Equality is a religious vision. Nowadays, of course, it has become associated with a secular political agenda, but this agenda lies in the realm of religious ideals. Nobody has ever seen an empirical society of equality. Everything in the secular world is arranged on a hierarchical scale. If, on secular reductionist principles, one should only believe in what one has seen and had evidenced, then nobody should have any faith in equality, yet this faith is widespread and powerful. Take any two individuals and you have difference of power, money, strength, influence, status, intelligence, etc.etc. The secular world is the world of hierarchy - verticalism. Motivation in the secular world is entirely a matter of improving one’s position on one or other of the many intersecting vertical scales by which everything there is given meaning and standing. This is the nature of samsara.
Equality is a religious vision. It cuts through samsara. Before God we are all equal - nowhere else. For God you can say Allah, Tao, Amida Buddha, The Confucian Mean or whatever. It does not matter what religion we are talking about. Before the divine we are equal and experiencing the divine includes experiencing that complete and perfect equality. In Buddhism this is called the samadhi of equality. It is an ecstasy that leaves an enduring impression that one will be eternally mindful of.
We could say that this must tally with some deep structure or archetype within us which would be why the idea has such power to move people - however the notion of archetypes is just one metaphysic by which we try to explain these things. The experience itself is a religious experience. The writings of many great sages, such as Dogen, for instance, revolve around it. When we are before the divine we experience this equality. Similarly, when we experience this equality we are in the divine. Experiencing it is quite different from having a concept of it, or an agenda about it. To experience it is a mystical state.
When that state is genuinely experienced one is affected, not just at that time, but enduringly. It affects how one relates to others. One sees the light in them. One experiences a clear certainty that, in the eyes of Buddha, all are equally precious.
Although this vision must lie at the back of many political and social agendas, there is no social structure that can achieve or grant such a vision. The imposition of equality in a polity tends only to discourage people as it erodes all worldly motivation, as has been found in the various communistic experiments. Nonetheless, even if one does not subscribe to a communistic agenda, one can still feel the power of the ideal. One is inclined to say, “It is a perfect idea, but it reckons without real human beings,” but the very fact that it feels as a perfect idea is a reflection of the religious vision that lies behind it and accounts for the religious fervour with which many people pursue such ideals.
Paradoxically, in the minds of many people, especially in the West, religion has come to be associated with hierarchy and verticalism. I imagine that this is because religion has fallen into disrepute in many quarters because it became too much implicated in non-religious, secular interests. The Church was used as a support for the political establishment and clerics traded authenticity for power and influence. This has not just been a problem in the West. When a religion becomes popular and influential, secular authorities want to appropriate and use that power and greedy people start to see the church as a vertical self-promotion ladder. So God then becomes the validator of the social order which, being secular, is hierarchical. This, however, is the decay of the religious vision.
In the fullness of awakening, all beings are radiant and all are loved. This is a condition of equality that transcends all differences of intelligence, virtue, merit, earning power or whatever. Every blade of grass is a splinter of enlightenment - not even only a splinter - is the whole of it. The whole moon is reflected in every dewdrop. They are all equal in moonshine whether they are big or small, new or old. Even in the smallest dew drop, the whole universe is reflected. That is true equality.
This equality, however does not inhere in the things themselves. It is a function of the moon. Each drop has the power to reflect, but that is all. In self-power there are many differences of level - the dewdrops are various - but in other-power there is complete equality of beings for it is the very same light that is reflected in every one and this is the essence of religion.
The essence of religion
I sadly recognize the corruption that has stained the Church in Christianity, as well as its faith and practice, becoming in many aspects a religion of fear and control.
But I think, If one has the opportunity to go beyond this surface and find the real experience of faith and God at any time, then one understands the great value of this religion, the testimony of Jesus through his life and death, his revolutionary message of a God that is all-tenderness, all- compassion, all-love where one can get relief and rest. This God could be called Amida Buddha…different names for one experience.
In fact when I practice the nembutsu I do not feel I am changing my religion or something like that. I feel the same experience adopting a new form of expression. If someone could see me in that moment , he or she could say I am a Buddhist, but, many times I finished my practice making the sign of the Cross, and , in that moment, anyone could say I am Christian. What am I?
Really I do not know. But I feel some sort of spaciousness and freedom in this lack of definition
Maybe I am wrong and, in some time I will feel the need of belonging clearly to one or another.
Maybe some of you have experienced something similar to this….
Yes, I know exactly what you mean, Nati. Thank you.