Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Postponement of Religious Involvement

From Discovery News:
Most people put off things like filing taxes and house cleaning, but what about joining a church? New research suggests that procrastination may extend to religion as well.
In the study, published in the International Journal of Social Economics, researchers examined how life expectancy affected people's religiosity, or the range of dedication and expression of one's religion.
The authors conclude that increased life expectancy results in a "postponement of religious involvement," especially for religions that don't tie eternal rewards to time and favor ideas such as personal salvation over predestination.

Not really any groundbreaking information here.  We all go through periods of time where we can "worry about what's next" after we enjoy the attachment of this life.  We've all seen the scene of the crucifixion of Jesus with the "death bed" salvation granted to the thief on the cross beside him.  In our western culture with excellent healthcare and the "hiding" of the death process make us more and more susceptible to this postponement thinking.   In fact, even after death we do our best to postpone the decay and impermanence of our human bodies by embalming and sealing them in airtight boxes to fight off the elements of decay.

The lamrim teachings stress the need for us to understand the impermanence of the human life and to allow it be a source of inspiration, concentrating wholeheartedly on our practice.  Pabongka Rinpoche quotes Geshe Kamaba in Inspiration in the Palm of Your Hand:
We should fear death now.  We wish to die a painless death, but it will be the opposite for us:  we are not afraid now, but at the time of death we will be flaying our breasts with our fingernails.
He continues, explaining:
we must be afraid of death and impermanence from the start, then we needn't be afraid when we die.  But we do it the wrong way around.  We never think, "I could die right now" and so we remain complacent
 We aren't guaranteed a long lifespan.  We mostly ignore the overwhelming impermanent state of our entire existence.  As Lama Tsongkhapa says in Foundation of All Good Qualities:
This life is as impermanent as a water bubble, remember how quickly it decays and death comes.  After death, just like a shadow fallows the body, the results of black and white karma follow.
Our lives can go pop at any moment, just ask those in Japan how quickly death can come to the perfectly healthy.   Most people will agree with that statement when taken at face value but as the study says:
Although other factors influence religious participation, age alters how people perceive the costs and benefits of religiosity through time. People may consider the time and effort taken to worship as a cost, while weighing the benefits of gaining a sense of community, greater spirituality and personal confidence in the afterlife.
Its hard to get a "bullet-proof" teenager or young adult to really believe that tomorrow may never get here and they'll be left "holding the bag spiritually".  Its this problem that Elissaios Papyrakis, a University of East Anglia researcher who led the study, is addressing when he says:
To increase overall attendance, religious establishments should aim to reduce any discomfort of entry to religious newcomers, both old and young,...This may involve making information about the organization easily accessible to them and helping new-comers to follow religious activities without feeling lost or uncomfortable.
Now is this really the answer,  haven't we been trying to dumb-down death,  avoid its consequence,  dodge the difficult subject for years? This is the source of the problem; it's time to be frank about death, accept it as a fact of existence and UNDERSTAND it,  not make it comfortable or palatable.
The importance of this is illustrated in this quote from Lama Zopa Rinpoche:
At this time, while you have all the opportunities, if you do not do your best to achieve the pure, stainless path to enlightenment when will you do it?