Both the chosen texts talk about the importance of faith in our social lives. The two authors, Jim Wallis and Sharon Salzberg, do not strictly equate faith with religion. While basing their arguments on Christian and Buddhist doctrines respectively, they attempt to portray faith as a communal activity. Moreover, they both suggest that, though religious faith is a subjective experience and springs from one’s heart, it is crucial to shaping politics and culture of a society.
Jim Wallis’ Get out of the House More Often is an invocation to be a social being. Too often, too many of us are so accustomed to living in our comfort zones, that we lose out on growing our spiritual selves. Based on his first-hand observations and experiences as a priest, as well as drawing from numerous anecdotes of his peers and friends, Wallis constructs a powerful essay on community service. But instead of serving our own interests and inclinations, he argues, it is only when we serve the underprivileged and the disenfranchised of our society that true spiritual awakening occurs. Wallis also skilfully explains the socio-political issues within a religious community. Though all Christians claim an equal access to God’s grace, their socio-economic status and gender play a crucial role in determining their quality of life. In the story of his Franciscan priest friend Joe Nangle, for example, it was not until he saw the suffering of poor Peruvians firsthand, that he discovered his own humanity. The picture of the poor Peruvian woman Olga, who could not even afford to bury her dead nine-year-old son, is typical of the plight of the poor. It is in empathising with their lot and by sharing their grief that we would act to alleviate their suffering.
Sharon Salzberg’s tract titled Faith is similar in spirit to that of Wallis’. Talking from her experiences as a practitioner of Buddhism, Salzberg asks readers to discover God through practical means. Instead of dogmatically adhering to any particular sectarian Buddhist belief, Salzberg reckons it is best to discover the ‘truth’ through one’s own devices. The role of teachers is to provide guidance and a framework of understanding. But learning or attaining profound wisdom is seldom achieved through instruction. So it is the responsibility of the spiritual seeker to discover the ‘truth’ by herself. There will be trials, errors and tribulations in this path. But these challenges are as much part of the process of acquiring wisdom. Indeed, it is these challenges which make knowledge concrete, pulling away from its conceptual abstractions. In her own case, she encountered confusion whether to follow the Burmese or the Tibetan tradition of spiritual contemplation. Both methodologies held some appeal to her. As she was musing over which one to continue with, it occurred to her that these confusions or ‘doubts’ are an integral part of the spiritual seeker’s life.