An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Genpo Roshi of the Zen Center in Salt Lake City has developed a technique called Big Mind in which students explore facets of their own minds. Two facets that have intrigued me recently are the seeking mind and the grasping mind. The seeking mind seeks more—more light, more knowledge, more love, more of everything. The grasping mind tries to hold on to whatever it has— relationships, possessions, time, accomplishments, everything.

I think most people can be categorized as basically seekers or graspers. Seekers are future-oriented—always ready to move onto something new and better. Graspers tend to be past-oriented—wanting to hold on to what they have. Neither facet is necessarily good or bad, just different. The trick, as I see it, is balancing the two.

Mormon teachings emphasize both seeking and grasping. Joseph Smith admonished members to follow the advice of Paul and seek after anything “virtuous, lovely, or of good report.” Mormons are also instructed to study, to work, to prepare for their earthly future, and to prepare for the next life. Mormons are counseled to hold onto family relationships not only in this life, but for all eternity—and to adhere to not only their nuclear family, but their ancestors for as far back as they can find records. Mormons are expected to record their own personal histories as well as to research those of ancestors. Seeking for the future while grasping at the past leaves many Mormons feeling too overwhelmed to enjoy the present.

I think the Buddhists have it right. Life is suffering, and suffering is caused by attachment. Knowing when to let go is a tricky proposition. Children have to grow up. Parents must let go. And here is where I think Mormon culture makes the transition difficult. Mormon girls are admonished from the time they can push a doll carriage that their main objective in life, indeed, their “divine calling,” is to be a mother. How does a woman let her children go when the whole focus of her life is being a mother? A friend told me her sister actually e-mails each of her married children three times a day. I’ll bet her in-laws hate her.

“This American Life” on NPR recently featured a segment about a dying Mormon mother who wrote letters to be delivered on her 16-year-old daughter’s birthdays for 13 years. At first the daughter welcomed the letters, but as she reached adulthood and was making her own choices, her mother’s advice from the grave was troubling rather than comforting. The daughter had no way to reply, to share her adult feelings with a mother who was writing to a 16-year-old. I understand why a dying mother would dread relinquishing her parental role with her daughter, but the mother’s attachment became a burden to the daughter.

How do we strike a balance between valuing important things like relationships and being attached to them in an unhealthy way? Between letting go when necessary versus giving up too easily? Buddhists meditate to find the place of no seeking, no grasping—Nirvana. For many Mormons, temple worship provides the space to relinquish the worldly concerns of seeking and grasping, restore the spirit, and experience a brief Nirvana.

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Comments on: "Is the Iron Rod Really a Balancing Beam?" (2)

  1. I’m attracted to Buddhism for its practicality. No gimmicks or promises for eternity, no tests to prove loyalty to a clan or church or family.

    • Yesterday I heard a speaker say what he liked about Buddhism was that it offers no hope. Without hoping for a better future, he can concentrate on enjoying the present moment.

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