I got a Facebook invitation today to a lecture entitled Authentic Spiritual Happiness. The blurb reads as follows:
Does happiness elude you? Do you find yourself searching for something but aren’t sure what? What is authentic happiness anyway? Anyen Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist master, will explore these and other questions in a talk on finding true happiness from a Buddhist perspective. Rinpoche will discuss the spiritual principles that enable us to achieve balance and spiritual satisfaction.
The first thought that popped into my (admittedly warped) brain was, Is there such a thing as in-authentic spiritual happiness? Can a person fake being spiritually happy? And why would someone do that?
On second thought, it occurred to me that this isn’t a frivolous question, and that there probably are people who pretend to be spiritually happy/satisfied but are inwardly unhappy and empty. Or perhaps they pretend to be happy in the hope that faking it will help them make it.
This reminds me of a conversation I once had with my daughter Ellie, who can fall asleep practically anywhere, on a moment’s notice. I jealously asked her how she does it, because I would dearly love to be able to sleep on airplanes, which I find to be virtually impossible. Her answer? She said that she pretends to be asleep, and then she falls asleep for real.
In the realm of spirituality and religion, however, we all know that faked spiritual happiness can be turned against people. There are charlatans out there who make a living by taking advantage of people who are searching… for a cure, for happiness, for love. They’ve got elixirs and tonics and prayers and great advice and the next thing you know, Aunt Tillie has been fleeced of her life savings.
But back to people who really mean it. A former student of mine goes to FSU (aka Florida State Univ. in Tallahassee). She’s had trouble finding a soul-satisfying Jewish experience there. But she’s surrounded by Christians who truly enjoy being and “doing” Christianity. This is what she wrote to me:
Almost all of my close friends here are very Christian. By this I mean they are involved in various campus ministries and church and youth group things, they may go on mission trips or do service projects, they go to bible study, have a group of friends for “fellowship,” they love what they do, and they are just awesome people with great morals. I’ve even ended up tagging along with my friends to be surrounded by Christians, and always feel very comfortable with the groups. I guess I fit in perfectly besides the fact that they all really love Jesus.
It breaks my heart that we Jews haven’t been able to provide that kind of satisfying experiences for our kids (and for ourselves). I don’t know what’s holding us back. Judaism is fun! Judaism is all about bible study, and community service, and being awesome people with great morals! So why don’t we create the kind of atmosphere that fosters joy in Judaism and make it something that people want to do? Because I think that if we did, we wouldn’t have to worry about achieving Authentic Spiritual Happiness.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any good advice for my young friend. And that worries me.