to alleviate our suffering than any God. Even if there were a God or Gods who granted us every wish we would just keep asking for more, and growing evermore spiritually infantalised all the while. When finally those indulgent Gods become bored of their beggar-worshippers what despair and tantrum throwing begins! For some people atheism is the ultimate “f—k you for not answering my prayers!”
“When I observe carefully the state of the world today, I see people who give way to doubt because of the lack of understanding. They look up at the heavens and mouth their resentment, or gaze down at the earth and sink deep into despair [Nichiren, On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the]”.
I can live in a world saturated in a multiplicity of divinity without feeling the need to continually ask for favours from beings more powerful than me. I can focus instead on being the best person I can be and gently encouraging others to be the best person they can be. I can be inspired by the Gods, admire them and hope that they look kindly on me, if they can be bothered to look upon me at all. I can even hope to one day to dwell amongst the Gods, for as the Epicurean philosopher Lucretius wrote:
“He therefore who has mastered all these vices [including lust, fear, pride, filth, wantonness, luxury and sloth] and cast them from the mind ... will it not then be right to find him worthy of the Gods? [Lucretius, On the Nature of the Universe, Oxford World's Classics at 138]”. 
And I don’t think making offerings is futile, or that shrines are pointless – a free person can respectfully pay homage to another for a wide variety of reasons.* All I mean to say is that if one approaches the Gods with the mentality of a beggar then it should come as no surprise if the Gods fall silent and one’s prayers go unanswered.

* To be perfectly honest I still regularly honour protective Gods (known as Shoten Zenjin) at my Buddhist shrine.

If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy reading my post on Superstition.

"Belisarius Begging for Alms" by David (1781)
Written by M. Sentia Figula (aka Freki). Find me at neo polytheist and on Facebook

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