Originally posted on 05-15-07:
A few days ago I talked about Clark Strand’s article in the Fall, 2006, issue of Tricycle. He’s writing about his take on a variety of Buddhism called “Pure Land,” whose adherents recognize “…that we are essentially powerless to effect our own salvation.” Thus one comes to believe that he “…has no choice but to surrender to a power greater than his own.” All of which will sound familiar to members of AA.
I think the real issue is not so much a question of surrender, but a question of recognizing the reality of our situation. I think this is what Zen and the more contemporary Naturalism are all about. The more we learn about the brain and how it works, the more obvious it becomes that there is no central authority, no control room, no “self” that could be in charge of the brain and its operation. We are not the power that creates our selves and our lives.
When we realize that our thoughts and behavior, our decisions, are just the complex interplay of our history, our biology, and our current situation, that realization itself becomes a part of our history. When appreciated in depth, it will alter the way the brain processes information. We will find ourselves taking a closer look at the events and influences that formed us into our current configurations and be better able to comprehend their various contributions. We will be altered, and we will find this alteration effecting the kinds of influences we expose ourselves to in the future, the kinds of decisions our brain makes in light of its new understanding of itself.
So we are powerless in the sense that we are not self-determining. We are determined by the interplay of all the forces in the universe as they converge in our brains and bodies. These words you are reading now will be incorporated in one way or another into who you are and what you will become.
So it isn’t a question of surrendering, it’s a question of recognizing that we have never had the option of not being a part of the universe and the natural world. It is us, and we are it, and seeing ourselves in that way can be a source of wonder and awe. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we will suddenly be content with the place to which the universe has brought us, or stop trying to make it different, but we may lose the crushing sense of responsibility for having made our lives what they are.
We have necessarily and unavoidably been the agents of whatever actions we have taken in the world, but we are not the authors of the motivations and intentions that produced them. There can be a great sense of relief in that, which may allow us to be more effective in the future.