Friday, March 26, 2010

Whither the Supernatural?


Short and somewhat silly today, after yesterday's "thinky" post.

Some of the blogs I follow are responding to a new book about Buddhism and atheism written by somebody famous. The posts are interesting. Check out this one, this one, or this one (and scroll down to Adam's post "Atheism vs. (?) Buddhism"), if you're interested. There are more, too, if you follow the links within the posts themselves. Wheeee.

The book is new, I haven't read it; but it's a perennial topic. Is Buddhism atheistic? Theistic? Is it even on the spectrum? The Zen tradition takes an indifferent stance on these questions, which soon opens up the can of worms about Zen's relationship to Buddhism. Before you know it, it's 1:00 am and your brain hurts from the long conversation.

I'm not going to keep you up til 1:00 am listening to all my views on this subject. It's 7:00 am right now and I'm going to be interrupted any moment. And like Nathan says, it doesn't really help anybody's practice. So I'll just share one piece of this, which is my long-standing problem with the word "supernatural."

When I was a very small boy, head always in a book, I sat in the back seat of my grandfather's station wagon while he proved God's existence to me. I remember him saying, in a tone of voice I did not often hear from him -- much softer and full of wonder, like a child gazing up at the stars, not at all the strict schoolteacher and disciplinarian -- that the more he learned about the universe and the planet, the systems of life and the patterns of nature, no one could deny that the source of all this wholeness had to be "supernatural."

I knew what the word "supernatural" meant, but suddenly it made no sense to me anymore. If I think something is "super-natural," outside of nature, and I find out that the supernatural thing actually does exist somewhere, then how could it be supernatural? It was now natural. If God was proven, then God was now part of it.

Then and there, I asked my grandfather about this. He was quiet for a moment and then my grandmother was getting into the car so the conversation ended. We never resumed. As we drove out to where we were going, my grandfather told me I needed to go outside and play more.

Decades later, I heard someone say, "You can't get away from God, all you can do is run around inside God." This is my problem with the word supernatural. Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

Ji Hyang said...

fascinating. Yes,we need to expand our sense of what is natural-- and include ourselves within it. We are also natural phenomenon.