Fundamentalism

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The latest issue of Parabola magazine focuses on the topic of fundamentalism. Writers this issue include Richard Smoley, Barry Graham, poet Muriel Rukeyser, Adin Steinsaltz, Chögyam Trungpa, Wendy Doniger, and others, with interviews of Huston Smith, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Seyyed Hossein Nasr.

I especially was inspired by the interview with Seyyed Hossein Nasr, an Iranian adherent of the mystical tradition within Islam. The piece, titled, “The Sacred World of the Other,” looks at fundamentalism in all religions as a reaction to the fundamentalism of modernism. Some excerpts from it:

“Without modernism, which itself is a flattened view of reality, there would not have been any fundamentalism as we understand it today. They are two sides of the same coin: secularism itself is totalitarian; it rejects any opposition to itself; it considers its view to be persuasive; it considers all its enemies to be fanatical, blind, unintelligent. It has many ways of anathematizing and demonizing its opponents. Such a phenomenon in human history could not but have resulted in what we call fundamentalism.”

Several pages later, the interviewer, Lorraine Kisly, comments:

“When we ask what is the opposite of fundamentalism we might at first think it is openness but probably it is humility. And humility is not an idea, not a belief, but a result of understanding, a quality of being.”

Soon after, Nasr says,

“We cannot understand forms [e.g., temples, tablets, books, a kaaba, etc.] other than those of our own world by going horizontally from one world of forms to another. To really understand in the deepest sense we have to go from our world of form to the Formless in order to gain access to the principles of the forms of an other world. … [I]t is that experience which then enables you to understand the real inner meaning of the Buddhist forms, or the Hindu forms. … Without a sense of the Formless, an inner experience of the Formless, religious encounters beyond the borders of our own religions become, at best, diplomacy or courtesy, but not a penetration into the forms of the other, into the sacred world of the other.”

What I read here is: the extent to which I have an experience of God — not just beliefs, not knowledge, not information, and not perhaps even faith — determines the extent to which I will revere and to some extent understand another person’s religious way of being; because the more I share life with God in some way, the more I know that you do, too.

Which leads me into a wonderful bit of writing by Chögyam Trungpa in the same issue:

“In order to cut through the ambition of the ego, we must understand how we set up me and my territory, how we use our projections as credentials to prove our existence. The source of the effort to confirm our solidarity is an uncertainty as to whether or not we exist. Driven by this uncertainty, we seek to prove our own existence by finding a reference point outside ourselves, something with which to have a relationship, something solid to feel separate from. But the whole enterprise is questionable if we really look back and back and back. Perhaps we have perpetrated a gigantic hoax? The hoax is the sense of the solidarity of I and the other.”

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