Sunday, July 23, 2017

Why Question?

Careful.  This is a tricky riddle.  It's the deepest inquiry any conscious being can explore.  It has two precisely opposing, perfect answers but only one correct response.

Stumped?  Here is the correct response:

(This is not Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism.  It is Budai, a Chinese deity or folk figure who lived around 907-923AD.  Some faith traditions say he replaces or will replace Gautama Buddha.  A Zen kōan describes his central teaching.  While handing out candy to children, he was approached by a monk, who asked "What is the meaning of Chan [his religion]?" He responded with "How does one realize Chan?"  Kōans are meant to be deliberately perplexing - paradoxes at heart.)

When distilled to its essence, the question is a paradox.  One of the best I've found.  The balanced response to all life's intractable problems is to dwell on them only so long - long enough to distill them down to the inherent paradox (every problem is rooted in one), then to accept the absurdity, throw up your hands, and have a good cleansing laugh.

So what are the two perfect, precisely opposing answers?

The apostle Paul, from out of the Judeo-Christian tradition, has offered a fine version of one side of the argument.

My father clued me into this answer during one of our deep philosophical discussions.  I was arguing that Jesus could not possibly be the one and only son of a truly universal God.  He would have no relevance to an intelligent civilization at another time in a far away galaxy.  They could never even hope to receive the good news of the Gospel.

My wonderful Dad, who I miss and think of daily, summed up his unshakable faith with this simple wise answer: "It is sufficient."

Why question, indeed?  Doubt is the devil's tool.  Never question.  Accept.  On faith.

Paul even threw in a great paradox that is another way of explaining Budai's Kōan.  When we accept our weakness, yield to our human inability to resolve the intractable problems of existence, only then do we find perfect strength and unlimited power to actually realize (tap into) our personal God.

The modern critical thinker offers the opposing perfect answer.

Seek to beat back the unknown.  Minimize uncertainty at every opportunity.  Maximize awareness so that we can more fully and successfully navigate this existence.

This answer has been in vogue among progressives for a couple centuries, but I think the pendulum is swinging back the other way now - back toward balance.

Einstein himself, late in his life, may have contributed to this trend, writing in his 1949 book "The World as I see it":

"A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which are only accessible to our reason in their most elementary forms — it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man."

Seeking balance.  I've found it is the most productive endeavor one can pursue.

Balance between beating one's head against a wall in order to break through it and beating one's head against a wall because it feels so good when we stop.

Balance between balance and imbalance.


  1. I love this. Your father's response immediately brought to mind a conversation I had years ago with a dear friend, an observant Jew, with whom I had studied some and talked much. At one moment in a conversation about the akedah, the binding of Isaac in Genesis. I was seriously considering the possibility and well as the absurdity in this story. I asked her if she believed that this event literally happened. I'm sure she said much in response, but what has stayed with me all these years is how she declared: whether he did or didn't, he may as well have.

    1. Thanks for the response, Deborah, and for your thoughts. I've always accepted that Abraham had unshakable faith and would have killed his son. My interpretation roots from my belief that the Judeo-Christian God has evolved His way of interacting with us as human culture evolved. I.e., He didn't get 'kinder, gentler' until we did.